How to Design a Hand Tattoo

Designing a hand tattoo is different than drawing for an arm or a leg because you’re dealing with limited space, knuckles, and more that can get in the way of creating a great design.

However, hand tattoos are very popular - and very hard to hide - so knowing how to create a great hand design is important if you plan to make tattooing your career.

If you’re not sure how to go about designing a hand tattoo, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll be breaking down:

  • Tips about tattooing hands that new artists need to know
  • How to pick the right size design for your client
  • How to design a tattoo for the back of the hand

Hand Tattoo Tips: What You Need to Know

Whenever you are coming up with ideas to tattoo on a hand, you need to keep a few things in mind because not all designs will work on a hand. 


Knuckles Don’t Hold Ink

There are plenty of pictures online showing a tattoo that wraps down around the hand, going over the knuckles and down onto the fingers. That creates a cool-looking tattoo. 

However, when the tattoo heals, all the areas over the knuckles are going to fade out completely. 


You Need (At Least) 2 Years of Experience

Tattoos by Tattooing 101 Instructor Brandon

Hand tattoos are especially difficult because of the healing process and how the skin can be thin/scarred/etc. This is why we recommend new artists stay away from hand tattoos for at least 2-3 years (or more, if you aren’t tattooing consistently yet). 

Tattoos on the hands can’t be hidden. So, it’s important to have the experience and confidence you need to do a perfect tattoo without any problems. 


Healing Can Be Very Difficult

Healing hand tattoos can be hard because people are always using their hands. The skin is always repairing itself, people are washing their hands all the time, and it’s harder to protect hands from infection since they’re always in use. 

All these factors affect how the skin heals. This can be a really big issue if you’re new to tattooing and you aren’t 100% sure what you’re doing. If you overwork the skin, the tattoo is not going to heal well and will take longer than normal. 

Additionally, if someone gets an infection, you want to be sure that it’s something they did and not because you did something wrong. You can’t be completely sure that it’s not your fault until you’ve seen lots of your tattoos heal perfectly. 

Designing a Hand Tattoo

Designing a tattoo for a client’s hand is a similar process to creating any other tattoo design. However, you’ll need to keep the “boundaries” of the knuckles in mind while you’re drawing.


Get a Hand Reference Picture

The best way to design a hand tattoo is to draw right on top of a picture of a hand so you’re sure you have the right shape. You can find good pictures on Google or Pinterest or you can trace your own hand. If you have a specific client you’re tattooing, you can get a picture of their hand to get the perfect size. 

If you’re working on an iPad, you can pull up pictures of actual hands and draw over them in a new layer. 

If you do not have an iPad and you're just working with a pencil and paper, you can print off a picture of a hand and draw over top of it.


Make sure you’re using a picture of a hand that doesn’t have tattoos on it already.


Hand Tattoos Face Downward and Inward

You want to make sure that any tattoo design that you are making for a hand is facing down. If the design is “upside down” on the hand, it will look weird.

Additionally, the design should face inward (no matter which hand you’re tattooing).


Fill Up the Whole Space 

Anytime you are tattooing for a hand, you want to make sure that you are taking up the full area. If the design does not fill the entire back of the hand, it will look awkward because there’s too much free area.

If the design itself is small, it’s recommended to either:

  • Increase the size
  • Add filler around it to fill the free space


Remember to fill the space, but not so much that you go over the knuckles, as the ink will most likely fall out.

Pro Tip:

Lots of tattoos “fade out” near the knuckles by incorporating whip shading/smoke effects. 


Initial Sketch: Map out Your Design

For your initial sketch, your goals are to:

  • Create the flow of the design
  • Make sure your design is facing the right way
  • Make sure your design is filling the whole space


Final Linework

Go back over your initial sketch with your final linework. You can use different line weights and map out your shading and light source using dotted lines. 

This version of your design is what you will use for your stencil.


Add Color

If you’re not sure which colors you want to use in your design, you can then add color so you know exactly what you want to do when you sit down to tattoo.

Tattooing Color on Hands

Every tattoo is going to fade through time, and the hand is no exception. Hand tattoos fade a little bit faster because they're always out in the sun, you're always using them, etc.

This is why you need to carefully consider color when designing your tattoo. Black and Gray tends to hold up well through time and fades less. 

If your customer wants color, choose colors that hold up well like red and blue. Yellow is good for small areas, but it fades faster.


Fit the Tattoo to Your Client

If you are using an iPad, all you have to do to get the design to its perfect size is have your client hold their hand on top of the image. Once the image of the hand you used is the same size as the client’s hand, you are ready to print off your stencil and get to tattooing.

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

In the past, learning in the shop through an apprenticeship was the only way aspiring artists could learn to tattoo/insert skill here. Today, however, artists are skipping the apprenticeship to learn on their own time at home with the Artist Accelerator Program.

The world’s oldest and largest online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program’s easy-to-follow, 9-step framework lets anyone go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist without the year of grunt work or hazing. 

Inside the program, you’ll be taught everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship by professional tattoo artists and receive feedback on your art and tattoos in the program’s private online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator Program’s 9-step framework to break into the tattoo industry, with many opening their own studios or working in shops around the world. 

If you’d like to see the framework they used, click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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