Tattoo Flash

The Art of Tattoo Flash:  How It Is Created and Applied in Today’s Industry

Tattoo FlashTattoo flash is a staple of the industry.  When you imagine yourself in a tattoo shop, you likely envision all kinds of tattoo designs hanging on the walls of the waiting area.  This art is called “flash.”  Flash has a couple of different purpose in addition to decorating the shop.

As with most of tattooing, the term tattoo “flash” comes from the colorful history of tattooing. In the early days tattooing wasn’t necessarily “legal”, and many artists found work by traveling around to different venues. This included barbershops, carnivals, and most frequently, bars.

As you can imagine, a bunch of people drinking and getting rowdy isn’t the best environment to be tattooing in, but you get in where you fit in. So an artist would set up shop in the back of a bar, and hang his design sheets up on the wall. He would keep his suitcase open, which contained all of his tattoo supplies. If the patrons of the bar started getting too rowdy, or if the police came in to bust the flash up, all the artist would have to do was yank his design sheets down, throw everything into his suitcase, and he was gone… “in a flash.” I love that we still hang on to some of these term, such as “tattoo flash.”

Nowadays, flash offers ready-to-go designs for customers who are down to just pick something off the walls (or within binders) that they like.  Tattooist simply use the flash design, create a quick outline (if they didn’t have one already), and can have the customer in and out fairly quickly.

This was the typical use for flash until fairly recently.  Nowadays, flash is used more as a reference point.  Customers look at a shop’s flash to get ideas and then customize them for their own designs.  Often, a client will come through the door with a good idea of what he or she wants.  Looking through flash designs can provide an idea of style, size, and coloring for what they’re envisioning, but an artist is generally expected to be able to create a custom design for each client, either based on this flash, or another reference the client brings in.

The old-school method of creating flash is to draw it by hand…

Continue reading