wikiHow to Choose Tattoo Placement

Three Methods:The DesignThe Public vs. The Private TattooYour Pain Tolerance

Tattoos are a big commitment. Agonizing over which design to permanently ink into your skin is only the beginning. Once you've found the perfect art work, you get on the table, the artist snaps on her gloves and says, "Where do you want it?" Placement matters, especially on a living, growing thing such as your skin, but how do you know if the placement is attractive and will continue to be for years to come? Let's shed a little light on the subject.

Method 1
The Design

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    Consider your design. What kind of artwork will you be putting on your skin? Size and detail are usually the first considerations of your placement. Is this a small, or a large tattoo? Does it have a lot of fine details such as swirls or shading that won't be visible if the art has to be scaled down?
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    For a large design, such as a portrait or a character, choose areas of skin that are easy for your artist to access without making you contort yourself. The back is a favored canvas because of its broad, gentle curves. To a lesser extent, the thigh, the stomach, upper arms, or the back of the calf are also good choices for very large designs.
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    For very small, simple designs, you may prefer a more whimsical placement. A small tattoo may lose impact if you choose a broad, empty area of skin, but an unexpected word or doodle offers an almost "treasure hunt" appeal to your body. You may try behind the ear, around a finger, or behind the joint of your ankle. Some artists have even started offering tattoos on the forward helix (this is the curved outside rim of your ear, from the very top down and forward to your tragus, which is the little tab of cartilage over the ear canal), the inside of the lip, and even on the tongue!
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    Some designs wrap around a limb, such as the tribal band, or the string of rosary beads. For the obvious reasons, it behooves you to choose an area that will allow the artist to complete the design evenly, such as the upper forearm, around the bicep, or just above the ankle (rather than directly on the boney, tender ankle itself).

Method 2
The Public vs. The Private Tattoo

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    Think about how public you'd like the tattoo to be. Some placements that are obviously hard to cover, such as a neck tattoo, may affect your future career prospects (sad, but true), especially if the design is particularly provocative or sensitive. The placement of your tattoo may convey certain stereotypes; an example being the "tramp stamp" of the lower back, which some may interpret as being an indication of low morals and immaturity. Many people favor these very public tattoos as a clear statement of themselves and their beliefs, but others may view them as tasteless and limiting. Choose wisely for yourself!
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    Some tattoos can be sort of "semi-private", by choosing an area that may or may not be naturally covered by clothing during daily activities. For instance, a simple tattoo on the back, over the trapezius muscles (the muscles on either side of your spine connecting your neck to your shoulders) can be easily covered with a collared shirt, or scarf when desiring a more conservative look. However, it is just as easy to reveal this tattoo by wearing a shirt with a wider neckline, or sleeveless articles of clothing. Some other options are the upper arms, the legs, the back, the lower midriff, or the feet.
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    The "peek a boo" placement is a fun way to flirt with a public tattoo. These tattoos are placed in areas that are commonly not very visible to the casual observer, but may reveal themselves as you move. These areas include behind the ear, the inside of the lip, the tongue, the webs and inside faces of the four fingers, behind the ankle joint, over the hip bone, the collarbone, pectorals/breasts (usually the upper areas), the nape of the neck at the hairline, the inside of the upper arm, or very low on the lower back.
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    You may want a strictly private tattoo for various reasons. The rib area can be very private, depending on how much skin you routinely show, as well as the lower abdomen, the buttocks, the thighs (especially on the inside faces), the back, or the undersides of the breasts, upper arms, or feet. The broad sides of the hips, where the thigh meets the pelvis are also favored by people desiring a sensuous tattoo that can only truly be appreciated when the person is unclothed. These types of private tattoos can be very intimate pieces of artwork that add a sense of mystique to the subject on which it is placed.

Method 3
Your Pain Tolerance

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    Tattoos hurt. There's no way around it. The very premise of tattooing revolves around a mechanized needle (or set of needles....up to 16) being used to puncture the skin and thus open a channel in which an ink or dye is simultaneously deposited. There will be pain, swelling, heat, and blood, just like with any injury. But the level of pain can greatly vary from artist to artist, tattoo to tattoo, and person to person.
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    If you have a low tolerance for pain, or this is your first tattoo, choose a simple design, and place it in an area that has few nerve endings and will take ink well. Backs, shoulders, and upper arms are favored for this. They are not often touched on a daily basis, which will make your 5-10 day healing period easier, and they are easy to wash and apply ointment without too much torquing of the skin.
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    However, if you are feeling daring, or would like a tattoo to evoke more of a "rite of passage" feeling, more sensitive (and often more sensual) areas are easily available. The ribs are well known for being some of the most painful tattoos to endure, as the jarring of the tattoo needle invariably causes one to tense up (well developed or locked muscles are very painful to tattoo over). Also. because the skin over the ribs is very thin and the bones so close to the surface, people have reported a deep ache akin to cracked or bruised ribs being felt during the course of the tattoo. Any area with the bones close to the surface will have a similar type of pain: ankles, feet, knees, elbows, collarbones, hipbones, eyebrows, the spine. Other areas are sensitive due to collections of nerve endings: the hands, the insides of the arms, the breasts and nipples, anywhere near the face, the scalp, behind the knees, the arch of the foot, the palms and fingers, and the whole pelvic region, including the genital and anal areas. Think long and hard about whether you can sit through a session before choosing any of these areas! They can be very rewarding to have tattooed, but it's important you are able to be still and calm throughout the process of inking!


  • Talk to your artist! Chances are, he or she will have some insight you haven't considered yet.
  • Try looking at your body frankly and picking an area you consider particularly attractive. Tattoos naturally draw the eye to themselves, and so can be used to highlight your favored features.
  • Scars can be turned from disfigurement to art with the skillful application of a tattoo. Speak to your artist: every situation is unique, from the design, to the scar, to the story behind it. A good artist will make sure your scar is transformed into something beautiful.
  • Fact: colors are not more painful than black and white tattoos, but they do take longer and they will fade faster. Take this into account when choosing a high friction, painful area to tattoo.


  • Remember, tattoos are for life, so don't take the placement of your tattoo lightly. Think it through!
  • Listen to your artist if they have objections to your tattoo placement! Though you may have your heart set on a design and placement, they may have valid and sensible reasons for you to think about before permanently altering your body.
  • Hands, feet, knees and elbows are all high exfoliation, high sensitivity, and high visibility areas. Translation: everybody will be able to watch the fade and destruction of these very very painful tattoos. Distortion, patchy fading, and scarring are all very common, even under the best ministrations, and the tattoos only tend to stay true for a few years. Forewarned is forearmed...choose wisely.

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Categories: Tattoos and Piercing