Invisible Art

Posted by Jonna Ambur on June 11, 2010

Ultraviolet or Black light tattoos are tattoos done with a special ink that while virtually invisible to the naked eye, is visible under a black light. They’ve increased in popularity over the years, mostly with club goers since dance clubs usually use black lights.

It can be considered a fad, as with many artistic impressions, but it’s receiving some mixed reviews. Chris Amlie, a tattoo artist from NY and FL ( explained it simply “I haven’t owned a black light in at least 20 years and I doubt I’ll be at a rave anytime soon.”

There are artists that feel that UV tattoos are insulting to the community of tattoo enthusiasts and the artists. Tattoos, in general, are meant to be appreciated and to be appreciated they should be visible to some extent. Their design, their color, their depiction of an important event, whatever the focus of the piece, it’s meant to be worn as a badge of honor of sorts. To have an artist create a design that can only be seen under a special light seems pointless and some find it insulting to the art itself.

On the flip side there are artists that use UV tattoos to build a more diverse portfolio, or as an accent to other visible pieces. Melanie, a model from Massachusetts, got a tribal butterfly done several years ago and had it outlined in the UV ink. Her initial design was fully visible but had an extra punch under a black light. While she enjoyed having it, the ultraviolet ink “glow” did start to fade over time and she hasn’t had it redone stating that if she were still into clubbing she would since it was a fun thing to have.

The ink itself is much like other tattoo inks, but there are some extra concerns to research. The ink is generally invisible to the naked eye and is popular for some people that want to have a tattoo that is hidden from the general public. However, it’s not always invisible. How any ink is accepted by the skin depends on your own personal skin tone and skin in general, however UV ink can contain other carcinogens and chemicals than standard colors. It has been known to be irritating to people with skin allergies. Scaring can also occur. As with any tattoo the tattoo machine can leave permanent marks on the skin. The difference with a UV tattoo vs. a tattoo using a color is that the color tattoo will hide most minor scars or marks after healing. The UV ink can also fade over time and sometimes turn yellow if you do not take proper precautions from the sun and tanning. Overall the concerns for UV tattoos are the same for any tattoo. But if you MUST have something invisible it’s best to test the ink in an area of your body that can be hidden if it turns out it’s not for you.

In order to really find out more first hand information about UV tattoos I interviewed Matthew Kiley currently with Blue Scarab Tattoo (

Are they really invisible to the naked eye unless under a black light?

Most black light tattoos will leave a mild scar, they won’t be truly invisible but blend extremely well into the background color of the skin.

Do they change color over time?

My experience is that they lose some of their luminescence over time but don’t change color. They typically hold their “glow” very well.

Are they popular to everyone or just a certain group of people? Meaning young people who aren’t sure what they want? Partiers/Ravers? Real enthusiasts that want something different? Etc.

The popularity of UV tattoos is constantly growing. The more hardcore tattoo enthusiasts prefer traditional tattoo ink for its constant visibility.

People such as ravers who are under black lights more frequently have a greater propensity to get UV tattoos. I also find that clients with commitment issues like the idea of the having a tattoo with UV that allows them to hide them easier.

How is the UV ink generally used?. Full piece? An outline? Highlight? Hidden message?

From my experience, UV clients commonly prefer to have an additional outline done around a traditional tattoo or prefer smaller designs completely in UV on places like the hand and face where visibility is an issue.

Tell me about the ink itself. Is it the same as colored ink as far as how it absorbs in the skin and how it heals?

The ink is a proprietary blend from the individual manufacturers and varies, there are multiple colors available and all but the white are very pastel in appearance. They tend to take about a month or so to heal as opposed to the standard two week process.

Is the tattoo process the same?

The UV in is tattooed in the same way as traditional ink and initially appears only as a “bloodline” due to its transparency.

Have you known of anyone having a reaction to the UV ink or are the risks generally the same as with colored ink? Any special releases involved?

I haven’t seen any adverse reactions in my use of UV inks but it is my understanding that UV inks in the past were carcinogenic and ran a much greater risk of rejection.

What do you personally think of them?

I enjoy using UV inks, they add another dimension to what I am able to do and can be used in conjunction with healed traditional tattoos to make layered and multidimensional designs.

I’ve heard in passing that some artists find it an insult to the art of tattooing and won’t do them. I’ve also here it’s a fad like anything else? And of course .. money is money so if they want it they can have it.

Tattooing is tattooing. Whether a tattoo artist makes their own ink and uses them or buys commercial grade pigments, it’s the artist who makes the design what it is. UV ink is just another tool for the artist to use to augment his repertoire.

Is there anything you want to make clear to anyone considering a UV tattoo?

UV tattoos are still just tattoos but they do carry added risks, anyone thinking of getting a UV tattoo should research pigment manufacturers and be sure their artist uses only the best quality materials.

It’s evident that it’s really a personal choice, as with any tattoo. Some artists choose to do them, some don’t. Some enthusiasts choose to get them, some don’t. There are many reasons behind ANY tattoo, some personal, some health related. Regardless of the details, the design, the colors, the area of the body, tattoos will always remain a personal decision that vary from one person to the next.

Last modified on June 14, 2010

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