Shoulder tattoo styles feature distinctive designs, shapes, sizes, and application techniques to make outstanding body art.
Shoulder tattoos are popular precisely because they’re versatile in size and offer interesting placement choices.
Animal motifs, Japanese influences, traditional tribal tattoo, and black and gray warrior styles are great men’s tattoo ideas, while for women designs can be traditional, like a butterfly tattoo or rose shoulder tattoo, however increasingly contemporary options like a tiny tattoo or small tattoo are sought after.
All it takes is knowing what tattoo will suit you and look the absolute best down the road. Read on for the photo guide of the top 59 best cool shoulder tattoo designs, and the list of 50+ best tattoo ideas for 2020.
1. Warrior Shoulder Tattoo Ideas
This Spartan tattoo is almost a cover-up; it helps link together disparate elements of his other work with a large black and gray shaded image that pulls the other pieces in.
An enjoyable black work neo classical play on Japanese Irezumi. This is an elaborate piece despite only being in black and grey. The interplay of shapes and expert use of shading really makes this a standout bit of art.
The most popular shoulder ink often incorporates the shoulder itself, the pectoral, bicep, and/or blade in the execution of designs. This creates great variety in pricing options and the time taken to tattoo the shoulder area, but also makes for impressive final options.
The black and gray examples of bad ass warriors above incorporate brilliant shading and detail to create each tattoo design crisply. In some cases, the top shoulder is a transit point for the art as it flows into an arm tattoo or chest tattoo.
2. Women’s Shoulder Tattoos
Image: @dietattoogesellschaft_mondsee via Instagram
Women’s tattoo design is moving on swiftly from the butterfly tattoo or rose shoulder tattoo that dominated in the 1960s and 1970s. While these themes are still implemented often, contemporary women’s body art flourishes in areas such as tiny tattoo or small shoulder tattoo designs, so your humble flower tattoo will now look unbelievably cool instead of dated and stereotypical.
The examples above show variety in placement and ideas, even for a more ‘regular design such as a top flower shoulder tattoo. The smaller shoulder blade tattoo of the bird done in single needle black and gray is an exquisite, delicate piece of body art, while the bright, neo traditional Fairy Tail anime shoulder tat looks awesome in brash, fully saturated color.
3. American Traditional Style
This is the male model style of utilizing traditional north American style motifs. All his works are old school pieces, with muted grays, reds and greens in the color scheme and emphasis on various individual images rather than a cohesive, linked scheme.
This tattoo is a new wave take on the classical American Bald Eagle.
While this effort is a more traditional expression of the recognizable symbol of USA. It’s the type of tattoo readily accompanied by a chopped hog motorcycle, sound system pumping the Boss, and a Harley Davidson bandana.
American traditional style body art flows well in shoulder tattoos, as they can achieve a variety of fills and designs around central ideas or be completely made up by them. Also, major shoulder pieces, such as a bold eagle tattoo or black and gray variation can work well operating along the top shoulder, or down on to the arm or chest.
3. Dragon Shoulder Tattoos
Wow. This is an exciting Chinese Dragon, rendered even more impressive by a unique choice of blue gray ink to create a solid color rather than shading you’d find with normal black or gray pigment. The color is accentuated by the single needle, crisp black lines of the scale and patterning of the dragon’s head.
This is the more traditional full dragon sleeve in the Irezumi style. The plating of scales is done by intense shading in black and gray, with the use of motifs such as cherry blossoms and waves to complement the sinuous serpent.
Shoulder tattoos design ideas can’t get much more hectic than a well-done dragon piece. The sinuous lines of the dragon’s body supported by scales and fangs take a front shoulder tattoo to the next level – the swirls, curls, and curves work brilliantly in stretching up from a simple chest tattoo idea to incorporate the bicep and sleeve, or along from collar to shoulder cap. Other associated images, clouds and wind in the Asian style or more mundane knightly images of European shoulder tattoos achieve brilliant results.
5.The Unique Shoulder Tattoo Idea
The neo classical elements of this piece are nicely drawn, with the font and bannering being well placed to draw the other parts of the image together. While the shading is important the ink is also helped by good use of not tattooing parts of the skin as well.
Trash Polka is developing renown by mixing a small color palette – black and red – with a mishmash of abstract ideas inside the one piece. This tattoo does just that, with the shading of the black being of most interest. It’s like only half the tattoo stencil was transferred in places and worked on by the artist.
