Sometimes the simplest designs carry the deepest meanings. The wave, even in its crudest form, has held a powerful place in ancient imagery, a symbol of the natural forces the move and, conversely, challenge us.
For many cultures, the wave is a gentle reminder that you can indeed choose to fight the current and risk being swept away, or trust in the timeless tide to deliver you to where you are destined to go.
For those who dwell near or on the water, the wave is often worn as a protective totem, a message of unity with the elements. Sailors, swimmers, and surfers alike all understand that the tide is much greater than themselves, and respect the forces beyond their control.
The simple wave tattoo is just that: a simple but decisive symbol of one’s acceptance that there are greater forces in the world compelling us, that depending on one’s outlook and approach life can be a constant struggle or smooth sailing. Worn on the wrist, arm, or over the heart, the wave can be a guiding totem even for the modern navigator.
Wave Tattoo Ideas
A nicely etched tattoo for an awkward position just behind the ankle bone. There would have been a high degree of discomfort for this tattoo, but a short application time. It’s a real clean, fresh mix of gray scale shading for the fin and unique wave line work. The small hints of shade at the middle of each wave are a nifty effect.
This wave tattoo has elements of the famous Japanese artist Hokusai, but veers distinctly despite throwing in a background shot of Mount Fuji (the city of Fujisawa is a hugely popular surf spot south of Tokyo where Fuji-san can be seen from the waves on a clear day, as can men in white G strings). The circular pattern is well executed with short, faint lines rather than a traditional circumference, while the waves themselves are solid, if unspectacular.
A similar tattoo to the last but lacking the other’s technical skill, or the important framing circle. The black fill is fine, but the dot work in the waves and sky seems rushed. Putting this side tattoo inside a unique shape and adding shade elements would help clean up the optics tremendously.
Ooh, this tattoo is easy on the eye. The artist has created a small ankle band through the clever use of alternating wave colors and a unique striping effect. It looks clean and crisp in high quality vivid blue ink, well supported by nifty patches of white ink highlight to finish off the detail.
Another fine use of ultra bright blue color well placed into a circular pattern. Again, there’s cool striping to the waves however this time it’s light powder blue contrasting with negative space. The ‘blue caps’ are excellently etched in a two-tone royal and navy and really pop off the subject’s skin. It’s a very solid inner forearm piece that would elicit numerous comments in conversation.
Simple, good flow, no fuss small wave tattoo. The key to this piece being memorable is the white strip between blue wave and black edge. It gives the minimalist color a more professional edge.
Another crack at Hokusai, this one opts to broaden the tattoo image by inking in numerous horizontal lines to fill the wave space. Hokusai’s were vertical. Going in this direction works, the piece is nicely etched and just unique enough not to be a direct lift of the original. Also, the alternating dot work and hatches make for an interesting alt fill against the wild waves.
Another circular wave, another different depiction. This bad boy looks like it’s about to break hard! Love the black and gray curvature in the body of the waves, it flows effectively in multiple directions. The white caps are simple, fine black lines buttressing negative space.
Can’t get much more minimalist than this circular wave. It almost looks like the outline of a surf brand logo. There’s not a lot to it, however the lines look clean and fresh against the skin, leaving plenty of room on the rest of the forearm for future ink possibilities.
These waves get vertical but the circular image is nicely balanced between intricate black and more spare white cap curvature. It’s the type of small tattoo that looks better the longer you take it in.
This is a quality beach scene. The technical expertise contained within the varied dot work and almost braille type line dot combos is of tremendous quality. This is a small tattoo, but the time taken on minutiae would see the price rise north of $500 quickly. The palm tree looks wicked too, giving the piece a slightly different perspective (look, it shouldn’t be able to grow from the right in salt water, but that’s tattooing for you).
A single (literal) dot of color changes this solid but unspectacular wave image into an awesome abstract tattoo. Love it! The scarlet sun melds beautifully with small black dot work to contrast brilliantly with the crashing wave. Throwing a trio of cheeky gulls in is not just fluff either – this addition helps stretch and balance the piece and erases the need for a border shape or outline.
