Tattoo flash sheets are the quick to ink stencil images that can be readied and applied to make a tattoo quickly. Flash is an essential part of the tattoo industry dating back to the origins of Western tattoo, providing a glimpse into an artist’s style and approach.
What is Tattoo Flash?
In modern times, flash simply refers to designs and images that an artist has hand drawn on a sheet of paper or cardboard, although the origins of the term are a bit more interesting. Like many other elements in the tattoo world, flash is a term that grew out of the rough and tumble world of the secret tattoo shop.
In the days before widespread acceptance, American tattooing was a far more risqué, even clandestine operation, with artists setting up shop in the back rooms of bars and pool halls, usually in the hope that a sailor with cash in his pocket was drunk enough to get one. The itinerant tattooist would carry their tools in a suitcase, and after setting up shop would hang their own tattoo flash sheet on the walls for potential customers to choose a tattoo.
If things got a little rowdy or the police decided to spoil the party, the artist could close shop, pack up their flash designs and kit, and be gone in a flash.
Tattoo flash design remains an important part of the world of tattooing for a couple reasons. Many artists use traditional tattoo flash to decorate the shops where they work: a tattoo parlor doesn’t quite feel complete without sheets of brightly colored flash designs hanging on the walls, or vintage pics stacked in binders and ready for potential customers to peruse.
Which brings us to the main reason for flash.
Sheets of flash were originally used as an artist’s list of potential designs to choose from, and they are still heavily used in American tattooing today. While the popularity of custom tattoos continues to grow, many people still look to vintage or classic tattoo flash design for new art to add to their personal collection.
Some people simply draw inspiration from flash sheets, combining elements from different pieces to create their own, unique tattoos for their artist to execute. Flash art can come in all different sizes, although 11×14 inch sheets are the most common, and these hand drawn images are still an excellent way to see if an artist’s design style fits with your tastes.
In fact, flash art is still one of the best ways for a tattoo artist to market their work.
Is a Flash Tattoo Right for You?
At the end of the day, tattoos are best used as tools for self-expression, so the only opinion that really matters is your own. For some people the idea of seeing someone else with the same tattoo flash ink is enough to physically cringe, while for others a good tattoo design is good design, no matter how many people have that piece of art.
Other people take a combined approach, using flash to find a starting point for a piece, then working with a tattoo artist tweaking it and adding to it until it becomes more unique to them.
Whether used as inspiration for tattoo design or as standalone works of art, there is no denying the appeal of this traditional tattoo style.
Enjoying your introduction to tattoo flash? Click on the links below for fully realized traditional tattoo galleries?
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Vintage Tattoo Flash vs. Contemporary Tattoo Flash Design
When we hear the words tattoo flash or flash sheet, most people think of American traditional tattoo designs like stars, roses or a rudimentary skull. This is simply a representation of an artist and their style.
While these are important designs in the history of tattooing, flash art is not limited to any one style and is unique to each artist: someone that specializes in cartoon characters and vivid colors will most likely have flash in the same style, while an artist that works in the Japanese style will have flash that reflects it.
An Old School Tradition vs. Custom Tattoo Art
As with all things, the tattoo industry is constantly changing with the tastes and sensibilities of new generations, and the development in electric tattooing, needles, and kit. Flash art arose out of a more basic time when people were given few tattoo design options to choose from before they sat in the chair and got down to business.
Today, most modern tattoo artists are willing to spend more time with a client discussing a concept and drawing a one of a kind tattoo specific to the customer. Both approaches have their merits; it really just depends on the individual…and their budget. When creating a custom tattoo – such as a watercolor flower, a new wave butterfly, or irezumi Kitsune– many people don’t take into account the time an artist spends conceptualizing and creating a design. But don’t worry, it will be reflected in the price.
Pieces copied straight from a will always be cheaper than designs or simply because most of the mental work is already done; some artists even keep a separate outline so that they can apply even quicker.
Rapid tattooing that flash provides can sometimes cost as little as $50, although this completely depends on the tattoo shop, size of the piece, and the amount of color in a design. A custom piece of similar size can easily cost upwards of $150 dollars, once again depending on the intricacy of the piece and the artist’s hourly rate.
Another factor that can influence whether someone chooses custom work over tattoo flash art is the fact that artists reuse flash: just because you chose that bad ass dagger piercing a panther’s skull, or the popular cartoon characters from that show you like, it doesn’t mean it comes off the wall when you leave.
When choosing flash—especially old school and American traditional design—there is a real possibility that you are not the only one out there with the same tattoo.
Tattoos have come a long way from sailors on shore leave and the shotgun-shack tattoo shops that catered to them. With many A-list celebrities sporting some sort of ink – some even have their own tattooist on call – and the growing trend among young rappers to jump straight to face tattoos, these days it’s more difficult to name an entertainer that doesn’t have any ink.
Along with the growing popularity of tattoos, the level of technical skill on display by modern tattoo artists has also helped take this medium to the next level. Despite the mind blowing designs that become more common place every day, many people still associate the word “tattoo” with classical, yet generic tattoos of anchors, skulls, and roses hanging on the walls of tattoo shops, or the work of legendary tattoo master Norman ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins.
Not strictly limited to traditional tattooing designs, these hand drawn images are referred to as flash and they are as much a part of modern tattoo studios as they are an essential component of tattoo history.
Tattoo Flash FAQs
1. What is tattoo flash?
Tattoo flash sheets are the quick to ink stencil images that can be readied and applied to make a tattoo quickly.
2. Why is it called flash?
In the days before widespread acceptance artists set up shop in the back rooms of bars and pool halls. They would hang their own tattoo flash sheet on the walls for potential customers to choose. If things got rowdy or the police came, the artist could close shop, pack up their designs and kit, and be gone in a flash.
3. Why choose flash tattoos?
Pieces copied straight from a will always be cheaper than designs or simply because most of the mental work is already done
Flash art is also one of the best ways for a tattoo artist to market their work.