Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ink Spots #1: How To Spot Fake Kuro Sumi

"Fake is as old as the Eden Tree."
-Orson Welles

Not too long ago Dave Muller published an article to help buyers spot fake Kuro Sumi Color ink bottles. As a supplement to his article, which you can read here, I "invested" in a set of fake Kuro Sumi Color from a known counterfeits distributor to compare the authentic with the fakes. What I've come up with is an additional article with some more in-depth measures to spot fakes and avoid purchasing from counterfeiters. I highly recommend you read Dave's article before you read this.

#1 - Avoid Discounters
The absolute best way to avoid purchasing counterfeit Kuro Sumi inks is to avoid purchasing from discounters or wholesalers such as TMart.Com, TradeMe, DHGate.Com and These sellers commonly buy counterfeits from China or the Philipines and sell them at discounted prices to entice unknowing buyers to purchase these items thinking they are getting a good deal.

These kinds of discounters and wholesalers commonly sell other counterfeit goods as well, from electronics to name brand clothing and sports and outdoors gear. Use common sense. You wouldn't buy tattoo ink from a hotdog vendor, why would you buy it from a sporting goods and electronics wholesaler?

If you find Kuro Sumi on the net for much less than you find it from legitimate tattoo supply houses like Technical International Tattoo Supply (who is the official distribution center and trademark owner of Kuro Sumi), it is highly likely that your colors are not authentic.

I've included a list of known counterfeit distributors. All of the sites listed below are perfect examples of the 7-Color shrinkwrap style color set, which you will read about shortly:

#2 - Neck
If a picture of the bottle is included, look at the neck. Neck spacing between the shoulder of the bottle and the cap on 1/2 oz. bottles of Kuro Sumi Color is about 2mm, enough to see the curve between the shoulder of the bottle and the bottom of the cap. If the bottom of the cap extends all the way down to the shoulder of the bottle, it is likely a counterfeit.

Blacks and graywashes do come in 12oz bottles. All 12oz bottles will have a raised Kuro Sumi emblem on the neck. If your bottle of black or wash is missing this, it is definitely a fake.

#3 - Size
Kuro Sumi Colors are not available in 16oz, 12oz or 8oz sizes as they are often advertised by counterfeiters. Kuro Sumi Colors are only available in 1/2oz, 1oz, 2oz and 4oz bottles, but in no way does that mean all 4oz, 2oz, 1oz and 1/2oz bottles are authentic. Counterfeiters go to great lengths to deceive buyers and have done remarkably well in their attempts to duplicate Kuro Sumi's products and  packaging. Always check all the points mentioned in this article.

#4 - Packaging
If your ink arrives in heat-shrinked plastic packages of 7, it's not authentic. All Kuro Sumi Colors will come in Kuro Sumi white box packaging bearing the Dragon Logo cutout and Kuro Sumi stamp. Pigments will arrive in a plastic tray in the box, not in rows in heat-shrink plastic.


#5 - Number Of Inks In Package
If you are looking on discount tattoo supply websites and think you've found a good deal on an authentic Kuro Sumi Color set, check to see how many bottles are included in the set. Commonly, counterfeit Kuro Sumi will come in packages of 6, 7, 14, 16, 22, 28 and 35. Be particularly aware of the 28 and 35-Bottle "Complete Color" set. Kuro Sumi Color's complete line has 59 colors, not 28 or 35.

#6 - Pigment Names
Check the back of the bottle for the names. Kuro Sumi Colors have unique proprietary names such as "Tsunami Blue" and "White Rice Mixing". The Kuro Sumi Color chart with all ink pigment names is available here.


Fake Kuro Sumi bottles will have names like "Lime Green" and "Snot Green", some of them even misspelled. I've included a full list of fake Kuro Sumi Color names below. Note that all misspellings are directly copied from the bottle and not a mistake on my part.

Tribal Black
Medium Brown
Light Brown
Dark Purple
Violent Violet
True Magenta
Rose Pink
Bright Red
Dark Red
Tomato Is Red
Bubblegum Pink
Shallow Pink
Carols Pink
(I'm assuming this is supposed to be Coral Pink)
Blue Sky
Sky Blue
Country Blue
Golden Yellow
Deep Yellow
Lemon Yellow
Lime Green
Snot Green
Dark Green
Light Gerrn
Sea Foam Green
Forest Is Green

#7 - Lot #
If your inks are all from LOT#KCTB10822 they are not authentic. This is because when the original label was copied attention was not paid to this detail. The dates of manufacture will be different by a year or more in some cases but the lot number will always be LOT#KCTB1022


#8 - C.I.#
A C.I.# is a pigment constitution designation number. It essentially tells you what the primary pigment makeup of an ink is. Check the back of your Kuro Sumi Color bottle for a C.I.# If the number is C.I.#74160 it's possible that your ink is counterfeit. C.L.#74160 is the data for shade green Phthalocyanine Blue. Ink colors such as yellow, red, pink and especially white have no Phthalocyanine Blue pigment in the ink. Check a bottle of each color class of your Kuro Sumi Color to make sure the C.I.#'s are not all the same, as they will not all contain C.I.#74160. This is another mistake that was made when the original label was copied for duplication. The counterfeiter did not take into consideration that the C.I.# is a pigment indicator and that it will be different depending on what kinds of pigments are in the ink. This is a dead giveaway.

#9 - Drying
Original Kuro Sumi dries like a very shiny thin film gel. Fake Kuro Sumi Outline inks dries powdery. To test this, squeeze a couple drops onto a paper plate and allow it to dry overnight. When you check it the next day, scrape it with a fingernail or key tip. If it flakes off or is dusty, it is not genuine.

#10 - Separation
All inks will separate over time. A good shake before use will fix that problem. Ideally, an ink should stay mixed throughout a tattoo procedure and not separate in the ink cap during tattooing. A good way to find out if you've got a fake ink is to shake the ink bottle and let it settle. See how long it takes to separate. If it's at or over an hour, that should be ok. If it's under 15 minutes chances are it has a high alcohol content and is a counterfeit ink.


There are two main reasons not to support counterfeiters or buy fake ink. The first is a health and safety issue. A lot of counterfeiters are based in China and the Philipines. That's not to say that these countries are not able to produce quality products, but it is to say that they do not have the kinds of regulations and restrictions about what can and cannot go into products like we do in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Europe and other parts of the world. In October in 2010 the New Zealand Herald published an article after a report of contaminated tattoo ink was released by ERMA. The ink, purchased from TradeMe.Com, was tested and was shown to contain metals known to be hazardous to humans. That article is here.

The second is that producers of legitimate and quality inks such as Intenze, Millenium, Starbright, Kuro Sumi and many others have patented formulas which they closely guard. These are not known to be hazardous and strict guidelines are met to ensure that only the highest quality pigments are produced. These colors are the property of the originating company and they deserve to be paid. Their inks aren't just a necessity in the tattoo industry, they're a service. Counterfeiters do not deserve to make a profit off of selling inferior look-alikes and do a disservice to the entire industry and endanger unsuspecting buyers and anyone they tattoo with counterfeit ink. 

For further reading on fake inks, check out this article from Hildbrandt Tattoo Supply.