Black and grey tattoos

Black and grey tattoos are characterised by their varying shades using only black ink. Typically, black and grey tattoos use a single needle.

Intricate shading results in highly detailed pieces of art, so realistic they look like they’re jumping right off the skin!

Did you know that black and grey tattoos were popularised in the 70s and 80s, in prison, of all places! In fact, black and grey tattoos are colloquially referred to as “jailhouse” style.

Limited resources meant inmates had to creatively make their own needles – guitar strings, for example (which we highly discourage!) and used pen ink and cigarette ashes as ink.

The black and grey shading style can be applied to most other tattoo styles, such as Japanese, and as such, is a versatile style without limits.

Black and grey tattoo artists

These monochromatic masterpieces are a timeless style!

The intricate nature of detailed shading makes black and grey tattoo artists some of the industry’s most skilled.

As black and grey tattoos can be applied across various other styles, it’s also one of the most versatile techniques.

As the style grew in popularity, black inks were usually watered down to achieve the different shades of grey.

Today, it’s not uncommon for tattoo artists to maintain this technique, but also introduce grey and white ink in order to create vivid shading and add a new level of eye-catching contrast.

Popular black and grey tattoo ideas


Some of the best tattoos depict black and grey images of the world’s most admired architecture.

Whether it be the pyramids of Egypt, the gothic glory of Notre Dame, or simply an iconic skyline, detailed black and grey architectural tattoos make a real impact.

Dark theme

A dark themed tattoo, whether it be goblins, zombies, skulls, decaying bodies or a figure lost in the woods, is always well paired with black and grey tones.

The dark shades help to exemplify an ominous and eerie feeling.


Mandalas are very popular tattoo choices, representing the buddhist belief that our minds and bodies are intertwined with infinity.

The black and grey shades make a small or large mandala look subtly beautiful.


A landscape is an incredibly detailed tattoo and often looks incredible in black and grey. The darker shades help to create a more subdued tattoo that’s admired from afar and marvelled up close.

Sentimental tattoo

The black and grey tones of tattoos are a great way to bring a subtle, sombre sincerity to a design.

If you want to honour a lost loved one or someone who’s had a great influence on your life, a black and grey shaded tattoo is a great way to do that.

Animals and insects

A fearless scorpion, a transformational butterfly, or simply your favourite childhood pet: animals and insects are ever-popular in the black and grey style.