Tattoo Placement Guide

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 5, 2020
    Last Updated: November 10, 2020

Whether you’re considering your first tattoo or already have many, getting inked is a personal form of expression that can hold a lot of meaning. Along with the artwork, choosing the correct placement may also be challenging.

With your body as your canvas, the area you select may be visible in public or for your eyes only. Some spots are more painful than others and may deter tattoo novices. Here are some tattoo placement tips and considerations to help you make the best choice for your personal situation.


Tattoos are not a new form of expression despite having evolved over time. The earliest known tattoos date back to some time between 3370 BC and 3100 BC, where scientists found them on mummified skin.

Throughout history, tattoos were used for decoration in some cultures and on convicted criminals in others. There has also been evidence of some civilizations using tattoos in medicine where placement would have a more significant impact.

Tattoo Placement Considerations

A skilled tattoo artist can give you a tattoo virtually anywhere on your body. When it comes to determining where to place your tattoo, the sky’s the limit, but other career and lifestyle choices may help you narrow down your selection.

How Visible Do You Want Your Tattoo?

A tattoo is a lifelong commitment, so you need to decide if you want the tattoo you choose to get now visible in ten years, 20 years, or even longer. Yes, tattoo removal has come a long way, but it is still a lengthy and expensive process. In some cases, covering a tattoo with makeup is a viable option at work or in other scenarios.

Career goals may play a significant role in how visible you want your tattoo. While society has come a long way in hiring employees with tattoos, they are still not common in some professions. Here are some industries that may ask you to cover up your tattoos at work:

  • Education or teachers
  • Financial institutions or banks
  • Law enforcement
  • Law firms
  • Government

Regardless of your career, you may want to get an inappropriate tattoo on a part that is not visible in public. While you should be able to express yourself, getting a curse word or inappropriate image may be best in a more discreet spot.

Which Body Part Will Make Your Design Look Its Best?

Depending on your tattoo’s size and complexity, it may look better on some parts of the body versus others. A detailed portrait will look best on a flatter part of the body, like on your bicep or back, instead of squished onto your ankle.

Simple and delicate tattoos, like small shape outlines or words, can go on smaller parts of your body, like on your fingers, behind your ear, or on your wrist.

In general, some designs will look great wherever you decide to place them. Flowers are classic tattoos that you can place anywhere. A small, simple design may look great on your wrist or shoulder blade, while you can incorporate a more complex design on your arms, ribs, or legs.

Is This Part of a Greater Design?

If this isn’t your first tattoo, you may want to consider adding it to a larger design you already have. Are you working on building a sleeve? Are you planning on adding a feature design or a filler piece? Consider a design and spot that will work well with the tattoos you already have.

Conversely, you may have many single pieces that do not relate to one another. In this case, is symmetry important to you? Consider a part of your body that isn’t being utilized.

Pain Points on Your Body

Some of us are more susceptible to pain than others, and there have been studies to determine who is predisposed to feeling higher levels of pain. Studies suggest that women feel pain more intensely than men, while other research has been done to determine whether age and weight affect how we experience pain. 

Those new to tattoos may want to consider body parts with fewer nerve endings or more padding to absorb the needle scratching. Pain tolerance can still be an important consideration when you are looking to get a new tattoo. 

Head, Face, and Neck

Face and neck tattoos have been recently rising in popularity, but they are some of the most painful places on the body to tattoo. There are many nerve endings on the head, face, and neck that can cause irritation and severe pain.

Tattooing parts of your face, like your lips, can lead to swelling, bleeding, or bruising leading to pain after you’ve had them tattooed.

Forearm

Depending on your tolerance level, getting a tattoo on your forearm can cause a low to a low-moderate amount of pain.

However, tattooing too close to the wrist can cause vibrating pain. This sensation isn’t as painful as some spots but may fluctuate depending on if you are thinner and have less skin and fat over your bones.

Hands and Fingers

The skin on hands and fingers is thin and sensitive to tattooing. There are also a lot of ligaments and bones, making them susceptible to pain.

If you want to tattoo your hand or fingers, choose your non-dominant hand to prevent added pain while healing.

Outer Bicep

The outer bicep is a popular place for tattoos, whether it is a single piece or you’re starting a sleeve. Unlike the inner bicep, which has thin skin and more nerve endings, the outer bicep is a low-pain place for a tattoo. 

Ribcage

Getting a tattoo on your ribs is one of the most painful spots to sit through. The skin is thinner on your ribcage, and there is less fat and muscle to pad the scratching pain from the needle, leading to a more painful experience.

Stomach

The level of pain experienced when getting a stomach tattoo is depending on your body mass. The heavier you are, the looser your skin is, making tattoos painful; whereas, those in better shape have tighter skin and muscle, making your stomach tattoo less painful.

Back

The upper and lower back are both less painful places for beginners to tattoo. The skin on the back is thicker than other body parts with few nerve endings. 

While the upper and lower back and outer shoulders are generally less painful to tattoo, avoid tattooing too close to the spine and hips where there are more nerve endings and bones.

Inner Thigh

Despite the inner thigh having fewer bones than other parts of the body and more padding, it is still a painful place for a tattoo. The inner thigh is less exposed than other parts of the body and can be more sensitive to pain.

A tattoo on the inner thigh can also be more expensive as it heals because it will rub against the other leg.

Outer Upper Thigh

The upper thigh is one of the less painful spots of the body for a tattoo. There are fewer nerve endings in your upper thigh, and it is well-padded with fat and muscle.

Feet, Ankles, and Shins

Like with the ribcage, you are essentially tattooing right on a bone, which can cause extreme pain. This may not be an ideal spot for those who are new to tattooing or have a low pain tolerance. Ankles are another part of the body that can cause vibrating pain.

Types of Pain

Along with vibrating pain, there are different types of pain you can experience when getting a tattoo. 

Background Pain

This dull pain is the best type to experience when getting tattooed. As its name suggests, your body produces adrenaline, lessening the pain you experience.

Burning Pain

Repeated trauma from a long tattooing session can cause burning pain, which feels like something scalding is being pressed onto your skin. Burning pain can become intense like a cat is clawing your skin.

Scratching Pain

Many of those experienced getting tattoos say that scratching pain is one of the most common you will experience. Scratching pain can feel intense at times, and like you are receiving a deep scratch.

Stinging Pain

This sharp pain is described as resembling bee stings and generally happens during outline work when your tattoo artist is using few needles or just one. A less experienced may also cause stinging pain if they push the needle too far into your skin. If you are concerned about stinging pain, research your tattoo artist, and be sure to choose someone you feel comfortable with.

Tattoo placement is most important to avoid experiencing these more extreme types of pain.

The Bottom Line

Almost as much as choosing a design, deciding where to tattoo your body is a very personal and significant decision. While the choices may seem endless, career choices, previous tattoos, and pain tolerance may help you determine which spot is best for you.

Getting a tattoo is a decision that will stick with you for the rest of your life. Avoid a painful and expensive removal process by picking the best spot for your tattoo now.