Be Your Own Tattoo Designer

tattoo woman elegant sunlight

Getty Images / Design by Dion Mills

Thinking about getting a new—or your first—tattoo? Why not design it on your own? While television shows like Miami Ink, Ink Master, and L.A. Ink brought the world of custom tattoos up close and personal, it feels special to create your own tattoo and make it as you've always wanted. After all, this unique design will be permanently etched onto your body.

Can't draw? It doesn't mean you have to do it all by yourself. "How to put it together to work as a good tattoo design is the job of the tattoo artist," says tattooer Minka Sicklinger. So who better to help with precious advice on this next tattoo? We spoke to professional tattoo artists Sicklinger and Bruna Sabadin for the best inputs on this personal guide.

Get some expert tips for designing your tattoo ahead.

Meet the Expert

Bruna Sabadin is a tattoo artist at Plee Tattoos in Porto, Portugal. She works with fine line and blackwork tattoo designs.


Minka Sicklinger is a NYC-based tattoo artist. She collects treasures that inform and inspire the iconic symbolism and patterning of her work that finds its way onto paper, metal, flesh, and fabric.

01 of 08

Consider the Location

Location, visibility, and discretion all play a key role (as should gravity) when determining a tattoo design. When you start planning your tattoo, explore your available body canvas and consider these areas, including each spot's shape. "The three-dimensional surface of the body has its limitations. It's different from a flat piece of paper or a computer screen," says Sicklinger. 

You also need to decide if you want a tattoo that the entire world can see or just a select few. Semi-private location areas include the lower back, shoulders, stomach, and neck, whereas high visibility locations include the face, arms, fingers, and legs. 

02 of 08

Get Inspired

Even if you have a theme in mind, you should stay open to fresh ideas before getting inked. Tattoo magazines, art books, cultural symbols, and botanical images all make for artful inspiration. Sabadin indicates browsing on Pinterest and Instagram to get some ideas for your exclusive design—not copies. On the other hand, Sicklinger likes to get inspiration from photographs, old illustrations, textile patterns, and the work of the specific artist you are working with.

03 of 08

Stick to Classic Over Trendy

Remember, no matter how cliché it sounds, a tattoo is permanent. Try not to opt for a trendy piece or style. "Not all tattoos have to have a specific meaning, but it's important to stay true to your hobbies, special interests, and beliefs when choosing your design," says Sabadin. Are you currently interested in a piece of pop culture or practicing a new religion? Make sure you’ll have the same passions down the road as a precautionary measure. It's also important that you remain respectful and avoid getting ink that follows cultural appropriation.

If you're having trouble choosing a tattoo, consider “safe” designs. These include zodiac symbols, floral tattoos, and other classic styles that don’t pinpoint a particular time or trend in your life.

04 of 08

Draw It Yourself

If you have a creative hand, spend some time sketching and let the paper come alive. Rather than opt for a traditional piece of old-school tattoo flash, why not sketch your own? "You don't need to stick to a perfect drawing, but more important is to let your imagination flow. After this draft, you can talk to your tattoo artist to transform it into the final design," says Sabadin. 

05 of 08

Choose the Best Color

Do you dream in color? Before you go crazy over the color, be sure you can commit to ink touch-ups down the road, as they will likely be needed. While touch-ups certainly aren’t a necessity during the life of a tattoo, you may find a drab and old tattoo needs a color refresher. "The lighter the color, like white or yellow, the more you’ll need to add later," Sabadin says. Maintenance is always a consideration.

06 of 08

Consider Solid Black Tattoos

portrait of femme with dwarfism
ROMAN SHALENKIN / Stocksy

Many people opt for solid black tattoos for good reason. Black is basic and looks clean. Black also serves as the prime shade for most cultural tattoo designs. "It's a good option for body areas that get more sun exposure," says Sabadin. 

07 of 08

Try a Temporary Tattoo Stencil

Most tattoo artists use stencils before marking the skin, so why don't you try it before your appointment? It's good to know what to have an idea of the design and how it will fit on your body. Sicklinger alerts that it shouldn't create any expectation, though, as placement and movement affect a design optically.

08 of 08

Find the Right Artist

Once you’ve created the perfect design, it’s time to find the artist who can bring it to life. First, Sicklinger asks: "Do you like their style of work first and foremost, and does it best reflect what you are actually looking at getting done?"

She also advises getting information on the tattoo artist's health and safety protocol for the tattoo industry, and talking to other people who have worked with them to know their experience. The artist may choose to modify your design as they see fit, and you should welcome their expert suggestions, so keep an open mind. "They are the best and most equipped person to design a successful tattoo." Most will offer free consultations by appointment, so get in the chair. Creativity awaits!

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