If you’re looking for truly bold tattoos for men, blackwork tattoos are some of the loudest body art statements around. Some of the simplest ways to tattoo, blackwork has been around for centuries, especially in Indigenous cultures like Hawaii or Samoa. These days, the art style has expanded tremendously to include almost any style or design you can think of. If you came here because you’re a fan of black and grey style tattoos, you should know that blackwork tattoos are NOT black and grey.
Unique from any other tattooing style, there are no lighter pigments involved in blackwork at all. You’ve only got one color option, and you can probably guess what that is. There are plenty of awesome options out there, so here are some eminent blackwork tattoo ideas to be your muses before you sit down in the chair.
Traditional Blackwork Tattoo
Norman Collins (a.k.a. Sailor Jerry) is credited with creating the ‘traditional’ style by combining tattoos from Japan with his own American style. Traditional blackwork tattoos are known for strong linework and sharp contrast. Some of the most popular traditional blackwork tattoos are snakes, roses, daggers, skulls, and clipper ships.
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Blackwork Tattoo Flash
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, all those little pictures hanging in tattoo shops are called flash. They’re meant for anyone undecided on an image; you browse, pick something you like, and either get that picture inked or something similar. Most flash is simple, and even if it isn’t blackwork tattoo flash, it’s probably easy enough to convert into blackwork. Just talk it out with your artist and see what they can do for you.
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Blackwork Flower Tattoo
Blackwork flower tattoos can be absolutely stunning, or a jumbled mess. The more complicated a blackwork tattoo idea is, the easier it is for it to become confusing. If you’re going bigger, the layout becomes even more important, so make sure you find a great artist. In the right hands, you will have blackwork flowers guaranteed to get attention.
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Geometric Blackwork Tattoo
Geometric blackwork tattoos can be some of the most beautiful, mesmerizing pieces of art in the world. When done well any geometric tattoo can have a calming and hypnotizing effect, even tattoo skeptics won’t be able to look away. Make sure to do your research into some local artists before you book an appointment, these tattoos are intricate and require a lot of expertise.
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Small Blackwork Tattoo
It’s your first tattoo and you want to start small and concealable, but still want your body art to stand strong, you say? Well, small blackwork tattoos are the ideal tattoos for the stylish but reserved. They’re low risk (unless you get them on your face), but still allow you the freedom and expression of having a tattoo.
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Blackwork Rose Tattoo
A subgenre of the blackwork flower, blackwork rose tattoos might be the most stunning of the style. Roses have been the most popular flower tattoo since ‘traditional style tattooing become popularized, and their appeal only strengthens in blackwork. If you want blackwork flower tattoos and don’t have a species in mind, get tried-and-true blackwork rose tattoos.
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Minimalist Blackwork Tattoo
There’s something about minimalist blackwork tattoos that really jumps out at people, and it’s a great place to start for someone who doesn’t want to sit for a long session. Less solid black lining and shading, equals less pain, less time, and less money spent, so if you have any of those concerns this might be the style for you. Whether you want to go big or small, you won’t need color to rock this intriguing linework.
@minuitdix_tattoo / Instagram
Japanese Blackwork Tattoo
It’s hard not to find Japanese tattoos beautiful, so there is little wrong with accompanying this style with some solid blackwork. Tattooing in Japan dates back hundreds of years, starting with the Japanese Ainu tribes. Adaptable to any size, these tattoos can fit wherever you desire to get one done.
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Illustrative Blackwork Tattoo
Illustrative blackwork tattoos can go as big and as far as the artist’s imagination can take them. It pulls a little from realism and a little from traditional styles to create something that looks like it was ripped from the page of an art book.
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Chaotic Blackwork Tattoo
Coined by artist Frank Carrilho, chaotic blackwork tattoos are highly detailed body art that less skilled artists would struggle to pull off. It takes a master to create the gradients and effects with only black ink, but all the effort is surely worth it when the end result is a such a magnificent piece.
@tattoosnob / Instagram
Heavy Blackwork Tattoo
Heavy blackwork tattoos are characterized by, you guessed it, large swathes of dramatic black ink nearly covering whole body parts, often with patterns in the negative space. A good heavy blackwork artist will provide a full, vibrant saturation that never becomes blotchy.
@piercer_mike / Instagram
Blackwork Wolf Tattoo
Blackwork wolf tattoos are some of the most hardcore pieces any man can get. Wolves are already timeless and powerful imagery, also available in many different styles (traditional, realistic, illustrative blackwork) you’ll be able to find the perfect one for you.
@vitali.tattoos / Instagram
Blackwork Skull Tattoo
A staple of the western tattoo world, you really can’t go wrong with blackwork skull tattoos. Blackwork tattooists work their magic to create incredible skull tattoos that can be as realistic or cartoony as their skills allow, so there is plenty of room for jaw-dropping skull-based ink.
