While cultures from around the world have decorated their hands with bold and often astonishingly detailed tattoo art for thousands of years, today’s tattoo designs can be as simple as the wearer wishes, and at no expense of style.
Sailors, warriors, and priests often tattooed sacred symbols onto their hands for protection against evil, as well as in honor of loved ones.
For that reason anchors, birds, and stars abound in sailing lore, with no shortage of tattoo renditions.
The initials of a loved one are also ideal for the hand, a constant and cherished reminder of what you hold dear. Many modern couples even prefer to tattoo their nuptial bands onto their fingers, with class rings and friendship emblems not far behind.
Arrows and compasses are well-suited to the fingers and center of the hand respectively, as both remind the wearer of their true direction, and to lead by example.
We use our hands more than any other part of the body, so it’s understandable that the right tattoo represents all you put into action. Entrepreneur or tradesman, hand tattoos in their simplest rendering remind us of where we come from, what we love, and what compels us to keep going. These are not just accessories, but proclamations of what a man devotes his strength to.
1. Simple Bird Tattoos on Hand
As with many other common tattoo designs, the quintessential swallows arose from the early days of Western tattooing, which was based almost exclusively around sailors (both naval and civilian). While the strict rules that governed the meaning of these tattoos faded, the designs remain.
Originally swallows were markers used by sailors to mark the time they had served on ships. One swallow—usually tattooed on the hands, chest or neck—meant that a sailor had travelled 5,000 nautical miles (roughly 5.75K miles); two swallows meant that a sailor had travelled 10,000 knots, and so on. It was also said that if a sailor died at sea the swallows would carry his soul from the depths, up to heaven.
In modern times tattoos are more commonly used as a means of self-expression and are not tied to such hard-fast rules regarding symbolism and meaning. For many people these lovely little birds tattooed on their hands hold more personal significance. Some people just like birds. Whatever the reasons for inking birds on your hands, thanks to their long history in tattoo design, they are an excellent choice.
2. Minimalist Hand Tattoos
Many people prefer tattoos to have intricate details with a photo-realistic application of ink. While this is an appealing approach that can make for some stunning designs, this effect can be difficult to achieve on a canvas as small as a finger, or hand. It’s for this reason that people often choose to get more minimalist tattoos on their hands.
There are a number of different designs and concepts that can be applied using this approach, from script to simplified designs that are reminiscent of the pen and ink doodles that you might find in the margins of a college note book. These understated tattoos are great examples of what is possible with a minimalist approach.
3. Simple Palm Tattoos
A growing trend in the tattoo world is inking the palm of the hand. This is an interesting place to tattoo for a couple reasons. First off, it hurts. The fingertips and inside of the hands have some of the most nerve endings in the entire body, meaning that you will be acutely aware of every tap of the needle.
The hands also have some of thickest skin on the entire body, besides the heel of your foot. What this means is that the artist will have to make several passes in order to push the ink deep enough to ensure that it won’t fall out.
Despite the challenges that these tattoos present, people still choose to place interesting designs like flowers and guns to Star Wars inspired work, on their palms. These pieces will always turn heads and show off the wearer’s dedication.
4. Simple Script Tattoos
People have been incorporating script into tattoos for decades, in fact some of the first tattoos utilized script for the names of loved ones as well as the now clichéd “Mom” tattoos, and it is no surprise why.
Using script in tattoos is a great way to remove some of the ambiguity regarding significance and cut to the chase: nothing can demonstrate a lover’s dedication more than getting their name permanently inked on your body (although many consider this bad luck).
Script is also a great addition to tattoos thanks to the endless variety of typefaces to choose from. Some people prefer simple, bold letters, while others choose the over the top flourishes and stylized letters of Chicano scripts. Whatever your flavor, there is sure to be a script that fits each person and every design.
5. Bold Black Traditional Hand Tattoos
Some people prefer things a bit darker. For some people even the variation in tones created with gray wash shading are too ornate; black is the only way to go. Thankfully for these folks there are plenty of designs to choose from that translate perfectly into the stark nature of these bold, black tattoos.
Usually associated with color work, American traditional tattoos are actually perfectly suited for black ink pieces. The bold lines and classic designs mean that the plethora of flash that exists in this style ensures that there is a bold, black American traditional tattoo for everyone.
6. Black and Gray Hand Tattoos
For other people who don’t necessarily want vibrant colors jumping off their hands, but bold black designs are just a little too stark for them, black and gray work is a great choice.
Through the use of clean lines and a variation of tones—from fully saturated black to negative space—an artist creates depth, texture and more interesting tattoos. Using only black and gray ink, a talented artist can create stunning tattoos in a wide spectrum of styles and traditions.
As we can see in these pieces, everything from black and gray American traditional designs—like the Viking skeleton and bulldog—to more abstract pieces like that geometric lines and shapes in the fourth piece are all achievable with black and gray ink.
7. Neo Traditional Hand Tattoos
While American traditional work is the original Western tattoo school, neo-traditional picks up the best parts of the style while breaking out of some of the more rigid and confining rules that define American traditional tattooing. The bold lines and vibrant colors of old-school tattoo work are all their, however neo-traditional work allows for a much broader range of colors than the limited palette of American traditional work.
Neo-traditional tattooing also incorporates all kinds of different designs and concepts, from cartoon characters to mandalas, often with a slightly more realistic interpretation of the elements in the tattoo. Neo-traditional work makes for excellent hand tattoos thanks to the bold lines that will stand the test of time and the freedom of design that this style provides.
8. Simple Black Ink Hand Tattoos
Once again, we have some interesting hand tattoos that eschew color—and even shading—to make more striking designs. Simplified designs can use black ink to create some interesting effects, perhaps one of the best being the ability to produce silhouettes. This effect is achieved by creating a detailed outline that contains all of the elements required to understand the image, and then filling the outline with fully saturated black ink. These effects create an image that gives the impression of being backlit by a single light source and can make for some dramatic tattoos, especially on the hands.
9. Nautical Themed Simple Hand Tattoos
As we have learned, the modern Western practice of tattooing was brought back from the South Pacific when European sailors saw the incredible tattoos of the native islanders in the region. These simple designs introduced the Western world to the art of tattooing.
We already know the swallow was a marker for time at sea, but what about other designs? All the different tools and fixtures aboard ships were common elements in these tattoos. A single anchor signified that a sailor had crossed the Atlantic, while a compass rose was a good luck charm ensuring he would make it home.
While the significance of many of these naval tattoos has faded, their classic style and history in the tattoo world ensure people will continue to get them inked on their bodies for years to come.
10. Simple Rose Tattoos
Perhaps the single most common design element in all of Western tattooing, the rose is a beautiful flower with a variety of different meanings. In general, roses are usually associated with hope, promises and fresh starts, although red roses are usually associated with romantic love, while yellow roses symbolize joy, and sometimes are used as protection against jealous lovers.
Roses are also interesting because they have thorns. When incorporated into a tattoo, a rose with thorns can drastically change the meaning, adding connotations of thoughtlessness, loss and a suspicious nature. These lovely flowers are perfectly suited for hand tattoos thanks to their symmetry and shape.
Looking for more hands on ink inspiration?Check out the links below for more hand tattoo galleries: