Deciding to get a tattoo is a big deal, regardless of whether it's your first time under the needle or not. But for a tattoo virgin, the stakes are arguably even higher when it comes to picking a design and spot that won't be hated later. Classic wrist tattoo ideas are always a great place to start for inspiration, IMO, although what you choose to ink is entirely your decision.
It's true that some timeless designs can be mistaken as cliché, even though I personally wouldn't consider them to be basic. Roses, doves, and literary text tattoos are pretty common, but no two designs ever have to look exactly the same. Your ideas combined with your tattoo artist's vision will usually result in a unique piece of art, even if you're not the only one with an anchor etched onto your skin. Besides, a tattoo's meaning varies from one person to another. That alone will guarantee your tat to be an original.
The wrist can be the perfect spot for a classic tattoo. Minimalist designs, handwritten script, and just about anything you can imagine make for stunning wrist tattoos. Consider getting one of these 17 classic tats that you can customize into body art that'll stand the test of time.
1. A Bird
While sparrows and swallows are two of the most common bird tattoos to get, any species will make for a classic design. This black and white crane tattoo by Sema Graham (@sema.tattoo) is so striking. If a traditional style isn’t your vibe, you could go the silhouette route, simply because they're dainty and adorable. Either way, this is a clean design that will never feel dated.
2. A Rose
Rose tattoos have been around forever. I've seen them done in so many ways: Realistically, in black-and-white, stemless, in a full bouquet, you name it. But for such a classic image, I've never seen the same design twice, making it a perfect pick for a tattoo in such a visible spot. A rose is also a great option for a cover up tattoo, like this one by New Orleans-based artist Mike Bolerjack (@nolajackartwork on IG).
3. A Quote
You can never go wrong with marking your wrist with an inspirational quote. It'll serve as the perfect daily reminder of something you cherish, and is a great way to get something truly unique to you. If you’re going to get the quote on your wrist, short and sweet is the easiest way to pull it off.
4. A Minimalist Tat
IMO, getting a minimalist tattoo is one of the best ways to go about your first ink job. You can get your feet wet by starting off small, and always add to it later. Plus, minimalist designs can be exquisite despite their simplicity. There are plenty of artists who specialize in this style, like this UK-based tattooer Sophie Traves (@sophietraves).
5. A Heart
A heart is yet another timeless tattoo idea. They can be as simple as a solid black micro heart or as complex as an anatomical version of this universal love symbol. The dot work on this particular heart by @maiatatu is so eye-catching.
6. Literary Text
It doesn't get any more classic than a literary text tattoo. Show your devotion to books by tatting your favorite line from a timeless piece of literature onto your wrist. This Sylvia Plath tattoo is particularly unique because it was done in the author’s handwriting.
7. A Butterfly
Adorable creatures like lady bugs and butterflies are continuously inked for a reason. They're just such beautiful tats, no matter the style. One made entirely of black linework — like this piece by tattoo artist Ansley Lackey (@peachyansley) — will make for a quick and easy inking session.
8. A Portrait Of A Loved One
There's no way you couldn't forever adore a tattoo of a loved one. Paying homage to your pet, family member, or a close friend is a choice you'll hopefully never regret. There are plenty of artists who specialize in super realistic portraiture, or you could leave some interpretation up to the tattooer, like Kez’s (@kerozzart) sketch based off a photo of a client’s kitty.
9. A Dandelion
I've seen them time and time again, but dandelion tattoos still make me smile. Combining the scattered seeds with flying doves makes for an adorable design that doesn't even have to have a deeper meaning. UK-based artist Alex G (@aleksgtattooart) created this lovely black and white version.
10. A Dainty Floral Design
Roses aren't the only classic floral tattoos out there. Your favorite flower in bloom will be the perfect image to brighten your day. The wraparound style of this piece by @troldahl.tattoo is especially pretty.
11. Handwritten Script
Etching a message in a loved one's unique penmanship is a lovely alternative to tatting their portrait. Even their name scrawled in their own handwriting could make for a sentimental tattoo — like this piece done by Brazil-based artist @mallu.ink.
Whether you like arrows for their simplicity or you connect with what they can represent, they're worth considering inking onto your body. This minimalist arrow combines several symbols to make a simple tat with a complex meaning.
13. A Botanical Tat
Along with flowers, any nature-based tattoo can be a feminine and romantic addition to your collection of ink. Olive branches, sprigs of rosemary, and pine trees are stunning examples, as evidenced by this piece from Anna Sica (@arrowheadtattoos).
14. Matching Ink
If your loved ones are down to get some matching ink, I say go for it. It'll be a one-of-a-kind brand that you'll all be proud to wear and a special display of your deep bond. Jerry Wang (@jerrywangart) created this dainty piece for three sisters.
15. A Skull
Thought slightly macabre at first glance, animal bones and skulls can make for beautiful tattoos. Heleena (@heleenatattoos on IG, and owner of Francis Street Tattoo in Leicester, UK) created this rabbit skull as part of a Friday The 13th event, but it’s super cool year round.
16. A Charm Bracelet
Give yourself some permanent arm candy with a tattoo bracelet. Your design can include several layered bands, as well as any charms your heart desires. I love the way this bracelet by Eleanor Rose Boynton (@eleanorrosetattoo) extends on to the client’s hand as well.
17. A World Map
Travel-oriented tattoos like ships, waves, and skylines are seemingly always in demand. You can even show off your wanderlust with a world map outline. Keep it minimal for a straightforward tat or throw in some watercolor splashes for an abstract design filled with vivid hues. As the Hampus Carlsson (@hc.ink) so perfectly put it: “Don't underestimate, small tattoos can mean big things.”
This piece was originally published on August 31, 2016. It was updated on June 25, 2019. Additional reporting by Kara McGrath.
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