This a fresh tattoo. The hybrid dot work shade mash up creates an excellent alt fill image which allows the simple flow of overlapping waves to stand out in opposition. Again, not an earth shattering full back tattoo but a professional job that executes the small bits perfectly.
There’s cool line work in this tattoo (especially the outer caps), however the scale is off. It seems from the image angle that the tattoo is far too narrow for the style of white caps produced. It looks much more like a scoop or splash than a natural wave.
This is an excellent tattoo. Again, we’re talking simple and (almost) sensible, but the artist uses technical elements flawless to create the finished body art.
This is a funky geometry inspired tattoo incorporating bold black line work and a novel hexagonal shape. The asterisk representing the sun looks cool against the lines and negative space white caps. The thicker black single needle fill gives the small tattoo some much needed depth.
Another small, minimalist tattoo on the ankle. This too is simple technique, but effective with use of curves and straight line helping the waves flow effortlessly. The different sized waves are reminiscent of a mother elephant guiding her child along tail to trunk.
This dot work tattoo is very lightly inked but works well conceptually – if the ink is good quality it should stand up well over time. Rather than plonking Fuji-san behind the wave the tattooist has opted for a couple of pyramid style mountains for a nice change.
A killer abstract wave tattoo etched entirely with fine black needle work. The wave curling up and into a full hand is a well executed piece of creativity, There is opportunity to add shading and/or solid black fill to really bring out strength in the artwork.
This tattoo is about as minimalist as you could hope to find. A large heart in black envelopes a few simple waves, and that’s it.
These waves within another circular border are some of the best etched examples in this article. The artist’s ability to cleanly tattoo unique white caps stands out against flawless technical vertical line work. Having the waves flow up the right side of the image also works from a style and balance perspective.
A funky forearm wave tattoo that opts for a long rectangular border that fits exceptionally well into the space. The waves bend and travel in a pleasing manner, with light gray scale shading added to fatten up the image. Throwing in a couple of weed leaves and the horizontally lined sun gives this tattoo a further offbeat, relaxed feeling.
While scaling in this small foot tattoo is a bit off (those waves are going to break halfway up the mountain) it doesn’t impact the overall style. It’s minimal, and fresh looking line work for the most part with just a few scrolls of shade etched in to give the mountains necessary thickness. Choosing not to join the white caps to the wave body is a good stylistic choice providing individuality.
Japanese line work technique goes way back to before tattoos became a thing during the Samurai era. A tremendous amount of art, block print and tapestries use this style of display. This minimalist tattoo is clean, sharp and clear. The curves in the foreground are quite eye catching despite being simply constructed.
Okay, so maybe this tiny wrist squiggle is the most minimalist wave tattoo you could possibly get. This looks to be two minutes, maybe three minutes work max and wouldn’t cost more than the shop minimum yet on a per minute basis would be quite costly! The artist has applied this with the use of a stencil, there’s no deviation which you’d find if it was etched freehand.
Interesting placement for this pair of triangular tattoos just above the backs of the knees. It’s tremendously crisp artwork conceptualized with precision. The line work cuts clearly in both images, well supported by slight thickness variations amongst the key components of each piece of body art. Having the whitecaps and tree tops break through the border works exceptionally – it wouldn’t do so if the entire work wasn’t so neat and self contained.
This tattoo goes thick and frothy, kind of like the splash of a spilled pint of Guinness. The image has a real book style feel to it as if it’s the image linked to the beginning of a chapter. As with some other tattoos this one could be improved by utilizing a border shape or pattern to off set the darkness and awkward sizing.
Like the use of dot work and a hybrid technique incorporating a hazy fill with almost hash like blobs. It’s an impressive, small tattoo that makes good use of space and shape on the skin.
Another minimalist foot tattoo just below the ankle. The artist has done quite a lot with a little, the single wave line looks sleek and fresh.
This is a cool abstract take on the wave tattoo using a solid mix of heavy gray shading in support of incongruous images. Placing the wave as an image inside the older, box style television works brilliantly to make this tattoo unique and individual. Also dig the palm tree, it detail is tremendous mixing the signature texture of the trunk with the wild, spiky fronds.
