Black and Grey Tattoos: 60+ Ideas & Things You Need To Know

Black and gray tattoos never die, and we don't stop looking for the best ideas for every taste. 60 of them are already waiting for you in our article, check it out.

The color tattoos are not to everyone’s liking, many prefer the eternal black and white classics. And when choosing a style, they stop at the good old Black & Grey tattoo. You can guess from its name that it is based on a combination of two colors — black and gray. It may seem a bit boring, but that’s a total misconception. Tattoos with different shades of black can be insanely interesting, original, and modern. 

These tattoos have quite an interesting origin, which we will tell you about today. But what is even more fascinating are the ideas we have prepared for you. From classic portraits or plants to unique original designs. All in all, there is a tattoo for every taste.

Our website has over 460 tattoo artists in the US who specialize in Black and Gray tattoo styles. If you haven’t found your tattoo master yet, feel free to take a look at our professionals. Perhaps one of them will ink your perfect tattoo in the future.

A Brief History of Black & Grey Tattoos


The black and gray tattoo is sometimes called the “jailhouse” or “joint style” and it is believed to have originated in prisons where prisoners had limited access to various materials. They used guitar strings instead of needles and took cigarette ashes or pen ink instead of paint. 

Prisoners built improvised tattoo machines that were powered by small motors found in tape recorders. In prisons, cellmates were not allowed to get tattoos, so it was most likely done secretly. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Jailhouse tattoo became popular with tattoo parlors outside the prison and was renamed “black and gray.” It is believed that black and gray came from the Chicano or Cholo culture in Los Angeles.

Traditional Black and Grey Tattoo

Traditionally, black and gray tattoos are performed without the use of any colorful pigments. The main participant in the birth of a new image in this direction is black. It is complemented by all its possible shades (from light gray to dark gray), obtained by diluting the tint in distilled water. By the way, do not forget that despite the apparent simplicity, monochrome drawings are very complicated, because it is so easy to ruin everything by picking the wrong color for the shadow. And only a professional master will be able to make such a gloomy picture fully reveal all its potential, playing up amazing new facets on the human body.


Tattoos that are done in black and gray look contrasting and very stylish. They will always be interesting for the genuine connoisseurs of art for whom the colored shell is not important, and all that matters is the deep meaning hidden in the intricate game of contrasts. Such tattoos are optimal for courageous, purposeful, and stylish people, not only indifferent to the pursuit of fashion trends but also honoring the traditions of the past.

Black and Gray Portrait Tattoo Ideas

Black and gray portraits are quite common in this type of tattoo. They are often done in the style of realism, which is a very complex but impressive technique. Some tattoos literally “come to life” on the body, and attract the attention of others.

Usually, portraits are made in a rather large size. This is because they need the detail to look more realistic. If you still do not want to decorate the body with a large-scale drawing, we have prepared ideas for small black and gray tattoos as well.

Black and Gray Sleeve Tattoo Designs

Tattoo sleeves that are done in black and gray look powerful and almost always stylish. This tattoo definitely won’t go unnoticed, and the cool thing is that you can put any adorable subjects in it.

The large size allows you to combine a variety of subjects and stories into one long plot. Although the tattoo sleeve can serve not only aesthetic but also practical purposes. The patterns can hide scars and other skin imperfections. The classic full sleeve starts at the wrist and ends at the shoulder girdle. By the way, this way you can also cover old unsuccessful tattoos.

Small B&G Tattoo Designs

Black and gray tattoos can also be small. Even though that it is more difficult to depict quality shades and shadows in a small composition, experienced tattoo artists will be able to cope with such a task. And if you don’t want a big tattoo for whatever reason, but you like B&G, there is a solution.

Animals in Black & Grey Tattoos

Animals look beautiful in almost any style, and black and gray tattoos are no exception. They, like portraits, are often performed in realism, and such tattoos look simply magical. Usually, people choose animal tattoos in two cases:

  • They want to keep their memories and favorite pets; 
  • Or they want to depict an animal as a symbol of certain qualities of character.

Plants in Black & Grey Tattoos

Flowers are the most popular option for B&G tattoos among plants. They are especially loved by girls. Each plant has its meaning: 

  • Orchids represent tenderness and grace;
  • Peonies symbolize love, romance, success, and prosperity;
  • Chrysanthemums are the guarantee of a happy future.

