Picking the perfect font for tattoo designs is a trial even for experienced tattoo artists. There are thousands of Tattoo Fonts out there, each with their own quirks, charms, and personalities. This seemingly endless amount of variety can be overwhelming for someone lacking experience in the graphic design department. The pressure of finding something perfect for that permanent design is real! Thankfully, just a little research and craftiness is enough to overcome this knowledge barrier. We’ve scoured the four corners of the earth to get together this all-inclusive article on tattoo fonts!
In today’s article, we’ll be going over the major categories of fonts, the different types of scripts and their personalities, fonts in different languages, and then round it off with a list of the best fonts out there. If you need to know anything about the typography, design, or character behind tattoo fonts, look no further! We also have more in-depth articles for some of these topics, so feel free to follow the links through or browse Inked World if you need to know more!
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Calligraphy Tattoo Fonts
It is possible to use just any font or set of fonts for a tattoo to get a desirable result. Many artists will have a set amount of scripts that they use—fonts which they find cover all the bases as far as design work goes. However, I would advise against this kind of approach. Let’s compare it to getting a suit. You can easily purchase a suit from any number of stores in set styles. You will look good in it, and it gets the job done. The problem lies in how this suit fits. When you are relaxed, the shoulders might be too high. The waist might be too large—or perhaps too skinny!
The length of the coat might be too long and not match the vest, resulting in an awkward appearance. The pants might be too short, revealing your beautiful dress socks. It’s all passable, but not ideal. When you truly want a suit that suites you, you need to go to the tailor. The tailor knows the ins and outs of fitting and can transform a suit into a second skin. Similarly, when you want a tattoo, you can technically get any font to do the job—but you will want a designer versed in calligraphy to pick something that fits you perfectly if you want the ideal outcome.
Oldest Art Form
Calligraphy is one of the oldest forms of art. Being able to relay information successfully between different people meant that words needed to be neat and uniform. Transforming these uniform words into something unique but still recognizable is a challenge that was championed by monks, legal workers, and historians across the world in ancient times. Many of the scripts that we know and love today were created by these people, who were required to write dozens of pages each day and needed some way to entertain themselves.
The word ‘font’ itself stems from the fountain pen—it is literally a script written with ink. It became popularized when type foundries started to make machines for the printing of pre-made fonts. There are techniques to decorate stereotypical text to make it stand out from the rest of the words. There are ways to conserve ink and save money—something which translates directly to the world of tattooing and reduces the time and pain during the tattooing process. And, lastly, calligraphy is a means of getting lifeless words character and personality. For tattooing, that is the most important part of a tattoo font!
Serif VS Sans-serif
Serifs are the feet at the edge of letters. Since letters were handwritten by calligraphers, it was crucial that their scripts were uniform. By using serifs, any errors or variations at the ends of text could be hidden with serifs. As long as the writer had a steady hand and knew how to draw a straight line, serifs were easy to make. Calligraphy pens have a flat tip, so many serifs simply match the natural flow of the pen.
Sans-serif fonts drop those little feet. These fonts typically look flat or sleek compared to their predecessors. They also use less ink, making it ideal for many printers. When they were first introduced, they were referred to as grotesque—an unwelcome diversion from longstanding tradition. Oddly enough, these grotesque letters became associated with ancient Greece and Rome, where similar font variations could be found. With the introduction of machinery, serifs are not needed to maintain uniformity, and have grown in prevalence.
Printers are very wary of using sans-serif fonts. There have been many studies that point towards serif fonts being easier to read and learn…although later studies can show the opposite. If there is a significant difference in legibility, it appears to be due to tradition. When you approach your artist about tattoo fonts, it is likely that they will prefer serif fonts for this very reason.
Simple Tattoo Fonts
Many traditional designers will tell you that there are only five major categories of fonts: Geometric, Traditional, Humanist, Modern, and Slab Serif (see “History of Western TypeFaces” Infographic). Before the Internet Age, these covered all of the bases. Now that getting new fonts is as easy as a Google search and a download, there are many more categories of fonts. They can be easily divided into the completely different categories of: Script, Serif, Sans-Serif, Fixed-Width, and Non-traditional. There are many fonts that cross into other categories, but in the end this is the best way to categorize fonts.
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Tattoo artists will use simple tattoo fonts that represent these categories. Script will be cursive, in whatever handwriting your artist has. Sometimes they add little loops to it to make it fancy. Serif will be Times New Roman or Old English, Sans-serif will most likely be Helvetica, Fixed-Width will be Courier, and most artists will normally have Graffiti letters memorized as a Non-traditional font to use. These are the most simple tattoo fonts. We’ll be going over the most common subcategories of these fonts.
