Tattoo Placement

Tattoos were once limited to soldiers, sailors and people in freak shows*. They spread to criminals and bikers, and many people still associate them with less than respectable people. However, today people of all walks of life have permanent designs inked onto their skin, and where on your body you get a tattoo is a very important part of choosing your tattoo. There are plenty of articles and images on the internet that deal with where your tattoo is and how it affects your appearance to others, but many of them are rude or aimed at a small section of society such as one gender or a set age range. There aren’t, and shouldn’t be, rules for where you can get a tattoo, but here is some advice on tattoo placement:

[*People like the Maori and other native peoples have had tattoos since before armies, ships and freak shows were invented, but these aren’t tattoos as we know them, as they were ‘tribal’ designs covering most of the body.]

Lower back:

It’s a classic, but as a space most associated with picked-from-a-book girly designs like butterflies or flowers (or even your own name) lower back tattoos have gained quite a trashy reputation and the nickname “tramp stamp”. Make sure any design you get here is very classy or masculine, and if you’re a young woman, you’re going to have to be extra careful.

Full back:

Dedication! This is the biggest space you have, and you’ve decided to fill it up! There’s a good chance the design is something as epic as the size for this tattoo, and this is the kind of piece that sets you aside as a heavily tattooed person. As long as you’ve put thought and time into the decision, and have some good artwork and a good tattooist, this is likely to be a great tattoo that turns heads at the beach, swimming pool or changing room.

Shoulder:

A tattoo on your shoulder blade area is very easy to cover, and the skin there often makes for a large flat space for your design. As a space that’s fairly safe for various kinds of tattoos, the only thing to be wary of here is clichés, as they’ve been done many times and in many ways.

Upper arm:

This is somewhere easy to cover but easy to show off, too, and the upper arm is a classic place for a tattoo. The upper arm is also a classic place for muscle building or fat gain later in life, however, so be sure to take not only the size of your arm but the way your arm may change into account. Of course, as a very classic tattoo placement, an upper arm tattoo is very easy to make masculine, so if the look you are going for is more feminine, you may have to include that feel in your design more.

Forearm:

Forearm tattoos sneak out into the sometimes visible space, so make sure you’re either comfortable with wearing long sleeves in certain situations, or in a job where the odd tattoo isn’t a big deal. This is a kind of brave place to get a tattoo, as you’re practically wearing your heart on your sleeve, so it’s a good idea to choose a design that shows something you really love, something you’re happy to tell a stranger on a bus about.

Sleeve:

Definitely a classic, although, like a full back, quite a big commitment. If you’re worried about how hard it will be to cover up, half-sleeves are an option, coming down to your elbow rather than wrist. Unlike other large tattoos, a sleeve tattoo tends to be a series of designs on a theme, rather than one big item. The shape of arms varies quite a bit, which is something you have to take into consideration when you design a sleeve. Another thing to consider is how much the size and shape of your arm may change, and whether the design you want will look good on an arm as thin or as big as yours.

Hand:

So much about a hand tattoo depends on where on it is. The knuckles are quite classic, especially for writing four letter words like ‘love’ and ‘hate’, and everywhere except under a day-to-day ring is very visible. Having your spouse’s initials, your wedding date or a love heart tattooed on your ring finger is becoming quite trendy, and therefore less risky than, for example, anything on the back on your hand. Small is good, here.

Foot:

A classic, easy to cover, and a tattoo that works well as both masculine and feminine, a foot tattoo is still risky. Its risk, however, is almost all in the actual tattooing of it, as the foot is a thin skinned pile of bones that requires clothing and is right next to the floor. As such, a foot tattoo is the most likely to bleed, is likely to hurt the most, and is the most prone to infection while it heals.

Calf:

This is somewhere easy to cover but easy to show off, too, even more so than an upper arm tattoo. A calf tattoo also gives you plenty of freedom in your design, because it isn’t a place associated with any gender, style or cliché. As well as above the ankle and on the back of the calf, tights tattoos, which are like sleeve tattoos on a leg, are an interesting option.

Thigh:

A thigh tattoo would hardly be seen, so the reaction of others is far less important in your design choice. As such, it’s a place associated with sexual, jokey or pattern-based tattoos, designs you want but would not want everyone to see, or designs that are more suited to your underwear. Thighs are almost always bigger than your calves and arms, so a thigh tattoo can be quite large if you want it to be. Just as with a calf tattoo, tights tattoos, which are like sleeve tattoos on a leg, are an interesting option, as are hip tattoos which peek out of the top and bottom of your underwear.

Face:

A lot of tattooists won’t do face tattoos at all, and as something impossible to cover, make sure you only get this if you’ve run out of other skin to ink, and preferably if your job is something to do with tattoos. It really is an understatement to say this is a risky place to get tattooed, so put a lot of thought into what you might want here.

Chest:

This one obviously depends on what kind of chest you have. For chests with breasts, chest tattoos tend to be banners more on the collar bone area, and visibility is an issue because of varied necklines. For chests without breasts, the area can be treated like the shoulder area, but remember to take your nipples into account, as you can’t tattoo on them, and they might affect the appearance of your design. There is also the ribs/flank area, which is far easier to cover.

Stomach:

Stomach tattoos can also be brilliant covers for scars like caesarean section scars, although if you have the necessary organs, be aware that pregnancy often distorts and ruins stomach tattoos. If you cannot or have decided never to be pregnant, it goes from very risky to hardly risky at all. Remember that the younger you are and the flatter your stomach, the more you’re risking weight gain in the future distorting your tattoo.

Other places:

Of course, the whole human body can be tattooed, although just colouring in all of your skin isn’t a good idea at all. Some of these places are obscure and some are similar to other places. Some people get words tattooed on the inside of their bottom lip, but this is so specific that the only advice can be to get it if you like the idea, and not to if you don’t, as a lip tattoo is only ever going to be seen by the people you deliberately show. Neck and head tattoos are like face tattoos in that they are almost impossible to cover, although they are less shocking to the general public than actual face tattoos.

In the end, the only opinion that matters is yours, and if you’ve put time and effort into choosing where to get tattooed, you’ll get your design somewhere that will make you happy. What design you get, of course, is a whole other question, and completely up to you.

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