Although Dr. Woo, amongst other famous tattoo artists, introduced the fine line tattoos to the general public through his work on celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, this style dates way back.
Not surprisingly, this minimalist style is often popular with people who want something simple and unique in their body art collection. They are stylish, versatile, and perfect for all skin tones.
Let’s break it down!
Fine-line tattoos, what are they?
Fine-line is an illustrative tattooing technique where variations of line thicknesses bring depth and movement to a tattoo. To do this, this style uses the smallest needles to create simple and elegant designs. Fine line therefore literally means “thin line,” but sometimes a combination of thin and thick lines is used. All of this creates a beautiful contrast.
Unlike regular tattoos (e.g. traditional tattoos), fine line tattoos are usually very delicate designs that can be applied anywhere on the body. So if you are looking for some unique ink with fine line work and minimalist, nature-based subjects, this style might be perfect for you!
Penitentiary tattoos: Fine-line's true roots
Although the fine-line tattoos have been around for centuries, the style itself developped not that long ago. You might think dr. Woo or Bang Bang are the two tattoo artists that invented this style, but no. They’re simply artists that adopted an already existing tattoo style and popularized it! However, we think it’d be nice to give credits to Charlie Cartwright.
The godfather of the fine-line tattoos
Charlie started tattooing at just 15 years old in the back of his car. As he was unfamiliar with stencils and tattoo machines, Cartwright took interest into mastering hand-poking and therefore free-handed everything! This ensured that everyone got a custom piece of body art. This all started back in 1955.
Around age 20’s/early 30’s Charlie met Jimbo Laporte, the co-owner of West Coast Tattoos. After Charlie’s long search for someone to teach him the mysteries of the tattoo profession he was thrilled once Jimbo gave him a shot and told him to bring his own skin.
Charlie took his neighbour Tony and together they went to the West Coast Tattoo Parlor in LA. Zeke Owen greeted him and borrowed his set-up. It was Charlie’s first encounter with a ‘real’ tattoo machine and color-ink!
After Tony’s tattoo was finished, Zeke was at a loss for words. The rest is history.
Good Time Charlie's
Once he decided it was his time to move on, he went ahead and opened up his own shop in east LA: Good Time Charlie’s.
Together with Jack Rudy, they gathered other artists and created the first professional tattoo parlor with their focusbeing: penitentiary tattoos. Today known as one of the traditional tattoo styles: Chicano tattoos. This style took the usual 3 – 6 needles and reduced them down to one, single-needle.
Various tattoo artists went to Charlie’s to observe and learn. Bit by bit, people took notice to the style and it grew into the fine-line tattoos we know today.
Fine-line tattoos nowadays
Although many will argue that a fine-line tattoo can be created by using multiple tiny needles, technically fine-line = single needle. But we know the tattoo world is constantly evolving and reinventing styles.
By now, lots of artists use a combination of small needles & a single needle in order to create bold contrast! So although fine-line tattoos tend to be delicate you can still get a bold statement across!
Fine-line designs & some ideas
Tattoos in the fine-line style are often said to be minimalistic tattoos thanks to their delicate nature. Almost any subject can therefore be done in this style such as names, animals, flowers and even organs.
Part of the appeal of small fine-line tattoos is the combination of very fine lines and the right artist. It makes for a subtle tattoo that are ”quickly” inked and easy to hide. More on finding the right artist for your fine-line project, further down.
Also interesting: Fine-line tattoos are not always small, nor are they always just black and gray.
One line tattoos
If you are looking for delicate tattoos, go for a design that is made up from a single continuous line. Different subjects can be done with a single line. Most go for face or flower subjects, but text would be the perfect project for this style as well!
Bit more detail?
If you want something subtle with a bit more detail, you’re in luck! Micro tattoos are the perfect option for you. There’s two types of micro tattoos. Micro-realistic tattoos and simply a tiny version of a subject (e.g. a heart).
Microrealism is for those that want to fit detail in tiny tattoos. Those can be also inked in color, it’s just a matter of preference. If you want a realistic bee, portrait of your pet or a flower, but keep it simple and lighter than the usual realistic tattoos, go for micro!
More fine-line tattoo ideas
Are you a bit spiritual? Angel themed tattoos look epic in the fine-line tattoo genre!
Or, if you are really into lines, a mandala or other geometrical tattoos can be also achieved in this ink style.
Some people even get sentimental jewelry tattooed on them!
Inspiration from celebreties?
Katy Perry has some fine-line tattoos herself! Click here to learn about her tattoos.
Hailey Bieber also has some fine-line ink style on her hands!
Angelina Jolie’s body art is also very inspiring! Get inspired here.
Since fine-line tattoos are a bit harder to master than other tattoo styles, choosing the right artist for you is essential! Especially if you don’t want to pay a huge amount of money for it to turn out like, pardon my french, shit.
In today’s time, with social media and all that, looks can be decieving. Since instagram makes it so easy to ‘catfish’, be sure to look out for any red flags like filters, scratchy lines, inconsistent shading,…
Some tattoo artists use filters just for the aesthetic of it all which is perfectly fine, so look around for some healed pictures. A tattoo artist might include them on their feed or have a whole highlight dedicated for healed photos of their work.
As Big Steve said, people like to generalize the feeling of getting a tattoo with pain levels, but it all depends. Quoting Steve, some people are a little bit tougher than others. It’s simply a fact!
They’re not necessarily less or more painful, you just have to know your own pain tolerance. Some say a fine-line tattoo hurts less than other tattoos, others say they hurt more.
From my personal experience, I say: they hurt the same, it is just a different type of hurt. It’s more tolerable.
A lot of people say that a fine line tattoo is super easy to heal. That might be because there are less largly covered areas with packed ink, like there are with other tattoo styles (e.g. blackwork), and therefore the scabbing and peeling is less visible.
In reality, while the tattoo itself might be ‘healed’ a bit quicker, just like with other tattoos, it will still take months for the skin to completely recover. The body’s immune system has been weakened after all.
Just follow the proper aftercare instructions your artist gave you, and your ink should heal fine. Must you have any issues, touch ups are always an option! The first one should be free.
The difference between fine line tattoos and single needle tattoos lies in the amount of needles used. As the name “single needle” suggests: in single needle tattoos, artists use only one needle.
The fine line tattoo style may use multiple needles where the artist uses the combination of thick and thin lines to bring depth and movement to the tattoo.
Whether the tattoo fades a little or a lot depends on the aftercare and the quality of the placement of the tattoo. It’s worth to mention that a fine-line tattoo, or any tattoo for that matter, will fade much faster if it were on a finger or neck – rather than e.g. on your wrist.
You should also protect a new tattoo from sun exposure by covering it. Once the tattoo is fully healed, you should always apply a good sunscreen so you can avoid the uv rays, just like for the rest of your skin.