You know you really, really want a tattoo. You might even know where on your body you'd like it placed. Maybe you have a vague idea of the kind of tattoo you'd like, but have you honed in on a specific tattoo design yet? If not and you're hunting for inspiring tattoo ideas, this Tattoo Style Guide can help you narrow down your choices and come up with the perfect type of tattoo for you.
When it comes to tattoo designs, you have lots of options. In addition to the plethora of tattoo flash art sheets and books filled with tattoo ideas, there are an almost infinite number of custom tattoo designs you could come up with on your own or by discussing a concept with a talented tattoo artist. You could also convert a piece of non-tattoo art you like into a unique tattoo. The most important thing is that you choose a design that means something to you, either on a personal level or for love of the art, if not both.
You can pull meaningful tattoo ideas from nearly any aspect of your life. Say you've lost a beloved friend or family member and want to commemorate that person in your tattoo. Think about the things that person loved about life; if s/he was a musician, you could get a memorial tattoo that includes musical notes, the specific instrument the person played, or a hodgepodge of musical elements combined with the person's name and/or the date they passed away. Maybe you're an animal lover who would appreciate a tattoo of your favorite furry critter; then you just need to decide if you want the animal to look realistic or cartoonish. If you're a super fan of a certain movie or game, you could get a portrait tattoo of your favorite character or even a scene from the film or game. Think about all the things you love, from hobbies to your career, friends and family to your favorite works of art, and so on. When you get down to it, you'll find that your tattoo choices are almost endless!
If you're not able to come up with a tattoo idea that you're passionate about just by listing out the things you love, review the most popular types of tattoos listed below. We compiled this list by looking at the tattoo ideas people search for most frequently on the internet. These tattoo concepts should give you a good starting point for coming up with your perfect tattoo design. When you hit on an idea that strikes a chord with you, scour websites like our Tattoo Design Photo Gallery for tattoo pictures and other images you like that relate to the general type of tattoo you think you want. Show your favorite pictures to your tattoo artist, and work with him or her to come up with a unique tattoo design that incorporates the elements you like most from the images you've found. It may take one sketch or a few to get things just right, but your tattoo artist should be able to cohesively combine those elements and tailor the design to the part of your body where you want your tattoo placed.
More people search for tribal tattoo ideas online than any other tattoo style. Some of the most revered, intricate and skillfully-designed tattoos in the ancient world were tribal designs, and people have been drawn to tribal tattoos ever since. The first notable tribal tattoo designs emerged from Polynesia, where Samoans, Maori and other Polynesian cultures were tattooing themselves for nearly 2,000 years before Captain James Cook of the English Royal Navy "discovered" them around 1769. Captain Cook was the one who coined the English word "tattoo", which was his phonetic translation of the Polynesian word "tatu" and the Samoan and Tahitian word "tatua". (Read more in our History of Tattoos article.)
The designs that most people associate with tribal tattoos are solid black and comprised primarily of smooth or jagged-edged swirls, lines, dots, and other geometric shapes in intricate and often recurring patterns. Most Polynesian tribal tattoo designs have that type of composition, but those aren't the only designs classified as tribal. Native American tattoos are also technically tribal designs. Some of the most popular Native American designs are of animals--more specifically, totems whose strength, prowess and other characteristics the Native Americans wished to emulate. Dream catcher tattoos are also popular tribal tattoo designs that comes from Native American culture.
Mayan tattoos and Aztec tattoos are other types of tattoos that are technically tribal in nature. Both cultures typically chose tattoo designs featuring their gods, and they wore them proudly as symbols of their courage. In Hawaiian tribal culture, natives would ornament themselves with "kakau" (Hawaiian for "tattoo") to beautify their bodies, as symbols of distinction, and as talismans to protect their physical and spiritual health. Hawaiian tattoos often include natural elements like woven reeds and flowers. Like Aztec tattoos, Maori tattoos and other tribal tattoos, Hawaiian tattoos have remained quite popular not just in native cultures, but among people the world around. Hawaiian flower tattoos tend to be more popular among women, and heavy black Polynesian tattoos tend to be more popular among men, but either sex can pull off any tribal tattoo design.
