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The Art of Choosing the Perfect Font and Lettering for a New Tattoo

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As a self-proclaimed tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.

Heart-shaped text tattoo.

Heart-shaped text tattoo.

Tattoo Lettering Tips

Tattoos are as unique as the people who wear them. Although many designs have similar elements, influences such as an artist's personal style, positioning, and skin type play a part in the result.

Some people prefer words to pictures. If this is you, then the font or lettering itself adds even more meaning to the words you choose. Tattoo fonts are the styles available for the lettering. There are thousands to choose from and each adds its own individual style to the words.

Some factors to consider:

  • Type of font (the shape of the letters).
  • Typeface style (boldness, angle, size, etc.).
  • Do you want serif (where the letters have little flourishes here and there) or sans serif (a simpler line)?
  • How will the text fit or conform to the body part on which it is displayed?
  • Kerning (adjusting the spacing between the letters to affect the readability and artistry of the design).
  • Do you want the words outlined or shadowed to make them really pop?
  • Additional pictorial content.
  • Solid, shaded, or shadowed coloring?
  • What are other visual ways you can emphasize the message or meaning you are trying to capture?
A beautiful verse in a unique script that adds meaning and impact to the quote.

A beautiful verse in a unique script that adds meaning and impact to the quote.

Why Choose a Text Tattoo?

You might choose words to...

  • remember of someone who has passed away (a memorial tattoo)
  • celebrate the birth of a child
  • display favourite mottos, quotes, and sayings
  • highlight important names and dates
  • honor personal anniversaries or celebrations.
Ambigram tattoo: From one angle, it looks like love, but from another, it's pain.

Ambigram tattoo: From one angle, it looks like love, but from another, it's pain.

Ambigram Tattoos

An ambigram is a word that can be read forwards or backwards. You can read an ambigram from which ever side you want, left to right or right to left. It's a word or symbol that retains meaning even when viewed from a different angle, perspective, or orientation. It can also be a combination of two words intertwined into one. Those who enjoy word games or grammar or marvel at the idiosyncrasies of the English language might get a thrill from tattooing their favorite ambigram.

Unusual and Modern Scripting

As humans, we are forever on a journey to make ourselves appear unique or unusual in a world where there is so much that the same.

Enhancing an uncommon saying with an equally unusual font has produced some truly unique tattoos.

The "m" in freedom flies away, demonstrating what it's trying to convey.

The "m" in freedom flies away, demonstrating what it's trying to convey.

Black Block Lettering for Your Tattoo

Heavy, dark black lettering is often used to make a statement. Its symmetry is also visually pleasing to the brain. This style of font makes reading the quote or statement possible from a distance, as the words really stand out.

Heavy, dark Celtic or Gothic tattoo lettering.

Heavy, dark Celtic or Gothic tattoo lettering.

Script or Cursive Font Tattoos

Scripts are as unique as the people who write them. A tattoo artist will add their own flair to script with elegant, flowing, curving lines.

Cursive fonts are adaptations of cursive handwriting, which was often taught in schools prior to 2005. The styles are as diverse as they are many. Influences include regions of the world, eras of time, and the personal preferences of the writer. This style was often used in official documents and also in Church writings.

Cursive is the most commonly chosen style for memorial tattoos, particularly those bearing a person's name. The graceful decorative flourishes add a personal touch that fits the memory of a loved or departed one.

Feminine tattoo font.

Feminine tattoo font.

Musical adaptation of a script tattoo.

Musical adaptation of a script tattoo.

Using Handwriting as a Model for Your Tattoo's Script

Especially for a memorial tattoo, this idea is always meaningful and completely unique. The handwriting preserves one's memory of that person.

  • Ask a loved one to write a special word or phrase and have the tattoo artist copy that.
  • If you have their handwriting preserved in old cards, letters, or other documents, you can use that as a design guide.
  • You can also use someone's signature (or autograph, or graffiti tag) and remember them via their name.
The first "possibility" is in the wearer's mother's handwriting, and the second is in her father's.

The first "possibility" is in the wearer's mother's handwriting, and the second is in her father's.

Tattoo Font Generator

A tattoo font generator is a great tool to use when you're designing a text tattoo. There are many different tools available online, for free, if you just do a Google search. Some are downloads, some are just online apps.

The TattooFontGenerator is a good place to start: Just type your word or phrase into the online tool and then select a font from a drop-down menu. A great way to preview your tattoo quickly and easily! When you find the perfect font, just print it out and bring it to your artist.

Always Check the Grammar and Spelling

The most important thing you must remember when getting words tattooed on your body is to check the spelling and grammar.

If every tattoo artist were honest, they would all admit to misspelling something at some point in their career, so it's up to you to make sure the words are correct. This should preferably be done during the initial design phase. Check the sketch prior to getting tattooed. Look at each letter individually. Double check every word via a spellchecker, and put the entire phrase into a grammar checker. Read it out lout, as your ears may pick up a mistake your eyes didn't. Continue checking the spelling throughout the entire tattoo session. It is better to take an extra minute to double-check. That way you can catch any mistakes as the tattoo progresses. Remember, the tattoo studio is full of distractions, and things can easily go awry.

Reviewing the grammar and spelling on your new tattoo lettering is wholly your responsibility. You are going to be the person wearing it, so make the effort a avoid a major forever mistake.

Common spelling errors found on tattoos:

  • Your (means belongs to you) not "you're" (you are).
  • Believe: there should be three e's.
  • Too (as in also), not to (expresses motion or direction toward a point).
  • Regrets should be spelled without an a.
  • "Awesome" has and two e's in it.
  • Honor: leave out the u (unless you're British).

Apostrophes are often misplaced, so make sure to check your punctuation, as well. Don't get caught out!

 A unique font for an unusual quote. The style of font used can enhance the meaning of the words.

A unique font for an unusual quote. The style of font used can enhance the meaning of the words.

Formulas, Equations, and Mathematic Symbols as Tattoos

Especially for math-y, scienc-y, geeky people, mathematical formulas and equations make excellent choices.

  • Pi (to any decimal).
  • A favorite equation or formula. For example Einstein's, Newton's, Euler's, or Schrodinger's.
  • HTML or other code.
Clever HTML tattoo.

Clever HTML tattoo.

Tiny, current cursive tattoo font.

Tiny, current cursive tattoo font.

Is a Text Tattoo Easy?

Although writing and text is one of the first skills a tattoo artist is taught, it is also one of the most technically intense. For a quote to look awesome, it needs to be consistent in size and style and appear straight on a curvy canvas—your body. Practice and talent are required to pull it off.

© 2013 Anne