How to Draw a Tribal Tattoo

When it comes to tribal, you can create a unique piece for your client by following the natural lines of their body. This requires drawing directly onto the skin.

To make sure you’re incorporating the flow of the body correctly, you need to build up your design in a few different layers.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll be breaking down:

  • How to design a tribal tattoo directly on the skin in 3 layers
  • How to make sure your design flows with the body
  • What to do when the design “wraps” all the way around the body

How to Draw for a Tribal Tattoo

Each “layer” of your design will be darker as you go along. While you can use any colors, you will need a light, medium, and dark color. In the video, Brandon uses yellow, red, and blue.


Never reuse Sharpies. After drawing on someone’s skin, you must throw the Sharpie away to avoid cross contamination.

Layer 1: Yellow Marker

Flow is very important for tribal tattoo designs. If your design does not flow with the muscles of the client’s body, it will look like it sits weird on your client’s skin. A tattoo that flows with the muscles will look like it belongs on the person.

To make sure you’re incorporating flow, take your lightest marker and draw out all your motion lines on the client. To do this, simply draw a few lines that follow the natural “S-shape” of the body.

You can then map out areas to figure out how the design will look on the arm without going in with a heavier color yet.


You should have a few years of experience before trying to draw a tattoo design directly onto your client. Following a line that is a lot thicker than your usual stencil is very difficult, especially if you’re not sure exactly where your needles are in relation to your machine. 

Layer 2: Red Marker

With your red marker, you can go through with looser line work and figure out where everything is going while also making your design still flows with the body.

Pro Tip:

Many tribal tattoos will wrap all the way around the client’s arm or leg. If you know that part of the design will get rubbed off - like if they need to rest their forearm against the massage table - then you would wait until later to draw that part on the skin. However, it’s important you have a plan for what is going to fill that space.

Layer 3: Blue Marker

With your dark Sharpie, you’ll go through and create your final design. You don’t want super thick lines, and it’s important that all your lines are nice and crisp so you can see what you’re doing (like you would with a tattoo stencil). 

At this point, you’ll have your client check it out, just like you would after applying a stencil to the skin.

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult. 

The apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattoo artists to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers.

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

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
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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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