Side tattoos, also called rib tats, are a very popular tattoo option—but that doesn’t mean they’re the most inked. On the surface, side ink seems ideal: If you’re interested in getting a large design, the side has enough surface area to accommodate something quite big, and if you want a small one, the contrast against the blank skin will make it pop. For people looking at getting a vertical design, the ribs are also a good choice thanks to their size and shape. And if you want to play up the movement of your body, a side tattoo will enhance your natural lines and movement.
However, what keeps people from getting side tattoos is the pain. This placement of ink is considered one of the most painful on the entire body because of the relative lack of fat and muscle, and how close the bones come to the surface. But if you really want the tattoo, the pain will be worth it.
If you’re willing to push through the pain for a beautiful side tattoo, here’s some inspiration to help you plan a design you’ll love forever.
Snake Side Tattoo
Because of how your body twists and turns throughout the day, there’s a lot of inherent movement in your trunk. Highlight that aspect of your ribs with a design in motion, like this snake.
Multiple Elements Side Tattoo
Rather than getting ink with just one element, take advantage of all the available space and add multiple images to your tattoo. You can even spread them further apart from each other than you would on a smaller body part, to utilize empty space.
Diagonally-Oriented Side Tattoo
Disrupt the natural shape of the rib cage by placing your design diagonally toward your back. This will cut across the shape to make your design pop.
Personal Side Tattoo
Because a side tattoo is hidden by most pieces of clothing, it’s a great place to get a personal design. Opt for something that means a lot to you—one that only those you choose get to see.
Heavy-Handed Side Tattoo
The amount of open space on the side of the body means that you can be more heavy-handed with darker colors or shading. This feather uses a lot of black ink, but it doesn’t feel overpowering.
Double Side Tattoo
Play up the “side” part of the ink’s location with a split-sided design. Here, a devil and an angel are placed on each side, but you could do something like comedy and tragedy instead.
Different Shading Side Tattoo
Feel free to play around with different shading techniques with a side tat. Because you can make the design larger, heavy shading won’t make it seem crowded.
Intricate Side Tattoo
Being able to do more with a design means that your tattoo artist can really get into the details to make it as intricate as possible. This allows more realistic tattoos to look so without feeling overwhelmed by ornamentation.
Detailed Side Tattoo
Use the space that’s afforded by your ribs by getting a tat that’s full of detail. This design is completely made out of dots, rather than lines, making it that much more intricate.
Always Hidden Side Tattoo
A side tattoo is almost always hidden by clothing, making it automatically feel more intimate. A delicate font will make it feel even more so.
Word or Phrase Side Tattoo
A small word or phrase on the side of your body below the chest makes for a coy, personal placement. Keep the font small and spaced out for a breezy, dainty piece of ink.
Dainty Side Tattoo
Although a side tattoo can be large, it doesn’t have to be. A dainty tattoo, like these colored florals, only serves to make more of a statement.
Large Side Tattoo
Because of the open area of your side, you can scale your tattoo to be quite large. This allows your artist to go in with more shading detail to add dynamic elements to the design without crowding it.
Single Floral Side Tattoo
On the other hand, a single floral with a long stem also looks great wrapping around in the same direction as your ribs. Use only black ink to give it a minimal feel.
Compass Side Tattoo
Compass tattoos are a popular design choice because of their meaning. They look great as a side tat because they’re highly customizable.
Tiger Side Tattoo
Rather than framing your chest with a side design, why not try framing the hips? Position your tat at a slight downward angle, like this tiger design, to mimic your hip bones.
Safety Pin Side Tattoo
An extremely minimal piece of ink, like this safety pin, won’t make a major impact—but that’s exactly the point. For a more restrained look, keep it small and simple.
Texturally Varied Side Tattoo
A design with a lot of heavy blackwork won’t feel crowded when you get it on your side. You can even add some textural variations, like dot shading, without overwhelming it as well.
Curving Side Tattoo
Rather than trying to fit your design into the confines of specific lines on your body, try an image that has a lot of movement in multiple directions. If there are curves on all sides, the design will feel more realistic.
Minimal Side Tattoo
Minimal tattoos actually pop really well on the side, as they leave a lot of empty space. This draws your eye toward the design, which in turn gets a chance to shine despite its size and simplicity.
Side Tattoo With Many Elements
Making a tattoo fit your aesthetic includes adding the design elements that you want to see. With a side tattoo, you don’t have to worry about adding too much because there’s so much room.
Spread Out Side Tattoo
A fine line tattoo looks fantastic against your side because of the amount of empty space. Spread out your design to maximize that effect.
Contrasting Line Thickness Side Tattoo
If you’d rather keep your side design simple, try using two vastly different line sizes to add dimension to an otherwise basic image. Here, the outlines are done in a thick line, while the detailing is done very finely.
Feminine Side Tattoo
The moon represents many things, among them femininity. A side half-moon design is great for those looking for a feminine design.
Negative Space Side Tattoo
Use the blank canvas-esque nature of your side to play up important aspects of your design. For example, you can use the skin for a negative space tattoo to play up the location’s size.
Small Heart Side Tattoo
A simple heart may be a small design, but its importance is huge. A small tattoo that’s tucked away tends to mean something very personal and intimate.
Bold Side Tattoo
With all the real estate afforded to you with a side tat, it makes perfect sense to go bold with a design that features heavy blackwork.
Dandelion Side Tattoo
A dandelion design may have a lot of different meanings, which makes the potential for a personal piece of ink very high. However, if you're prioritizing design over symbolism, keep it minimal.