Tattoo Lettering is a type of tattoo art that is becoming much more popular nowadays. Celebrities such as David and Victoria Beckham have tattoo lettering on their body as expressions of their love for each other. This is not to say that tattoo lettering should only be used to express one’s love for a significant other. Tattoo lettering can be used creatively for any number of purposes – to signify an association with a particular club, organization or brotherhood, to signify belief in a certain cause, or, very simply, because it looks cool. One of my good high school buddies, David, got his first tattoo done at the age of 16 – and he’s never looked back. He actually got his first tattoo – a small, Chinese dragon, on a whim whilst he was traveling through Asia. At first, he panicked when he got home – what would my girlfriend think? What would my parents say? What if everyone at school finds out?
You see, until recently, tattoos were used in popular culture to signify negative things – notions of gang membership, paramilitary organizations were associated with tattoos. This is far from the truth. Tattoos have been used throughout history to symbolize and signify various things, from being the Pharaoh of Egypt to membership in a Maori clan. A recent poll conducted in the United States indicated that some 16% of all adult Americans have at least one tattoo of sorts.
David suffered from none of the disaster scenarios he had been thinking though. He’s now an up-and-rising attorney and has gone on to supplement his original dragon tattoo with additional (though fairly discreet) ones. More recently, he decided that he would have some tattoo lettering done to symbolize the experiences he had whilst traveling through Asia and Europe – some letters written in Chinese and Celtic script.
The key to having proper tattoo lettering done is to make sure that it’s clear in your mind exactly what you want it for. Letters, especially in other languages, can be much more symbolic than a traditional patterned or image-based tattoo. If you are inking in a foreign language too, make sure that you know someone who speaks that language have a look at the tattoo flash before it’s inked on.
If you’re like David and have existing tattoos, also keep in mind how tattoo lettering will complement them. You need to think of your body as an art canvas, a work that is presented as a whole to the world.
When you see a rock star like Tommy Lee hitting the concert stage shirtless and sporting a landscape of Old English tattoos on his body, or rapper Eminem brandishing an arm decorated with an Old English script tattoo – looking all hip and cool – does it make you want to get one for yourself? How about seeing soccer hunk and idol David Beckham’s billboard on the freeway, bare-chested and proudly bearing his wife and children’s names, again in Old English tattoo, does it make you want to have your own husband get one for himself too?
That kind of mentality may partly explain the surge in popularity of Old English tattoo lettering. A number of celebrities have recently taken a liking for Old English tattoo lettering. Referred to as Anglo-Saxon in the records of history, Old English was spoken and written in England and Scotland from the mid-fifth to mid-twelfth century. The lettering’s core characteristics consist of broad, equal strokes and complex arabesque design around the words.
Unknown to many tattoo enthusiasts, Old English tattoos and Old English lettering are really erroneously named. It is a commonly mistaken notion that this font or lettering style was used to write in Old English, the language. In reality, however, Old English as a language had been around for a long time before the lettering came into being, and while some texts in this form of English were written in this format from the 10th to 15th century, it was not the only form of lettering used to write Old English.
The font identified as Old English today is more correctly known as blackletter. Blackletter is a script that began in the 12th century in Europe. This lettering style was the writing type of preference in Western Europe until the 16th century and continued to be utilized in the German language until the 20th century. Blackletter is also properly known as the Gothic script and Gothic minuscule.
The most genuine form of Blackletter script is known as textualis, and this is often used as a reference to make the most beautiful and most authentic Old English tattoos. Textualis is the most calligraphic form of Blackletter, with a lot of fanfare and embellishments used to make the letters become more prominent and noticeable. Most people who pick this style of tattoo are male, and they will choose a location on their bodies where the intricacy of the lettering will be displayed to its fullest advantage and will also fit well. Old English is elaborate; large letters are preferred as tiny letters are difficult for tattoo artists to create and ink. This is why most people who get Old English tattoo lettering have it done on their chests or stomachs; there is a lot of space to get the work done.
The demise of Old English lettering, or more correctly referred to as Blackletter, came after the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD. It has since undergone dramatic transformations to become the English spoken and written language that we know today.
