Getting a tattoo is probably not something to take lightly. Case in point, I once met a guy with a pizza rat tattoo. Trust me, you do not want to be him.
Yet, coming up with good ideas for an original tattoo can be difficult, especially if you have many pieces already or you don’t know how to begin your collection. But before you dare ink a rodent eating a greasy New York slice on your body, there are better ideas.
If you need something to spark your next tattoo idea, this is the right place to be. From iconic traditional tattoos to modern symbolism, inspiration for your next ink is bound to come your way from these 40 classic and unique designs.
What you won’t find on this list is trendy designs, tribal tattoos, Native imagery, wildly offensive suggestions, lovers names, or tattoos in languages you don’t know. Just don’t do any of it.
Whether you’re mulling over your first tattoo or you’re filling up your last patches of free skin, these 40 tattoo ideas are some to consider.
Table of Contents
A rose tattoo is a classic design for any person of any gender—and for good reason. The tattoo lends itself to almost any style of tattooing, providing depth and interest with layered petals. You really can’t go wrong.
2. Human Skull
Another undisputed tattoo classic is a human skull, as it’s both a morbid reminder of mortality and a badass piece of ink. Like the rose, it spans tattooing styles, fitting any guy’s budding tattoo collection.
If you have a favorite quote, why not ink it? Whether it’s a life mantra or a phrase your father always said, a quote tattoo is always a good way to go— as long as everything is spelled correctly.
4. Iconic Heart and Banner
A traditional-style heart and banner stands the test of time for the simplicity of its tribute. Just make sure the name in the banner is someone you’ll love for life, like your mom or dad or dog.
5. Strong, Fierce Animal
If you want to go hyper masculine with your selection, nothing says “tough guy” quite like a strong, fierce animal tattoo. From lions to wolves to tigers, majestic animals are a top-notch selection for depicting strength and resilience.
Another classic piece of ink, spiderweb tattoos first became popular among those “tangled” in the prison system. Now, webs aren’t associated with time on the inside, but still add an edge to your ink.
7. Roman Numerals
Instead of tattooing a numeric birthdate or year on your body, transferring that number into Roman numerals can be more pleasing to the eye. With line-based figures that provide angles and structure, Roman numerals lend themselves well to tattooing.
8. Horror Movie
Want to get a little creepy? Horror movie tattoos are perfect for the spooky super fan who wishes every day was Halloween.
Nautical motifs are forever associated with tattooing in the West, as sailors are largely credited with bringing the art form to the Western world from Polynesian and indigenous Asian communities. Nautical themes—including ships, anchors, wheels, lighthouses, and compasses—are staples of tattooing, especially in traditional styles.
10. Song Lyrics
If you have a particular song carries special meaning, tattooing a particularly poignant lyric is a way to celebrate that significance without constantly singing.
11. Nerdy Themes
If you are an unapologetic nerd, use your ink to proudly show off your passions. Admittedly, this guy went a little H.A.M., but you could always tone it down a few notches.
Another classic when it comes to tattoo imagery, a dagger is a symbol of strength, freedom or badassery. You can also get a dagger tattoo to commemorate that totally real knife fight you were once in…
13. State or Country Outline
Celebrate your roots with ink in the shape of your home state or country. A simple outline tattoo is a great way to keep your homeland close, even if it is New Jersey.
A heart tattoo is a way to show your softer side—but you can still get a little interesting with it. Favoring an anatomical design is a welcomed variation on this classic tattoo.
15. Nature-Themed Imagery
Channel the peace of the natural world with a nature-themed tattoo of mountains, rivers, trees and more. Whatever makes you calm, throw it in there. Even if you live in a concrete jungle, this will add some solace to your skin.
A staple of traditional tattooing, swallows were popularized among well-traveled sailors. Nowadays, truly anyone can get a swallow tattoo, which will never go out of style.
Eagles symbolize strength and wisdom, with these birds commanding the skies. Eagles are also obviously associated with patriotism, if that’s your thing. But they are just plain awesome as a chest piece with spread wings and no one can deny it.
18. Time-Related Designs
Tattoos depicting time can be a sobering reminder of mortality, or point to a specific time in your life. Set an analog clock to a special time or date (like 5:25 for May 25), or tattoo a simple hourglass to depict fleeting time. No matter your choice, time is a constant in life—and there ain’t never enough.
