for tattooed people, and those who want to be

On designing your own tattoo


For those of us who don’t want to just walk into a tattoo studio, point to something on the wall and walk out with a design that’s been applied to hundreds of other people before us, finding or creating original designs can occupy quite some time.

It took me several months to work up my dragon tattoo.  It started out as a pencil drawing, which I then scanned into the computer to color in.  Once I printed it out, I realized I didn’t like it.  Back to the drawing board.  I wasn’t all that good with design software in those days (had a precursor to Photoshop Elements, the name of which escapes me at the moment) so getting the colors and the shadings right, once I had an outline that worked, took a long time.  Fortunately, Lantz at Zulu Tattoo was able to translate my design into on-skin reality with no trouble at all.  (The picture, snapped with a cheap digital camera, does not do the artwork justice.)

But what if you don’t want to create your own image, for whatever reason?  If you’re fortunate enough to know a good artist, you could commission him or her to do your design (and remember, any artist worthy of the name is also worth paying).  If you don’t know any artists, go to local art shows and craft fairs–you might spot someone whose work looks like just the kind of thing you want to turn into a tattoo.  If you’re going to have something inked that you purchased from an artist, get the artist’s permission first.  Some don’t want their work reproduced and their wishes should be respected.

But what if you don’t know any artists, don’t want to browse art fairs, and still want an original design?  Enter the world of tattoo-design software.  If you put “tattoo design software” into a Google or Bing search you’ll be amazed at how many sites turn up.  A lot of the software appears to be free, and the ones with a price aren’t ridiculously expensive.  I haven’t tried any of them out, but I’m sure the results are as variable as their creators.  Since there are so many free programs available, it’d be worth while to download and try several to see what kinds of results you get.

Have any of you tried any of these approaches to getting original ink?  What was your experience?

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  1. Zulu Tattoo, where I got two of my three tats, is much the same. Zulu himself is so much in demand that he’s booked up three or four months in advance, and you have to schedule a consultation before he’ll agree to accept you as a client. I have not seen his most recent digs, but in the old location there was no flash on the wall, only the artists’ portfolios on the counter.

    It took me months to design my dragon and it took Lantz at Zulu Tattoo about an hour to apply it perfectly. I’m happy.

  2. I think that East Side Ink had the best, most responsible approach. Their first rule is that you cannot schedule an appointment over the phone unless you have had work done there before. This takes some of the “I think I’ll get a tattoo done today” out of it.

    Next, they have no flash on the walls. Instead, they have shelves of art books.

    Also, except for stuff that’s the customer’s own design, all their work is custom. And if you bring in someone else’s design, they’ll probably change it to their own style. This is because (a) they don’t like doing what someone else has already done and (b) because they don’t like stealing someone else’s design.

    Most of them have wait lists of several weeks to two months. This allows time to reconsider. Finally, my first appointment was a 20 minute session with the artist just to discuss the design, including what elements would go into it. It took a good long time to have it finished but I also know that there isn’t another person with my ink.

    There’s something very special about having custom work done.

  3. I want design myself, but I found it have some difficult.

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