27 Gorgeous Takes on the Classic Compass Tattoo

From sleek compass roses to abstract iterations.

Compass tattoos originated as a common ink choice for fishermen and sailors, as they believed the designs would bring them good fortune during their travels and would always guide them home. Nowadays, the compass is the universal sign for wanderlusters who find fulfillment in constant travel. In the same way that sailors felt they brought good luck, wanderers and travelers consider the compass design a symbol of good luck and safe travels. Even the arrows hold meaning, signifying the promise of adventure in all directions.

The compass design is also a personal favorite amongst tattoo artists such as Gianna Caranfa. "A few years ago, a group of us visited Ireland and wanted to get compass tattoos to always remember our journey together. However, we were five girls with different personalities. One girl received an upward-facing arrow with just an 'N' for north. Another received a compass that [replaced north, south, east, and west with] our initials. I used a simple dragonfly as the center and placed the coordinates around it like a normal compass," she shares.

From the use of color to different simplifications, these 27 compass tattoos show you that there are a million and one ways to customize the design. If you’re looking for adventure wherever you go or just want a tattoo that will help you get home safely, check out some stunning compass tattoo ideas to get inspired for your new ink.

Meet the Expert

01 of 27

Watercolor Map Compass Tattoo

Compass tattoos don’t have to be all black ink. Add a bit of color to your design by overlaying the compass onto a watercolor ink map. The compass will pop against the light color and add a bit of personalized whimsy to the design.

While adding color can make your design stand out, Drummond says there are a few things to consider before opting to include it. "Color is always more expensive; however, one thing to think of is color fades and blurs quicker than just black. There is more upkeep for a color tattoo. It looks great at first, then can fade quickly if exposed to the sun, which most tattoos are," he explains.

02 of 27

Minimalist Compass Tattoo

The whole point of a compass is to give direction, so why over-complicate a good thing? This ink utilizes the four directions and breaks the idea of a compass down to its bare elements. The arrows as compass lines give a sense of design and personalization.

03 of 27

Squiggly Line Compass Tattoo

Simplify your compass by keeping your ink to dots and lines. Here, the directional arrows utilize a foldover look, and then dashed and dotted lines are used for aesthetic effect.

04 of 27

Minimalist Map Compass Tattoo

Dress up your compass tattoo by adding a small design of the world in the background and map lines around the compass itself. Because most of the outlines used in the ink are extremely thin, they stand in contrast to the thickness of the compass arrows and create a delicate and complex tattoo without it feeling too cluttered.

05 of 27

Symbol Compass Tattoo

Compass designs can be a bit one-note, so jazz up the typical design by personalizing it with a bit of whimsy. This ink adds small doodles next to each direction as a way to remind you of what is waiting for you there. The design also utilizes a very unique set of shapes, including circles and leaf-shapes, to create a truly unique piece of ink.

06 of 27

Map and Compass Tattoo

Rather than overlaying the compass with a map of the world, why not make them seem like part of a cohesive design? By using the same thickness for all of the lines in the design, there is no contrast between the compass or the map, making for a clean aesthetic.

07 of 27

American Traditional Compass Tattoo

Dress up a simple compass design by adding flowers. Here, the differing line thicknesses add detail to the design without creating clutter. The ink replicates realism through the precise lines on the compass, the overall design of the mechanism, and the shading on the petals and leaves of the florals.

08 of 27

Geometric Compass Tattoo

Compass tattoos are a great idea for the constant traveler. "Any person who enjoys adventure, camping, nautical lifestyle, and traveling are surely the individuals who I see wearing the geometric compass tattoo designs," explains Caranfa.

Drummond adds that placement can add to the compass's symbolic meaning: "It makes sense to put a compass on any part of the body that can point in a certain direction. Besides the wrist, a lot of people put them on an ankle as well."

This one features a few airport codes to symbolize a love of traveling to specific places. It’s a very abstract compass design, as no directions are featured and only the lines point off into the distance.

09 of 27

Floral Compass Tattoo

The floral border on this compass tattoo reminds us of a wreath, symbolizing peace and the love of travel to experience nature.

10 of 27

Four-Leaf Clover Compass Tattoo

Instead of using flowers to adorn your compass, why not make it the compass itself? This design uses the four-leaf clover as the focal point of the ink, with the directional lines and letters overlayed. The dot shading gives the clover a bit of definition, and the sketch-like outline makes it feel hand-drawn.

11 of 27

Wispy Compass Tattoo

This tattoo plays with the contrast between dark and light by using thin lines and leaving large patches of visible skin, creating an airy and dainty design. The filled-in diamonds and the dark, crisp outlines on the outer arrows contrast starkly against the wispy (and almost disappearing) outlines of the rest of the design.

12 of 27

Geometric Floating Tattoo

When planning your compass tattoo, keep in mind that you can always play with shape. This ink heavily utilizes sharp lines, making the base design feel minimalistic and the dot detailing in the background almost seems to mimic constellations. The shading around the edge of the compass arrows makes the tattoo feel like it's almost floating above the skin.