Some of the oldest tattooed mummies discovered in recent years have been from Egypt, where priestesses were the first Egyptians to have their bodies ornamented with tattoos. Amunet, the ancient Egyptian priestess of the goddess Hathor who lived sometime between 2160 and 1994 B.C., was found to have abstract geometrical patterns comprised of dots and dashes tattooed on her. At the time Amunet lived, only female ritualistic practitioners would have been tattooed. However, in later years the practice was adopted by other Egyptians who carried the tradition of tattooing to surrounding lands, like Arabia, Persia and Greece.
Today, some of the most popular Egyptian tattoos that people get are of Egyptian gods, pharaohs and hieroglyphics, the formal writing system of ancient Egyptians that incorporated logo-graphic (picture) and alphabetic (letter) elements. The Ankh symbol and the Eye of Horus ("Udjat" in Egyptian) are at the center of many modern Egyptian tattoos. The Eye of Horus is a symbol of protection, good health and royal power. The Ankh is also known as the breath of life or the key of the Nile, and its literal translation is "life".
Scarab tattoos are another popular design that comes from Egyptian culture. The Egyptians saw dung beetles rolling balls of dung across the ground and equated the behavior with the sun rolling across the sky. They also associated the balls with spontaneous creation, because they confused the dung balls with dung beetle eggs that would hatch and result in multitudes of beetles seeming to appear from nowhere.
The Japanese were some of the first people to tattoo themselves strictly for adornment rather than for commemorative, spiritual or healing purposes. Tattooing may have been a part of Japanese culture as early as 3,000 B.C., but it wasn't until 297 A.D. that the first written record of Japanese tattoos appeared. According to that record from a Chinese dynastic history, Japanese horis (tattoo artists) introduced beautiful colors, creative designs and perspective to tattoos that had never before been seen. Horis were master tattoo artists who used the traditional hand-poked method of tattooing. It was common for Japanese people to have horis cover their bodies in colorful tattoos featuring everything from fanged dragons to lovely Japanese women to delicate cherry blossoms and beyond. In the past few hundred years, the full body tattoo has become less popular among common people and more of a mark of Japanese mafia men called Yakuza.
Japanese tattoos today tend to be as colorful and graphic as they were in their heyday in Japan nearly 2,000 years ago, although black and gray Japanese tattoos aren't unheard of either. Some people choose to incorporate Japanese symbols into their tattoos, while others opt for detailed geisha tattoos, Japanese dragon tattoos, tiger tattoos, and designs featuring natural elements common in Japanese tattooing, like cherry blossom tattoos. Many Japanese tattoos feature combinations of some or all of these elements, as well as Japanese fans, lotus flowers, koi fish, Japanese idols, and more.
Tattoos of Zodiac Signs
Zodiac signs have become a common subject for tattoo designs, particularly in the past 30 years or so. Some of the zodiac tattoos people search for most are Gemini tattoos, Scorpio tattoos, Leo tattoos, and Pisces tattoos, although tattoos for all 12 signs are fairly frequently researched online.
Even people who put little stock in astrology will usually say that the common astrological description of people born under their sign describes them fairly accurately. If you believe your sign's description is a good summary of the type of person you are, then a zodiac tattoo may be a good choice for you. If you don't know much about astrology and want to learn more about your sign before deciding if a zodiac tattoo is for you, read our Zodiac Symbols article.
If you get a zodiac tattoo, let your artist offer a creative spin on the image associated with your sign. You might also consider adding accents to your zodiac tattoo that represent you in other ways. For instance, if you're a Libra and want a tattoo of the traditional image of a woman holding scales, you could incorporate two images that represent things that are important to you sitting atop each scale. Those images might be a heart to represent the importance of having love in your life and a star to represent your dreams, or something else entirely.
