Nothing says badass like a well-executed knuckle tattoo. It’s essentially four individual tattoos that combine into a clenched fist for maximum impact.
Popular designs include one eight-letter word or two groups of four-letter words, such as Harry Powell’s LOVE/HATE tattoo in the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter. Even fan favorite WWE wrestler CM Punk has a knuckle tattoo that says DRUG/FREE.
Other popular variations are HARD/CORE and LONE/WOLF. Symbols and images in groups of four (such as the four symbols of a deck of playing cards, representing good luck) are also popular choices. Astrological symbols are very popular as well.
In this article, I’ve compiled 25 of the most badass knuckle tattoos there are on the internet. Each piece’s artist is credited so that you can check out more of their work or choose to message them directly.
Towards the end, I also go through the pros and cons of getting a knuckle tattoo, as well as answer some of the most frequently asked questions concerning them, so keep reading until the end!
Lettering Knuckle Tattoos
In this knuckle set, the words read FREE SOUL, written in a simple sans serif font, by Unknown Artist.
In this piece, the words read HOMESICK, written in a classic Western font style, by matt. (@matthewadam_c.k on Instagram).
In this knuckle set, the owner uses one hand alone instead of two. The words read SOLA FIDE which literally mean “faith alone”, which is a Christian theological doctrine, by MIKE SCHOTEN. (@tattoomikeschoten on Instagram).
In this piece, the person’s hands are all tattooed up. On the upper knuckles, the words STAY TRUE can be seen in a traditional style Western font. Below that is another set of letters written in Norse runes, by Justin Chapman. (@justchaptattoos on Instagram).
In this piece, a simple OVERCOME is written on the man’s upper knuckles. If you believe you’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges in your life, you can adopt a similar theme, by Matt Stanton. (@tatgunmattie on Instagram).
In this one, the words HARD WORK are used in cursive lettering. Only a few people are born geniuses. If you find that hard work has done much more for you than raw talent, you might see the value in this tattoo, by Nick Thanh. (@nick13tattoos on Instagram).
In this piece, the words MOST DOPE are used on the upper knuckles written in a Gothic font. A white stroke is used to further emphasize the lettering, by Inked_Up_Irish _Tattoos. (@inked_up_irish_tattoos on Instagram).
In this one, the owner looks to be sporting a full sleeve. On their upper knuckles are the words LIVE LOUD in a classy Western font. On the lower knuckles are various symbols. Less noticeable are the small dots right by the cuticles, a style that has become a trend in recent years, by Alishia Crum. (@tattoosbyaxc on Instagram).
In this piece, the words PURO VIDA (Spanish for PURE LIFE) are seen on the upper knuckles. These complement the tattoos on the back of this person’s hands, which also adopt a life-related theme, by Marley Griffen. (@inkdazfuk on Instagram).
In simple serif font lettering, this upper knuckle tattoo set uses the words LIVE FREE, a theme perfect for people with a taste for excitement and spontaneity, by Tim Hart. (@zombiehug on Instagram).
In this knuckle set, the owner keeps it simplistic. Only lettering of the word PONY is used without any other elements, which gives it a clean, classy look, by Sarah Elizabeth. (@sarah_elizabeth_tattoos on Instagram).
This knuckle tattoo set reads LOST SOUL, by Luigi Gala. (@luigigala.tattoo on Instagram).
In this piece, the words WIDE OPEN are written in a modified Gothic style font, accented with a thick white stroke, by REV. (@robbie_beasness on Instagram).
If you absolutely LOVE food, you could get a tattoo set with a similar theme. In this one, the words read LIVE FAT DIE YUM and is complemented with some cute food flash tattoos, by Jimbo Cutler. (@jimbo_cutler on Instagram).
In this set, the word CREATION is used. The owner also uses creative nail art lettering to complement
In this one, the words read LOCKDOWN. Very timely if you ask me, by Madlen Art Rock. (@madlenartrock on Instagram).
