Tattoo Placement Chart

The term “tattoo placement’ simply means where on the body you put a tattoo. Placement can make or break your design because even incredible tattoos will look awkward with the wrong placement. 

By the end of this article, you’ll know where to place tattoos so your designs flow with the body, which means your tattoos will always look good.

In this article, we’re breaking down:

  • How to pick the right placement for each type of tattoo design
  • What other factors play into placement (pain, tattoo goals, etc.)
  • How to create tattoo designs that fit each part of the body

Tattoo Placement Chart: Match Your Tattoo Placement to Your Design’s SIZE

When deciding where to place a tattoo, it’s best to pick a location that matches the size of your design.

For example, a thin piece of script is tiny, and will look great on the wrist, right behind the ear, etc. A huge tribal design or Japanese tattoo with lots of elements will need a lot of space, like the person’s back or upper arm. 

Below are our suggestions on small, medium, large, and extra large tattoo placements. In the next section, we’ll show you ideas for tattoos on each body part.
best placement for small designs
fine lines tattoo
fine lines tatrose tattoo on thin skintoo
ear and neck tattoo

Small

The smallest areas on the body are best for simple designs made of basic shapes.

Small areas of the body include:

  • Wrist
  • Back of the palm
  • Top of the foot
  • Fingers
  • Ankle
  • Behind the ear
  • Above the elbow
  • Knee
best placement for small designs
fine lines tattoo
fine lines tatrose tattoo on thin skintoo
ear and neck tattoo

Small

The smallest areas on the body are best for simple designs made of basic shapes.

Small areas of the body include:

  • Wrist
  • Back of the palm
  • Top of the foot
  • Fingers
  • Ankle
  • Behind the ear
  • Above the elbow
  • Knee
medium tattoo placement area
detailed portrait tattoo
inner thigh tattoo
dragon tattoo

Medium

“Medium”-sized canvases on the body are great for flash tattoos, script, and designs that can fit on a long and skinny area.

Medium areas on the body include:

  • Forearm
  • Calves
  • Shins
  • Neck
  • Shoulder
  • Upper arm
  • Shoulder blade
  • Inner thigh
  • Sternum
medium tattoo placement area
detailed portrait tattoo
inner thigh tattoo
dragon tattoo

Medium

“Medium”-sized canvases on the body are great for flash tattoos, script, and designs that can fit on a long and skinny area.

Medium areas on the body include:

  • Forearm
  • Calves
  • Shins
  • Neck
  • Shoulder
  • Upper arm
  • Shoulder blade
  • Inner thigh
  • Sternum
placement idea for large tattoo

Large

A larger canvas gives you more area to work with, letting you create more detailed tattoos with more elements.

Large areas on the body include:

  • Upper thigh
  • Upper back
  • Lower back
  • Chest
  • Stomach
  • Hip
  • Ribs
large tattoo placement area

Large

A larger canvas gives you more area to work with, letting you create more detailed tattoos with more elements.

Large areas on the body include:

  • Upper thigh
  • Upper back
  • Lower back
  • Chest
  • Stomach
  • Hip
  • Ribs
extra large tattoo placement area
 person with body covered in tattoos
leg tattoos
full body tattoo

Extra-large

Because these are the biggest areas on the body, they are the largest canvases tattoo artists have. “Extra-large” canvases are usually a combination of several areas. These allow for extended pieces of work that the artist and client create together.

Extra-large areas on the body include:

  • Full sleeve
  • Full leg sleeve
  • Chest + stomach
  • Upper back + Lower back
  • Full back + buttocks + back of thighs (traditionally used for Japanese body suits)
extra large tattoo placement area
 person with body covered in tattoos
leg tattoos
full body tattoo

Extra-large

Because these are the biggest areas on the body, they are the largest canvases tattoo artists have. “Extra-large” canvases are usually a combination of several areas. These allow for extended pieces of work that the artist and client create together.

Extra-large areas on the body include:

  • Full sleeve
  • Full leg sleeve
  • Chest + stomach
  • Upper back + Lower back
  • Full back + buttocks + back of thighs (traditionally used for Japanese body suits)

Note:

Some clients will have their hearts set on getting a small tattoo on a large “canvas.” These can still look great, as long as the design still works with the flow of their body.

Tattoo Placement: Men vs. Women

While the tattoo’s design is the #1 thing that determines whether it looks bold or more delicate, some placements are typically more masculine or more feminine.

Best Tattoo Placements for Women

For large tattoos, many female clients go for placements that highlight the body’s natural curves. For example, a tattoo that starts on the upper or outer thigh and wraps around the hip. 

For small tattoos, a lot of women choose a discreet place that resembles wearing jewelry. For example: a wrist tattoo is like a bracelet, a sternum or collarbone tattoo is like a necklace, an ankle tattoo is like an anklet, and a finger tattoo is like a ring.