Nature & Wildlife Tattoos
Nature tattoos and wildlife tattoos are incredibly popular types of tattoos for men and women alike. The top two nature tattoos are are butterfly tattoos and flower tattoos, both of which are particularly popular tattoos for women. These designs can be done in black and white, but they more often feature bold, vibrant colors. If you're interested in getting a butterfly tattoo, a flower tattoo or another nature tattoo, try to pick a species that's meaningful to you. If you're getting a tattoo to commemorate your grandmother who loved to grow orchids or roses, get one of those flowers tattooed on you as a tribute to her. You could also have your state flower or a butterfly that's indigenous to your area tattooed on you to represent where you come from.
Some of the most popular wildlife tattoo designs are eagle tattoos, cat tattoos, cheetah print tattoos, wolf tattoos, deer tattoos, dolphin tattoos, and frog tattoos. Any of these animals would make great tattoo designs for men or women. However, men are more likely to get deer, wolf and eagle tattoos, whereas women tend to be more drawn to frog, dolphin, cheetah print, and cat tattoos. Check out some of the other most popular wildlife and nature tattoos for men and women below for other ideas.
- Hibiscus Tattoos
- Hummingbird Tattoos
- Dragonfly Tattoos
- Four Leaf Clover Tattoos
- Lotus Flower Tattoos
Nature & Wildlife Tattoos for Men:
- Scorpion Tattoos
- Koi Tattoos
- Lion Tattoos
Throughout the history of mankind, people have pondered the heavens, gazing at the stars and wondering what else is out there. Is it just the moon, stars, planets and other celestial formations, or are there other living creatures sharing the universe with us? It's something nearly everyone thinks about at some point, so it comes as no surprise that moon tattoos, sun tattoos, star tattoos, general outer space tattoos, and even alien tattoos are among some of the most popular types of tattoos. These subjects offer tattoo artists great creative liberties to design unique outer space tattoos for their clients. Celestial tattoos can be very realistic looking, sometimes showing entire scenes of space with planets, stars and comets, or they can be cartoonish, depicting the man in the moon and the sun and stars with faces or cute little green men in flying saucers.
Celestial tattoos can be accented with UV-light reactant tattoo ink to create glow in the dark tattoos that will shine brightly under black lights. You can get a secret glow in the dark tattoo made entirely with UV tattoo ink, or you can have highlights added to a regular tattoo that will only appear under black lights. If you're interested in getting a glow in the dark tattoo, check out our UV Tattoo Ink: To Use or Not to Use? article to learn more about how UV tattoo ink works and how safe it is.
Skull tattoos, grim reaper tattoos and Dia de Muerte (Day of the Dead) tattoos inspired by Mexican culture are very popular among men in particular. Some women are also drawn to Dia de Muerte sugar skull designs, but fewer women than men get regular skull tattoos or grim reaper tattoos.
If you're interested in getting a tattoo featuring one of these designs, you have lots of options for style and placement. You could get a full grim reaper as an arm tattoo, either on your bicep or forearm, a pile of skulls as a chest tattoo, a skeleton riding a motorcycle on your back, an ornate sugar skull on your shoulder, or any other number of morbid designs. Skull tattoos and grim reaper tattoos are typically done in black and gray, whereas Dia de Muerte sugar skull tattoos are often outlined in black but accented with bright colors.
Christian tattoos are surprisingly popular, considering that the Bible says "Ye shall not make any cuttings on your flesh for the dead nor print any marks upon you." (Leviticus 19:28) Despite that, there are many devout Christians who get religious tattoos as symbols of their faith. Some of the most popular Christian tattoo designs are cross tattoos, angel tattoos, Jesus tattoos, and angel wing tattoos. Wing tattoos are popular among people of all denominations, not just Christians. If you want a Jesus tattoo or an angel tattoo, it's important to find a tattoo artist who excels at portrait work to ensure that both the face and body have the level of detail you want included. If you're interested in getting wings tattooed on your back or somewhere else on your body, find an artist who's really talented with shading and definition.