Script Tattoo Fonts
Script fonts are the classic curvy letters that often adorn Hallmark cards or Valentines merchandise. The lines of the letters can get very thin—thinner than any other type of font in this article. But they can also be thick, as if they were written with a heavy marker. Scripts were originally meant for writing quickly and legibly. Print is more legible, of course, but simply wasn’t fast enough. In modern times, there are written scripts that forgo letters entirely to speed up the writing process.
Typing is faster than writing for many people as well, so the need for script fonts is basically null. Well, except when it comes to design! Even uniform fonts created by a computer or printer will have a handwritten charm. Scripts are associated with love letters, scholastic pursuits, and adventure. Since handwritten words have a more personal feel to them, script fonts should be used on intimate tattoos that deal with love or emotion.
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Gothic Tattoo Fonts
These fonts, which are sometimes referred to as Blackletter script or Textura, have a medieval flair to them. When learning calligraphy, gothic scripts are often the first letters that get memorized. They are fairly legible, but also fairly decorated. Almost every line is thick, and there are several extra lines and accents that make the letters look beautiful. Capitals are characteristically boxy and large, while lowercase letters are as skinny as possible and meant to conserve space.
Despite appearing to use a large amount of ink, Gothic script was created to prevent a shortage of writing resources. When non-religious books became a requirement for the growing number of scholars in 12th century Europe, this script was used to quickly and efficiently write. It was especially popular in Germany. Gothic fonts should be used for tattoos that need a scholarly or magical air. They are associated with religion, wisdom, and magic.
Despite the weird name, it’s easy to recognize an insular font—they look exactly like the script of the One Ring in Lord of the Rings! Closely related to Celtic and Gaelic scripts, insular fonts were originally developed for creating copies of religious books. As missionaries from Ireland traveled Europe and founded monasteries, they brought their text with them. Just as unique languages and cultures develop over distances, writing styles can also change. While Germany went with their Blackletter scripts, Ireland ended up with insular fonts! It was influenced by stylized versions of Greek letters as well as traditional Latin script that we know the Romans for.
More than any other font, insular fonts are associated with magic and intrigue. They tell a story, and are suited for tattoos that need a long passage of text. This can include fairy tales, quotes, or religious allegories. Since insular fonts take quite a bit of precise ink work, I recommend looking into tattoo lotion to help with your aftercare process.
Typewriter Tattoo Fonts
Like script fonts, typewriter fonts were once a necessity but now an aesthetic choice. Before typewriters were invented, people had to rely on a printing press to create manuscripts that looked uniform. These fonts all have a fixed width. While printing presses had many of the same functions of a typewriter, they were bulky, expensive, and simply inaccessible to the typical writer or business owner. Typewriters filled in that crucial niche, becoming a household necessity for anyone in the business or art world. Editors fell in love with them and required any writers to submit manuscripts with these new inventions—finally, there was no need for them to decode the scribbles of writers!
Personal computers gradually replaced the need for typewriters, much to the dismay of traditional writers and editors. They were the last to relinquish the use of the typewriter, and for that reason, typewriter fonts are associated with poetry, prose, and expression. Poetic quotes, inspirational messages, or long passages are good as typewriter tattoo fonts.
Grunge Tattoo Fonts
There are many serif font styles that imitate the old western style of printing. In the wilds of America, most printed words appeared in the form of advertisements. It was difficult getting newspapers or printing machines out there, after all. These advertisements would often be cheaply produced, so there would be ink spatters all over the paper. The letters themselves were quite decorated, so the end result was an advertisement that looked like it had been painted by hand. It was quite impressive, and even now, we still use Western fonts and Grunge fonts to give tattoos that rustic feel.
Pixel Tattoo Fonts
Pixel or bitmap fonts were created for the first computers. They displayed letters as clearly as possible using the smallest amount of pixels—which are the dots that make up this screen. Old computer screens were tiny compared to what we have today, and even a graphical display made up of just letters took up quite a chunk of the processor. As technology improved, vector fonts were created as a smoother way of displaying text—but pixel art remained crucial in the world of video games. Because art and music took up tons of space in video games, everything had to be made efficient and compressed. Pixel art tattoos are rare since there’s absolutely no need to compress a tattoo. They are well suited to nostalgic video game tattoos, though.
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Unique Tattoo Fonts
Non-traditional tattoo fonts make up the bulk of the remaining tattoo fonts. Every artist has their own unique fonts that they use to create tattoos. They will be capable of all of the above, but they might see that there is local demand for a different type of font and memorize it. In example, maybe your artist frequently does creepy tattoos, so they’ve learned a script that looks like the letters are bleeding. Maybe they’ve done a lot of toony tattoos, so they’ve memorized a bunch of bubble letters, along with the technique to shade them.
