The popularity of word and phrase tattoos continues to rise. Unlike large portrait or common design ideas, simple script tattoos can be placed in visible areas for daily reminders of sentiment, inspiration, and strength. While there are no hard and fast rules to these simple forms of body inscriptions, the following tips for word and phrase tattoos will ensure you're inking a statement worthy of repeating, over and over again.
"Do your research on other word/phrase tattoos online to see how these look on other people," says tattoo artist Dillon Forte. "The color of the ink, the length of the word(s), style of design, and the lettering all determine how it will ultimately look. You may have a phrase you are totally psyched on, but sketched out as a tattoo may be underwhelming."
Keep scrolling for more advice on word tattoos, plus 55 ideas.
Meet the Expert
- Dillon Forte is a professional tattoo artist and the owner of Forte Tattoo in Austin, Texas.
Clever placement can create a fun interplay between words, as with influencer and Byrdie contributor Alyssa Coscarelli's try/not try ink on opposite forearms. Because the body shifts and changes shape over time, you may want to place your word or phrase tattoo somewhere that's less likely to experience variations due to weight fluctuations or aging.
Incorporating words into a design can totally change or amplify the meaning. Here, a dessert illustration by Mira Mariah gets a winking nod to Alice in Wonderland with the addition of "eat me."
The inner wrist and forearm can be a great place for a word or phrase tattoo that you want to serve as a reminder to yourself, rather than a message to others, like this Post Malone lyric inked by the artist Ghinko.
Word tattoos can also go between the fingers for a truly subtle placement. Due to all the bones in your hands, this can be a more painful place to get inked, so keep that in mind.
We love this casual doodle effect on Zoe Kravitz's wrist and hand. The different words and symbols may or may not be connected or particularly meaningful, but they give off a cool, nonchalant vibe.
Consider the inner wrists and ankles as safe bets for word tattoos. They will also allow you to read them on a daily basis, which is sort of the point.
Behind the Ear
Tuck a word or phrase behind the ear, like with this elegant script by artist Joanna M. Roman. "I think the number one rule [of word tattoos] is to think of something that’s meaningful to you and will survive time (i.e. I strongly discourage your partner's name)," says Jeremie Lahmi, the founder of tattoo care brand People of Substance.
Inner Arm Script
If you want your ink to be visible to others, aim to make it readable from at least 10 inches away. The letters should be large enough so that as your skin changes, sags, or shifts, your tattoo is still easy to read and resembles a word rather than a blob of ink.
You can always go super minimalist with a single meaningful letter, like Selena Gomez has done with the lower-case cursive "g" behind her left ear.
Ghinko turns the word here (the client's mother's name) into an elegant stem for a gorgeous flower illustration, giving us another great example of how to weave the words into the design.
Ring of Words
If the phrase is long enough, you can mimic this unique garter-esque placement that travels around the upper thigh. "If you aren’t sure where to put the tattoo or what the font or style should be, go hang out on some tattoo websites or Instagram for a bit to get inspired," suggests Forte.
While the edgy scalp placement might not be for everyone, a single word in Gothic font like Mei Pang's "heartthrob" is high-impact.
Have a longer phrase you'd like to selectively show off? Get it inked along the curve of the collarbone.
Not sure where to start looking for the words you want on your body forever? Poetry can be a great source of inspiration. This upper thigh ink by Mira Mariah is from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.
Keep your tattoo fairly private with a clever upper hip placement. Lettering tattoos are very different from portrait and picture design pieces, so take your time to find an artist that really specializes in the form of art.
Logo it Up
A word or phrase done in the style of an instantly recognizable brand logo can take it to another level, like this Bang Bang ink that pulls double duty as an homage to both the city and the magazine.
A non-intuitive placement can add interest to a relatively simple tattoo, like this vertical phase rendered in loose script font. Forte suggests asking your artist for suggestions if you're unsure where to put your tattoo or how to orient it. "Just like with clothing, it comes down to your taste and style," Forte says.
Add a layer of meaning to a word or phrase tattoo by asking your tattoo artist to mimic the handwriting of a loved one.
Shoulder Blade Stanza
The shoulder blades are prime real estate for a longer quote or a poetry stanza. If you need to go larger in scale, be prepared to either shorten your phrase or change the placement. Nothing is worse than a tattoo that can't be understood, so make sure your words count and are large enough.
Take a cue from Emma Watson and consider a tattoo that aligns with your political values. Her "time's up" forearm ink is a nod to the movement that supports those who have experienced sexual harassment and discrimination at work.
Get the best of both worlds with a gorgeous illustration to accompany your word of choice. This design by Bang Bang Tattoo in NYC uses "soar" to further underscore the meaning of the intricate butterfly.
Music and Lyrics
A unique way to display song lyrics is to get the sheet music for the appropriate bars tattooed onto your body along with the words.
You can split a single word or phrase between body parts, which works especially well here, as the word "pray" is completed when the hands are pressed together in a prayer position.
Save the Date
A year or date can be shorthand for a whole host of memories. Tattoos this small can go just about anywhere on the body.
Inner Ear Ink
The inner ear sure is a unique place for a tattoo (and a pretty painful one, too). Like Miley Cyrus demonstrates with "Love" inked along her cartilage ridge, this location works best for a single word or initials.
Words can be beautifully incorporated into a full sleeve among portraits, flowers, and whatever other designs. We love this bold, classic tattoo font.
Say It Three Times
Sometimes the best way to bring the message home is to repeat it three times, like on this empowering tattoo.
