One of the biggest issues of tattooing is ink forgery. It’s not just clients who get fooled by fake tattoo inks, sometimes artists can also mistake them for originals. Using fake tattoo inks will cause health issues, and it can be fatal. You have to know how to spot fake tattoo ink for your safety.
Fake tattoo ink will have reduced product quality and color variances compared to the original. You can tell a fake ink from an original by looking at bottle build, labeling inconsistencies, ink color variation, and viscosity. Fake ink can also grow mold on it or completely dry out at body temperature in a couple of days.
Spotting fake ink can save you from diabolical health issues. Starting from infections to poisoning, fake ink can impair you for life. Of course, it will also not hold as long and won’t be as vibrant as authentic tattoo ink.
I’ll be discussing the most common tells that give away fake ink, and you won’t need an expert’s eyes to spot these.
How do I Tell Fake Tattoo Ink from the Real One?
Fake tattoo ink has quite a few inconsistencies that you can spot, even without comparing it to the original. Fake ink will differ in four main categories from authentic tattoo ink.
- The bottle.
- The ink.
- The pricing.
- The source.
If you see enough of these inconsistencies, you can be sure that the ink isn’t authentic. Tattoo ink companies take great care in their quality control. Reputable companies do not let ink go through with even the smallest, ignorable issues.
A fake ink tattoo bottle will have many flaws, colors, and build differences that are easy to spot. Overall, you’ll be looking for poor build quality and design choices. Here are some issues that you can spot without knowing what the original product looks like.
- Shoddy build quality. The bottle will be made of fragile, cheap plastic. You can spot bits of extra plastic around the seams, edges, and in any openings.
- Unhygienic methods of opening. If the bottle opens in a fashion that exposes the ink to the outside environment, it’s likely fake. Typical tattoo ink bottles will have a nozzle to pour out the ink, and a good seal to cover it.
- See if there’s a shaker ball. Most ink bottles come with a shaker ball unless it’s fake.
If you spot these issues, and you need confirmation, you can look up the original ink bottle online. You should look for these features.
- Bottle shape and build quality. Check if the ink bottles match exactly in every dimension.
- Bottle opening mechanism. Fake tattoo ink bottles will often have similar but not the same method for opening them.
- Color variations in plastic. The cap might be gray instead of black.
- Bottle volume. Check if the original tattoo ink comes at the volume the suspected tattoo bottle offers.
The bottle can indicate if the ink is fake, but the labeling all but confirms it. Most forgers will not care much about the labeling. Even if they do, they will miss out on tiny details that you can spot. Here are some issues that you can spot easily.
- The label is misaligned. If the label is askew or looks fuzzy, it may be fake.
- Slight differences in the manufacturing company and product names.
- Fake labels can have grammar mistakes. You can check if anything looks misspelled, or odd, archaic language has been used.
- The list of ingredients will be vague. It will list ingredients wrongly, mispronounce them or get the amounts wrong. The label may not even list any ingredients at all.
- The label paper quality will not be great. You’ll see wear and tear on it despite it being new. Or the label will feel flimsy and glued poorly.
- The label will not have any manufacturing and expiry dates. Or the dates will look off. They can be written on the label by hand, so you can check for oddities there.
Once again, checking the original product label will let you know for sure. But even without the original, you can check for these ingredients on the label.
- Ethyl alcohol, distilled water, denatured alcohols, Methanol, rubbing alcohol, Propylene Glycol, or Glycerin for the base of the ink.
- Nickel salts for black ink.
- Zinc salts for yellow and white.
- Chromium salts for green.
- Aluminum salts for green and violet inks.
- Titanium for white ink.
- Copper for blue or green inks.
- Iron for brown, red, or black inks.
Note that you won’t see authentic tattoo inks use the metals directly in most cases. Safe variants of their salt compounds will be used. Fake tattoo inks will not cite these, or fail to spell out the names.
