30 Gorgeous Takes on the Classic Compass Tattoo

From sleek compass roses to abstract iterations

Compass tattoo 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 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.

From the use of color to different simplifications, these 30 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, here’s some inspiration for your next compass ink.

01 of 30

Watercolor 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. By doing this, the compass is able to pop against the light color, and a bit of personalized whimsy is added to the design.

02 of 30

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 30

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 30

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 30

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 30

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 30

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 30

Geometric Compass Tattoo

Compass tattoos are a great idea for the constant traveler. 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 30

Feather Compass Tattoo

Personalize a compass tattoo by adding a date to center the design, focusing on the aesthetics of the compass rather than its practicality. Here, the feather detailing, dot details, and heavy shading emphasize form over function.

10 of 30

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.

11 of 30

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.

12 of 30

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.

13 of 30

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 seem to mimic constellations. The shading around the edge of the compass arrows and the makes the tattoo feel like its almost floating above the skin.

14 of 30

Small But Detailed Compass Tattoo

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.

15 of 30

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. 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.

16 of 30

Crisp Compass Tattoo

Sure, you could get a matching tattoo with someone who gets an anchor, but you could also just get this gorgeous compass tattoo for yourself. The linework is crisp and medium-thickness, giving a geometric feel to the design. The dots also add a bit of elaboration to an otherwise simple, line-only design, and the wording below gives a personal touch to the ink.

17 of 30

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.

18 of 30

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.

19 of 30

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.

20 of 30

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.

21 of 30

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).

22 of 30

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.

23 of 30

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.

24 of 30

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.

25 of 30

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.

26 of 30

Vegvisir Compass Tattoo

This compass tattoo isn’t your typical design, and that’s because it’s a Vegvisir, (a Nordic compass). The sentiment behind the symbol is that if you lose your way it will always guide you to your destination.

27 of 30

Map And Compass Tattoo 2

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.

28 of 30

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.

29 of 30

Filled-In Map 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.

30 of 30

Colorful Compass Tattoo

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

Next, these watercolor tattoos are the prettiest thing we've seen all week

Related Stories