How To Find The Perfect Tattoo Design

Finding the Perfect Tattoo Design

By the Editors of

Now that you’re ready to get inked, the first step is finding your perfect tattoo design (or designs). You likely have at least a vague idea of something you think would be great and now you can make it a tattoo reality! However, finding that perfect tattoo design is a complex process with many considerations and it may take some time to find something that will also result in a great tattoo. So don’t rush it! Many people even make it a point to mull over an idea for months or even years before actually making the leap to permanency. And if you’re still looking for inspiration, it’s sometimes a good idea to trim the fat right from the beginning and think about what you won’t have tattooed. Eliminating possibilities is often a good first step. Is there a chance you would want a skull tattoo? Nope. Great, you’re now one step closer to finding your perfect tattoo design.

There are many ways to search out design reference for your new ink. The Internet has become an easy resource of information and you can find a lot of images that appeal to you — often a myriad of photographs, drawings and animated images that all somehow relate to the tattoo vision you have in your mind. Magazines, books and all other types of media can contribute even further. But, unfortunately, not everything you’re going to find online or at the newsstand can translate into a fantastic tattoo. The amount of detail, the line work and shading involved and the size of the image will have to determine how Tattoo Friendly® your design reference actually is. Often, the images you find will need to be re-worked by a knowledgeable flash artist or tattooist to make them work well when translated to your skin.

To avoid the disappointment of realizing that your “perfect” design isn’t actually a realistic tattoo possibility, bypass mass media searching and go for the most direct method: consulting Tattoo Friendly collections of flash art. These designs were created specifically to be tattooed and will work within the possibilities and limitations of a tattoo needle. Other types of art and images that you find as design reference may contribute to your tattoo vision, but you should be aware of their limitations in advance.

Melissa browses for the perfect design

Melissa browses for the perfect tattoo design.

Ten Steps to the Perfect Tattoo Design

  • Know your tattoo design resources … and their limitations.
  • You may find design inspiration in many places, but you won’t always find Tattoo Friendly® artwork. Magazines, books, Internet searches and all other forms of media are full of images, but you should ultimately rely on artwork that is intended to be tattooed and is created by flash artists and tattooists who understand the limitations of a tattoo machine. has a portfolio of thousands of Tattoo Friendly designs, which all come with the stencil your tattooist will need to apply them to your skin. Limit your resources to those most reliable for a design-to-tattoo translation, and make sure that you’re only seriously considering artwork that you know is Tattoo Friendly.

  • Be realistic about your tattoo design vision.
  • Skin is a living canvas, so there is a natural limit to what will work and what will not work as a tattoo. Be realistic about the size and complexity of your tattoo design with respect to the size of the tattoo you ultimately want. Commonly, people want to put more complexity and detail in their tattoo design than will conceivably work for the small size they want it tattooed on their body.

  • Make sure your tattoo design reflects your desire for ink.
  • People get tattoos for many different reasons — be it identity expression, rite of passage, shock, memorializing, or simply because they like the idea of having one. Think about your reasons for getting tattooed while you work through the process of choosing a design and you’ll find something that really expresses your original desire to get one. If you want to create a “bad girl” look, chances are a cute butterfly tattoo won’t get the response you're looking for.

    Artist Edward Lee traditional old school dagger tattoo design

    Check out more daggers, roses, and Check out more of Edward Lee's tattoo designs!
  • Determine what your tattoo means to you now, later and forever.
  • Think about the meaning your tattoo will have and how it will apply to you in the future. While some people want their tattoo to always represent them, others will get tattooed to commemorate a period or event in their lives (like a mile marker). Just like points on a lifeline, tattoos can tell a story of your personal growth and development. Using this perspective, a tattoo never really becomes “irrelevant.” So what’s important to you? And how important do you think it will be long into the future? Some things that might inspire your tattoo include hobbies and interests, stories or folklore you identify with, your religious or spiritual beliefs, special achievements and your cultural (or sub-cultural) identity.

  • Identify your style.
  • Identify different styles of artwork you’re naturally drawn to. Many designs can be represented in various ways and you might be more attracted to a traditional and vintage look, modern or urban styles, photo realistic forms, buoyant cartoon designs, delicate and feminine-looking work or “simulation” (designs that simulate watercolor, airbrush and oils). There are probably as many styles as there are tattooists and flash artists to create them, so find those that feel right to you.

  • Keep in mind the importance of finding a Tattoo Friendly® design that includes an accompanying stencil.
  • If possible, select a design that is “stencil ready.” Tattoo design stencils are blueprints of your tattoo that don’t include color or shading, but give subtle direction to the tattooist in how to create the design on your skin. The process is similar to how engineers use the “language” of a blueprint to make sure the intended measurements, guidelines and details of the project are translated into a finished masterpiece. Providing your artist with good design references and stencils increases the likelihood that your tattoo is an accurate representation of your original design. All of the tattoo artwork you’ll find on includes a tattoo-ready stencil with your purchase.

  • Be aware of multiple interpretations of your design choice.
  • Most people select a tattoo design based on what the design symbolizes to them. You might decide to commemorate your summer in Spain with a fantastic tattoo design of a black bull, but you might get a lot of people misinterpreting your tattoo and wondering if your zodiac sign is Taurus. It’s important to understand the various symbolic interpretations your design may take on and what others might think after seeing your tattoo. Inform yourself before you commit to a permanent tattoo and do some research on your ideas.

  • Location, location, location!
  • Where you decide to put your tattoo will determine how visible it is to everyone else. How easily do you want to be able to show off or hide your artwork? The location will also affect your tattoo design options and what can feasibly fit there. A complicated and highly detailed design simply can’t be squeezed onto your ankle and is probably better suited for a larger space. Some designs simply work better aesthetically on different places of the body. Will your design enhance the curves of your body or draw attention to (or away from) certain body parts?

    Don’t hesitate to pull out a non-permanent marker and try a few things out! also gives you the ability to access our image manipulation tools after you’ve found your perfect tattoo design, allowing you to create and print out unlimited versions for you to “try on.” Try a few options and think about the limitations of your canvas.

  • Consider your tattoo future . . .
  • After you get your first tattoo, beware . . . you may very well want to get more. If you’re prone to “ink addiction” and think this tattoo may lead to another, think about how the tattoo design you’re considering now will fit into your larger “tattoo future” in terms of style, theme, balance of color and size.

  • Take responsibility. Take time.
  • You’re going to have this tattoo forever, so take all the time you need to find something you love. While the final choice is ultimately your responsibility (and your prerogative), it may not hurt to get opinions from trusted people in your life. Then again, you should also be prepared to ignore the opinions of others.

    And beware — if you don’t have a general idea of the tattoo you want, you may be more susceptible to pressure from your friends and from your tattooist. Don’t get talked into anything. Long-time tattooist Guy Aitchison explained this to us succinctly when he said, “You’re the owner of your skin. Don’t get sucked into anything you don’t want.” designs come and go.

We continually add new designs to the website, BUT we also periodically remove other designs. Removal of designs from our site is generally due to the various ways we contract with our artists.