An interesting all black take on a new wave tattoo, the piece uses the odd placement to create an arresting bit of work.
These tidy shoulder designs create a range of technical applications, which stretch up from an arm or bicep tattoo, or down from the top of the shoulder.
Biomechanical design melding the human flesh and bone with arcane machinery concepts look great – like the crafted replacement limb on a cyborg. Countering this idea is a cool shoulder tattoo incorporating deft use of paint splashes and watercolor to create an artistic canvas.
My favorite however of these men’s tattoos is the trash polka piece, that work in the shoulder area and chest to depict abstract, newsprint technical etching offset by slashes of text and patterns in red and black ink.
6. Japanese Influenced Shoulder Tattoo Ideas
This not quite finished artwork mixes a few different styles together, mainly fusing Japanese technique in the shade work with the realism of the hourglass. The pink of the blossoms is a deft touch, providing a change in element for the entire tattoo. It will be a unique custom piece when completed.
A Japanese themed shoulder tat is usually easy to spot – they feature tight design elements colored in flat panes with a central image – such as a koi fish, dragon, or flower tattoo – supported by closely linked and technically sharp associated design elements.
These examples show how useful the upper shoulder area is as a fulcrum to extending a piece all the way down the arm in a sleeve tattoo or staying contained to a shoulder cap and upper chest tattoo.
7. Neo Tribal and Geometric Shoulder Tattoos
This body art should have a buffering signal – it’s a major cover up job using flat black ink to replace an older tribal style tattoo. It will eventually cover most of the work, bar the Thai wording and some of the scale work. This type of reclamation project would be quite intense and uncomfortable in the application.
I like how these new school designs take the pattern and color elements of a tribal tattoo and then take it up a notch by applying the technical hallmarks and crafting vivid, over the top sleeves or full arm chest combinations.
Each tattoo artist in these examples has taken a fundamental art of tribal tattooing and then ran with it – either linking in black in and negative space or incorporating cool shoulder pattern from geometric tiling.
Personally, I love the negative space octopus tattoo perched along the shoulder top and stretching back to the shoulder, with the blade tattoo part made up of a mosaic of geometric tiles.
8. Winged Shoulder Tattoos
A confident, capable tattoo artist can craft a great winged shoulder tattoo design. It can be done stretching the feathers unfurled along the top of the shoulder and upper arm, or more traditionally as a wing tucked onto the left shoulder or right, as if they’ve been put away.
9. Tribal Shoulder Tattoo Designs
This is a classic Polynesian tribal piece that was likely done without the use of a tattoo gun, but likely traditional tattooing implements of stick and chisel.
Tribal tattoos are easily identifiable, especially when done well like this artwork. They feature elaborate and intricate blackwork of a crispness that other tattoo techniques really struggle to replicate.
A tribal shoulder tattoo is a big deal – culturally important links to family, tribe, and people, or representative of an important milestone in an individual’s life. These tribal tattoo design ideas show off the range across Polynesian peoples with great choices in Hawaiian, Polynesian Island tattoo, and NZ Ta Moko on display.
Shoulder Tattoo FAQs
How much does a shoulder tattoo cost?
Shoulder tattoo pricing, just like design, is versatile in catering for a range of budgets. A simple shoulder tattoo or shoulder blade tattoo etched in black and gray can be done for as little as $150-$200USD for an experienced tattoo artist.
A good-sized single needle shoulder tattoo, shoulder sleeve tattoo, or a larger piece incorporating the shoulder cap, upper bicep, and chest may cost in the range of $1000USD. A detailed Japanese style or intricate tribal tattoo can run to about $1500USD for 6-8 hours of
As always, at a contemporary tattoo shop the price per hour is key, 150 is standard for an experienced professional, while the best artists charge well north of $250 per hour. Also, be advised that a 15-20% tip is expected for good work across most tattoo shop set ups in the USA.
Do shoulder tattoos hurt?
Outside of the edge of the shoulder blade – if hit wrong with the tattoo needle it can feel like you’ve been nicked right on the bone – men shoulder tattoos lie in the low range of the tattoo pain scale.
The flat part of the shoulder blade is often the site of first tattoo designs, as it’s a simple, reasonably pain free space that can cover or display a tattoo in different situations.
Did you enjoy these shoulder tattoos? Click on the links below for more galleries featuring kick ass first tattoo and new tattoo ideas.