What font should I use for my tattoo?

If you find yourself wondering what good fonts for tattoos are, you may already be headed down the wrong path! Of course, every tattoo is unique, so there are exceptions to the rule, but please, before paying money to have a font permanently emblazoned upon your skin, please consider the following.

Lettering is most often a better choice

The difference between lettering and fonts is similar to the difference between buying clothing off the rack and getting something custom tailored to fit you perfectly. Fonts are designed so that any two letters can sit comfortably next to each other. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it does not. When you order something to be lettered by a skilled craftsman, you can rest assured knowing that each letter has been drawn and positioned to exist flawlessly within the word.

The difference between a font and lettering

Though the photo above is for a logo and not a tattoo, many points are nonetheless well illustrated. First, there are two capital Ws. Do you really want two letters appearing in close proximity to look exactly the same? Most often a custom solution works best. On the right, a big swashy loop provides a good starting point to reading the rest of the text, and on the other side a similar swash doe a nice job of filling in some space above the "oo". Note the subtle differences between the lowercase s's. On top, the top of the s is cut to give room to swash on the d, and on the bottom, the s has a nice ball terminal to fill some space in.

Overall, the design on the right is far superior because it is a cohesive and finished logotype that feels whole, complete, and thoughtful. The last thing you want in a tattoo is something that looks thoughtless or amateurish.

Trusting your tattoo artist

Most tattoo artists have a standard style that works well enough for traditional tattoos, and that is most often a better option than using a font. Some tattoo artists however do not have a knack for lettering. Carefully view the tattoo artist's lettering before you let them do anything to you. Look for consistencies in the weight of the strokes of the letters. Also note consistencies in the slant, and overall size. Sloppy letters are all too common in tattoos. DON'T BE A STATISTIC!

The only reason not to hire someone to design a perfect bit of lettering for your tattoo is cost. It is of course more expensive to get a professional's work, but because these words will be with you for the rest of your life, why not spend a couple extra bucks to get a custom design?

I would include photos of bad tattoos in this Hub, but most I could find were really disgusting and I don't want to taint my Hub.

When fonts are okay

Of course, if you're getting a poem, quote, or short paragraph tattooed, it may make sense to use a font. My advice would be to choose something fairly neutral, as the tattoo will have to stand the test of time. Depending on the text being written, any number of typefaces can work perfectly well, but one important deciding factor should be the ornateness of the font. Something too fancy or intricate will look ridiculous when more than one or two words are strung together. Another common mistake is setting scripts or other ornate fonts in all caps. Scripts are meant to be set in upper and lowercase exclusively. Setting scripts in caps looks thoughtless, cheap, and stupid!

If you must use a font, Piel Script by Alejandro Paul of the Sudtipos type foundry is an option. Quite a lot went into the drawing of this font, and there are many alternates for every letter so you can find the perfect glyph for your needs.
If you must use a font, Piel Script by Alejandro Paul of the Sudtipos type foundry is an option. Quite a lot went into the drawing of this font, and there are many alternates for every letter so you can find the perfect glyph for your needs. | Source

Distressed fonts

Some fonts are made to look like they've been struck by lightning, dipped in acid, pulverized with a ball pin hammer, or covered in some bodily fluid. Here's the thing, if two of the same letter are right in a row, and they are distressed in exactly the same way, you will look like a turd with a lame tattoo. Please make sure every letter is different so it doesn't look like you hooked up an inkjet printer to your stomach and called it a day.

In conlusion...

Think before ink! You may be surprised at how much better a custom tat will look, and how stoked you'll be on it for hours to come. Joke! I'm sure you'll absolutely love it your entire life. Joke! Also, remember you get what you pay for. An extra couple hundred bucks would be money well spent. I've heard of people regretting tattoos because of using canned fonts. It's impersonal, and half-assed, even if it spans your whole ass.

Lettering rules!

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Comments 10 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Oh, I do feel a dreadful sense of sadness when I see tattoo victims, especially victims of sloppy lettering. To be honest though, I had never considered how one will have to choose between font and lettering when getting a tattoo... I wonder how many people actually put that much thought into it!

Awesome guide. I am now fully equipped to think before I ink. And you're gonna LOVE my comic sans ankle tattoo!!

jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Oh drat. Now my eyes are bleeding. Thanks a bunch, kid. Thanks a bunch.

Michelle Padro 5 years ago

But how often should you change the lightbulb before it burns out?

Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

Hey James!

Love to see the ladies following! You are all that and so much more!

Sooooooooooo glad you are continuing down Font Street! It really is a topic soooooo many people enjoy, ponder, misunderstand and it catches attention!

Like really awful tattoo's of toasters on ankles! ;-)

Blessings Mr. Handsome Talent! Earth Angel!

ournote2self profile image

ournote2self 5 years ago

When I stare at the one on the left I like that one better. And when I stare at the one on the right, I like that one better. Tough decision considering it's going to be on your body for the rest of your life. Good luck!

jamestedmondson profile image

jamestedmondson 5 years ago from San Francisco Author

Hi ournote2self. I'm not deciding between those two, I'm just illustrating the differences between using fonts and lettering.

Earth Angel profile image

Earth Angel 5 years ago

Dearest James!

Hope you had a great time in L.A.!

Until you started writing about fonts, I never really paid attention to all the cool fonts on HubPages! Your creations, no doubt?

Blessings from the Central Coast! Earth Angel!

Jagodka profile image

Jagodka 5 years ago

Well, at least you can cross out Comic Sans off the list.

ryankett 5 years ago

I am the owner of one massive tattoo fail. To borrow an idea from your fb status hub, 17+alcohol+stupidity = tattoo fail. You won't find mine online though, it can be found hidden beneath my clothing and it will remain there until I can afford laser tattoo removal. I could keep it as an example to any future kids of mine, but Google images serves that purpose just fine.

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