Tattoos of names, mottoes, and slogans have been a long-standing tradition in the history of tattooing. The style of lettering in these types of tattoos ranges from classic and traditional to creative and iconic. Choosing a tattoo script can be difficult. In picking a tattoo script you’ll have to consider the artist who’ll be tattooing you as well as any limitations of the lettering in its application as an element of your tattoo. What does that mean? Let us explain.
What You Need to Know About Tattoo Lettering and Fonts
Tattoo lettering is essentially its own art form within an art form as it incorporates the art of typography and calligraphy into tattoo art. For this reason, some tattoo artists are more skilled at one form of lettering than another, which means you’ll have to do your research. On the whole, most tattoo artists are skilled in a handful of common tattoo scripts. However, some scripts–particularly fancier or more elaborate ones– may not exist in the arsenal of every tattoo artist. In terms of choosing your font, if you’ve already chosen your artist, talk to them and find out what their capacity is for tattooing unique or unusual fonts. A good artists will tell you what they can and can’t do. If you haven’t chosen an artist yet, be sure to let them know that your piece will include custom tattoo lettering and let them know what you have in mind. This can save you a whole lot of trouble later on.
Foreign Character Tattoo Lettering
We’ve all seen (or know) someone who has some sort of foreign character tattoo. The Chinese character for “love” or the Japanese character “strength” are good examples. Here’s some pretty standard yet absolutely excellent advice: Don’t get a tattoo in a language you don’t speak. You’re just asking for trouble. In languages like Chinese and Japanese, small details in each character change the meaning. You could end up with a completely different word on you.
Tattoo Script Styles
While the possibilities of tattoo lettering are endless, there are some styles that are more commonly used in tattooing than others. We’ll go through a few here to give you some ideas, then give you some suggestions on where you can find your own cool tattoo scripts.
The first of these tattoo lettering styles is what we call “block lettering”. Block lettering is very common in tattoo art because of how basic it is. Unlike other tattoo script styles the letters are basic and boxy. Many people recognize it as a collegiate font, commonly used for college names on apparel. The key to block lettering for the tattoo artist is straight lines. The example at right has very thick lines which can help cover any unevenness at first, but ultimately has to be very straight. Block lettering is most commonly used for tattooing a single word as it isn’t well suited to tattooing phrases or sentences.
The script style of tattoo lettering is designed to imitate polished handwriting in a cursive style. Tattoo script is often delicate and can be difficult to produce for an artists who isn’t especially experienced. Much like calligraphy, tattooing script takes a lot of practice and a fluidity that doesn’t always come natural. There are numerous variations of tattoo scripts as well. Some use only fine line, some create broader letters that are later shaded or filled in with color. This style of tattoo lettering is most commonly used for names, mottoes, and other phrases.
Filigree Tattoo Script
A subset of the script style of tattoo fonts is a style called filigree. Filigree lettering has the same core design elements as your basic script lettering, but takes it to a completely different level with very elaborate calligraphy. Filigree tattoo lettering is common in Southern California tattoo art and has strong ties to hip-hop and rap culture which is driving an increased interest in the style.
Celtic lettering is also a popular tattoo font. Generally used as a nod to the wearer’s heritage, Celtic lettering is a strong, bold type with unusual curves to the letters that give it a very ancient and perhaps even a mystical feel. It’s also commonly used as lettering in fantasy themed tattoos as well as tattoos referencing certain sports teams. It can be confused with viking lettering due to its extreme similarity.
Graffiti Style Lettering
A bit more dramatic and reflective of street cultures is the graffiti style of tattoo lettering. The graffiti style of tattoo lettering is as diverse as graffiti itself. Pulling its influence directly from street art, graffiti lettering tends to be brightly colored and the lettering itself can take on a wide range of shapes ranging from fluid and smooth to boxy and angular.
It’s not extremely popular across all of tattoo culture, but its very popular in certain subcultures and niches.
Classic Tattoo Lettering (Traditional Tattoo Font)
When it comes to the traditional style of tattooing, this is hands down the most common. When people talk about tattoo-style lettering or a tattoo font, this is most commonly the style to which they are referring.
Classic or traditional tattoo lettering is recognizable by its alternating thick and slim lines and its resemblance to print lettering. This style of lettering is tied to the origins of the traditional American tattoo style and has become an iconic font in tattoo art.
Using A Unique or Custom Tattoo Font
What should you consider when trying to find a unique font for your tattoo? Once again, much of this depends on the skills of your chosen artist. Showing up with a sample and saying, “I’d like something like this” is the best way to go. A good tattoo artist will tell you upfront if he has any concerns over a tattoo font you’ve chosen. Things like size and placement can also limit what can be done in terms of tattoo lettering, so keep that in mind as well.
Finding a Unique Tattoo Font
Tattoo scripts and fonts are really all about typography. This may sound unusual, but look into websites that specialize in custom fonts for design purposes. There’s no shortage of them and pretty much all of them have free samples. Take the samples to your tattoo artist to give them an idea of what you want. Also keep in mind that most tattoo shops have books of fonts and lettering styles ready and waiting for you. Before you invest too much time in finding a custom tattoo script or font, stop by your artist’s shop and take a look through their books. Not only is it an easier way to go, but you’ll get to see which tattoo scripts and fonts your artist already has in his or her arsenal. Odds are they’ll have something that suits you.
Can I use a custom tattoo font generator?
We won’t tell you no, but we don’t think its a good idea. Most tattoo font generators are just using goofy fonts that you’d find in something like MS Word. If unique is truly your goal, seek out a quality typography website. Something like Incredible Types or Typeverything would be a good place to start.