@judilda / Instagram
Ornamental Blackwork Tattoo
Ornamental blackwork tattoos might look eerily similar to tribal, geometric, or Celtic patterns to the untrained eye, but there is a difference. To accomplish a true ornamental tattoo, it should give a carved effect, like your tattoo is made of wood or stone. Not an easy feat, be ready for multiple sessions.
@mike.vortex / Instagram
Spanish Blackwork Tattoo
Spanish blackwork tattoos often cover entire limbs and are similar to ornamental blackwork tattoos in a few ways. Both are similar to other tattooing styles, and both are made to emulate a canvas other than skin. If you want it to look like you have a beautiful piece of geometric or floral-patterned black fabric covering your arm, these are the blackwork tattoos for you.
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Calligraphic Blackwork Tattoo
Even though calligraphic blackwork tattoos can be some of the most minimalist pieces around, they’re just as beautiful as any other blackwork. Get any meaningful words punched into your skin in that bright darkness and prepare for people to be reading your body wherever that beautiful lettering shows.
@rjkadam_unofficial / Instagram
Tribal Blackwork Tattoo
It’s almost guaranteed that at least 90% of people who’ve seen a tattoo know about tribal tattoos. All the rage in the ’90s, certain tribal styles (looking at you, tribal armbands) became tattoo cliches by the mid-late 2000s. Ridicule has settled down and the public is realizing that tribal can be much more than the same jagged bands we saw for years.
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One of the most attention-grabbing and divisive styles of blackwork is blackout tattoos. These are exactly what they sound like, entire limbs inked in darkness. No patterns, no pictures, only pure and dominant black; they have also become a new way to cover up old, unwanted, or poorly done tattoos. Investing in a good artist is ideal for this specific style, if done poorly you can be left with uneven patches instead of a solid block.
@hoode215 / Instagram
Blackwork Tattoo Sleeve
A blackwork tattoo sleeve can be a huge statement. That advice about finding a good artist gets more important the bigger your tattoo gets. With a smart layout, the right artist, and many hours at the shop, you can have one top-notch piece of ink.
@akb_future / Instagram
Blackwork Bodysuit Tattoo
Blackwork bodysuit tattoos are absolutely not for the faint of heart. One of the biggest considerations in a piece like this is the large areas of heavy saturation. Meaning, a lot of time and depending on the client’s tolerance, a lot of pain. A master tattooist is a must for this, but if you’re thinking about a bodysuit then chances are you already know that.
@black_outers / Instagram
Blackwork Back Tattoo
One of the largest canvases on our bodies, the possibilities for blackwork back tattoos are endless. Pick a style we’ve gone over and go big because you know you’ll want it to be as badass as possible. Illustrative blackwork, heavy blackwork, and chaotic blackwork are some of the best-suited styles for a back piece.
@fureytalestudios / Instagram
Blackwork Forearm Tattoo
For the man who wants their blackwork arm piece seen but doesn’t want a full sleeve, blackwork forearm tattoos are the best option. Blackwork tattoos can make a serious impression, and getting a tattoo means getting one for life, might as well show it off.
@bastiantattooer / Instagram
Blackwork Shoulder Tattoo
One of the most masculine spots for blackwork is the shoulder. A good artist can easily create tribal, geometric, or any other type of patterned tattoos to fit the area. If you aren’t keen on patterns, blackwork skulls are something to consider.
@thinktanktattoo / Instagram
Blackwork Leg Tattoo
Blackwork leg tattoos are a great opportunity to get another big, beautiful piece of blackwork inked. Think arm sleeve on a larger scale. With a canvas that size, you can work with your artist to come up with something really incredible.
@paolo_old / Instagram
Blackwork Chest Tattoo
Finally, the last great location for blackwork is the chest. Blackwork chest tattoos are some of the most flaunted pieces out there. If you want to cover your blackwork at the office but are keen on busting it out on beach days, blackwork chest tattoos come highly recommended.
@birthday_party_tattoo / Instagram
Blackwork Tattoo FAQ:
What is a blackwork tattoo?
The blackwork tattoo style emphasizes bold artwork using only a single color (black), often incorporated with shading to create depth in a piece. Thin, thick, wavy, or straight the actual tattoo can be anything you or your tattoo artist desires.
What are the origins of blackwork tattoos?
Black and black tattoos are often associated with mourning; however, in the advent of tattoos becoming increasingly popular and accepted in mainstream society, blackwork has come to represent anything the wearer wants.
How long does a blackwork tattoo take?
The length of any tattoo session depends on the intricacy and detail of that given piece. Single outline tattoos will take less time than a larger shaded tattoo. The length of the session might also depend on the placement of the tattoo; remember, it’s important to think of your pain tolerance. Tattoos will take longer depending on the skill level of your artist as well; expect newer or apprentice tattoo artists to take the longest.