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Tattoo Ideas: Portraits

Updated on June 30, 2007

Written by: Jaclyn Popola

If you've ever watched the show "Miami Ink" on TLC, you'll be familiar with renowned tattoo artist Kat von D, who specializes in portrait tattoos. Customers seek her out when they want a facial reproduction of an idol or loved one tattooed on their skin. A good deal of portraits are tattooed as a memorial to a loved one who has passed (animals included), and getting the tattoo tends to be an emotional process for some people, so it's important that the tattoo artist be courteous, sensitive and respectful with your wishes. An expert in her field, Kat has done hundreds of portrait tattoos. Portrait tattoos are complex. The level of detail that goes into a portrait requires an implicit understanding of shading, blending and other artistic techniques. The artist doing the tattoo will also need a photograph to base the design on.

As with any body modification, DO YOUR RESEARCH AHEAD OF TIME. Portrait tattoos require a certain degree of skill that not every tattoo artist has, and an amount of talent that not every tattoo artist is capable of. If you know someone who has a portrait tattoo you have seen firsthand and that you admire, ask them for a referral to the parlor or artist they went to. If you are going by an online recommendation or selecting a tattoo artist out of the blue, ask to see some examples of their work beforehand. Most seasoned tattooists have put together a portfolio displaying samples of work they have done. The best portfolios will have a picture of the finished tattoo alongside a copy of the original photograph. You want to make sure that the completed tat is realistic, and that it actually looks like the person it's supposed to resemble.

Keep in mind that there is a minimum size requirement for portrait tattoos. The absolute smallest a tattoo artist will go is about 3" x 3", and that's pushing it. The smaller the tattoo, the less detail you will see in the finished product. Typical size ranges from 4" x 6" and larger, which should fit nicely on an adult shoulder.


"Always With Me"
"Always With Me"
Grandmother with her granddaughter
Grandmother with her granddaughter



Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn
Che Guevara
Che Guevara
Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp
Judy Garland as 'Dorothy'
Judy Garland as 'Dorothy'
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe


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    • Ryan Dearringer 9 years ago

      I am a tattoo artist in Indianapolis, Indiana and I take great pride in my portrait work. I speak firsthand and from an artist standpoint when I say that portraits are among the most difficult of tattoos, and next to myself, I only know of about ten artists of roughly 200 in the city of Indianapolis who do good portrait work... many try and fail miserably. almost all the portraits on this page are lacking from an artist standpoint. Some may look ok to an untrained eye, but never accept anything short of excellence when it comes to portrait tattoos. Do your homework and find a good artist. You will thank yourself.

    • Kevin 9 years ago

      Ryan, I was just searching the web, looking for different artists to do a portrait for me. I was looking at your sight, I would like to say nice work!!!!looks awsome....Im from minnesota but travel to Indianapolis 2 times a week for work, I may have to stop in some night and check your place out, like you said portraits are very difficult, and Im just searching the web looking for the right person to do my tattoo...keep up the great work.

    • Brian 9 years ago

      What's Up with the dog havin' a semi stiffy?

    • Arnie 8 years ago

      The Che Guevarra portrait was beautifully done!

    • 8 years ago

      oh my gode i love who ever done johnny depp i am in love with him .. i have his name tATTOOED on my wrist i wwanted a portrait but i was scared it wouldn't look good.... but it looks great .. i love it

    • Stan 7 years ago

      I don't know what Ryan was looking at but all these portraits are awesome work...I've seen some of your work Ryan and I wouldnt say they are as good as these...

    • yuvi 6 years ago

      hey ryan i must say good needling skill. dude i am a tattoo artist in india made few portraits with 7 magnum please suggest me a good needles for only portraits..... i would be greatfull to u.

    • 6 years ago

      im definintely getting eminem's initials in a really small font on my body.. hes got me through a lot ..

    • Ryan Dearringer 6 years ago

      Let me clarify what I meant two years ago in reference to what I commented. I don't think I necessarily said it the right way. All of the above portraits are decent. A couple are awesome... Che and Eminem in particular were done excellent. I was making the comment in reference to the article, and the first couple portraits... as for all the portraits on the page, they were not all on here at the time of the comment, so therefore, I needed to amend what I said. I am not an uppity artist, Just commenting on how difficult portraits are, and emphasizing the importance of finding the right guy for the job, and the fact that portraits, unlike any other form of tattoo, give little to no room for flaws . happy tattooing.

    • Alexis 6 years ago

      I think Jason Gallo's work is badass!

    • Louie 6 years ago

      Theres one that looks funky the one with the baby and the lady, but the rest look cool

    • ody 6 years ago

      kat tattoos are awsome. I wish she can get the one i want done

    • m4nhtats 5 years ago

      I agree with Ryan Dearringer opinions on portraits, I am a tattoo artist in Vietnam, if he could hope to contact me and let's talk about tattoo art hinh.hay posts mail me at email address: - glad you and everyone to send me mail to our shared passion for art

    • francoseoservices 4 years ago

      i like portrait tattoos and that's why i joined @pandptattoo / #pandptattoo instagram contest so that i would be able to get a portrait tattoo for FREE - check and like my entry:

    • Jeff Foster 4 years ago

      Ryan Dearringer does amazing work. His portrait work is top-notch and impeccable. When I get my portrait tattoo done, I intend to go to Ryan, no matter how long the wait may be. I've been doing research for 9mos plus, and his work appears to be above all the others. He's right, you should do your homework. When you do, you'll find the same thing that I did. Just check Ryan's website, the work is incredible. And no, I don't work for him, nor am I being paid by him. Although I would take a discount haha. I'm kidding. Best of luck to you all...

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