Tattoos have certainly evolved from the “taboo” or “cutting-edge” reputation they once carried. There’s no one specific type of person that gets them, and now more than ever, their look has evolved to cover a wide range of designs and placement. Although we frequently find ourselves looking to those with large platforms (a.k.a. celebs and influencers) for inspo, anyone who doesn’t have a pop-culture obsession (*raises hand*) knows that tattoo ideas are often grown from personal experience, artists with an innovative mind-set, and/or the everyday folks populating our social feeds with styles we could have never dreamed up.
Whether it’s your first ink or your umpteenth sesh, deciding exactly what to etch onto your skin requires a balanced mix of genuine inspiration, research, and a tattoo artist that you can trust to get the job done. We’re here to help you with the first of these three factors, because social media has a way of making you feel like you’ll never find an ending point. Ahead, custom artist Minka Sicklinger reveals the most popular trends being requested this year. Here’s where your search begins.
Sicklinger declares this style—working directly over the top of existing tattoos—the biggest tattoo trend of the year. Oftentimes, people will request heavy black work and negative spaces that allow the old tattoos to show through in parts or working around existing tattoos. This is what distinguishes it from a traditional cover-up, which completely disguises an existing tattoo through the design and placement.
“Blast-overs can be black, heavy-line-weight tattoos showcasing more traditional designs borrowed from American and Japanese styles or become more of an overlay design,” says Sicklinger. “This trend has developed as an alternative to lasering, which is very expensive, painful and still generally requires a cover-up tattoo of the lasered area after the original tattoo has reached an appropriate lightness for the new design.”
For the past few years, hand poke tattoos, which involve a sterilized needle being pushed into the skin by hand as opposed to a machine, have increased in popularity. In fact, Sicklinger says that now more than ever, artists are being given chairs in tattoo parlors that were previously reserved for those using only machines.
The dominant hand-poke style is definitely black and gray, although some artists are incorporating color into their designs as well. What attracts people to hand-poke is the novelty factor. Whereas Western-style tattooing takes time to learn and is generally taught through apprenticeship, hand-poked tattoos “have been the domain of traditional Japanese artists and many other non-Western cultures for hundreds of years and was often a skill and knowledge passed down generationally that required years of practice.”
Black and Gray Fine Lines
Fine-line tattoos, often with floral or nature elements, are also becoming a regular request. This one allows anyone who doesn’t want large pieces or wants to be more discreet with their placement to choose something that still has a design aesthetic.
According to Sicklinger, “the style appeals to many who may not necessarily be drawn to the heavier or more graphic look of other tattoo styles and like work with fine detail.” However, caution does need to be exercised on the artist’s end. They need to make sure that the design is large enough, lines aren’t too fine and there is enough negative space and contrast for the tattoo to hold up over time as skin lives and breathes.
“What might look great when first done will not necessarily heal that way,” says Sicklinger. Plus, “parts of the design may fall out in the healing process, and the design may either blend together over time or fade away completely.”
Smaller illustrations using only black ink and minimal shading (if any) are a frequent request. The subject matter of this trend varies, but what makes it a trend is really the style itself. Sicklinger says they are often on the smaller side… with emphasis on lines and block shading to depict the subject matter.
“I believe this trend is both an evolved development in the popularity of simple symbols the last few years as well as indicative of forms of visual communication that are developing through a greater use of technology with use of diagrams, emojis etc,” she says. “This new style allows people to be more individual with their ideas, yet still keep it simple and punchy.”
The old is new again as well. Today, people aren’t afraid to blend tattoo styles from different countries.
Any type of subject matter can be depicted in this style, and it is more about the look rather than the content, says Sicklinger, who describes the trend as “generally black and gray, the combination of the style of Japanese, traditional Americana tattoos and Russian prison tattoos with heavier line weights and simplified designs mixed with fine line weights, dotwork shading and heavy black areas.”
Size and Placement
Lastly, Sicklinger also notes that people are looking for smaller tattoos not as fillers, but as pieces in themselves. Besides areas where a tattoo could be altered and distorted by movement of the skin over bone and muscle, there are no placement rules.
“Artists and clients alike are looking at their bodies as canvases more than ever before and finding ways to place designs in interesting ways that accentuate the body and its form,” says Sicklinger. “A word of caution with this: Make sure that you check what happens to the design once it is stenciled on and that is doesn’t distort in a bad way as it moves around according to the limb movement. For example, a circle might not look like a circle depending on placement, or a face may distort terribly with bad placement.”
Finding the Right Artist
Before you go all in with any of these trends, remember the non-negotiables of pairing up with a tattoo artist. Start by requesting a quote and/or consultation, in addition to looking at the style and subject matter of their work. If the latter doesn’t match up with what you want, then keep looking.
Also, “Don’t tell a custom artist you love their work, then send them screenshots of other artists’ designs expecting them to copy it,” says Sicklinger. “Keep your ideas simple. Don’t expect an artist to listen to your life story and be able to render the 20 things you want represented in your tattoo in a piece the size of a quarter.”
And be patient! Tattoo artists are people, too, and may need time to answer emails and confirm appointments. If it’s the right artist, they’re well worth the wait. And above all, remember that getting tattooed should be fun. “Find artists you trust whose work you like; do not go for the cheapest option or try to bargain. You will get what you pay for,” says Sicklinger.
Now that you have a launching pad for inspo, see examples of every trend, ahead.