If you want a tattoo that’s different from the more typical traditional and neo traditional tattoo styles, one that doesn’t conform to the typical appearance of tattoos and uses colors vividly and more loosely—perhaps a watercolor tattoo design is for you!
Compared to the more tattoo-y look (you know what I’m talking about) that traditional tattoos have, watercolor tattoos have a unique, fluid look, seemingly giving off an impression that the tattoos are merely painted onto the skin using, well—watercolor!
Now, even though the style looks so much more different than any other tattoo style out there, it actually uses the same equipment. They’re created the same way as other tattoo styles and don’t require any sort of other setup. Although, this of course means that the tattoo artist needs a significant level of skill in order to pull the watercolor look off.
If you want to get a watercolor tattoo done, make sure to go to a watercolor tattoo specialist. The techniques employed in this kind of style are much more different than those in tattoos you normally see, so they need a different skillset to pull off.
Obviously, your tattoo artist needs to be familiar with the different looks and techniques associated with actual watercolor painting. This includes knowing things like how watercolor reacts to paper, what happens when different concentrations of water are applied, and how the paint trails off (or rather bleeds off) and blends with other colors. If your tattoo artist knows watercolor well, then they’ll have very little issues emulating it in a tattoo setting.
You can typically recognize that a tattoo is done in watercolor style by the way its colors blend with each other and seemingly bleed off the skin into different directions. Typical techniques employed in watercolor tattoos include bleeding, gradients, splattering, layering, and scumbling. These techniques elevate the appearance of your tattoo and give it a light and fluid look.
In this article, I’ve compiled 30 very interesting watercolor tattoo designs that you can use for you next tattoo session. Each artist’s name and Instagram account is credited so you can check more of their work or message them directly. Enjoy!
What Is a Watercolor Tattoo?
This adorable watercolor tattoo of the genetically engineered fluff ball Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) cleverly uses the black ink to make the design feel like an unfinished sketch which was splattered on with a surprisingly detailed, vivid watercolor job, by Baltazar Paprocki (@baltapaprocki on Instagram).
A watercolor tattoo is a tattoo that’s made to mimic classic watercolor paintings. It uses bright colors and subtle color gradients to create a gradual color fade-out. It’s a great technique that, when executed well, can be paired nicely with other tattoo styles to achieve a more satisfying look.
This piece features an adorable young boy sitting cheerfully on what appears to be an asteroid or the moon, and uses watercolor to color in the boy and to create a multicolor galaxy background, by Javi Wolf (@javiwolfink on Instagram).
What You Need to Know Before Getting a Watercolor Tattoo
This flower tattoo uses hyper realistic watercolor techniques to make the petals pop without the use of an outline. This is then beautifully contrasted by the stem and leaves which take on a more cartoonish (but still elegant) approach, by Javi Wolf (@javiwolfink on Instagram).
When getting a watercolor tattoo, you need to know what feeling you want it to evoke. A lot of watercolor tattoo designs do well to evoke a feeling of cheerfulness and serenity using striking color combinations and gentle gradients.
Javi Wolf once again incorporates realism with artificial elements. This lion is done in half watercolor and half plain geometric lineart. Watercolor is used to simulate the colors of a night sky or galaxy. Whereas one side of the piece is done in rigid, geometric shapes, the other is done more fluidly, masterfully incorporating watercolor techniques such as bleeding and dripping to mimic the effect of a watercolor painting, by Javi Wolf (@javiwolfink on Instagram)
Many designs incorporate the use of organic elements like grass and snow. Scenes with dreamy environments, such as night skies, sunsets, and galaxies also do particularly well since these images are usually elevated by the effect that watercolor brings.
This tattoo juxtaposes the deep, bold black outlines of the dragons mid-flight against vivid multicolor blotches which were intentionally done to recreate the feeling of randomness and beautiful chaos, by Javi Wolf (@javiwolfink on Instagram)
Generally, asking for the help of your tattoo artist is a smart choice so they can help you plan out the look and feel that your tattoo is going to have. The fluidity and randomness involved with watercolor elements usually adds a nice touch and gives your tattoo artist a lot of freedom to personalize your design for you.