Best Tattoo Placements for Men

Male clients (generally) choose larger designs. Because of this, you’ll need a larger body part to fit the design like a half-sleeve, full-sleeve, neck, calf, chest, or back tattoo.

Tattoo Placement Ideas by Body Part

Ear

Ear tattoos offer a lot of unique placements - on the ear lobe, behind the ear, or even on the cartilage. These designs tend to be delicate and they tend to be very popular for women who want tiny designs.

Neck Tattoos

Designs on the neck can be bold or delicate. For example, a small tattoo at the nape of the neck can be a small design easily hidden by long hair, while some people prefer a very visible design across the front of their neck. 

Please note that getting a tattoo on the neck will require the tattoo artist to stretch the skin over the Adam’s apple area. For some people, this can feel uncomfortable and raise the pain level. 

Shoulder Blade

While you can get smaller designs on the shoulder blade, large tattoo designs that almost drape across the shoulder have become more popular in recent years. For example, large floral designs or angel wings are popular designs for the shoulder.

Chest Tattoo

Getting a tattoo on the chest can be very painful as there are a lot of nerve endings around the nipple. However, chest tattoos do give you plenty of space for a large tattoo. Women usually go for more floral designs (sternum tattoos are very popular). For men, the shape of the pectoral muscle often works well for animal faces (lions are popular) or other large symbols. 

Upper Arms

The upper arm is one of the best body parts for a larger tattoo like a tribal or Japanese design. Many American Traditional designs naturally have a curve at the top to fit the rounded shape of the shoulder. There is plenty of space and the skin tends to be less delicate than other placements.

Forearms

The forearm is a popular placement for large script tattoos and floral designs. This is also a great place for a first tattoo, as it ranks fairly low on the tattoo pain scale.

Fingers

Tiny pieces of script or super simple small designs work best on the finger. There is not a lot of space, and because we’re always using our hands, the tattoo ink will fade much more quickly than another tattoo. 

Upper Thigh

Being so close to the hip, the upper thigh works really well as a sort of “wrapping” design that works its way up and around the hip bone. Floral designs, snakes, and other long and slender designs work well here.

Inner Thigh

This area has a lot of nerve endings and can be very painful. 

Ankle

Flowers, quotes, and small characters are very popular designs for ankle and foot tattoos.

Do Tattoo Placements Have Meanings?

Tattoo placements don’t have any specific meaning tied to them. The meaning is up to the person wearing it. For example, some people put meaningful tattoos on their chest over their heart, or they might put a quote about guidance or their foot to symbolize their path in life. 

The only time a tattoo placement will mean something to another person is based on their perception. For example, many people will make assumptions about you right away if you have tattoos that can’t be hidden like face, neck, or hand tattoos

Helpful tools for Deciding on Tattoo Placement

If you want to get inspiration for different placements or test how a tattoo will look on a certain area, you can use these tools to help:

InkHunter

augmented reality image showing tattoo inked onto skin

This app uses augmented reality to let you see a tattoo on your own (or your client’s) body and test how it looks in different areas. Simply add a saved tattoo and hold the camera over the potential placement.

This is a giant online library of tattoos. You can search for tattoos for individual parts of your body to get inspiration. 

Tattoo Placement Guide for Tattoo Artists: How to Help Clients Choose a Location 

As a tattoo artist, it’s your job to give clients good advice on their design and placement choice. For example, plenty of clients will come in wanting super-detailed finger tattoos, and you’ll have to explain that their choice won’t fit in such a tiny placement and that tattoos on the fingers fade faster. 

Here’s our guide to helping clients choose a tattoo placement during the consultation process, as well as how to create a design for that placement.

Tattoo Placement Considerations: Customer Consultation

Whether the client has an idea of where they want their tattoo or they’re open to your suggestions, it’s a good idea to run through these ideas with them before you start designing:

Visibility

If your client wants to get a tattoo that is easily hidden, that will make a big impact on their tattoo placement. For example, the torso, upper thighs, and upper arms will be easier to hide than their forearms.

neck tattoo
upper thigh tattoo
shoulder tattoos
“Job Stoppers” (Hard-to-Hide Tattoos)

While the stigma against tattoos is starting to change, hand, face, and neck tattoos (known as “job-stoppers”) change the way you are treated by others. Tattoos in these areas often get people stopped at customs and by police more often, and they keep people from being allowed into some licensed venues. 

Additionally, job-stoppers limit career opportunities since most corporate jobs (which tend to pay the most) don’t accept applicants with visible tattoos. If your client is not heavily tattooed yet - or if they’re very young - you might want to advise them against getting a tattoo in such a visible area.

Size and Detail

The size and detail of the tattoo should match the placement of the tattoo. If you consider each part of the body as its own “canvas,” then it’s easy to see that large and detailed tattoos (like a Japanese design) just won’t fit right on someone’s wrist. Even if you could somehow cram all that detailed line work into such a small space, over time the lines would blur together and leave a “blob” of ink on the skin. 

