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Choosing a Tattoo Design: Thinking About Your Ink
Some people have never considered getting a tattoo until they happen upon a unique image that speaks to them; others head into the tattoo shop with only a general idea of the tattoo they want. In either case, it’s helpful to examine your design options from a tattoo artist’s perspective to make sure the image will look as good on your skin as it does on paper. Some principles to consider:
Flash or custom?: Flash is the industry term for the dozens of designs that fill a tattoo shop’s walls or binders for customers to flip through. In higher-end shops, all these designs will have been drawn by the artists on staff. If you know you want a traditional or relatively simple image, flash can be an excellent way to go—after all, you can rest assured that the design will work well as a tattoo, and the artist likely even has some experience executing it. Even if you do opt for an original design, taking a look at a given shop’s flash can show you whether the shop’s style is a good fit for you.
Placement: Not every tattoo is right for every body part. Areas where skin is constantly being stretched will distort the image, and all that motion will shorten the tattoo’s lifespan by dispersing the ink particles. Symmetry is also a factor: asymmetrical designs may look odd along the spine or the bridge of the nose, for instance, whereas a too-symmetrical design could seem unbalanced on the side of the arm. Finally, there’s sensitivity to consider. Any design that relies on a great deal of precision will be a poor fit for painful areas, since twitching may disturb the needle’s action.
Line: Tattooing relies on the skill of human hands, and however skilled those hands may be, they won’t achieve the control of a printer. Perfect circles and parallel lines are especially difficult to execute. (Try drawing either of these freehand. Now try it on a vibrating sheet of rubber.) For this reason, organic forms and irregular curves may end up looking more picture-perfect, although they can’t get too detailed. Because tattoo ink spreads under the skin over time, there’s a limit to how close together lines can be without merging.
Color: Black is the base of the most striking and durable tattoos, and it’s also the most versatile. Blue and red will still show up on darker skin, but if your skin is very dark, black may be your only option. In that case, a design with strong contrast between black ink and bare skin will be most legible. Even if your design does use color, a black outline is necessary to make shapes clear to viewers any farther away than the parrot on your shoulder.