When you want a unique tattoo font, it’s best to ask your artist about which ones they already know. They should have examples in their portfolio for you to look at. If you don’t see anything you like, you can bring in some pictures of the type of lettering you want. Usually, the artist will be able to do a similar font.
Chinese and Japanese Tattoo Fonts
Chinese calligraphy is one of the oldest writing styles that are still used today. In the beginning, the written language consisted of religious pictographs that ended up being used by government officials and standardized. Each character fits in a small square so that characters are always aligned in a grid form on the page. The text is written from top to bottom, then right to left. When ink and brush became more accessible than inscriptions, the written language gained the form it has today. The sweeping strokes and pronounced symbols resemble a painting, and clever designers can even create a scene inspired by the shape of the pictogram. In Chinese, the entire language is made up of pictograms, while Japanese uses multiple alphabets and has named these pictograms Kanji.
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There is an infinite number of words, but only a limited amount of written pictograms to use. To compensate for this, both languages attach multiple meanings and pronunciations to them. In example, the 日 kanji is usually pronounced ‘ni.’ It represents the sun. However, when you combine it with the kanji for origin, ‘hon,’ it creates Nihon, or Japan. Its literal translation is the Land of the Rising Sun, so now you know where it gets its nickname from! But the 日 kanji can also be pronounced ‘hi,’ and can mean days, sunshine, unlucky events, diary, sunburn, tan, the usual, and so on when it is combined with different kanji. The pronunciation changes with each different combination!
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Checking Your Tattoos
For this reason, you have to triple check your tattoos when you get them. Even when something means ‘strength’ in the little guide book that your tattoo artist might provide, that guide may be completely wrong, or the combination of symbols you choose might have a different meaning. So first, check to make sure that your kanji has the meaning you actually want. Second, if you are combining them, ask someone who knows the language if your combination makes sense, has a separate meaning, and is written correctly.
Third, make sure your artist draws it perfectly. Every little dot changes the meaning of kanji, so if they forget something or put a dot in the wrong place, your tattoo could gain a totally different meaning. If you are getting a Chinese or Japanese tattoo, play it safe—unless you’re okay with seeing your tattoo on one of those ‘horrible tattoo translation’ sites.
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Islamic Tattoo Fonts
In the Middle East, calligraphy has huge ties to religion. Since traditionalists still perceive sculptures and paintings as a form of idolatry, calligraphy is the only art form that has been permitted to thrive in the area. As a result, Islamic calligraphy is absolutely stunning and has become an integral part of many cultures. Islamic calligraphy can use a multitude of languages, but Arabic is the most common.
The process of becoming a calligrapher is similar to the process of becoming a tattoo artist. An apprentice chooses a teacher and imitates their style until the writing is perfect. In modern times, this isn’t necessary, and there are degrees and classes that can teach people how to do it. Either way, it takes a lot of work to master.
More About Islamic Calligraphy
Modern Islamic calligraphy is perfectly suited to tattoo designs. They are even more beautiful than English text tattoos, since this type of calligraphy is known for its ability to create shapes out of words and letters. In some families, it is tradition to get a professional design done to celebrate weddings, the birth of a child, coming of age, and more. Families and individuals alike can have their own unique crest. They function as designs that can be used for anything—from logos on paper to tattoo designs!
Nothing special needs to be done when making Islamic tattoo designs besides the regular fact checking. Always have someone versed in the language check to see that it’s spelled and punctuated correctly and doesn’t contain something that could be considered obscene. Of course, no tattoo artist would do that on purpose—but mistakes happen and it’s good to prepare for that.
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Tattoo Fonts for Men & Women
There is no limit to what men and women can get tattooed to their skin, but there is a way to make something more feminine or masculine if you have a particular preference. Masculine tattoo fonts will have hard edges, so serif fonts naturally lend themselves to those sorts of tattoos. The serifs add extra points and lines. If you are looking for something more feminine, then curved fonts or script tattoo fonts are your friend. They give off a warm and loving impression. Ironically enough, most writing in this beautiful and fancy style was done by men! There are no other types of writing that have a particular association with genders. Everyone writes, so it’s silly to feel limited to a certain tattoo font based on your gender.
The Best Tattoo Fonts
Some say pictures are worth a thousand words, but I would say that those people don’t know the true value of words. Words are powerful things, and even individually, they can awe and inspire. It takes a single word to make or break a relationship, communicate love, or drive others to action. For the speed with which they are said, they have some huge advantages over pictures! When you get something inked with a tattoo font, you are immortalizing a word which is dear to you. That word will give you strength for as long as you live!
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