What Are Negative Space Tattoos?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 17, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

Negative tattoos recently became popular among people who use tattoos for self-expression. Instead of going with traditional styles and not standing out, as is partly the idea of a tattoo, negative tattoos raise the bar of wanting to be different.

Negative space tattoos were invented for the sole purpose of saving time and resources because, instead of drawing using details, the artist uses shadow and light. They draw around the design and leave the drawing itself blank to let your eyes complete the tattoo shape.

Negative space tattoos are body art that’s reversed. Instead of drawing the tattoo, the artist draws the outline and leaves the design blank. Negative tattoos are an excellent alternative style through depth and an optical illusion, while also saving resources and time.

What Do Negative Space Tattoos Look Like?

Just like when they say you can’t see the light if there’s no darkness, the same applies to negative tattoos.

Negative tattoos are a way to draw tattoos by not drawing the actual shape. Instead, the outline is drawn with blank ink to make the drawing pop.

It’s basically a reverse black-and-white image. Instead of drawing the shape in black and the rest in white, negative tattoos draw the white area with black and leave the inside of the shape empty. 

Think of them as optical illusions where your eyes fill out the image on their own. This form of tattooing is very creative and gives the tattoo artist the freedom to be innovative with the tattoo.

Another way that negative tattoos are an optical illusion is that some artists use both the black and white areas to imply two different images when you look at both separately.

Some people use both the black and white areas to imply two different images when you look at both. This creates a very smart and optically attractive tattoo.

Negative tattoos can be used with black ink only or a maximum of one other color, with black to achieve the desired design.

What You Need to Know

The Location

Since the actual shape of your tattoo will be left blank and colored with your skin, you need to choose a place where your skin doesn’t have many blemishes and scars. It would be better if you chose an area that doesn’t grow much hair, so it doesn’t distort the tattoo’s shape. 

Another rule that applies to negative and normal tattoos is that it’s better to choose an area of the body that won’t distort the tattoo’s appearance when you move. For example, the stomach is generally an area to avoid.

Tattoo Type

You need to carefully choose the type of tattoo you want because not all tattoos can be made into a negative space tattoo.

Tribal Tattoos

Tribal designs are perfectly suited to negative space tattoos since they contain solid shapes and integrated lines that are mostly black.

Make it easy for the artist to distinguish between what to tattoo on and what to leave to make it pop.

Other tattoo styles that work perfectly with negative tattoos are:

  • Blackwork tattoos
  • Illustrative tattoos
  • Chicano tattoos
  • Watercolor Tattoos
  • Neo-traditional tattoos

Traditional & Realistic Tattoos

Also called “old school tattoos,” these will give your tattoo artist a hard time trying to turn them into a negative design since they depend on details and colors to create the tattoo. Negative tattoos can’t be done if there are too many details in the design instead of solid colors and clear shades.

The same rule applies to realism or realistic tattoos. They copy a real photograph with all its details. To look on the skin exactly as it looks in the photo, the aim is to make it look as real as possible. This also requires too many details that wouldn’t go with negative space tattoos.

Other tattoo styles that don’t work with negative tattoos:

  • New school tattoo
  • Japanese Tattoo

Negative Tattoo Precautions

Think Rationally

Make sure the design you choose doesn’t damage your skin. Of course, there’s no limit to what one can do with tattoos. However, if you decided to color your whole arms blank just to leave a couple of small birds blank, this might not be the best option for your skin. 

You can just draw the birds on your arms, instead of having to ink a large area. 

Highly Experienced Artist

Choose your tattoo artist carefully. All tattoos require a skillful artist to handle them, but when it comes to negative tattoos, an artist at the top of their game is needed.

Negative Tattoos Have a Positive Vibe

You’ll definitely add mystery and enigma to your personality if you decide to go for a negative space tattoo. People will be amazed by the depth and uniqueness of your design.

Make sure you choose a style that goes hand-in-hand with a negative space tattoo drawing. Choose your designs and artists carefully and you’re good to go; nothing can stop you!

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated, but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times, and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​