Illustrative Knuckle Tattoos
If you’re especially fond of your nation of birth, a patriotic tattoo will serve you well. In this piece, a bald eagle with wings spread wide is tattooed on this man’s knuckles, by Emily_Tuff_Tattoos. (@emily.tuff on Instagram).
In this photo, a group of three friends bump fists and show their hand tattoos, by Unkown Artist.
Symbolic Knuckle Tattoos
In this piece, the owner finishes off a full sleeve. On their upper knuckles is the year 1988, presumably their birthday. On their middle finger is the symbol for Pisces (the zodiac sign) and on their ring finger is what seems to be a key symbol, by Connor. (@mastercrae on Instagram).
(ALCHEMIC) In this piece, the word ALCHEMIC is used on the upper knuckles. It is then complemented by a set of alchemical symbols on the lower knuckles. On the person’s right hand are the alchemical symbols for the four elements, and on the left hand is another set of esoteric symbols, by Noeko. (@__noeko__ on Instagram).
If you’ve got a thing for history and philosophy, a great deal of cultures have also used various runes and symbols in their writing that you can use to personalize your knuckle tattoo set, by Michelle Stark. (@tattoosbybambi on Instagram).
Instead of simple lettering, you can also use various symbols to get your message across. In this knuckle set, the person uses symbols like the palm tree, eye, and anchor to achieve a pretty cool aesthetic. Chances are, your artist will have a diverse portfolio of flash tattoos you can use to achieve a similar look. Other than that, lettering of the word HOPE is also used, by Stephen King. (@stephenkingart on Instagram).
In this one, the entirety of this person’s hand is tatted up apart from the palm side. If you’ve committed yourself fully to the visibility of these tattoos, you can start moving up from a simple knuckle tattoo to a full hand tattoo set, by Chris Woodhead. (@adverse.camber on Instagram).
In this piece, the words on the upper knuckles read GIVE TAKE. On the bottom, the four symbols on a card deck are seen next to the four iconic shapes on a PlayStation controller, by Dusty Murphy. (@dustymurphytattoo on Instagram).
In this set, symbols of the four elements (from Avatar, the Last Airbender) are seen along with the triquetra, which is the link between mind, body, and soul, by Koko Loko. (@kokoschut on Instagram).
Knuckle Tattoos: Pros and Cons
Before getting a knuckle tattoo, it’s best if you begin by considering the pros and cons involved. Below, I’ve listed some of the key advantages as well as disadvantages of getting a knuckle tattoo.
- It won’t take long to complete
Unlike chest and back tattoos which often take several sessions to complete (because of their scale and complexity), knuckle tattoos often have pretty small and simple designs. Unless your knuckle tattoo design wraps around your entire finger or has an incredibly intricate design, you won’t have to worry about going back for several sessions.
- It’s easier for the artist to work with
If they’re not exceptionally bony, your knuckles will have a pretty flat surface. This makes it easier for the tattoo artist to work with, which means they’ll finish faster and have an easier time making your tattoo look right.
Obviously, the knuckles won’t provide much space for the artist to move around. But if your design isn’t too complicated and doesn’t include too many elements, the knuckles’ flat surface will prove to be a blessing to both you and your artist.
- It really stands out
The great thing about knuckle tattoos is that they’re extremely visible. This means you won’t have to put in much effort to show off how badass your new tattoo is. If you’re into martial arts, a knuckle tattoo will look awesome during a sparring session. Just ask your opponent since they’ll be seeing a lot of it!
And if you’re the type of person that likes to talk a lot with their hands, then your knuckle tats are sure to get a ton of exposure. Knuckle tattoos are also a great motivator when you’re at the gym pumping iron. You’ll see it a lot as you push through each rep.
It catches a lot of attention so it serves as a great icebreaker as well. Overall, a knuckle tattoo is something people can’t help but see. Of course, I have to stress how important it is to get a knuckle tattoo that describes appropriately the things you value. If it doesn’t, you might just regret getting it at all!
