Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years as a form of self-expression. While the design itself is an essential aspect of the tattoo, the placement of the tattoo on the body is arguably just as important.

The placement you choose can impact how much detail your artist can include, your tattoo’s visibility, the pain level of the tattoo, and any other tattoos you get down the road. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the considerations that should be taken into account when choosing a tattoo placement and explore the pros and cons of popular locations.

Tattoo Placement Considerations

When choosing a tattoo placement, there are four important factors to consider. 

1. Size and Complexity

Tattoo Placement Considerations
Alex Tabuns                                                                                @bad_tattitude

Size and complexity are paired together because one affects the other. Larger designs with lots of details need more space. Because tattoo ink expands a bit overtime, trying to cram a design with tons of little lines onto a small area like your wrist will end up with the tattoo becoming unreadable. 

However, smaller designs – like a word or small symbol – work well on the wrist, ankle, and other “small” placements.

A good rule of thumb is that small tattoos will always look best in places where you’d wear jewelry, since that is the effect they are mimicking. 

2. How Visible the Piece Will Be

How Visible the Piece Will Be
Matt Webb Marc Bonin

While the general stigma surrounding tattoos has changed significantly over the past few decades, a highly visible tattoo might still impact an individual’s personal and professional life, so you should consider your goals before deciding on a super-visible placement.

In the tattoo industry, there’s a specific subset of tattoos called “job-stoppers” because of their perception in high-paying industries. These ultra-visible placements are on your hands, neck, and face. In fact, many tattoo artists will refuse to do these tattoos on clients – especially young clients – unless they are already heavily tattooed. 

3. Your Personal Pain Tolerance

Your Personal Pain Tolerance
Images courtesy of Tattooing 101

While most people will decide the pain is worth it for a tattoo placement they really want, it can be a determining factor for some. 

No tattoo is painless, but areas that the body “naturally protects” are going to be much more sensitive. For example, the armpit and ribs are naturally “protected” by the body when the arms are in a resting position. Because of that, you can expect those placements to be much more painful than areas that are regularly exposed, such as the outer bicep. 

Additionally, areas where the skin is pulled taut across a bone – like your shins or fingers – are going to be more painful to tattoo than areas with more body fat, like the thigh.

4. Your Plans for the Future

Your Plans for the Future
Nissaco @danitattoonyc

Finally, it is important to consider your personal long-term plans and goals. This can be broken down into two different aspects.

The first is any personal plans you have for yourself. Areas like the stomach or inner bicep may stretch or change over time due to weight loss, muscle gain, or pregnancy. While many people experience their tattoo going back to “normal” after a time of significant change, others have noticed that their tattoo has changed with their skin.

Secondly, you want to think about your future tattoos. If you get a small tattoo in the middle of your bicep and later decide you want a full sleeve, the tattoo artist will have to work around that first tattoo, which can be difficult. 

If you know you’ll want more tattoos in the future, make sure to let your artist know so they can help steer your choices for a more cohesive design.

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo

Now that we know what to consider, let’s take a look at some of the most popular tattoo placements.

Wrist, Hand, and Fingers

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo
@tatti040 Erielle Bernardo

Pro: Perfect for dainty lettering or small tattoos.

Con: Tattoos around the hands tend to fade quickly since we use them all day and wash them often.

Forearm

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo: Forearm
Luca Benevento                                                                                  Tritoan Ly

Pro: Easily visible placement 

Con: Hard to hide for certain jobs

Outer Bicep

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo: Outer Bicep
Cleber França                                                                                                    @illustday

Pro: One of the less painful placements

Con: Larger tattoos like this will mean a longer session and a higher price tag

Chest

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo: Chest
@arang_eleven                                                                                Chris Showstoppr

Pro: Easily hidden

Con: Very painful placement

Back

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo: Back
@anka.tattoo                                                                            @gara_tattooer

Pro: Easily hidden

Con: Pieces that are large enough to take up your whole back will probably mean going back for a second or third session to finish the piece. Multiple 6-8 hour sessions can be painful and expensive.

Ankle

Picking the Placement for Your Next Tattoo: Ankle
@nastyafox                                                                                     @tattooist_doy

Pro: Perfect for small, delicate pieces

Con: Can be difficult to hide

Preparing for Your New Tattoo

Getting a tattoo is an exciting experience, and picking a placement that you know you’ll love long-term is an important choice. 

If you’re still unsure about where you’d like to get your next tattoo, let your tattoo artist know. They’ll be able to steer you in the right direction and collaborate with you to create a piece you love.

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