The ink is, unfortunately, not the immediate giveaway. When you’re trying to find how to spot fake tattoo ink, the ink may look off at a glance. Tattoo ink forgers have gotten better at production over time. You need a keen eye and time to spot the difference.
Three tells can give away fake tattoo inks. But you’ll need to be familiar with the original ink to spot these differences.
- The exact color shade and vibrance. Most fake tattoo inks will get the base color right, but only get so close to the exact shade of the color. Fake inks will also lack the vibrance that authentic tattoo inks have.
- The ink color consistency. Original tattoo ink tends to stay the same color and shade inside and out of the bottle. Fake ink will look lighter than it was in the bottle.
- Viscosity differences. Authentic tattoo ink will flow freely out of the bottle and will have the viscosity of a thick liquid. However, fake ink will be too viscous or too watery. It will forcefully squirt out of the bottle, have a mud-like consistency, or seem like colored water.
If you shake a fake tattoo ink bottle and let it rest for 15 minutes, the pigments will separate from the tattoo. They’ll fall to the bottom like sediment.
There is another test that tells you if a tattoo ink is fake. You can put some ink on a tray or a plate and keep it in an environment that matches body temperature and humidity. In a couple of days, the ink will show the following issues.
- The ink will dry leaving a cracked layer of pigments that feel powdery to the touch.
- Pigments will separate from the base liquid.
- Thickening consistency.
- Growing mold or white dots.
Authentic inks will dry only a little but still maintain the same consistency and color. Touching it will leave a glossy coat of ink on your fingers.
The pricing can be an early warning for fake tattoo inks. If you see a wholesale deal, or the price is too cheap, then it’s fake. Don’t take the plunge if you can’t guarantee the authenticity of the ink.
Check for the prices cited by the companies directly by brand name. If the price is near the ballpark, go for single bottles of ink. Test one from that source and then buy more if you need to.
Instead of buying direct from retailers, you can opt to buy tattoo ink from sources like Amazon, Wish, and eBay. Most fake tattoo ink sellers are on these platforms, especially because there’s no real effort to verify the products at all.
You can also check the manufacturing source of the inks. For example, Intenze tattoo inks are made in the USA, but some fake ones will cite other countries, such as the Philippines.
But Why Should I Care About Authenticity?
We use a lot of fake products in our lives. While they perform poorly, they get the job done. So, what’s so wrong with going for a cheaper, fake tattoo ink?
Fake tattoo inks don’t simply affect the quality and vibrancy of your tattoo. They pose serious health risks. Using fake tattoo inks can leave permanent damage. You can face these issues if you opt for a fake tattoo ink.
- Marred or burned skin
- Allergic reactions
- Skin cancer
Fake tattoo inks still contain many ingredients that can cause lethal illnesses. Here are some of the most lethal ones.
- Azo, Pyrene, and Benzo(a)pyrene which cause skin cancer
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon is a carcinogen that causes slow, but lethal poisoning
- Toxic metals such as Mercury, Lead, and Barium
- Fluoranthene causes liver and kidney damage
- Chrysene causes skin, liver, and lung cancer
- Benz(a)anthracene, which causes cancer, poisoning, and damages reproductive ability
- Anisidine, which causes breathing issues and methemoglobinemia
Many other untested ingredients are used to make fake tattoo inks. The sterility of the manufacturing site is also suspect. So, you have no assurance that using a fake tattoo ink won’t cause you harm.
If you want to learn how to spot fake tattoo ink effectively and fast, pull up a catalog of the most popular and used tattoo ink brands. Intenze, Kuro Sumi, Bloodline, Radiant Colors, Panthera, Mom’s Millennium, and Starbrite are the most used brands. Become familiar with the color shade, bottle designs, and labels.
If you’re getting tattooed by an artist, check their ink brands and look up the colors that’ll be used on your tattoo. You can cross-check their ink bottles to know if they’re using authentic ink or not. While no artist would ever knowingly use fake tattoo ink, there are scammers out there. It never hurts to be sure.