Tattoo Ideas

Tattooed Woman
Colorful tattoos

A tattoo is a very individual choice. You can look to art, nature, your own life, or anything that moves you to find tattoo ideas. Sure, you can walk into a tattoo shop and pick something out of a book or off a wall, but do you really want a tattoo other people also have? Or do you want something unique to you?

Start by thinking about why you want the tattoo. Are you marking something that happened in your life? Are you honoring someone you care about? Are you making a social or political statement? Do you want to show the world what you're into? Do you just think it would be cool?

Design Ideas

There are numerous designs out there for tattoos; if it can be converted to a line drawing, it can be inked. Once you've begun the process of selecting your tattoo inspiration, it's time to get the design chosen. Take a look at these suggestions to help narrow your choices.

Journey Tattoos

Are you getting a tattoo to commemorate an event or journey your life has taken? If so, there are numerous designs to choose from that can help convey this including:

  • Flames
  • Birds in flight
  • Butterflies
  • Fish swimming upstream

Consider whether you want this journey to be public or private when you place the tattoo. To keep it to yourself, consider upper legs, upper arms, chest or back. To publicly proclaim it, consider calves, wrists, shoulders or the lower back.

Tattoos to Honor a Person

You can get a tattoo to honor someone special in your life, whether they are a family member, friend, ancestor or new baby. If you are getting a tattoo to honor someone close to you, whatever the reason for it, consider any of these ideas:

  • Birth and/or death dates
  • Portrait tattoos
  • Name tattoos
  • Baby footprints
  • Angel wings
  • Sugar skulls

Place these tattoos close to your heart, or on the left side of your body to show how much the person means to you.

Old School

Sometimes a tattoo doesn't have to mean anything other than self-expression and style. For many, an old school style tattoo evokes an era and style that is easily embraced. Designs include:

  • Sparrows
  • Dice
  • Pin up girls
  • Skulls
  • Martini glasses

Old school tattoos are about style. Place them where they can be easily seen, and remember that sometimes the most classic tattoos look the best in classic placements such as the chest or upper arm.

Artistic and Whimsical Style

If you have a personal style that is all your own, consider creating a unique tattoo. If you don't draw, have an artist friend help you create an image that is yours alone. Draw from your passions and interests to include designs such as:

  • Gardens
  • Ocean scenes
  • Fantasy scenes
  • Animals

Complete your unique tattoo with a more unique placement. The neck, hands, fingers or feet all make excellent places to show off your tattoo. Alternatively, wrap a limb such as an ankle or wrist with a more fluid design to show continuity.

Where to Find Ideas

If a design isn't jumping out at you right away, there are numerous places to check for ideas and inspiration. Think about how you can convey the idea or feeling that inspires you in a picture. Check out these places for inspiration:

  • Fine art museums. How did the artists use images to convey emotion? Why do you think they chose the images they did?
  • Nature. If you love the ocean, try walking by the seashore. Look at the shapes of the waves, the shells, the sand dunes. Is there something you'd like incorporated into your tattoo?
  • Music. Get out your CD collection. How do your favorite bands and singers use pictures to represent their music?
  • Graphic novels. If you love Manga or American graphic novels, flip through the pages. How is your favorite character drawn? What are the backgrounds?
  • Hobbies. What images go along with things you like to do? Horses, motorcycles, film, surfboards and more can become part of a tattoo.

Looking at Others' Tattoos

Girl with a chest tattoo

The Internet is full of pictures of other people's tattoos. There are galleries full of photos sent in by people who just wanted to share their art. Many tattoo shops maintain their own pages with examples of artists' work.

Spend some time browsing the net. Take time to look at different shops' sites. You might find an artist you really love. If you do, get in touch with the artist and find out if you see eye to eye. Since a tattoo is permanent, it might be worth traveling to that shop to get your ink done. A good artist will listen to your ideas and create a design just for you.

When It's OK to Get a Cliché


Some tattoo images are classics. Military symbols, American eagles, and Celtic knots never seem to go out of style. But should yours look like everyone else's? If you're getting your tattoo to symbolize being part of a group, you may well want the same one as everyone else. The logo of the U.S. Marine Corps or the Navy SEALs is a point of pride for many soldiers. The Harley-Davidson symbol is recognizable almost anywhere. Your family crest isn't going to change.

But if your tattoo is meant to show your originality, take the time to think about how you can make it your own. If you're getting a Persian design across your back, design it yourself or seek out an artist who specializes in that style. Instead of choosing a rose from a tattoo flash web site, think about what your rose should look like and let your personal style guide your design.

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