Monday, April 4, 2016

Size Matters

A tattoo that fits the calf.
"But, Tattoo Nerd, it's not the size of the ship. It's the motion of the ocean, right?"

 That is not what I am writing about, my little friend. No, what I am writing about is the size of your tattoo. One major cause of 'tattoo regret' is getting a tattoo that is too small. Getting a tattoo that is too small is a common mistake when people first start getting tattoos.  Whether it is a matter of wanting something small to get past the "unknown" factor, or a matter of expense, first-timers tend to lean toward tiny tattoos.  For many tattooers, the little tattoo that someone gets because they felt the urge to walk-in and "just get a tattoo" is their bread-and-butter.  However, when given the opportunity, most tattooers would prefer you come in and get a tattoo designed to fit the place on your body you want.

 You may be thinking that a tattooer wanting to do a larger tattoo is all about the money.  While it is true that a larger tattoo will typically cost more, that is not your tattooer's primary motivation.  Your tattooer wants to do a tattoo that looks good.  Especially if it is your first tattoo, your tattooer knows you are going to tell your friends and show-off the tattoo.  They want their work to be well represented, and they want you to come back for more tattoos.  Tiny tattoos have their place, especially for women who want that accent tattoo behind their ear or on their hip.  The size of the tattoo should be determined by the location on the body.  A tiny tattoo may be expertly executed, but if it is floating in a large, empty space, it simply does not look as good.  As a customer, you may think initially that a small tattoo is a good way to start or the best for your budget, but odds are that you will regret your choice and blame your tattooer for allowing you to make it.

A tattoo designed to fit the shoulder and arm.
 So, what then is the "right" size for a tattoo?  When determining the size of the tattoo, the tattooer will take in to consideration the natural frame formed by the shape of the body-part being tattooed.  This frame most often matches the muscle-mass beneath the skin.  The frame of a shoulder tattoo is defined by the shape of your Deltoid muscle, and may extend down your arm to form a "sleeve".  The Gastrocnemius and Soleus muscles form the frame of the calf, and may extend down your leg and wrap around to form a "sock".  The Pectoral muscle forms the frame for a chest tattoo.  A tattoo that sits atop of any muscle mass that does not make full use of the shape of the mass (both positive and negative space) will appear to float haphazardly in that space.  Taking into account the size and shape of the muscle mass demonstrates an intentional placement and is more visually pleasing.  

 When getting a tattoo, it is easy to forget about the location when thinking about things like the design and the meaning of the symbol.  A reputable tattooer will discuss with you the importance of size relative to the place you want to get the tattoo, and it is advice you should take into consideration.  Even if it means that you may spend a little more money for a larger tattoo, your tattoo is an investment in you, one which will hopefully be with you for life.  You will want to see your tattoo and know you made a good choice, instead of looking at an ill-fitting tattoo and wondering what you could have done differently.

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

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