This piece utilizes pigment in a very unique way. While most other watercolor tattoo pieces play wildly with watercolor outside of the outlines, this one keeps colors tightly within the outlines, making for a cleaner, more satisfying effect, by Pernilla (@pernillatattoos on Instagram)
Just make sure that your artist knows what they’re doing. Watercolor tattooing is generally very different from traditional tattooing, so it’ll require a different skillset. If they aren’t experienced with watercolor tattoos, you could end up with a really wonky looking piece.
This tattoo avoids the use of bold, black outlines entirely and uses the pigment to recreate an image of this perched blue jay bird in what appears to be a scenic perspective on the treetops, also utilizing watercolor bleeding to create beautiful color gradients, simulating a dreamy, serene effect, by Nicolas Canon (@inkcanon on Instagram)
But you should be able to tell from your artist’s portfolio if they’ve already had prior experience and training with watercolor tattoos.
This design uses a unique style wherein it leans more towards a heavier, bolder bleeding technique, which creates a somewhat psychedelic feel in contrast to the cleaner dragonfly outline in the center, by Nicolas Canon (@inkcanon on Instagram)
If they don’t strictly do or specialize in watercolor tattoos, check if they incorporate some of the techniques employed in watercolor tattooing. If they can play around with color bleeding and gradients, that’s usually a good sign that they can help you out with your design.
By using a galaxy color palette, switching abruptly between warm and cool temperatures, and celestial elements such as planetary bodies and what seems to be a constellation, this piece evokes a dreamy, spiritual feeling, by Nicolas Canon (@inkcanon on Instagram)
In terms of placement, watercolor tattoos can pretty much go anywhere. Although, since watercolor tattoos don’t carry too much of the stigma of traditional tattoos with heavy line art, the light and gentle nature of watercolor tattoos usually mean you can put them somewhere visible without risk of getting any bad looks at work or at a formal event.
The center of this piece uses pigments very cleanly within the confines of the outline, using clean color gradients to simulate shading and highlighting for a photorealistic effect. It also uses some subtle splattering at the edges of the piece to create a dynamic feeling, by Simona Blanar (@simona.blanar on Instagram)
Some people even get watercolor tattoos on their neck, which is usually a sketchy placement since it’s hard to hide, but the light nature of watercolor tattoos helps out. Just make sure you’re comfortable with people seeing your tattoo in a professional or formal setting!
Similar to the first Stitch tattoo, this piece uses black ink to simulate the look of an unfinished pencil sketch while cleverly using the watercolor bleeding technique to lightly color in the elements of focus, by Simona Blanar (@simona.blanar on Instagram)
Though the watercolor technique is less prevalent in this piece, the artist still manages to incorporate it in a way that draws the eyes immediately to the pool of dreamy galaxy fluid, adding some nice contrast to an otherwise monochromatic tattoo, by John D’Addario (@inkporttattoo on Instagram)
This piece features a variety of tattoo techniques, taking influences from Irezumi, neo traditional, and watercolor, then blends them into a cohesive piece, making for a brilliant, vivid tattoo that uses light colors without overdoing anything, by John D’Addario (@inkporttattoo on Instagram)
This piece smartly incorporates the use of watercolor bleeding and splattering techniques along with some unique linework in order to evoke a feeling of movement as Ariel (from Little Mermaid) swims towards the surface, by John D’Addario (@inkporttattoo on Instagram)
This piece, although not obvious because of the prevalence of bold dot work and clean coloring, still uses watercolor techniques which can be recognized immediately by the overlapping of colors, light and dark ink blotches, and the general splotchy appearance of the color, by John D’Addario (@inkporttattoo on Instagram)
This is a piece that charmingly incorporates elements from the Chinese zodiac (recognizable by the dragon, rat, and rabbit, which are 3 of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac) and uses watercolor gradients, blending, and splattering techniques to create a dynamic and smoky effect, by Deborah Genchi (@debrartist on Instagram)
