Tried & True Colors:
Color Testing For The Perfect Tattoo

Whether you’re a tattoo artist or a client, you may have heard misconceptions about who “should” or “shouldn’t” get a color tattoo. But color tattoos are for anyone who wants one — and getting a great tattoo starts with color testing.

Tatstat chatted with Esther Prawn Chiu, a tattoo artist based in LA, about the importance of color testing; myths about color tattoos and skin tone; and how artists can create awareness about color testing to empower their clients.

What's A Color Test?

A color test is when an artist tattoos a few dots or lines on your skin. The artist will swatch the colors, then wait to see how the colors heal to determine which colors will work best for you. 

While some artists offer color testing for free, others may charge a small fee to cover the cost of the ink and their time.

"Tattoo is like painting on canvas, but the canvas is our skin,” Esther said. “The color will mix with the original skin color as it heals."

Color Test of a flower on hip

Why Should You Get A Color Test?

Clients should get color tested for 2 main reasons. First, it helps them find out if they’re allergic to color. “With a color pigment, there’s a higher chance of being allergic,” Esther said, adding that red or pomegranate are colors that can pose a greater risk.

If a client is allergic, a small rash can appear — that’s why it’s a very small area. “It’s easier for your body to get rid of a dot,” she said. Sometimes, if the skin rejects the color, it can result in a longer healing process. If that happens, Esther advises to let it run its course. However, after 2-3 weeks, if the rash is severe, itchy or just plain uncomfortable, she recommends consulting with a doctor or dermatologist.

The other reason to color test is to find out how your skin works with the color and how it will heal. “The color may seem vibrant at first, but once it’s healed, it will mix with your skin’s undertone,” Esther said, resulting in a less vibrant color.

Color Flower Tattoos on arm

Color Testing Growing In Popularity

When Esther first started out in the industry, she heard a lot of myths about color tattoos for melanated skin. “I was told several years ago from my teacher that color wasn’t going to show,” she said, and was taught that people shouldn’t get color “unless they’re super pale.” She even experienced this as a client: when she tried to get a color tattoo, she was turned down.

Along with the misconceptions out there, Esther also wasn’t familiar with the color testing process. “When I first joined the industry in 2015, it didn't get brought up,” she said. But after connecting with different artists, she learned about the benefits. Now, she’s noticed that color testing has received more attention, especially in the past 2 years.

Cupid Color Tattoo on neck

The Future Of Color Testing

Since learning about the importance of color testing, Esther posted an Instagram reel to educate the community about color tattoos, in hopes that everyone can enjoy getting one. She received a lot of feedback from her reel, and even booked a few color tests after posting it.

Esther encourages other artists to talk about color testing and educate their clients through social media. She believes artists should inform their clients about color testing, rather than putting the onus on the client to ask. How people view their own skin tone varies and is subjective, so it’s best to test.

Best of all, Esther feels that color testing has benefits beyond the ink — it empowers her clients. “They get to know their body more, and be confident in their choices.”

Humming Bird Color Tattoo on shoulder

Color Tattoo Tips

In addition to color testing, if you want a color tattoo and are concerned about it working with your skin tone, Esther has a couple of tips:

Placement: Get your tattoo where your skin sees less sun, such as the inner arm.

Design: Make sure the design has high contrast. Choose a style that is more pigmented and filled out, rather than something that’s light and whimsical.

Color: For people with melanated skin, Esther suggests using more solid colors (red, orange, blue, green, etc.), instead of pastel or white.

With these tips and an awareness about color testing, we hope that more clients can enjoy color tattoos!

Hippo Color Tattoo on arm
woman tattooing a arm


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