Picking a tattoo: design ideas

When choosing a tattoo design it is important to consider size, location, color, and meaning for the most personal selection.

Tattoos are an increasingly popular form of personal expression. No longer the brand of an alternative fringe lifestyle, tattoos come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, from tiny icons no larger than birthmarks to elaborate works of art on the body's canvas. The sheer variety makes choosing a design difficult, but it is an important decision. Though tattoo removal is becoming easier, the procedure is lengthier and more expensive than the original tattoo, and it is likely to leave scars. A carefully chosen tattoo design is a lifetime investment and many factors go in to selecting the appropriate motif.

Before choosing a specific design, consider the tattoo's location. Conservative professions demand designs that are easily covered by standard clothing. Back tattoos are popular because of the large, relatively uniform surface, but it will be difficult to see your own tattoo. Body changes such as pregnancy, weight fluctuations, or muscle tone can affect the shape of a tattoo over time. Tattoos placed in sensitive areas or near nerve endings, such as over bones or other thin-skinned areas, are invariably more painful, which may be a deciding factor for some individuals.

A tattoo's size and shape are important design considerations. Tattoos should be proportionally sized to the area of the body they are located: a large tattoo in a small area, such as an ankle, looks garish and awkward, while a small tattoo in a large area looks incomplete. The smaller the tattoo the less detailed the design should be, because inks blur and fade slightly over time and a very intricate design may lose its integrity. Temporary tattoos or outline sketches can be used to visualize the design's proportions.


The number of colors used in a design affects the cost, intricacy, and overall appearance of the tattoo. White, red, and light-colored inks fade more quickly when exposed to sunlight, while black is the hardiest shade. An individual's skin color changes the color of the ink, and it may be impossible to predict the final appearance of a healed tattoo. Different colors are created by mixing different compounds, and individuals with sensitive skin or multiple allergies should be cautious about elaborate tattoos. Many tattoo artists mix their own pigments and can discuss possible allergic reactions.

Choosing the actual design is a highly personal decision. Because it is a lifetime investment, many people choose tattoos that reflect their personality, hobbies, or career. If the tattoo is to honor another person, considering their passions adds significance to the design. The range of tattoo designs is nearly infinite, and each shop offers thousands of possibilities and variations. Unfortunately, without having some idea first, it may be impossible to narrow down the selection and choose an appropriate design.

Design ideas can originate from many sources: cards, jewelry, photographs, computer graphics, t-shirts, personal drawings, and more. Competent tattoo artists can easily improvise and personalize a design from any item, and providing them with a source of inspiration allows both the artist and the recipient to collaborate on the final design. If an idea is not feasible, the artist can steer the customer toward similar but more accessible designs.

There are two types of tattoo designs: flash and custom art. Flash designs are pre-drawn, standard tattoos that can be done "in a flash." Most artists will make minor adjustments to personalize flash tattoos, such as changing colors or adding a small personal touch. Custom designs are entirely unique and drawn from inspiration, whether the inspirational source is another tattoo, picture, or other item. In general, custom designs are more elaborate and expensive, though a large flash tattoo may require more work than a small custom piece.

The specific tattoo artist affects the final design. Many artists specialize in different themes, such as roses, crosses, fantasy art, or scenes. While most artists can do standard designs, if you see someone with a tattoo similar to one you're considering, ask which artist created it. You can then collaborate with that specific artist to create your own custom artwork. Be aware that some artists will refuse to do offensive designs, specific names, or will not work on particular body parts.

A tattoo is a personal expression that lasts a lifetime, and the design should be chosen carefully based on personality, size, location, cost, and other factors. No matter what the ultimate decision, the tattoo is an intimate, personal statement of an individual's ideals, beliefs, and interests, and should be worn with flair.

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