The Complexity of Blackout Tattoos

From tiny fine-line tattoos to portraits so large they should be renting space at the MET, there are seemingly endless different types of tattoos to choose from. If you're a novice in the body-art department, you may opt for something small and dainty or a meaningful design to commemorate a special moment in your life, but if you want to delve deeper into the world of tattooing as an art form, there are some lesser-known designs that you may come across. Chief among them? Blackout tattoos.

Ahead, Brooklyn-based tattoo artist Jazmin Paulino is breaking down everything you need to know about blackout tattoos, from the cost and pain level to the reasons you might want to reconsider getting one.

What Is a Blackout Tattoo?

As the name suggests, blackout tattoos are when an area of the body, such as an arm or leg, is fully saturated with solid black ink — often without any additional designs. They can be used as a way to cover up old tattoos that someone may not want to see anymore, but sometimes, they are chosen as a standalone design. It is a type of design that is relatively uncommon outside of more experienced people in the body-art space.

How Much Do Blackout Tattoos Cost?

As with any piece of body art, the cost of blackout tattoos varies. "The possibilities for blackout tattoos are extremely vast, so there's no way to price a tattoo like this vaguely," Paulino tells POPSUGAR. "It depends on how much surface area you cover, who the artist is, where you get the tattoo, and so many other factors. I can guarantee though, it will cost you."

In New York City, many tattoo shops have a minimum of $150 for a design, and prices climb from there.

Are Blackout Tattoos Painful?

Tattoo pain is relative — all designs inevitably come with some level of pain, and each individual's pain tolerance is different. However, blackout tattoos tend to be a bit more painful than regular designs. "A blackout does generally require time to complete," Paulino says. "More time under the needle can definitely cause more pain simply because the tattoo is taking longer to complete."

How Long Do Blackout Tattoos Take?

Aside from the cost and pain, another factor to consider before getting a blackout tattoo is time. "Blackout tattoos seem like they would be simple and straightforward, but it is a tattoo that still requires quite a bit of skill," Paulino says. In fact, blackout tattoos can sometimes take longer than your average tattoo. When they are done correctly, no skin should be showing — that means the tattoo artist has to take extra care with shading. The larger the area, the more time it will take.

Removing Blackout Tattoos

Know this: blackout tattoos are difficult to remove. "Consider the permanence of this type of tattoo," Paulino says. "Obviously tattoos are permanent with the exception of laser removal, but removing a fully blacked-out body part sounds less than appetizing." While removing tattoos can take, on average, seven to 10 sessions, the larger the tattoo, the more laser sessions it will require. So if you do opt to get a blackout tattoo and later want to get rid of it, prepare to dedicate a significant amount of (very uncomfortable) time to this process.

Why Blackout Tattoos Are Controversial

One of the most important things to consider before getting a blackout tattoo is the controversy behind the design. This type of tattoo can be considered highly offensive to people of color. "Considering historically how [white people] treated us for our skin color, it could be deemed hypocritical, depending on that person's intention," Paulino says. "It's always a touchy subject."

As with any decision, intent does not always negate the impact. This could be likened to getting traditional Indigenous tattoos without having any connection to the culture. At the end of the day, your body belongs to you, but a blackout tattoo can send a negative message without you intending to.

On top of all this, blackout tattoos can also make it harder to spot changes in the skin that can signal larger health issues. This will make staying on top of your yearly health appointments imperative.

Blackout tattoos can be controversial, so you may want to avoid getting one in the first place. However, if you do decide to move forward with the design, make sure you go to a trusted artist who has done this type of work before.