Whether you're looking to fill in a sleeve or simply want a distinctive placement for your individual piece of ink, there are plenty of reasons to consider a ditch tattoo. Located at the inner part of your elbow or knee, ditch tattoos aren't for the faint of heart (the pain level is among the highest when it comes to tattoo placements). But if you can grin and bear it, you're sure to love the way your tattoo moves on this part of the body.
We asked tattoo artists Ipek Sen and Ulyana Nesheva to give us the full rundown on ditch tattoos, from cost to pain level. Keep reading to learn more.
Meet the Expert
- Ipek Sen is a tattoo artist at Fleur Noire Tattoo in New York City.
- Ulyana Nesheva is the owner and founder of 6:19 Tattoo Studio in Kyiv, Ukraine
What Is a Ditch Tattoo?
A ditch tattoo is a design inked on the inner part of the elbow or back of the knee. Because of the nature of the body, those locations tend to dip a bit—much like a ditch would—which gives the placement its name. Simply put, “it is called a ditch tattoo due to the placement being in a ditch of the body,” says Sen.
Because the ditch is a unique placement, you can also expect it to come with some unique challenges. “The ditch tattoo is usually considered to be the most complicated in terms of application,” says Nesheva. “It tends to take a longer time to heal due to its ability to bend in movement.”
Since the ditch tends to be an unavoidable spot for people looking to fill an entire arm or leg with ink, it’s a fairly popular placement choice. “In the last few years, ditch tattoos have definitely seen a rise in popularity as the tattoo industry itself has grown,” says Sen. “Ditch tattoos make great fillers for anyone who is working on completing a large-scale sleeve project.”
Individual ditch tattoos are fairly popular as well, thanks to the movement in the areas and the interesting shape of the body part.
As you can imagine, the challenges presented by ditch tattoos mean they typically come with a heavier price tag. “Ditch tattoos are usually priced higher than other placements due to the higher skill difficulty needed for the area,” says Sen.
However, the only real way to know exactly how much a ditch tattoo will cost you is to talk to your tattoo artist about your desired design and placement. Every artist, client, and tattoo is different—don’t assume that there’s one set price for a ditch design. “There is no industry standard minimum, it is completely artist to artist-based,” notes Sen.
Overall, “a tattoo's cost depends on the size, complexity of the design, and demand for the artist who is creating it,” says Nesheva. “It’s hard to identify based on different regions of the world, but my minimum charge for this kind of tattoo starts at $400.”
While the cost of a ditch tattoo depends on a variety of factors, it’s almost a given that getting inked there will hurt—a lot. On a scale of one to 10, Sen rates it a nine due to the “thinner skin, ligament exposure, and higher sensitivity” of the area. “Usually such parts of a body are more sensitive,” Nesheva adds. “From my personal experience, the pain would be rated as an eight. For instance, two of the three nerves in our arms run through the elbow ditch, which means that this area is extremely sensitive.”
Pain levels ultimately come down to your individual pain tolerance, so don’t expect to know exactly how a ditch tattoo will feel. However, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s a more painful tattoo placement in general.
Our Favorite Ditch Tattoos
If you’re considering a ditch tattoo—whether to complete a larger project or as an individual tat—here are 10 designs to help inspire your ink.
Floral Ditch Tattoo
A tattoo that cuts through the ditch and places most of the design above or below, like this floral, draws attention to the area without covering it. It also leaves plenty of room for additional designs.
Dotwork Ditch Tattoo
Because any tattoo in the elbow ditch will make a statement, any style will work. Here, the dotwork creates a subtle color and appears spaced-out, adding airiness to an otherwise bold shape.
Side Ditch Tattoo
Rather than getting a tattoo inked right in the middle of a ditch, consider placing it slightly off to the side. Because of the way the arm moves, it’s still technically in the ditch, but it creates a new perspective and visually elongates the arm.
Centerpoint Ditch Tattoo
Just as the ditch is the centerpoint of your arm or leg, it looks beautiful as the centerpoint of a tattoo. A design that radiates outward from the ditch, like this sun, draws the eye to the center of the appendage and uses a bit of negative space to make it pop even more.
Linework Ditch Tattoo
You don’t have to fully cover the ditch with your tattoo. This design uses line work and bright colors to draw in the eye, but the ditch still remains visible—making it a background rather than simply a canvas.
Bird Ditch Tattoo
This tattoo placed slightly to the side of the ditch gives the impression that the bird is flying away. Try choosing a piece of ink with movement to play up this part of the body.
Line Art Ditch Tattoo
Ditch tattoos don’t have to be super heavy or bold. Try a line art-only design to highlight the area without fully concealing it.
Below the Ditch Tattoo
Rather than placing your tattoo directly in the ditch, try placing it slightly below. This gives the appearance of cradling the area and makes it pop even more.
Red Ditch Tattoo
Don’t be afraid of using color in your ditch tattoo. A bright red, like in this design, makes a bold statement—and makes the ditch tattoo the star of your sleeve.
Eye Ditch Tattoo
Try playing up the oblong shape of the ditch by choosing a design with a similar look, like an eye. Rather than covering up or reshaping the area, it plays up the shape and makes the design seem almost natural.