13 of 27

Small But Detailed Compass Tattoo

However, Caranfa says this design would fare longer in a bigger size. "My advice for any tattoo and many professional artists will agree with me, is that going bigger in size is best. The bigger the tattoo, the longer it will last. As you age, the layers of your skin begin to shift and the ink will look as though it is bleeding together and smudging. The smaller the tattoo, the faster it will blur," she explains.

What’s so impressive about this design is the amount of detail that the artist managed to squeeze into such a small tattoo. The size of the compass gives the tattoo an overall delicate feeling, but the thick, black shadows and dot detailing make it feel complex and dimensional rather than minimalistic.

However, Caranfa says this design would fare longer in a bigger size. "My advice for any tattoo—and many professional artists will agree with me—is that going bigger in size is best. The bigger the tattoo, the longer it will last. As you age, the layers of your skin begin to shift and the ink will look as though it is bleeding together and smudging. The smaller the tattoo, the faster it will blur," she explains.

14 of 27

Air Travel Compass Tattoo

A compass tattoo doesn’t have to feature a traditional compass. Instead, try using a small globe in your design as the center, and dots to denote where the different directions should be. In this art, a small airplane is also featured going from east to west and leaving a trail of dots, giving the compass more of a meaning of intentional travel (perhaps the path between you and a loved one) instead of wandering.

15 of 27

Outline-Only Compass Tattoo

Nothing is more striking than a clean tattoo with crisp lines, and this compass design is no different. Composed of only medium-thick outlines, the tattoo is reminiscent of the American traditional style without the overly-complex design work that's typically associated with it. Instead, uncomplicated outlines and basic dot additions make this tattoo stand out for its simplicity.

16 of 27

Basic Compass Tattoo

Are you someone who thinks less is more? Do you prefer to break things down to their simplest roots? This ink makes sure to include the two most important elements of a compass—directions and separating lines—but doesn’t add any additional design work. This kind of tattoo is ideal for a minimalist or utilitarian.

17 of 27

Colorful Traditional Compass Tattoo

If you love the traditional tattoo style but wish it relied a bit less on the “more-is-more” idea, try something like this compass design. Drawing heavily from the American traditional style, the arrows are created from filled-in black combined with heavy color to give the otherwise simple design more weight. Because of such heavy work within the compass, the outermost outlines remain simple and clean, careful not to overwhelm the ink.

18 of 27

Ankle Compass Tattoo

A small compass tattoo on the inner ankle feels intimate and personal, like it's for your eyes only. The thick linework makes it stand out on the skin and makes the simple design feel a bit more intricate, while the dot details make the lines feel as though they continue ad infinitum.

19 of 27

Whale Compass Tattoo

A compass is a basic design to begin with, so why not add something that you enjoy to spruce it up. The whale is the focal point of the tattoo, and its dot shading shows the amount of work that went into it. It's perfect for any wanderer-by-sea (or Moby Dick aficionado).

20 of 27

Back of Neck Compass Tattoo

This compass design is very simple, as it’s composed of only linework (and not too much of it at that). By only utilizing the basic compass design in this ink—like the shape of the device, the arrows, and the directional letters—this compass retains a minimalist and customized vibe. Placing it on the back of the next makes it feel like an intimate gift for someone else's eyes.

21 of 27

Detailed Compass Tattoo

This compass features a number of different design elements, including different levels of shading, using squares to make up the inside of a circle, and filling-in different part of the arrows to make them feel multidimensional. It’s a clear derivative of the American traditional style with its heavy black work and geometric components, sans color to tame business.

22 of 27

Black Work Compass Tattoo

A compass is a compass is a compass, so why not get the basic compass rose symbol without any extra details? This design makes the compass arrows feel 3D by filling in half of each one, but the simplicity of the ink keeps it from feeling crowded or heavy.

23 of 27

Overlaid Compass Tattoo

This design is a great way to incorporate a map into your tattoo without pushing the compass from the foreground. Wispy lines make this tattoo feel like the map's been freshly-drawn to accent the compass without overshadowing it.

24 of 27

Map and Compass Tattoo With Script

In this tattoo, a map of the world works as the background to the compass in the foreground. This effect is created with light shading surrounding the edges of the continents.

25 of 27

Line Art Compass Tattoo

This compass design has a geometric feel due to the use of structured details (like near-perfect lines and rows of dots that seem to radiate in harmony from a central point). In this case, that center is the arrow.

26 of 27

Filled-In Map and Compass Tattoo

Are you a world traveler? Show off your wanderlust by using a map of the world as the basis of the design, filling in the continents as you travel to each.

27 of 27

Colorful Compass Tattoo

We love how this design taps vivid hues, making it attention-grabbing and giving it a unique feel. The colors almost seem to blend into each other, making the colors feel painted on and giving a pseudo-watercolor effect.

Related Stories