Tattoos are becoming more mainstream with each passing year. Some attribute this rise in popularity to the presence of tattoos on celebrities and public figures and to the way that tattoos can help to build community and identity.
Most of the time, clients are looking for tattoos with an artistic design that appeals to them or that represents a sentimental value. Now, we’re also encountering clients who are coming into the shop for a functional tattoo.
A functional tattoo is one that can serve a practical purpose. Just like any other trend, the functional tattoo can go in a lot of different directions. The important thing is to get every detail right so that functional ink is truly functional.
As always, our goal is to keep future tattoo artists in the know. Read on for 15 unique and interesting functional tattoo ideas.
1. Wedding Ring Tattoos
These days, the wedding industry is worth billions of dollars, and couples are expected to shell out tens of thousands to bring their big day to life. It’s unsurprising that tons of couples want to strip things back to basics and tone down some of the hoopla.
One option they’re turning to is the tattooed wedding ring. Instead of (or in addition to) a traditional gold or silver band, couples are getting matching symbols or band shapes tattooed around their left ring fingers. Not only is this an alternative way to show your devotion to your life partner but it also gives couples a chance to celebrate their union without the massive crowd.
2. To-Do List Tattoos
We’re all living in a chaotic world full of distractions, and it’s not always easy to stay on top of our responsibilities. Some people benefit from writing down everything they need to do so that they can return to their list any time they get off track. The problem is that it’s easy to misplace that list-unless it’s right there on your forearm.
To-do list tattoos typically take on the form of a blank sheet of paper. Empty lines sit next to empty boxes so the person bearing the tattoo can write down what they need to get done, check it off, wash off their writing at the end of the day, and start fresh tomorrow.
3. Ruler Tattoos
If you’ve ever known a seamstress or a quilter, you know that they always have a measuring tape close at hand. What if they want to take small projects on the go or don’t want to go searching for their measuring tape every time they need to measure their fabric or seam? This is where the ruler tattoo comes in handy.
One common version of this functional tattoo is the two to three-inch line down the side of the pointer finger. However, a few inches isn’t enough for everyone. In fact, you may even encounter fishermen who want a two-foot ruler tattooed down their arm so they can easily measure their catch of the day to show off their skills.
4. QR Code Tattoos
The tech world is evolving quickly and we’re well past the days of needing a URL to navigate the web. Most smartphones have the ability to scan QR codes that will immediately take them to a specific website, and these QR codes make unique, modern tattoos. The key is to make sure that your stencil and shading is an exact match for the real QR code so that it actually works.
Some clients may want a QR code as a joke, like the QR code that takes users to the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up” for a surprising and hilarious Rick-roll. Others may want QR codes that navigate users to websites the client owns and can edit and update as desired.
5. Medic Alert Tattoos
An estimated one in four adults have at least one disability, and some can lead to pretty serious medical emergencies. For example, people with epilepsy can have seizures at unexpected times and it’s important that others react accordingly. Many people with serious disabilities wear medic alert bracelets that let good samaritans and EMTs know what’s going on, but these bracelets are easy to lose.
A medic alert tattoo won’t go missing. If clients are looking for a medic alert tattoo, talk to them about areas of the body that are bound to be noticed by EMTs and doctors, like the wrist or above the heart.
6. Makeup Tattoos
Makeup tattoos have come in and out of fashion since around the 1990s. Many people apply makeup every single day, reapplying as their makeup starts to wear off or smudge. With the right tattoos, they can save a few steps and have the fresh face they’re looking to achieve all the time.
Makeup tattoos do require serious skill and the ability to tattoo sensitive areas like the eyelids and around the lips. If you’re not experienced with makeup tattoos thanks to completing a specialized course or tattoo apprenticeship, it’s best not to agree to give one. If you do feel confident in your ability to tattoo the face, make sure that your client knows exactly what they want and also feel confident that they’ll want that particular shade and shape for decades to come.
7. Mantra Tattoos
The right mantra can make a big difference to someone’s sense of self and overall mental health, but only when repeated on a regular basis. For anyone that struggles to form a new habit, it can be helpful to have that mantra front and center where they’re going to see it every day. A mantra tattoo makes a great mental health tattoo that serves a specific function.
Some clients may want the actual words of their mantra tattooed somewhere like their arm or thigh while others may want a symbolic representation of their mantra. Popular mental health tattoos include the semi-colon and anchor, but it’s not a bad idea to brainstorm some ideas with your client to give them something unique and special.