A quirky and interesting wave tattoo incorporating a simple geometric premise. There’s not much to it, however making the wave a side of the triangle is a neat touch. Also like the thickness of the line which beefs up the minimalist body art.
Wow, simple wave tattoo goes large and looks fantastic in keeping with the surf’s up way of life. Rather than a small, intimate piece the subject has this single black line waved scrawled large between his shoulder blades. It’s a bad ass tattoo, and definitely one of the most unique this list has to offer. Sometimes, the only constraints in ink ideas is what you place upon yourself.
Yet another circular wave image, but again one inked with great precision. It draws on effective, painstakingly applied dot work for the majority of the art, only broken by black line and neg space wave caps. Also like the artists choice to use soft, larger dots for the supporting circle rather than fine needle line work which would form a solid barrier.
This circular tattoo lacks the execution of other wave body art on the list. There’s technical flaws in the circle itself giving the waves a lack of width and the appearance of a melting ice cream. If the circle can be solidified up to the white caps with thick black line work this could go a long way to salvage the original idea, as the vertical shading looks quite solid.
The simplicity of this trio of wavy lines looks great tattooed on the subject’s inside forearm. It works best in isolation, allowing the waves to flow effectively on the horizontal. The temptation could be to tattoo the areas around it at a later date, but that could be a mistake of scale and space.
In elemental symbolism the triangle point down represents water, which makes it the perfect border pattern for the large, single needle crashing wave. Like the bold thickness of the triangle, which contrasts well with the elegant single line needle application within. Having the wave flow up and out of the triangle’s top side is also an effective style choice.
Usually with a small back tattoo of this type the recommendation would be to contain the wave within a border shape. But, the subject hasn’t got other body art in the area to compete with the beautifully crafted wave, so to a degree that point is moot. It’s well placed in the center, using smartly placed clean lines at different junctures to give it a sense of style and grace. Should the subject wish to utilize more ink on his back there are options to either incorporate it or seal it off. Nice work!
Killer calf tattoo going abstract with the wave idea. The artist has done a beautiful job creating a barrel type effect by priming a large space of circular negative space. The highlight of this piece is it’s textured black shadow approach that shapes the art to look like a combination watercolor and calligraphy style tattoo.
The diamond looks great in this landscape tattoo, primarily because it’s not defined. The artist has shown a great eye being able to incorporate a range of line and dot work patterns to extend to this non-existent barrier. The efficient use of simple double dots brings out the clarity in the surrounding line work that makes up the waves.
This tattoo covers a nasty looking scar, however needs more work to be an effective tattoo. It looks a bit too much of a blob and should be filled with shading.
This is bad ass. Love the technique to incorporate around 100 x’s into an interesting flow.
Simple Wave Tattoo FAQs
What does a wave symbolize?
Waves are often incorporated into larger tattoos as shadow or fill images. Wave tattoos are versatile symbols especially when they’re the prime focus of the body art. Often times wave ink is representative of the ocean, a love of the sea and surf, conservation, or a sense of belonging to coastal villages, towns, and cities.
In a spiritual sense, waves are linked to the idea of motion and the inexorability of tides and time. They never cease travelling, even in motion when seeming completely still. Waves are also a popular symbol for depicting emotions, as they can be shown as calm, cool, fun, in turmoil, or in complete rage.
How much is a wave tattoo?
Wave tattoo pricing can range from the shop minimum of $50-$80 for the smallest designs – two square inches or less – that can be finalised in minutes, to an average price of $200 for an hour for more complex work.
Highly skilled, in demand artists can charge up to $500 per hour, while apprentices and less skilled artists cost as little as $75 per hour.
You’ll find technical tattoos involving dot work or geometric patterns are more time consuming and therefore more expensive. Make sure you consult with your artist and/or studio should you have pricing questions before sitting in the tattoo chair.
Also, don’t forget to tip! A 15% tip is the average, but 20% for quality work is usually recommended.