On the other hand, while small tattoos (ex: logos or other symbols) can look good on large parts of the body, having lots of small tattoos on a large area ruins the “canvas.” Trying to piece together a bunch of small tattoos will never look as good as a big tattoo done all at once. 

If your client wants to get a tattoo that won’t work for the area, you’ll need to let them know that it won’t turn out exactly how they imagine and steer them toward a different placement.
full body tattoo vs small tattoo

Note:

The aftercare process also plays a large role in whether the tattoo turns out how the client wants. It’s important you explain how to care for their new tattoo.

Most tattoo artists - and clients - will decide that pain is temporary and worth a tattoo that lasts a lifetime. 

However, if it’s a client’s first tattoo, it might be best to advise away from big tattoos or particularly painful places, like the ribs, armpit, and other bony areas. It’s hard to mentally prepare for that type of pain if they’ve never felt it before, and talking about getting tattooed in a less painful place will help them have a better experience (and keep them from tapping out).

Whether the pain level should determine where you put a tattoo will depend on the individual’s pain tolerance and how large the tattoo will be. If a person has a low pain tolerance, they should stick to the “easier” areas, like the thigh, outer bicep, or forearm. That said, if the tattoo is only going to take an hour or less to complete, then it’ll be easier to make it through the pain compared to an 8-hour session.
Numbing Cream

If your client has a low pain tolerance, using numbing cream might help them get through the tattoo. Numbing cream won’t take the pain away entirely, but for some people, just the idea of it will make the tattoo easier for them mentally.

Pain tolerance chart
Tattoo placements pain chart

Future Plans

Bodies change over time, which means the tattoos on them change, too. If your client is planning to see a big change in their body (if they’re planning for major weight loss, pregnancy, significant muscle gain, etc.), then a tattoo’s design might become warped as the skin changes. 


For example, if a client is planning to get pregnant, then it might be best to wait for a tattoo near the stomach or hips. It is possible to tattoo over stretch marks after pregnancy, but if they get the tattoo beforehand, the design could change permanently. 

Tattoo Goals

If your client is planning to get more tattoos (for example, if they want a full sleeve later on), then putting a tiny tattoo in the center of their forearm or bicep could make that more difficult. They’ll either need to cover it up or it’ll have to be incorporated into a future sleeve design. 

Even turning a 3/4 sleeve into a full sleeve will be hard. Let your client know that it’s best to decide what they want before they start getting other tattoos, and then to stick with that decision.

Designing for Tattoo Placement: The Design Process

Figuring out the tattoo placement is only half the task…now you’ll need to create a design for that part of the body. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Fit the Body Part

Ideally, the tattoo you design will fit the shape of the body and fully “fill” the space. For example, a half sleeve should be big enough to fill up the rounded shape of the shoulder or a forearm tattoo shouldn’t wrap so far around the arm that it overlaps. 

Flow with the Muscles

Tattoo designs that flow look like they belong on the body. Designs that don’t flow look awkward. Designing with flow means following the musculature of the body.

Use the Lines of the Body

For small lines of script, you can follow the “flow” of the body by putting the tattoo directly on one of the prominent lines of the body, like on the spine or in a straight line down the inner bicep or forearm.

flow lines for full body tattoos
full body tattoo
dragon tattoo covering a large space on the arm

Note:

If your client wants a bad placement, giving them a quick explanation of how a tattoo should fit and flow with the body might help them decide on a better area.

Images Right Side Up

When a person is standing with their arms relaxed at their sides, their tattoos should be right side up. Some customers prefer to have their designs facing them, but it’s generally considered against the aesthetic “rules” of tattooing.

small tattoo on forearm

Faces Look Forward or Inward

When a tattoo design has a face, it should either face inward or forward, depending on the tattoo’s placement. For example, an image with a face on the chest should face inward toward the body’s center line. An image with a face on the outer thigh should face forward. 

large tattoo on woman’s back
upper arm tattoo of a woman

Placement Matters: Redesigning Tattoos for a New Placement

In some cases, your client will have a design they like, but they’ll want it in a placement that won’t work. If they want a design they found online that isn’t a tattoo, you’ll need to rework the image so that it will flow like a tattoo on their body and work with the placement they’ve chosen.

Redesign Example

Sometimes an image won’t work as a tattoo. For example, if a client has a photo of roses side by side on a piece of paper that they want tattooed on their inner wrist, you would have to explain that having roses side-by-side like that would wrap around their wrist…and that all the little details wouldn’t fit on such a small area of the body. 


Then, you can offer them possible solutions for the best placement. For example, they can simplify the design and keep the wrist placement, or they can keep the detailed design but move it to a different area.

flower tattoo

Become a Professional Tattoo Artist with the Artist Accelerator Program

Learning to design tattoos for different body parts is an important step in your journey to becoming a tattoo artist, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to become a full time tattoo artist faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

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AUTHOR
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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