Tattoo Lettering: Types, Tips, and Mistakes to Avoid

tattoo lettering

Did you know that roughly 38% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 have a tattoo? With tattoos on the rise, you’ll have no shortage of interest if you’re looking to become a tattoo artist. But to be competitive, you’ll need to master the art of lettering.

Keep reading to learn about the types of tattoo lettering you’ll want to perfect — as well as the pitfalls to avoid.

Try Cursive Tattoo Lettering Ideas

When you’re a tattoo artist, you’ll definitely get requests for different types of cursive lettering.  So, you’ll want to commit plenty of time to perfect the fluid strokes of a cursive script. 

Work on crafting elegant lines that create a fluid connection from one letter to the next. And be certain that you’re staying consistent with the letter size. In other words, you don’t want your first lower-case “e” to dwarf the one right next to it.

To go a step further, practice working with an italicized cursive script. In this scenario, you’ll want to slant your letters to the left or right. 

With cursive typefaces, you’ll also need to keep an eye on readability. Ensure that every letter in your design is legible and not buried in ornamentation. Avoid using wide lines and scrolly letters on long phrases that need to fit in tight spaces, too.

Master the Brushstroke Look

If you’re looking to elevate your tattoo portfolio, spend time working on brushstroke lettering. With this style of lettering, you’ll need to capture the look of diffused edges and bleeding ink. After all, each letter should look like it was painted with a brush.

Brushstroke lettering is one of the trickier tattoo skills to master. But it can be a feather in your cap when you start looking for clients.

A brushstroke letter will change opacity, particularly at the end of each stroke. That’s because the ink or paint would be running out on an actual brush if you were creating the stroke on paper.

To simulate this look on human skin, you’ll need to work on creating different types of intensity with the ink. You’ll also need to pay attention to irregularities within each stroke. For instance, a stroke may be fatter on one edge, stay skinny in the middle, and then fade out on the other edge.

Spend Time Crafting Capitalized Letters

When you’re trying to build your tattoo skills, spend time refining your approach to capitalized letters. Some clients will want simple words or blocks of text punched out in all caps.

Focus on staying consistent with the height and width of your letters. Try varying the stroke width to capture a bold-face look, or change the angle to italicize a capitalized letter. 

And learn the qualities of different typefaces. For instance, some may be squattier and look better for simple words or phrases. Other capitalized fonts may look slender and delicate.

Be wary of mixing and matching too many different types of fonts. You could end up creating something that looks like a ransom note! Instead, aim for consistency to create beautiful and legible tattoo lettering fonts. 

Look into a Handwritten Style

A tattoo with the look of handwritten lettering will create a playful or casual sense of style. Thin, wavering lines with subtle irregularities can make it look as if someone just wrote the text on another person. This unpretentious approach to lettering is especially appropriate for poetry or inspirational quotes.

To master this style, you’ll need to keep lines clean and loose. Use capitalized letters and clean, thin lines for a highly readable form of lettering. A handwritten style can be formed into a block or unique shape of text, too.

With any lettering tattoo design you try, take the time to capture the final design for your portfolio. Learn how to take professional photographs so you can feature your best work on your website. A website gives you an easy way to share your skills so you can score an apprenticeship or job. 

Know the Difference Between Serif and Sans Serif

It’s wise to be familiar with the different characteristics of letters if you’re going to be a tattoo artist. And you’ll want to know the lingo so you’re not surprised when a client asks about serif or sans serif lettering.

Letters that contain a serif have an extra stroke of ornamentation. Typically, that extra stroke extends from a larger stroke to provide a little more flourish. Serif typefaces tend to look traditional.

Because of the serif, these letters also will require you to be extra careful with spacing. You’ll need more room, for instance, to accommodate the serif on either side of an A.

A sans serif typeface, by contrast, lacks ornamentation. These letters are clean and modern in their feel. They work well for simple and direct statements or words where clarity is critical.

Learn How to Mimic Typewriter Lettering

Some clients will ask for tattoo lettering fonts that mimic the look of an old-fashioned typewriter. This can be a playful approach to tattoo art because the final result should look like a type bar printed a letter directly on someone’s skin.

But you’ll need to master the nuances of typewriter lettering to make it look convincing. Classic typewriter lettering will have a serif attached to the edges of letters. These small details give character to the letters and help them stand out from the background.

If you’ve ever used an old typewriter, you’ll know that the letters also have some inconsistency depending on the amount of ink. Your client may want your lettering to mimic that look, too.

Practice changing the intensity of each stroke so you can create soft areas where the ink seems to fade out. Plan on letting the ink bleed at other points. And the typewriter style is a rare instance where some unevenness in the letter spacing may help create a more authentic look. 

Sketch Your Ideas First

Before you commit to a lettering tattoo design, take the time to sketch it out. Doing this will help train your hand to capture the curves, lines, and edges of the letters effectively. You’ll also be able to catch potential design flaws.

For instance, you might notice that a particular typeface looks distracting due to its embellishments. Consider mapping out the same lettering using a few different typefaces so your client can see the options.

Consider the spacing of letters and where the tattoo will sit on the human skin. Tattoos on fingers, hands, and feet may fade more quickly. Be sure that your client is aware of the pluses and minuses of different locations before proceeding. 

You can include sketches along with fully resolved tattoo drawings and images on your website, too. This will give potential clients a window into your process and give you credibility as a tattoo artist.

Know the Meaning of the Words

While it might be tempting to do whatever a client wants, make sure you understand what you’ll be inking. Terms or phrases that are offensive won’t help your portfolio or reputation as a tattoo artist. 

And, of course, be certain you are clear on the proper spelling of the word or phrase. A misspelled word or sentence with improper punctuation will be an embarrassment for the client. And it’s not exactly an easy problem to fix, making it an embarrassment for you, too.

Always be sure your client has agreed to your design before moving forward. You may need to do some convincing if you notice an error that should be corrected.

Avoid Tattoos That Are Too Small

If a client wants a small tattoo, proceed with caution. Small tattoos may sound appealing since they won’t require as much space, but not every design works well on a smaller scale. Know that it may be worthwhile to try to convince your client to scale up their idea. 

That’s because working at too small of a scale can cause tattoo lettering fonts to look cramped. And in some cases, those letters can be difficult to read, especially if the lines are heavy. For letters with heavier strokes, the lines and overall results can look muddy.

Ultimately, if you can avoid these tattooing pitfalls, you’ll set yourself up for success. You can join the 27 million Americans who are starting their own businesses and build a tattoo business. Or you can join an established studio where you can learn from fellow artists and hone your skills. 

Learn Tattoo Lettering 

Stepping up your game with tattoo lettering will translate to a better portfolio and a bigger client list. Master the necessary techniques to create cursive, hammer out capitalized letters, or craft a more organic form of lettering. Sketch out your ideas first and work with every client to ensure that the spelling, grammar, and scale work well.

Ready to start your career as a tattoo artist? Contact us and we can help!