26 Awesome Tattoo Ideas
If you’re looking for tattoo ideas, read on… Take a blank sheet of paper. Now draw a line. Now another. And another. With a little care and a little time, those lines start to form a coherent image, whether that’s a picture, a word, or a series of geometric shapes.
Now imagine your skin is the paper; in the hands of a skilled, creative tattooist, the ink that’s laid down there creates stunning, unique artwork that’s a one-off between you and your artist. Whether it’s a picture of a loved one, a tiny delicate dot-and-line work flower, or an epic multicoloured back-piece that starts at the shoulders and curves round over your hips, your tattoo is individual, personal to you, and (hopefully) totally cool.
One big point: unlike that sheet of paper, you can’t take your skin off and throw it away if you get bored of the picture in a couple of years; barring cover-ups or laser-removal, that totally cool artwork that’s utterly imbued with personal meaning is still going to be going strong forty or fifty years from now, so it’s worth taking a bit of time thinking about the right design for you. Don’t be one of those guys that comes back from Ibiza with one of a matching set of ‘Lads on Tour 2015’ tattoos after one too many sangrias; you might have some great memories of an awesome trip, but seriously – keep them for the holiday snaps album. You’ll thank us later.
If you have an idea of the kind of thing you want, no matter how loose or ill-formed (or even if you really don’t know and want some inspiration), talk to your tattooist about it. This is what they do, and it’s important to your artist that they give you the best tattoo that they possibly can; understanding what you’re looking for is a massive part of that. Also, listen to their advice; they do this a LOT. Things like size, shape, colour, and placement play a massive part in whether a tattoo looks ‘OK’ or awesome. Hint: your artist wants it to look awesome for you.
Before you take to the chair and proffer your exposed flesh to your artist’s needle, then, it’s worth giving some thought to different styles. And, always here to help, is our handy guide to different types of tattoo (you’re welcome).
If this is your first tattoo, unless you’re pretty hardcore then going straight for the full back-and-sleeves body-suit is probably not a good idea. Think about something small, perhaps on the upper arm, shoulder, or chest. Small doesn’t mean boring – you’ll be amazed at how much delicate detail a skilled artist can pack into a tiny space (Check out some of Charlie’s fine line tattoo work) , and there’s nothing to say that you can’t add to it at a later date and turn it into something larger.
In the words of Imelda May “we’ve all got our marks to what or who we belong”; while you might not fancy getting the name of your boss or your bank inked across your back, traditional tribal-style tattoos are some of the earliest and most well-known designs, and their simple geometric shapes and bold ‘black-on-skin’ colour palette make a pretty timeless statement.
Animals are always a strong image, and a great starting point for a tattoo. The lion is one of the most popular, and traditionally symbolises power and bravery. In some cultures, lion tattoos are also symbolic of royalty.
Like the lion, the wolf continues to be a popular image for tattoos, often going hand in hand with Native American themes. Wolves have an incredible ability to survive through even the toughest of conditions, and like the Lion wolf tattoos traditionally symbolises power and strength. It’s also often used to symbolise family.
Owls are traditionally seen as symbolic of wisdom, but their nocturnal habits also tie them to magic and mystery. Traditionally, the owl was the symbol of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, and sat on her shoulder to cover off her blind-spot and allow her to see the whole truth. Owl tattoos are symbolic of higher wisdom and guardians of the truth.
A mythical firebird from ancient Egypt and Greece, the phoenix traditionally dies and is reborn through flames. In tattoos, especially in traditional Japanese designs, the phoenix is symbolic of rebirth or renewal, and of victory over death or adversity.
Whether it’s a big sword-and-sorcery fantasy, delicate black-and-whites, or Ryu the traditional Japanese dragon, dragon designs are incredibly popular. In Western culture, dragons traditionally symbolise strength, ferocity, or success, whereas in Japanese mythology they are generous, benevolent creatures who do their best to support and help mankind.
Originally used in sea navigation, the compass is often linked to sailors and other adventurers. Hikers and nature lovers also may hold the compass close to their heart. Symbolic of luck or success, the compass can be found on any person who is seeking guidance and support, or with a little wanderlust in their heart.
3D and optical illusion tattoos can be pretty bad ass, and done well can be truly mind-bending. Be warned, though, that these are tricky to perfect and at the mercy of physique and body-shape; make sure you’ve got a truly skilled artist and you’ve both agreed on exactly what’s going on before you start!
Star Tattoo Ideas
Sometimes (wrongly) derided as ‘the tattoo for people who don’t know what tattoo they want’, a quality, well executed star design looks great, either on its own or as part of a broader design. Traditionally, as stars are pinpoints of light in the night sky they are seen as symbolic of the fight against darkness, and often symbolise truth or spirituality. To others, they’re an image of security and direction – for centuries, man has navigated by the stars. Either way, a star can be symbolic of ambition, hope, or success, while a shooting star is often representative of a special moment in someone’s life such as marriage or the birth of a child.