- It lasts forever
Some parts of the body, like the abdomen for example, are very prone to weight change. For this reason, tattoos in those areas can become warped when you don’t maintain your weight. Luckily, the knuckles aren’t affected much (if at all) by weight change. It’s a flat surface that’s made up of mostly bone, so you can rest assured that your knuckle tattoo won’t warp even after experiencing a dramatic weight change.
- It heals easily
If you’re careful with your new knuckle tattoo, healing it won’t be very complicated. Unlike the inside of your fingers, knuckles generally don’t come into contact with too many things. Just make sure you refrain from wearing any rings and take extra care when wearing gloves.
- It’s painful
Obviously, all tattoos hurt. But some body parts hurt worse than others when getting tattooed. The intensity of the pain between body parts varies depending on the amount of fat and muscle they contain (e.g. a bicep tattoo will hurt less than an elbow tattoo), and the knuckles don’t have much of either fat or muscle. For this reason, you can expect it to be more painful than usual.
- Some tattoo artists refuse to do knuckle tattoos…
…until you get more tattooed up—and for a good reason. Some reputable artists won’t do knuckle tattoos unless it’s obvious that you know what you’re getting into. Remember, tattoos are a lifelong commitment.
If you suddenly wake up and realize that it’s not what you want anymore, having it removed will not be easy. This is why some artists treat knuckle tattoos as something that you have to “work up to”, something you earn.
But if you’ve already committed yourself to getting visible tattoos (such as a sleeve), then this might not be a problem. Ultimately, artists do this to protect you from doing something that can have a huge impact on the way people perceive you, both at work and in your social life.
- It’s almost impossible to hide
The best thing about tattoos is that they showcase who you are without you having to say a word. Just by looking at your tattoos, someone can easily understand the things that you value. But the thing is, not everyone is fond of tattoos. And in a professional setting, you’ll most certainly need to hide your tattoo.
Hiding upper arm and chest tattoos is as easy as putting on a shirt, but hiding knuckle tattoos can get a little tricky. If it’s practical enough for you and your work environment, you can opt to wear black nitrile gloves. If you’re in foodservice or retail, black nitrile gloves won’t look too out of place. But if you’re working an office job, maybe you’ll fare better using skin cover up tape.
Ultimately, you have to consider whether the visibility of your knuckle tattoo will be a hindrance to your career or not, and decide accordingly.
Why should you get a knuckle tattoo?
Knuckle tattoos are great for when you want to use various letters, symbols, or images to create a central theme. This user on Reddit has a set of tattoos on their fingers that seem to contrast each other but form a central theme of balance and harmony. If you have your theme figured out, and your circumstances allow you to go with a knuckle tattoo, you’ll find it’s a very satisfying tattoo placement.
How long do knuckle tattoo sessions last?
Since most knuckle tattoos only use simple lettering and flash tattoo symbols, most sessions won’t take more than 3 hours.
Does getting a knuckle tattoo hurt?
Yes, more than other placements. Because of the lack of a protective layer of fat and muscle on your knuckles, the pain can be more intense than if you got one on your forearm or upper arm. For a comprehensive discussion on which body parts hurt most when getting tattooed, check out this article by Healthline on tattoo pain.
Are knuckle tattoos harder to care for?
Sort of. The healing process takes anywhere up to 6 weeks, which is more than double the normal duration of healing (2 to 3 weeks) for a tattoo placed somewhere else. And since hands get washed more often than other body parts, they tend to fade faster, so you’ll probably have to retouch it somewhere along the line. For a comprehensive guide on tattoo aftercare, visit this link.
If you want something flashy and badass, look no further than a knuckle tattoo. They stand out very well and are easily customized. Some of the most iconic characters in pop culture are known for their knuckle tattoos, which perfectly reflect their spirit and values.
Did you enjoy these knuckle tattoo designs or are you looking for something more badass? Check out the following links to see more badass designs from talented artists.