A Brief History of Tattoo Ink


A Global History

Tattooing is one of the oldest art forms around and it has been practised for more than 5000 years. It originated in Polynesia and spread through India, South-East Asia and Northern Africa before arriving in Europe.


The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian “tatau” which means to mark something with a particular design or pattern. These marks and designs were originally created by rubbing soot into cuts on the skin, but this would often result in infection or death if done without care.

More modern-day Tahitian tattoos are made by inserting needles into the skin and tapping them with a mallet to inject ink under the surface. The result is an indelible mark that lasts for life – just like any other tattoo, really!

Ink from India & South East Asia

The concept of using tattoos as forms or symbols originated in Polynesia before being adopted by people in India and South East Asia. Tattoos were used as a form of spiritual protection, with tribal communities using ink to decorate their bodies for ceremonies and rites.

The art of tattooing spread across the Pacific Ocean by voyageurs who traded goods between Asia & Europe along routes now known as the Spice Route or Silk Road. European explorers also brought back stories about tattooed people.

The tattoo ink used by many Asians consisted of lampblack (made by burning oil or animal fat) mixed with water, pine tree resin and egg. This ink was used for stamping designs on skin using small metal rods tipped in bone, bamboo or wood rather than needles typically found today.

Tattoo Ink During the Age of Sail

During the age of sail when more people were able to move freely across continents, tattooing became popular around the world. Sailors, rich and poor alike would get inked to mark their travels or pay tribute to a loved one back home. The tattoos were often crude and designs reflected wherever sailors had travelled (e.g., Jerusalem & crucifixes for Catholics; swallows & anchors for those who sailed out of Boston).

These inks used by sailors were made up of simple ingredients that were readily available (e.g., lampblack, turpentine).

The Electric Pen Invention

In 1891, Thomas Edison invented the electric pen which revolutionized tattoo ink production by making it easier to create consistent lines that didn’t fade over time as hand-drawn tattoos did. This allowed people all over the world to revolutionise tattoo ink.

With tattooing becoming more widespread, demand for tattoo inks increased. Manufacturers were no longer limited to ingredients that could be sourced domestically so they began importing products from Europe and Asia.

The first modern American pigment brand was founded by Morris Wosniak using an old family formula he developed through experimentation with various colour combinations.

World War II

And tattooing continued to grow in popularity throughout the world during World War II when soldiers on both sides of the war sported tattoos as a way for them to mark their time together and experiences they had while deployed. They also used simple & cheap materials like carbon soot from burnt cork and Indian ink to tattoo themselves.

Tattoo Inks in the 1960s & 1970s

Ink formulas started getting a lot more complex during the 60’s and 70’s when tattooing became popular among people other than sailors, prisoners or gang members. These new markets included women as well as the upper class. This is when tattooing became a form of self-expression and these new markets demanded more colours & better quality products.

In this time period, people started using oil-based inks which were not water soluble.

This meant that it was hard to get the ink out once you had put it under. This forced tattoo artists to create higher standard tattoos that would stand the test of time.

Tattoo Inks in the 1980s & 1990s

Since tattooing is still a growing art form, with new styles of tattoos becoming more popular, tattoo ink has become very similar to the makeup industry.

There are so many different types of pigments and hues that it is hard not to find a colour you want in your tattoo.

Vegan Tattoo Ink

Veganism is becoming increasingly popular among millennials today as they fight for animal rights across the world. However vegan tattoo ink is still now only just becoming more widespread.

Vegan tattoo ink is essentially vegan friendly, organic, non-toxic and all around safe for people who want to get inked. Common ingredients of vegan tattoo ink includes: purified water, organic sugar cane alcohol, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, iron oxide black pigment. The animal derived ingredients that vegan tattoo ink does not include includes: glycerin (a by-product of the meat industry), bone char (processed cow bones used to filter sugar in the process).

Tattoo Ink Conclusion

The history of tattooing has come a long way since the first time someone decided they wanted some permanent art on their skin. Today there are different types of tattoos available and many suitable for vegans!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you go!

Sign up to our mailing list for 10% off your first visit to INK’D.