The coolest small tattoos are personal to the point of being intimate. A prominent, noticeable tattoo is a conversation piece with everyone, but a small tattoo is more likely to surprise and endear those already close to you.
When a specific symbol carries a potent personal meaning, surrounding it with intricate decorations or inflating it to unnecessary size can feel disrespectful, let alone unnecessary.
As with so many things, keeping it simple and strong is the best way to go for small but significant tattoos.
Depending on their placement, small tattoos can be secret or merely coy. An image placed on the foot or hip might be a clandestine revelation shared only with lovers. A symbol on the hand, face or neck is visible to all and almost never covered, but still retains some subtlety with its miniature size. A tattoo on the shoulder, chest or lower leg may will hide at some times and peer out at others, making these locations an exemplary as a middle ground.
A small, surreptitious tattoo is the ideal solution for the man who wants to maintain an utterly clean-cut image in his professional life, but offer an illustrative declaration of his inner life to perceptive eyes at the beach or on weekends. An unpretentious design of diminutive size melds seamlessly with the sophisticated aura that naturally surrounds him.
This is a small, black and gray tattoo that doesn’t sacrifice detail for size and serves a great example of what these mini-tattoos can be. Here, the artist uses gray wash and stipple shading to perfectly capture the texture of the skull while the shadows are achieved with excellent whip shading. The limited use of bold line work keeps this piece feeling realistic without letting the details get washed out. The artist uses expert gradation in tones and negative space for highlights to create contrast and increase the definition, helping the details in the eye sockets and teeth to really stand out making for an exceptional, small tattoo.
Here, the artist takes a photo-realistic approach to capture one of the most iconic images in the world: the ubiquitous Coca-Cola bottle. This full-color design uses expert gradation to capture all the different tones in the bottle, creating the effect of light filtering through the sugary drink while the use of negative space in the empty portion of the bottle at the top of the tattoo is expert and gives the impression of the thick glass these bottles are known for. This is a superb design executed by a skilled artist to create a tattoo that looks like you could pick it up off the wearer’s arm and take a drink.
This is an interesting little piece that uses black and gray shading along other techniques to create a unique character. The line work on this little guy is bold and precise creating a strong outline that allows the artist to add details without compromising the overall design. The use of different patterns—the checked shorts, the stippled hair and the squiggles on the hat—help to create a more interesting design while still maintaining a charming simplicity. The stipple shading and cropped hatching on the arms perfectly achieve the effect of bristly hair and add a layer of texture that works perfectly here, helping this unique piece stand out.
In this piece, the artist takes a more illustrative approach to create a unique interpretation of the planets in the solar system. While there are aspects of this tattoo that feel loose—the splatters and streaks around some of the planets—this is clearly a deliberate stylistic choice that helps the design stand out from more sterile, scientific tattoos. The artist’s skill is on display here, not only in the excellent placement and balanced composition but also in the skillful application of the near perfect circles of the planets. This is a great black and gray tattoo that doesn’t rely on large size or vibrant colors to catch the eye.
This is another celestial-inspired piece that uses an illustrative style to create a one of a kind tattoo. Once again, the artist eschews color for a black and gray scheme that uses precise stipple shading to create variations in tone and density. This piece is interesting for the way the artist is able to use such simple, almost child-like design elements to create an eye-catching design: almost no gray wash is used, with all the differences in textures and tones coming from dots and lines. The composition is also outstanding. The use of bold lines to create the diamond-shaped outline as well as the way the planets are stacked on top of each other is a unique way to represent the solar system.
This tattoo is a great example of how detailed these smaller designs can be. Here, the artist takes a more realistic approach to create the image of a tree, stripped of its foliage and standing in front of the stars in the night sky. The composition of the background portion is also interesting in the way a rectangular border is used for the starry backdrop, but the branches of the tree are not constrained to these hard lines, creating an interesting effect. Finally, the use of white ink to create the fine lines and overlapping circles of the tetrahedron, a key design in sacred geometry, is perfectly applied and adds a mystical layer to this highly detailed, small tattoo.
This is an excellent tattoo and a good example of how small designs can still be attractive. This black and gray piece applies expert shading and the informed use of negative space to create a struck match that incorporates realism into an illustrative style. The saturation of the black in the head of the match is complete, perfectly capturing the sooty look of burnt wood and the choice of using black and gray shading instead of color in the flame is excellent, giving this tattoo the impression of being a black and white photograph of a burning match.
Here is a wonderful example of an American traditional design that uses an expert application to catch the eye instead of bold colors or large size. The line work in this black and gray tattoo is impeccable: the straight lines are perfectly square and the curves in the sails are exact and consistent. The arcs in the waves are smooth and the shading throughout this tattoo is exceptional. A tattoo this detailed would be impressive if it was on someone’s full chest or back, but the fact that it is small enough to be placed on the forearm and still maintain this level of detail is a testament to the mastery of the artist.
This black and gray piece takes a classic American traditional design and uses unconventional application techniques to help it stand out from other dagger tattoos. Most notable in this tattoo is the use of stipple shading for the entire piece instead of the more traditional black and gray shading techniques used in American traditional designs. While not everyone appreciates this shading style, the application here is expert and the varying densities of dots add another layer of texture to this tattoo that works well with the negative space in the highlights. The placement on the back of the arm, slicing into the elbow, is also a considered choice that sets this piece apart from similar designs.
This is another spectacular example of the level of detail that can be achieved in these small, black and gray tattoos. Here, the artist uses fine line work and gray wash to perfectly achieve the impression of a pencil sketch of one of the more iconic motorcycles ever produced. This piece is remarkable for the amount of details that the artist incorporates. The heads, the case, the suspension, the chain and the exhaust, it’s all there; this tattoo is nearly as accurate as a photograph. The gradation in gray scale tones is excellent, allowing all the different components on the bike to be visible while still creating drop shadows below the wheels as well as highlights in the tank and fenders. This really is a stunning tattoo and a testament to the skill and meticulous nature of the artist.
Small Tattoo FAQ’s
Where can men get small tattoos?
The beauty of small tattoos is that you can get them just about anywhere. Some men prefer to get these pieces in visible places like on the hands or the neck as a way to incorporate some above the collar ink without getting completely covered. Others choose to place these tattoos in more traditional places like forearms, biceps, legs, and shoulders.
Another advantage of small tattoos is that they can be incorporated into larger designs further down the road to create a cohesive tattoo or take advantage of a looser composition to achieve a collage-like effect. These tattoos can also serve as a small step into the world of tattoos, and more often than not start a lifelong love affair with ink.
Whether on the face or the chest, as stand-alone pieces or part of a larger design, these small tattoos can be used as tributes to the things most important to the wearer and at the same time serve as pleasing visual decorations for their body.