Tribal Tattoo Lettering: From Its Beginnings to Contemporary Forms
Tribal designs are the most ancient forms of tattoo art in the world, and also the most popular and in-demand among tattoo enthusiasts today. The first tattoo was brought to the West by eighteenth-century British explorers from the Isles of Polynesia. Although coming from all over Asia, tattoo originated from the Tahitian word tatu or tatau, meaning to mark or strike. Tattoo applications used to be exceptionally painful, but the results were the pinnacle of art perfection. Tribal tattoos then were the living embodiments of culture.
For instance, Samoans advocate the intricate geometrical design of the conventional bodysuit as the custom to a passage of manhood for some, and also to show reverence for God-like traits. Another example would be ancient Maori soldiers, who began their tattooing tradition by painting their faces with charcoal before each combat. Soon after, they made the design permanent, calling it “moko”. It became a status symbol for courage. If a man was without “moko”, he was called a “papatea” (plain face) and considered an outcast.
Asiatic Eskimos are known to live past 100 years of age. Their bodies, adorned by the most authentic tattoos on earth, depict a history of their families and lives as tribesmen. In Mackenzie Delta, tiny crosses are tattooed on the shoulders and cheeks to keep tally of the taken whales. In the Northern Philippines, tribesmen ornately decorate their entire bodies with tribal designs, a symbol of their identity and belongingness to their clan.
For centuries, tribal tattoos represented the relationship in groups, families, but what began as cultural symbols evolved and grew into an abundance of designs known as neo-tribal tattoo styles. Today, tribal tattoo lettering is distinctive with bold black lines, complex patterns, thick curves, and razor-sharp points. Tribal tattoos fonts can be done in traditional ‘black work’ on in more colorful styles typified by the ‘Modern Primitive’ look.
If you are thinking about getting a tribal lettering tattoo, it is advisable to learn more about the background and history of tribal tattoo style and culture of its origin. Of course, you don’t have to belong in the ethnicity to use a tribal design for yourself. But as V. Vale and Andrea Juno wrote, “a tattoo is more than a painting on the skin, its meaning and reverberations cannot be comprehended without knowledge of the history and mythology of its bearer… As a tattoo is grounded on living skin, its essence emotes a unique poignancy to the mortal human condition.”
Hence, it is best first to do a web search on the tribal tattoo lettering of different cultures for you to find out which culture’s tattoos you are drawn to. Some of the more commonly seen tribal tattoos are Philippines, Maori, Samoa, Native American, and Borneo.
Tattoo Lettering on the Wrist
Tattoo Lettering is often done across the wrist, but most people don’t know how to do this properly. The first thing you should look at and take into account is what you want to write. Different lengths of words or phrases will mean different ways of tattooing them on. If you have a relatively short word or set of words, then tattooing them on in a vertical fashion (one letter above the other) will be better. If you have a long or lengthy phrase, consider getting it inked on left-to-right in the normal fashion. Of course, keep in mind what script you’re writing in too. Chinese characters are normally written vertically, and Arabic and Hebrew scripts are written right-to-left.
How much should Tattoo Lettering Cost?
Someone wrote in and asked me the other day how much it costs to get tattoo lettering done. Well, it really depends on where you live. From my experience, in most of the big cities of the United States, it will cost you between $20-40 per letter, depending on the skill of the tattoo artist and if you know them personally or not. I believe that it is much, much cheaper in other parts of the world, but then again when I get ink put on, I’d rather it be done in a clean and hygienic manner – wouldn’t you?
Cool Tattoo Lettering Idea
I read an interesting story today (sorry, lost the link) about a woman who had an extreme novel idea for getting tattoo lettering done. She wanted to have the names of her two daughters tattooed onto her neck, so rather than have any type of fancy lettering or such, she just had her daughters put their signatures on paper and used that as the flash for the tattoo – great idea!
