In some of our previous articles published on
CTshop.com.au 'Why Do Cosmetic Tattoos Change Colour' and 'Warm vs. Cool Colours' we discussed some of the challenges that Cosmetic Tattooists face working with colour, largely this is because many of the colour concepts that are often taught in training programs have been assimilated from other occupations, the information supplied by educators may sometimes conflict with each other, and the factors that affect the final healed colour of a cosmetic tattoo are quite unique.
Consequently the same types of questions seem to continually arise in forums, discussion groups, and at conferences;
How do I correct the colour of an eyebrow?
Why did the colour heal looking blue/grey?
Why do some people say this is a warm colour and others say its a cool colour?
In this article I will focus on information that has a rational connection to the act of cosmetic tattooing and to exclude superfluous colour concepts that appear to confuse many technicians, for example the abstract concept of Warm vs. Cool which as we demonstrated in our previous article often results in conflicting opinions and perspectives and in reality has no reliable influence on colour outcomes.
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Lets recap the major factors that actually do influence the final healed colour of a cosmetic tattoo;
Below I have deliberately used the terms 'outer skin tones' and 'under skin tones' because they are descriptive of the relationship between the location of the tattoo pigment (in the dermis) and any colour influences within the dermis and the epidermis above and below the tattoo pigment, keep in mind that these are provided as descriptive terms not anatomical definitions.
The late Thomas B. Fitzpatrick (19/12/1919 - 16/08/2003) a world renowned Dermatologist was the founding Author of Fitzpatrick’s Colour Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, he is credited with many significant achievements in the advancement of the field of Dermatology; the melanosome and tyrosinase, the epidermal melanin unit, skin phototypes, melanoma, PUVA photochemotherapy, sun protection factors, vitiligo, and many others.
Most often cosmetic tattoo pigments are combinations of 2-3 or more colourant additives sourced from dry powders, when mixed together in a suspension the final colour is a composite of the various ingredients, some colourant ingredients may tend to fade faster than others with exposure to UV light this is often referred to as their lightfastness, also sometimes a persons immune system may be more successful at breaking down and transporting one or more of the colourant ingredients as compared to the other ingredients. If either of these situations occur then the tattoo may change colour as it fades, in the absence of those factors the pigment will tend to fade towards its dominant hue which may become more obvious as the pigment saturation reduces in the skin, this is particularly the case with dark coloured pigments. The clients skin tones will also have an increasing influence on the appearance of the tattoo colour as the pigment fades.
With dark coloured tattoo pigments such as blacks, browns and greys the more concentrated the colour becomes the more difficult it might be to determine the pigments dominant hue. The quickest way to asses the dominant hue of a dark coloured pigment is to add between 1-3 drips of pigment to a jar filled with 150mls of water, place the lid on the jar and shake and then hold the jar in front of a white sheet of paper in front of a window that has some indirect sunlight coming through. Depending on the type and concentration of the pigment you may need to adjust the amount of pigment in the water between 1-3 drips to achieve a dilute mixture that is the right concentration to reveal its dominant hue.
When colours are mixed together you can think of it as a battle to assert colour dominance over the final composite, sometimes the battle is friendly and the resulting colour is a harmonious blend of similar hues, sometimes it is a truce between opposites resulting in a neutral blend and other times it is a disastrous clash yielding an unexpected and unwanted hue or an unpleasant bland muddy/grey. The key to achieving more predictability in colour outcomes from cosmetic tattooing is establishing both the dominant hue of the clients skin colour and the dominant hue of your chosen pigment range.
Circle 1: The outer circle displays a standard RYB colour wheel with the primaries Red, Yellow, Blue and the secondaries Orange, Green, Purple. The arrows indicate the complementary colour for each of the primary and secondary colours, you may recall from our previous article 'Warm vs. Cool' you should not confuse complementary (to make complete) with complimentary (flattering, looks good together), complementary colours together with their complement on the opposite side of the wheel will contain all three primaries of this colour models triad (Red, Yellow, Blue). For example purple contains Red and Blue its complementary colour is yellow so together they complement (complete) the triad by containing all three of the paint artists colour model primaries of Red, Yellow and Blue.
Circle 2: The next circle provides a colour illustration of how adding a small quantity of a complementary colour to each of the primary and secondary colours starts to cause a shift in the hue in the direction of a more brownish version of the original colour. This illustrates how the addition of a complementary colour can be used to colour correct an unwanted hue, e.g. an orange correction pigment or a brown that is dominant orange may be used to correct a tattoo that is blue or a brown that has blue dominance and cause a hue shift towards a more neutral brown. You can think of this as the first step away from the primary or secondary towards a more brownish hue.