In this piece, the influence of watercolor is somewhat subtle. Compared to the more boldly emphasised elements used in the focus of this piece (the whale, lighthouse, and ocean water), watercolor is used sparingly to create a subtle sunset effect, by Deborah Genchi (@debrartist on Instagram)
Watercolor is used boldly in the foreground on the image of the Earth in order to create a sense of depth, and also in the background in order to create a calming effect through the use of watercolor bleeding and gradients, creating a smoky outline in the background, by Deborah Genchi (@debrartist on Instagram)
This piece of an elephant creates a dynamic effect using strokes of watercolor which seem to mimic ghost movements while only using outlines in the foreground to bring emphasis to the head of the elephant, by Carlos Javier Vidal (@cejo_tattoo on Instagram)
This piece cleverly uses a black diamond-shaped outline in order to confine the image of the tree, then extends outside the outlines anyway, incorporating geometric shapes and a blue watercolor mist, showing us through a window a view of a mystical world, by Bo Trujillo (@boknowstattoos on Instagram)
This piece plays with watercolor blending and splattering techniques to create a galaxy theme while incorporating whimsical elements and geometric shapes for a creative and fun tattoo design, by Bo Trujillo (@boknowstattoos on Instagram)
This Deathly Hallows piece (inspired by the famous Harry Potter series) uses watercolor to simulate a kind of spectral effect outside the silhouette of a deer and a sparkly view of the night sky within, by Bo Trujillo (@boknowstattoos on Instagram)
In this waterbending sigil piece, (inspired by the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated TV series) watercolor is used to mimic the fluidity of water. In this piece, the Sun and Moon Spirits from the show circle around the sigil used by the waterbending tribe, by Jessica M. Cacho (@jmc_tattoos on Instagram)
This is another brilliant piece that uses watercolor to mimic the fluidity and lightness of water. By using watercolor blending and gradient techniques, the artist, Jessica Cacho, creates a photorealistic jellyfish piece as it floats in the ocean, by Jessica M. Cacho (@jmc_tattoos on Instagram)
Watercolor is again used to create a sense of lightness and a feeling of relaxation in this tattoo of a sailboat in open water. Watercolor bleeding and splattering techniques are used to create the surrounding environment, by Jessica M. Cacho (@jmc_tattoos on Instagram)
Some pieces use watercolor in a subtler way than usual. Looking closely, this tattoo inspired by the Pokémon franchise still incorporates watercolor gradients to color in the creatures and uses splattering techniques to complete the piece, by CRISTIAN CARRIÓN (@ink.yeik on Instagram)
Another adorable Pokémon piece, this one also uses the same watercolor gradient techniques for highlighting and shading, while applying some light splattering at the edges of the piece, by CRISTIAN CARRIÓN (@ink.yeik on Instagram)
This piece (inspired by the hit anime series Dragonball) uses gradients to create beautifully transitioning color gradients to create shading, then uses bleeding techniques to create the smoky aura on the left and the pink galaxy scene on the right, by CRISTIAN CARRIÓN (@ink.yeik on Instagram)
The use of watercolor bleeding in this tattoo of a gentle resting bear is done carefully to recreate the flowiness of fur, by Jorell (@thejorell on Instagram)
This adorable piece features a white fennel fox named Carbuncle (from the hit Final Fantasy video game series) and uses watercolor to create the spiraling blue and violet smoke effect, by Jorell (@thejorell on Instagram)
Watercolor tattoos can add a whole new flavor into the mix when it comes to tattooing. You can incorporate it with other styles to spice things up, and there’s a ton of ways for you to personalize it. Generally, it’s created a bunch of new possibilities.
Now, you can use color to express feelings that a monochromatic tattoo could never—just make sure your artist knows what they’re doing!
Did you enjoy those watercolor tattoos or are you looking for more inspiration? Check out the following links to see more designs from talented artists.