Biomechanical tattoos have become exceptionally popular in recent years. A recurring style involves tattooing the outline of a biomechanical tattoo to make it look like a person's skin has peeled back or been slashed, exposing mechanical parts beneath. Artists who are skilled with shading can give the perfect depth to that type of biomechanical tattoo design and make it look very realistic.
Biomechanical tattoo sleeves that cover the arms or legs are also hot right now. Even when these tattoos of gears and other mechanical-looking parts entirely cover a person's upper arm, full arm, or part or all of one of their legs, they may still incorporate the look of skin that's been cut away or peeled back. Biomechanical tattoos can be done with color tattoo ink, but they're more often done as black and gray tattoos.
Celtic tattoos are actually European tribal tattoos that were first introduced by the Celts who settled in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Body art was a big part of Celtic culture; men and women alike would decorate their bodies with permanent blue woad designs that included braids, spirals, maze-like step or key patterns, and complex knot work. Celtic knots and braided designs represented the connection of all life to the Celts. Designs like the triquetra, a three-pointed infinity-like symbol, were intended to represent the connection of mind, body and soul or the Holy Trinity. Celtic labyrinth-like step and key patterns symbolized the many paths our lives can take.
Celtic knots, braids and other Celtic tattoo designs are still favored by many people today. The intricate patterns that originated in Celtic culture well over 1,000 years ago make visually-beautiful tattoos, and most Celtic tattoos have deep meaning that transcends time. They're designs that people of mixed heritages can appreciate, but they tend to be most popular among people of Irish and Scottish descent who feel that Celtic tattoos are strong representations of their roots.
Breast Cancer Tattoos
If you're looking for tattoos with meaning and have either had breast cancer yourself or have a loved one who's battling breast cancer, overcame it or passed away from it, then a breast cancer tattoo may be a good choice for you. Pink cancer ribbon tattoos are one of the most popular breast cancer tattoo designs, and there are countless ways that pink ribbons can be incorporated into a tattoo. You could have your artist draw up a pink ribbon in a heart shape, have it appear to tie off a bouquet of flowers, use a pink ribbon to accent the corner of a banner with a loved one's name on it, and more. Whether you get a pink cancer ribbon tattoo as a tribute to someone else or as a symbol of your own strength in the fight against breast cancer, you'll end up with a meaningful tattoo that you're sure to cherish for years to come.
Painful Pleasures is a proud supporter of the fight against breast cancer. If you'd like to join us in supporting the cause, check out our Project Give Back products. A portion of all proceeds go to charitable organizations and causes like breast cancer research. You can learn more about breast cancer and Project Give Back in our blog post Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness With Project Give Back.
Throughout time, warriors around the world have worn tattoos as symbols of their courage and fierceness on the battle field. It wasn't until the mid 1700s that tattoos gained popularity among more modern, organized military personnel, though. At that time, English and French naval officers who traveled to Polynesia developed a keen interest in Maori tattoos, Samoan tattoos and other Polynesian tattoos. They carried the tradition of tattooing back home with them, and in some cases, they even brought tattoo artists back with them to tattoo their colleagues. Tattoos have remained fairly popular among army and navy personnel ever since, although there have been periods of time when military tattoos waned in popularity due to government restrictions. For example, the French government banned military tattoos in the late 1800s after French navy surgeon Maurice Berchon published a study that described medical complications caused by tattoos. Despite those occasional dips in popularity, military personnel have been some of the most consistent tattoo enthusiasts in the past 300 years.