Circle 5: A grey tattoo may be the result of incorrect choice of pigment for the clients skin colour, excessive or inappropriate mixing of pigments, changes to the tattoo colour as the pigment saturation reduces in the skin during fading or due to the pigment being implanted too deep in the skin (caused by the Tyndall Effect) resulting in a bland muddy grey colour.
Complementary Colour Mixing: The three graduated colour scales illustrate how mixing complementary colours tend to create shades of brown towards the middle of their mixing range.
It is not uncommon to hear a cosmetic tattooist say that they mixed two or three pigments together and they cannot understand why the tattoo ended up healing a muddy brown or greyish colour, it is worth keeping in mind that in most circumstances cosmetic tattoo pigments are created from 2-3 or more colourant ingredients it is likely that none of them were primary or secondary colours they were probably mixtures of those colours, by mixing 2-3 pigments together you end up creating mixtures of 6-9 or more colourants. Every time that you mix colours together you step further away from the vibrant primaries and secondaries and spiral inwards towards muddy colours (browns) and if we add white to the mix we increase the risk of creating an unattractive grey.
Paint Artists may sometimes refer to this as simultaneous contrast, a colour may appear to be different hue when compared to other colours, this phenomenon is particularly noticeable when complementary colours are involved. In the example below the centre square is the same colour in each of the larger squares but it may appear to be orange when compared to the primary colour blue or brown when compared to its orange complement. It is important for cosmetic tattooists to be aware of relative contrast because the dominant hue of your clients skin will affect the apparent colour of the tattoo pigment particularly if the dominant hue of the clients skin trends towards the complement of the dominant hue of the pigment (you might want to read this sentence again to fully grasp it).
You may have seen it suggested that a pigment colour can be selected based upon a clients Fitzpatrick skin type but as mentioned previously a Fitzpatrick score is an indication of melanin saturation not the dominant hue, for this reason it is a good idea to always check the pigment colour against your clients skin before tattooing, a smear of pigment from thick to sparse over the back of clients hand and forehead will assist you to evaluate relative contrast before using the chosen pigment.
Metamerism is a topic that is rarely tackled in training programs because a first glance it appears to be extremely complicated, however it explains why mixing two or more colours together may sometimes produce unexpected colour results, to understand metamerism first we need to have a brief recap on how our perception of colours occurs in the first place. The visible light spectrum (white light) is composed of waves of light of different lengths, when wavelengths of white light are separated after passing through a prism our eyes are able to perceive those wavelengths with the range of approximately 390-700nm.
When white light hits the surface of a physical object some portions of the visible spectrum may pass through (if translucent) some portions may be absorbed by the surface of the object and other portions will be reflected, the visible wavelengths that are reflected are what gives the object the apparent colour that we see, this is called a subtractive colour system because it is the subtracted wavelengths of light that result in the reflected colour of the object.
However there is a catch unlike a colorimeter or spectrophotometer our eyes do not actually have receptors that detect and measure each wavelength of light, our eyes have two types of photoreceptor cells called rods and cones, rods are extremely sensitive to light intensity but they only provide us a fairly low resolution greyish image, there are three types of cones that require higher light intensity to function at their best (brighter light conditions are required hence the reason why our discrimination of colour is lower at night) and each type of cone has a specific range in wavelength that they detect, the three types of cone have peak sensitivity around the Red, Green and Blue wavelengths, often called the tristimulus values. To enable us to enjoy the rich colour experience that we do we must rely upon a combined stimulation of the three types of cones in different combinations.
Because of these limitations in our colour vision sometimes objects that reflect different wavelengths of visible light (different spectral distributions) can stimulate our eyes in exactly the same way, they are called 'metamers' meaning that we see them as the same colour even though they are actually reflecting different wavelengths of light. This phenomenon explains why sometimes combinations of coloured pigments produce combined colour outcomes that are different to what we might expect, as colours become brighter they have fewer metamers so ours eyes have better discrimination and less false colour matches, as colours become duller/whiter/greyish the number of potential metamers increases and more false colour matches will occur.
Answer: In our article
Why Do Cosmetic Tattoos Change Colour? - Part 2 on CTshop.com.au we described how the spectral characteristics of human skin results in scattering of light at a fairly shallow depth around 500µm, larger deposits may be more susceptible to the Tyndall effect and back scatter which we described as the Depth: Colour/Size effect i.e. the larger the pigment deposit is and the deeper it is in the skin the more likely the deposit will appear to be larger than its actual size and bluer/greyer than its actual colour.
Extremely fine deposits of brown pigment in the skin may be susceptible to swamping by scattered blue light from surrounding skin, or in other words with such a small reflectance surface on the pigment of hair like stroke the red/orange/yellow wave lengths that are reflected are swamped by adjacent blue light scatter. Consequently you may need to use a pigment that is a little more dominant in the complementary side of the colour wheel to compensate i.e. Red/Orange/Yellow.
Date of most recent revision: 18/08/2015 (mutatis mutandis)
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