There are a lot of places to go for tattoo lettering ideas. Something you see on television, something you see celebrities flaunting are all valid sources that should inspire you to come up with your own tattoo design. Of course, any good tattoo artists will have suggestions for you as well. There are also numerous resources online (such as this one here) that can assist you. Inspiration can be drawn from almost anywhere – websites, alternative culture, fine art, other languages. My friend Sarah is really into East Asian cultures and symbolism. She has a couple of Chinese-language tattoos drawn in cursive script.
Be aware that different images or tattoo lettering can be represented in many ways – for example, scripts such as Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, or even Roman script can be drawn in multiple ways depending on your own tastes and requirements.
Tattoo Lettering as an Art Form
Tattooing and Tattoo lettering is undoubtedly a modern art form. Gone are the days of insignificant and poorly-drawn symbols. Tattoos are for life, and anyone who has ever gotten one knows that regardless of the simplicity or apparent naivety of the tattoo, it bears a deep symbolism that the wearer carries with them for their entire life. Tattoo lettering originally began by being a way of a person representing their initials on their body – and has evolved into an art form in and of itself.
Potential Problems with Tattoo Lettering
Some problems can arise from tattoo lettering – don’t worry, they’re not what you think, and can definitely be avoided. All tattoos ‘fade’ over time as the ink migrates beneath the skin. For this reason, any tattoo lettering should be well-spaced, and lines should be fine and even. Talk to your tattoo artist about what you should expect over time with any given tattoo. Many better artists will tell you that they don’t draw tattoos smaller than a certain size so that the tattoo keeps its shape and form as the years wear by.
Getting Tattoo Lettering Done Properly
One thing to keep in mind when working with tattoo lettering is whether or not it accompanies other sorts of tattoos. Tattoos should be thought of as complimentary – bold, dark letters work well with tribal tattoos, not so much with designs such as that of a butterfly though. The typeface/lettering you choose for your tattoos should be representative of you and go well with any other tattoos you wear in the nearby area.
Similarly, if you are working with a foreign language tattoo (such as Sanskrit or Chinese) be sure you are aware of what you are putting on. Make sure that the Flash is drawn correctly, or it could be an embarrassing – and expensive – mistake to correct.
The Tattoo Lettering FAQ
How much would a lettering tattoo cost?
I want to get to get about six (short) words tattooed under my ribs about half an inch or so high. How much do you think this would cost me at a reputable tattoo parlor?
The shop I go to has a shop minimum of $50 plus I do believe most shops do charge by the hour. I’d go to a few of your local shops and see what you can find out. You never know you might get a really good deal that way.
How small can a lettering tattoo be and not look like crap in 30 years?
I want to get a tattoo on the back of my neck of a song title and I am wondering how small it could be and not look like crap.
If you’re going small – go simple. A single-line cursive or a sans-serif font is best for small stuff.
Zodiac tattoos (Libra, specifically)?
I’m thinking about getting another tattoo. I know I want to get my zodiac symbol (libra). The description of the Libra personality fits me to a T, and I think a Libra tattoo would sum “me” up and symbolize me very well, which, to me, is the point of a tattoo. Anyone know any good places online to look at UNIQUE images of zodiac tattoos?
Tell the artist what you want and let them draw something up for you, if you don’t like it, tweak it up till it fits you. I love my Libra tattoo. I searched high and low, and when I found it I just knew.
Is it possible to get a new tattoo to look as if it is underneath an old tattoo which is just black lettering?
I hope people can actually understand what I’m trying to ask. I have a black lettering tattoo and want to make it look more interesting by adding to it. I was thinking something like a red flower, but I don’t know if it is possible to get the effect of the flower being behind the words.
Very possible. I’m getting my lettering next week, and I actually asked the same question. The girl said that it’s possible, but it can’t be too detailed. And she said if the letters are too small the picture could bleed into the lettering.
I think a red flower would look really sharp against the black lettering.. don’t make it solid red and it should be very doable. Obviously, you need to shop for a talented artist who can work around it.
Greek lettering for a tattoo?
A friend is trying to find the word “heal”- (like healing from a personal problem) in greek. I looked online for her but came up with too many different ways. I don’t know Greek so…any help? This is what I found…