Army tattoos and navy tattoos often feature military emblems, flags and other national symbols, and imagery associated with each branch of the military. For instance, old school navy tattoos typically incorporate anchors, pin-up style sailor girls, or ships. Army tattoos may include national flags, guns and other weapons, and swords through hearts or skulls. Banners featuring phrases like "Semper Fidelis" (meaning "always faithful/loyal"), "Death Before Dishonor" or "In God We Trust" are also common elements in military tattoos.
As the art of tattooing has evolved, so have military tattoos. Today, many military personnel opt for elaborate designs that include portraits of fallen comrades, scenes from the battlefield or collages of military imagery as in the army tattoo shown to the right. There's also been a resurgence in the popularity of old school navy tattoos and army tattoos.
Cover up Tattoos
Cover up tattoos don't include any particular designs, but they're a type of tattoo that has grown tremendously in popularity as tattooing has progressed to a fine art in recent years. People have different reasons for getting cover up tattoos. Sometimes it's because they have mediocre or down-right bad tattoos that they want to bury beneath a beautiful new tattoo, other times it's only because an old tattoo has faded or bled so much over time that it's no longer attractive. There are also people who once picked flash art designs off tattoo studio walls and now want meaningful tattoos to cover up the flippant choices of their youth.
Whatever your reason is for wanting a cover up tattoo, know that you aren't stuck with any tattoo you no longer love. If you need an old tattoo covered up, the most important thing is to find a tattoo artist who specializes in cover-ups. S/he will be able to tell you if you need to have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal before getting your cover up tattoo and will guide you on design elements that will most effectively cover your old tattoo. You can learn more about choosing the best cover up tattoo design by reading our blog post, Can My Tattoo Be Covered Up?
As you contemplate tattoo ideas, it will be helpful to know where you want your new tattoo placed on your body. Some areas of the body are more painful to have tattooed than others, so if you have a low pain threshold, you should consider meatier parts of your body rather than places like your hands, feet and other bony and/or nerve-filled areas. If pain is a concern for you, read over our Top 10 Most Painful Places to Get a Tattoo blog post to ensure that you choose a tattoo placement that will cause you the least amount of discomfort. You may also want to invest in a topical anesthetic like Dr. Numb or Derma Numb, and massage it into the area you're having tattooed at least 30 minutes before your tattoo session. You can ask your artist to reapply topical anesthetic periodically throughout the tattooing process, too.
If you're not worried about the pain factor, then your entire body is a blank canvas offering numerous tattoo placement options--unless you already have tattoos, in which case you'll have to work around them or find a design that will complement your existing tattoos. Either way, the part of your body you want tattooed should still play a role in how your tattoo is placed. You'll want the main design or at least accents to follow the curves of your body and be sized appropriately based on where you get your tattoo. Your tattoo artist will be able to guide you on sizing, placement and adding accents to flow with your body, but you should have at least a vague idea of where you want your tattoo placed before you speak to your artist about it.
When choosing where to get your new tattoo, you should also consider whether or not it will be a problem for you if your tattoo is highly visible. Tattoos are more socially acceptable now than ever before, but some still deem visible tattoos as unprofessional. If you're a career man or woman, you may want to avoid getting a tattoo below the knees and elbows and above your neckline. Stick to placements that can be comfortably covered up whether you're wearing a skirt, shorts, a sleeveless dress, or a short-sleeved shirt.
Pictures of Tattoos & Additional Tattoo Info
Our photo gallery is filled with tattoo pictures that our online community members have shared. If you want to see other people's tattoos to get ideas for your own tattoo design, it's a great place to start. If you sign up for an account, you can also share photos of your own tattoos and other body mods, comment on other people's photos, view mature content, and more.
To learn more about tattoos, check out the Tattoo Information section of our Help Center and the Tattoos section of our blog. There's also a Tattoos section in our forum where you can read about other people's tattoo experiences and share your own or ask questions for our knowledgeable moderators and community members to answer. If you need help navigating the forum or photo gallery, read our helpful How to Use the Forum and How to Use the Gallery articles. You should also read the Rules of the Forum and the Rules of the Gallery before posting.