Some Crazy (Unique) B&G Ideas

Most of the tattoos in this section are so unusual that it’s hard to guess for yourself what they mean. However, you have all the chances! 

Shadows play the most important role in these tattoos. Some of them are so realistic that you forget it’s just a drawing on a person’s body.

Why Black Color Is Not Really Black in Tattoos

One of the most asked questions about tattoos is how the color will look over time. We often see guys who have the same black and white tattoos look very different: some of them are deep black, others are blue, or dark gray. And the white pigment never looks white after healing. Its color ranges from milky to yellow and even brownish. 


So what are the main factors that influence the color of the tattoo?

  • Epidermis. A key factor in the formation of tattoo color. The epidermis is the uppermost layer of the skin, a kind of filter that changes the perception of color under the skin. During the tattoo session, it is traumatized and subsequently completely renewed. This is why the color of a fresh tattoo is very different from a healed one.
  • Exposure to the sun. Another enemy of tattoo pigment is ultraviolet light. It changes the color of the epidermis and therefore the appearance (shade) of the tattoo. A love of tanning is fraught with accelerating the process of fading pigment.
  • The quality of pigment. Experienced masters use the proven known brands of tattoo pigments. They do not invert over time from one color to another, long life. But such pigments are expensive, which means that the tattoo will cost more. 
  • Tattoo care. The color of the pigment also depends a lot on how well the tattoo has healed and how you care for it afterward. By over-drying the tattoo, you risk a loss of pigment. This means uneven color. Equally important is the aftercare of the tattoo. A regular moisturizer will help your skin look cleaner and smoother, which means the pigment will be richer, without “filters”. 

In addition, it is vital to go to a professional tattoo artist, which directly affects the quality of your tattoo.

Other Colors in B&G Tattoos: Yes or No?


If you add different colors to your black and gray tattoo, it is more likely to be called a colored or mixed tattoo after that. 

Of course, no one forbids you to do that. On the contrary, it will look quite modern and attractive. You can’t add color over black ink, but you can add it around parts of the tattoo, making it more vivid.  

Black and Grey Tattoo Artists


Choosing the right master is as important as choosing the right tattoo design. After all,  the result will depend on the professionalism of the tattooist. The final color of the tattoo also largely depends on the master. The tattoo master drives the coloring pigment into the dermis. If the work is done well, the paint lays tightly immediately after application. The lines look clear, the pigment is saturated. 

The healing process begins. From this moment macrophages begin to work on the identification and removal of foreign components from our body. Thus, part of the pigment will be eliminated with the bursa during the first days of healing. The rest will be actively “spread” by macrophages in the dermis until complete healing. After this period, in a month and a half after tattooing, macrophages will take most of the pigment as “theirs” and stop the active cleansing phase.

If the tattoo is not done by a professional, the pigment may have been applied at different depths and densities. And after complete healing, the lines may have different coloring and will be heterogeneous and the color is correspondingly lighter than expected.


Black and Gray is a popular style of tattoo, because it allows you to ink the body with any drawing and ornament, and looks restrained and aesthetic. On the other hand, it is also a classic that never gets old. 

If you choose this style for your tattoo, you will have virtually unlimited possibilities in terms of what to portray on the body. From portraits of people to mystical animals, from abstracts to a variety of floral motifs. Allow your imagination to go beyond templates and create a truly creative design that depicts what you want to capture on your body.


? What Are Black and Grey Tattoos Called?

The black and gray tattoo is sometimes called the “jailhouse” or “joint style” and it is believed to have originated in prisons where prisoners had limited access to various materials.

? What Is Black and Grey Realism Tattoos?

Black and grey realism tattoos are a kind of classic that never dies. They often depict realistic portraits of people or animal images.

? Are Black and Grey Tattoos Safe?

Yes, black and gray tattoos are safe in every sense. The main thing you must remember is to take the choice of design seriously, especially if the tattoo is large.

? Do Black and Grey Tattoos Last Longer?

Yes, black and gray tattoos are practical and last longer than colored ones.

?Where Did Black and Grey Tattoos Originate?

It is believed that black and gray tattoos first appeared in prisons and spread from there. Geographically it was in the United States, in the Los Angeles area. Although there is also a version that such tattoos are much older and appeared in ancient Egypt.


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