The portrait tattoo is another design which in the right hands can look amazing but in the wrong ones can look utterly, utterly terrible. Assuming you’ve chosen your artist wisely, and trust them to deliver on your age-worn photograph or insta-grab, then whether it’s a tasteful ‘in memoriam’ or the celebration of a new-born baby, a portrait of a loved one of is an excellent design for a tattoo.
Note: That Kurt Cobain ‘sunglasses’ portrait? Yeah, that’s been done a lot. Move on.
Forget the metaphors and having to explain the significance of your tattoo, and get straight to the point with actual words. It could be a meaningful phrase or the name of a family member in flowing script, a latin motto, ‘gang-style’ or ‘graffiti’ lettering, or a literary quote in old-school typewriter lettering; the choice of the font is as important as the choice of the words, here.
Skull Tattoo Ideas
The hallmark of the rebel (and pirates) the world over, the Skull tattoo is often taken to symbolise death or a reminder of the wearer’s mortality. Combined with roses, it’s a powerful symbol of life and death, the contrast of good and evil, and optimism or the hopeful idea of rebirth.
Judaism prohibits (or at least frowns upon, depending on orthodoxy) the whole idea of tattoos – “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: For I am the Lord.” Leviticus, 19:28 – but elsewhere the ‘three crosses’ of the crucifixion, the cross-with-wings representing both a guardian angel or a loved one who’s passed away, the intricate knotwork of the Celtic Cross, the face of Christ on the cross, rosaries, the sacred heart, or images of overseeing angels, Christian iconography rules the roost for tattoos.
The treble clef and musical notes, the five barred stave, guitars or piano keyboards, or simply a classic album cover, there’s a wealth of tattoo ideas around music.
A single arrow can be a delicate, simple design, or a more elaborate tattoo; often a component of Native American design themes, modern arrows can be symbolic of struggle or endurance, whereas traditionally crossed arrows represented friendship. The classic ‘Sailor Jerry’ style heart-and-arrow design, of course, symbolises love. Or it could just represent your love of a certain DC Comics character, of course.
Flowers make a great theme for tattoos, whether delicate, pretty dot-and-linework, gentle realism colours, or the peonies and lotus blossom of traditional Japanese designs. However, while all flowers are equal, some are more equal than others, and the rose stands head and…um…thorns above the rest. The red rose represents love, passion, and hope, the white purity and mysticism, whilst black roses can signify death or farewell, often used within in memoriam designs.
In mythology, the tattooed crown was believed to imbue its wearer with immortality; more up-to-date, the crown symbolises dignity, power, honour, and resurrection. Plus…well, it’s a crown. Crowns are cool. Who’s going to say ‘no’ to a crown?
Scorpion Tattoo Ideas
Whether it’s the astrological Scorpio, a realistic arachnid, or a spiky tribal-style scorpion shape, the scorpion tattoo represents strength and the overcoming of adversity, healing and survival, empowerment, and freedom.
Possibly more ‘pure art’ than some other designs, the geometric patterns of dots, lines, and shading just makes for some really, really cool designs. You can be as minimalist or as involved as you like; the genius in this type of tattoo is the perfection of line, circles, or geometric shapes, making a very modern form of true ‘body art’.
Whilst there’s a fine line between ‘comedy’ and ‘comical’, cartoons can make a fantastic design for tattoo ideas; whether the beautiful images of Studio Ghibli, Manga, or classic Batman and Spiderman ‘Bam! Boom! Pow!’, there’s a wealth of colourful or black-and-white artwork out there that’s just crying out to be the inspiration for your next tattoo.
Like cartoons and comic books, the big screen provides a huge array of inspiration for movie tattoos – Star Wars, classic Horror or Film Noir, or the movie stars of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties, there’s a wealth of iconic imagery that will transfer from screen to skin.
We’ve mentioned classical Japanese styles a couple of times already, but the imagery of traditional irezumi and the artwork of Hokusai and Hiroshige have been tattoo designs since the days of the first stick-and-poke. Ideal for sleeves and back-pieces (as well as smaller tattoos), the shaded scales and colourful feathers of dragons, koi, and Hannya masks, waves, flames, and the four winds, are an art form all of their own.
Traditional Tattoo Ideas
Once the preserve of WWII sailors and B-Movie criminals, the traditional-style ‘Sailor Jerry’ or Ed Hardy designs of simple cartoon-ish line drawings and bold, primary colours are now as ubiquitous as turn-ups, the plaid shirt, and beard-wax. Dancing grass-skirted hula-girls and pin-ups, hearts, skulls, anchors, and daggers, swallows, ships, and coiled snakes, are all at once absolute classics and totally on-point.
Showing your patriotism could sometimes be thought of as loving your country just that little bit too much. Not so, it seems with Americans, as the popularity of USA patriotic tattoos has rocketed in recent years especially incorporating Old Glory in classic designs such as eagles, skulls and military paraphernalia.
The Aztecs took tattooing to a new level creating intricate, highly detailed designs that are still popular in modern tattoo culture. These tattoos often symbolise stone carvings, symmetrical, and dark using mostly black and grey inks. Maze like designs are also a strong feature of Aztec tattoos as well as the classic calendar stone with its detailed and elaborate structure.