What is the difference between tattoo ink & pen ink?

Updated April 17, 2017

According to a 2008 Harris Interactive Poll, 14 per cent of Americans have at least one tattoo. Tattoos are made by inserting ink under the skin. The ink used in tattoos is different than the ink used in pens.

Tattoo Ink

Ink companies are not required so disclose their ingredients, so discovering the exact composition of tattoo ink can be difficult. Most tattoo inks are composed of a pigment mixed with water or alcohol. Black tattoo ink can include carbon and coloured tattoo inks can include iron or titanium oxides.

Pen Ink

Pen ink is composed of dyes with water or oil. Oil-based inks tend to smear less and dry faster than water-based inks. Most pen manufacturers buy their ink. Bic is one company that makes its own pen ink.


The chemical composition is the biggest difference between tattoo ink and pen ink. While tattoo inks are usually made with pigments, many pen inks contain dyes rather than pigments, because pigments are thicker and could clog the tip of a pen.


Some tattoo pigments are used in pen ink. Yellow 74 is a common pigment in yellow tattoos that is also used in some coloured ink pens. Some people who give themselves homemade tattoos use pen ink, though this method is not recommended.

Health Effects of Tattoo Ink

Tattoo ink is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but its long-term effects are being investigated. Tattoo ink can cause infections or allergic reactions in some individuals.

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About the Author

Scott Allan is a Penn State graduate with a journalism degree and a background in news, entertainment, and travel writing. He has been writing since the mid-'90s and has been published on various websites, including eHow and Answerbag.