8. Hair Tattoos
Hair tattoos are exactly what they sound like-tattoos that create the illusion of hair coverage where hair has started to thin out. The problem is that these aren’t your typical tattoo and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Here’s another one that you shouldn’t offer to do without experience. In fact, hair tattoos are rising in popularity for both men and women who are thinning up top, which means that you’re likely to encounter clients who are looking for scalp pigmentation. For the sake of your reputation, their satisfaction, and the liability you have as a tattoo artist, always redirect them to a scalp pigmentation specialist, not a traditional tattoo parlor.
9. Periodic Table Tattoos
Some functional tattoos work on both an aesthetic level and a practical one and this is one of them. The periodic table tattoo is perfect for anyone in the science world, especially if they’re spending time in the lab.
This is another one where accuracy is crucial. Admittedly, a good scientist will double-check before they start mixing chemicals and solutions, but if you’ve promised an accurate periodic table, you need to deliver. Remind your clients that if they want the ink to be legible down the line, this tattoo is going to need to take up quite a bit of space-otherwise, the ink will bleed and blend over time.
10. Game Tattoos
Just because a tattoo is functional doesn’t mean that it has to lack whimsy. Not to be confused with gamer tattoos (think characters and symbols from popular games), game tattoos provide entertainment for the client and anyone they allow to play the game.
One great example is a connect-the-dots tattoo that, when completed with a washable marker, creates a whole new picture-sort of like a temporary tattoo built on top of a real one. Another is a functional maze that can be completed with a marker or the trace of the finger. These tattoos are seemingly simple to execute but it’s important that the game is playable for clients to get full enjoyment out of them.
11. Traveler’s Tattoos
Avid travelers are always looking for ways to commemorate and celebrate their trips around the world. Some people may choose to get individual tattoos for each place they visit. The functional traveler’s tattoo makes it easy to create one cohesive tattoo over time.
A blank passport is one option that the client can fill over time with tattooed stamps from around the world. Another is a map of the world with empty countries that clients can shade in one by one as they knock new countries off their bucket lists. Traveler’s tattoos can make great back pieces or sleeves that start and end with a consistent look and style.
12. Advertisement Tattoos
In a world of commercialism, it’s unsurprising that some clients may ask for advertisement tattoos. In some cases, they may be advertising their own business, which is their own prerogative. In rare cases, however, you may encounter clients who are getting paid to become “human billboards” for other businesses.
This can be a tough situation for new tattoo artists to navigate. On the one hand, clients can decide for themselves what they want to tattoo permanently on their skin. On the other, it seems feasible that clients may grow to regret the choice to advertise a random brand on their skin, and it’s no wonder that some artists are reluctant to take these kinds of appointments.
13. Music Sheet Tattoos
The idea behind a practical tattoo is that the client (or others) can look at that tattoo and do something more than admire it. A cool one we’re seeing these days is the music sheet tattoo, which consists of a real score that musicians can follow and play. This can include a small guitar riff or a full classical tune.
For new musicians and music teachers, another option is to get a music notation guide tattooed on the forearm or somewhere else that’s easy to access. A music notation guide has the full spectrum of notes with their corresponding letters, which makes it easy to learn how to read sheet music.
14. Constellation Tattoos
Stargazers love nothing more than looking up at the night sky and identifying their favorite constellations. However, it’s not always easy to find them-or show them to other people.
Constellation tattoos are often an aesthetic choice, especially with the astrology crowd. A more detailed constellation tattoo with accurate star placements will serve as a more practical choice. If a client wants accurate star placement with an artistic twist, consider a line-based design with a more realistic depiction of the constellation that lets the star placements shine through.
15. Recipe Tattoos
Professional and home chefs alike probably have a recipe they love that they make on a regular basis. This might be a recipe they came up with on their own or a recipe that has been passed down from one family member to the next. Tattooing the recipe, including the full ingredients list and instruction list, is a fun and practical way to memorialize the tattoo.
For a more stylized look, consider tattooing the recipe on a recipe card design. If the recipe is a family recipe, ask the client if they want an exact replica of the original, including the recipe creator’s handwriting. A combination of aesthetics and legibility is crucial when designing a recipe tattoo, so talk to clients about the importance of scale.
Which Functional Tattoo Would You Get?
As tattoos become more popular, artists are seeing a wide range of requests from clients. The functional tattoo can seem simple at first but precision is a requirement if you want to keep your clients happy.
At the Florida Tattoo Academy, we train budding tattoo artists in everything from the basics to complex styles and the latest trends. Our goal is to send you out into the world with the knowledge and skills you’ll need to build a killer portfolio and strong reputation. To schedule a campus tour and find out if we’re the right fit, contact us today.