19. Religious Motifs
For those who praise a higher power, religious tattoos are undeniably popular. From depictions of gods to symbols like crosses, religious tattoos are a way to keep your faith close forever.
When done right, portrait tattoos are commanding, impressive and just plain stunning. Just make sure you go to a portrait artist, for the love of god.
21. Geometric Designs
A popular style in recent years, geometric tattoos take a seemingly normal object and break it down to a series of angles and shapes. An especially stellar technique for animal designs, this style is a way to add interest to a simple idea.
22. Intricate, Large-Scale Ink
Not every tattoo needs to depict a tangible object. Some can just be plain cool, like large-scale design work that prioritizes black and gray patterns.
Go to an artist specializing in lettering if you want a single word or two in bold type. Lettering work is an art, and a way to really make a meaningful single word stand out. Just don’t make it your own first name.
24. Abstract Ink
For the artsy types, abstract ink is a way to turn the body into a canvas. Some tattoo artists specialize in brush-like ink and whimsical design. Seek those stylistic stunners out for a project like this.
If you have tattoos you want to cover, blackwork may be for you. This style of tattooing covers often large areas of skin with saturated black ink. It’s an eye-catching way to cover a bad decision, but also a tattoo style that takes talent to master.
26. Single Line
Single line tattoos create a design out of one non-breaking line. When done right, it’s an impressive illusion that the artistic-type will love.
From butterflies and scorpions to bees and spiders, tattoos of insects are probably more popular than insects themselves. Even if you still jump at the sight of a spider or swat away a bee after getting one inked, no one has to know.
28. Creepy Motifs
Are you a certified creep? Display it proudly with a somewhat goth, somewhat freaky piece of ink. Consider a creepy tattoo a warning to others of your sinister, spooky ways.
29. “Torn Flesh” Tattoos
Illusion tattoos, like those that depict tearing flesh, are a stylistic way to jazz up any design. From torn edges to a swath of ripped flesh running through a design, this tattoo element goes hard—especially when paired with anatomy and mechanical-themed tattoos.
30. Fine Line
Fine line tattoos are popular for their realism and intricate design. Though the aging of these pieces are up for debate, fine line tattoos are undoubtedly impressive, almost looking like a temporary tattoo from childhood.
31. Pinup Girl
A pinup girl is traditional tattoo staple, representing the femininity, power and allure of women. Once popular among soldiers, people of all genders now sport pinup girl tattoos as a nod to the roots of tattooing—and to celebrate sassy, sexy women.
32. Flash Designs
Flash tattoos are often smaller tattoos an artist designs for a flat rate with no alterations. Some artists pre-design a collection of flash for an event (like those famous “13” tattoos for Friday the 13), tattooing each design multiple times. Some flash, however, is a design an artist wants to do that a client can claim—and it’s only tattooed once. Either way, flash designs are great when you find an artist you love because, let’s be real, sometimes letting professionals have free reign is better.
33. Animal Skull
Celebrate the natural world (and death, but whatever) with an animal skull tattoo. From bird skulls to steer skulls, animal skulls are aesthetically pleasing and edgy. And dead. Very dead.
A flame tattoo probably reminds you of a bad-to-the-bone OG biker guy. With similar ink, you can channel that energy, even without a motorcycle license.
This tattoo is admittedly a little trendy, but a smart way to remember a moment in time. Whether its the location of your childhood home or the exact spot you had a memorable experience, getting a minimal coordinate tattoo is a small reminder for you and only you.
36. Space-Themed Designs
Space is the vast and mysterious—and that makes it great for tattooing. From astronauts to galaxies to planets, space tattoos depict the unknown that’s beyond us, which is pretty freaking sobering and sick.
37. Literary Ink
Any book nerd will appreciate a literary tattoo that celebrates their favorite read. From quotes to cover art to any other creative depiction, literary tattoos acknowledge the power and impact of the written word.
A true classic, snake tattoos are winding and edgy, making them visually interesting. Snakes often represent shedding your skin and transforming, or knowledge and patience. But again, they just look cool, which is probably enough for most tough guys.
39. Memorial Tattoo
A memorial tattoo is a meaningful way to celebrate the life of a loved one. Unlike anything else, ink is forever with you, meaning the person you memorialize will be eternally close. If you are grieving, the permanent nature of tattooing can be healing and comforting.
40. Knuckle Ink
And when the skin on your body is filled with every other design on this list, it’s time to tattoo your knuckles. The ultimate badass placement when no other skin is left.
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