One of the most complicated parts of deciding on a new tattoo is where to place it. Once you’ve narrowed down a design, color ideas, and an artist, it’s time to think of the size and the placement. While selecting a region of your body for your tattoo is a deeply personal choice, we have some tips you may want to consider as you narrow down your selection.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Tattoo Placement Considerations
- 2 Pain Points on Your Body
- 3 Types of Pain
- 4 Designing for Tattoo Placement
- 5 Our Final Thoughts
Related: How To Prepare for a Tattoo
Tattoo Placement Considerations
Even though you may be tempted to stick that ink just about anywhere on your body, there are a few things you should keep in mind when selecting where to place your new tattoo.
How Visible Do You Want Your Tattoo to Be?
Visibility or discretion is the first thing you should consider when determining where to place your tattoo. If you’re planning to make an impact with your piece and want to show it off, consider the clothes you wear, the temperature of the city you live in, and select the perfect spot! If discretion is needed because of the job you work or volunteering you do, you may want to look for a spot that can easily be covered by clothing.
Tattoos are not as taboo as they once were, but if you are working in a government, education, or financial industry, you may want to consider something that is more discrete. This is especially important if you are getting a tattoo that may be seen as offensive or vulgar. If this is your first tattoo, you may want to consider getting it somewhere where you can see it!
Think About the Size of Your Tattoo
While small tattoos work just about anywhere on your body, larger tattoos definitely need a bigger piece of real estate. Your body is the canvas that the tattoo artist will be working on, so depending on the design details and sizing needs of your ink, you may have to select a very large blank space.
Tattoo artist Ghinko says, "The bigger the tattoo, the more limitations to the placement. The smaller the tattoo, the more limitations to detailing.”
Think About the Shape and Design of Your Tattoo
Your body bends and curves and selecting a tattoo placement that moves well with the curves of your body is essential. Thankfully, artists are often quite skilled in knowing just how well a piece will work with a body part. You can always ask for advice on placement for the shape of your tattoo on your first consultation together.
In addition, tattoo styling and designs tend to suit different body parts, as well. Ginkho says, “Fine line tends to have a harder time sticking in areas of high motion and thicker skin such as the ankle, the wrist, and the fingers.” Keep the small and dainty tattoos for delicate and visible areas of the body and the big old school tattoos or realistic portraits for larger and flatter regions.
What Are Your Future Tattoo Plans?
Although you cannot really anticipate how many tattoos you may get in your future, it’s helpful to start planning early.
First, you should consider whether you’ll like the tattoo in that specific region as you age and your body changes. For example, you may not want a dainty tattoo on your abdomen if you intend to get pregnant down the line.
Secondly, you need to consider if this tattoo is part of a greater piece that you have planned or whether it will be hanging out on its own in the future. For this reason, you should avoid taking up a large space for a small tattoo or getting a weirdly shaped tattoo in a region you plan to expand upon later.
Do you have ambitious tattoo goals? It’s sometimes helpful to consider your body as a large canvas broken apart into fragments. Consider if you wish to build upon or completely tattoo each fragment, and plan your placement accordingly. For example, the bicep area can be broken down into a “half-sleeve” fragment, and you may not want to get a portrait there if you intend to design a half-sleeve for that region, later.
What’s Your Pain Tolerance Like?
Finally, the most important thing to consider when planning the placement of your new tattoo is your pain tolerance. Pain tolerance is a completely individual experience that can be based upon genetics, learned behavior towards pain, and your immune system. If this is your first tattoo, you might want to test the waters with smaller ink before diving into that full back piece!
Let’s dive into what you can expect in regards to pain for different body parts.
Pain Points on Your Body
Have a look at all our articles about tattoo pain.
Head, Face, and Neck
With thin skin over very sensitive nerve endings, these areas are no walk in the park. They’re best for dainty tattoos but be warned: tattoos here can fade quickly.
Ideal for: small designs
Forearms are generally known to be less painful regions to get tattooed and they have a significant amount of real estate.
Ideal for: any size designs
Hands and Fingers
Great for dainty tattoos, hands and fingers placements need to be touched up frequently. And they’re definitely painful!
Ideal for: small, dainty designs
This is a very popular location for good reason: it has a large space to work with, it flows well with many designs, it’s great for beginning a greater commitment such as a half-sleeve tattoo, and it’s not very painful.
Ideal for: any size designs
This is an area known as one of the most painful spots to tattoo, because it has little muscle padding over the bones and nerve endings.
Ideal for: larger pieces or dainty script
Though not particularly painful, before considering this tattoo you should think about how it may age over time.
Ideal for: large designs or small pieces taking up specific parts of the canvas
You have an immense piece of real estate to work with, here, and it’s all not very painful. Beware of tattooing on the spine though, as that’s quite intolerable.
Ideal for: very big pieces, or shoulder ink
Because of its lack of exposure to external elements, this area can be sensitive. It also may require touch-ups.
Ideal for: large, thicker designs
Outer Upper Thigh
This is a large canvas that an artist can work on that is generally less painful than most regions, due to having lots of fat and muscle.
Ideal for: larger designs
Feet, Ankles, and Shins
Potentially one of the most painful popular areas to get tattoos, your feet, ankles, and shins will be an uncomfortable place for the majority of clients getting tattooed in that region.
Ideal for: small pieces due to pain, or large shin pieces
Types of Pain
Of course, the experience of pain varies. These are the most common types of pain that people report while being tattooed.
- Background Pain - This is a pain you can’t escape but it’s tolerable. The adrenaline you create during a tattoo session usually helps you sit through this without issue.
- Burning Pain - Since multiple needles are stabbing your skin hundreds of times in a minute, you may feel a burning sensation.
- Scratching Pain - The needles of a tattoo gun may also cause a scratching sensation, like a nail being dragged repeatedly against your skin.
- Stinging Pain - This is a very common pain that is experienced during tattooing that may also continue after your tattoo is finished. It can also be the most irritating.
- Vibrating Pain - This is most commonly felt when your tattoo artist is tattooing over thin skin or bones.
Designing for Tattoo Placement
If you haven’t yet considered or set upon a tattoo design but you have a placement in mind, you might want to consider asking your artist to design a tattoo for a specific region of your body. During the design process, they will be able to keep the following in mind:
- That the tattoo sizing will fit the body part properly
- That the design and style flow with the flow of your muscles
- That all images are right side up and designs are facing outwards, rather than towards you (the client)
- That any portraits or faces are facing in toward the body rather than outwards
- That any tattoo design ideas can be readjusted and modified for other body placements
Our Final Thoughts
Even though there are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting the placement of your tattoo, ultimately, where you want to get tattooed is a deeply personal choice. If your heart is set on a tiny tattoo on a large piece of your body, just do it. This is a commitment to a piece of art that will be with you for the rest of your life and you need to choose what you are most comfortable and happy with.