Similar to a tattoo sleeve, chest pieces can incorporate words and phrases, often in very classic Americana tattoo fonts. This can be a painful area to get inked because the bones in the chest are a bit closer to the surface.
Through the Door
This is yet another example of a word adding so much depth and meaning to a designed tattoo. For more elaborately illustrated tattoos, the artist's style is extremely important. "Checking out tattoo websites and Instagram accounts is a quick way to vet artists that match your style preferences," says Forte.
Behind the Neck
The back of the neck is another interesting place for a word tattoo, and if you have long hair, you can pick and choose when to show it off. The downside is that it's tough to see your own ink.
Like a Book
This gorgeous design uses old-fashioned book text in an utterly unique way, with a projection style that features a woman's figure. In this case, the words aren't the focus, but they sure do add to the beauty.
Honor a beloved pet with a detailed portrait accompanied by their name. For an accurate likeness, be sure to bring a photo of the subject to your tattoo appointment.
For an alliterative phrase, try a crossword-style placement that encourages different interpretations. We love the red and black color scheme.
A bright, glow-in-the-dark ink adds a punky edge to an already funky tattoo. Contrary to popular belief, UV ink is safe to use and just as permanent as the regular kind, creating a finished product suitable for turning heads at a rave.
A big, bold phrase with a floral design challenges the notion that letter or character tattoos are "boring." Lettering and font tattoos beg for attention to detail. References and "word of mouth" are best for finding a talented tattoo artist, says Forte, so "you can see the actual proof of work and get feedback on the process."
Evan Rachel Wood's curved tattoo is an Edgar Allen Poe quote. "Not every tattoo needs a story, but I’m a strong believer that if there is a particular meaning behind it, it will age better," says Lahmi.
The spine is a gorgeous, unique placement for font tattoos. Besides pain level, you'll also want to consider sun exposure when deciding where to get inked: "Body areas that tend to be exposed to the sun a lot will fade faster if not properly taken care of," says Lahmi.
If you're the type to want lots of different tattoos, don't be afraid to experiment with placement that interacts, like this floral design that overlaps the classic faded text.
Gradient rainbow lettering is a great example of how you can use color to make a simple script tattoo more playful. Aftercare is essential for keeping ink vivid. "Every artist has their own sets of recommendations, but they all agree that the first few days after getting your tattoo are critical. You should only apply a little ointment for your skin to breathe for the first five to 10 days, and you must avoid the sun for a few weeks," says Lahmi.
Above the Elbow
A brief, all-caps phrase like Zara Larsson's "lush life" works well above the elbow. The lettering is large enough that you don't need to be up close to read it.
Say it with Love
A simple cursive message encapsulated by a heart creates a cute play on words with this simple tattoo. Speaking of self-love, "the key to a good looking tattoo throughout time is moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! It's simple but often forgotten," Lahmi says. He recommends the People of Substance Tattoo Art Preservation Stick ($15).
Down the Hand
This is a really unique way to style a hand tattoo, with the letters traveling from the middle of the hand down one finger in a vertical orientation.
Sometimes you may prioritize an artist's distinctive style over anything else. Mira Mariah of Girl Knew York has an instantly recognizable vibe whether she's inking a brief phrase or a complex line drawing.
The longer the phrase, the more space you will likely need. Shannica Ewart's ink flows elegantly from her chest onto her upper arm and looks beautiful over a strapless neckline.
Matching tattoos with a partner or friend can be risky, but one way to do it well is to choose a phrase or design meaningful to you both, rather than getting each other's names. Put it somewhere subtle, like the underside of a finger.
Often the font can signify a deeper message, especially with a short phrase of one or two words. In this case, the artist Doreen Garner took inspiration from a vintage copy of the classic novel Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Different styles of lettering are blended into this geometric sleeve design. "If you have a tattoo artist in mind, plan ahead and get a few words or phrases together and work on it together before making a final decision," Forte says.
The side of the foot is a great place for a larger tattoo. If you're planning a word or phrase in a language other than your native one, be sure to triple-check your accuracy and ask yourself whether the ink you're planning is culturally appropriative. "I would always check the spelling on words/phrases and check again when the stencil is on," says Forte.
Encourage repetition with a circular stick-and-poke that uses a basic text font to create a powerful message.
Clever cross-outs create the opportunity to read this ink several ways. Word or phrase tattoos can be extremely playful and left up to interpretation by the reader when choosing fun design elements.
For more matching ink inspiration, consider splitting a phrase or quote, like the lyrics to "You Are My Sunshine" seen here, between yourself and your tattoo partner. "Of course never settle and make sure the word or phrase is something of deep meaning and not something you could regret 10 years down the road," Forte notes.
We can't quite make out what Chiara Ferragni's ink says, but that's not the point. Her bracelet-like placement fits in perfectly with the rest of her arm candy.
On the Ribs
The side ribs leave plenty of room if you've got a phrase several lines long, but keep in mind that this can be an especially painful location depending on your body and your pain tolerance. Anywhere with bones closer to the surface of your skin will likely hurt more during the tattoo process.
While all tattoos are personal, upside-down ink really sends the message that these words are primarily a reminder to the wearer.
Split it Up
One word—in this case, "fearless"—is divided up by the figure of a woman diving in this beautiful piece by the artist Mani. It's such a clever take on the word tattoo trend, blending illustration and lettering.
Paint-like brush strokes, perfected here, are a unique take on font and lettering, especially with the words overlaid atop one another.