A Guide To Negative Space Tattoos

Monsteria Negative Space Tattoo @_mariahwoodman_

Are you looking for a tattoo design that doesn’t form part of traditional tattoo styles? How about a reverse tattoo? Negative space tattoos, also known as reverse tattoos, are a subtle style of inking that leaves something to the imagination. 

What Are Negative Space Tattoos?

Instead of using ink to create details making up a tattoo, negative space tattoos leave a large part of the design blank, with the main part of the tattoo highlighting the skin.

“…instead of drawing an outline to create a shape, the design is done by using heavy colors to contour an area of skin to create a design. In simpler terms, your skin forms the image, rather than the ink. These types of tattoos are unique because artists have to essentially ink a reverse image,”

Apple Negative Space Tattoo @classylasslilith

Black ink is often used to create the most contrast, so the style often looks like a blackwork design. Think of it this way: A stencil of your design is put on your skin – a rose, a heart, a cross – and the tattooist inks around the design. 

You don’t have to just go for black, though. The negative space of your tattoo can be surrounded by colorful designs. 

Negative Space Tattoo Placement

Deciding where on your body to get your tattoo is an extremely important decision. The placement of your tattoo can have a huge impact on your design and how it heals. 

What to consider when choosing a tattoo placement includes:

Your Job And Personal Life

Do you want to be able to easily hide your tattoo because of your job or family’s view on body art? If so, moving away from the hands, forearms, feet, collarbone, and neck would be a good idea. Tattoo placements that are easy to hide are biceps, thighs, hips, and back. 

Face Negative Space Tattoo @pawelindulski

The Sun

Further to this, do you spend a lot of time in the sun? A tattoo that’s often in the sun can fade quicker than tattoos that are covered up. The sun’s rays can age your tattoo a lot quicker than just time! Another solution to this is to lather on sunscreen whenever your tattoo is on display. Click here for a list of the best sunscreens to prevent your tattoos from fading. 

Plant Negative Space Tattoo @rustsedoy


If your tattoo design is large, you’ve got to be aware of the wrapping effect. A large tattoo on a small area, such as your forearm, will need to wrap around. So, you will have to turn your arm in order to see the whole design. 

When it comes to placement and negative space tattoos, Authority Tattoo points out,

“Since the actual shape of your tattoo will be left blank and colored with your skin, you need to choose a place where your skin doesn’t have many blemishes and scars. It would be better if you choose an area that doesn’t grow much hair, so it doesn’t distort the tattoo’s shape.”

Watercolor Negative Space Tattoo @besttattoostyles2019

However, if you often shave the area where you want your tattoo, hair isn’t something you really need to worry about. While your tattoo is healing, though, it’s best to avoid shaving due to the risk of infection. 

Designs That Can And Can’t Become Negative Space Tattoos

Some tattoo designs work really well as negative space tattoos, while others not so much. A good rule of thumb is to choose a tattoo image with a solid surface area. This makes it simpler for the negative space tattoo to really pop. 

Examples of great designs for negative space tattoos include:

Tribal tattoos feature bold lines that can be reversed so that the lines are your skin. These tattoos have deep significance to many cultures, so do your research before deciding to get a tribal tattoo.

Blackwork tattoos have strong contrast, and, as stated already, bold designs work well as negative space tattoos.

Hand Negative Space Tattoo @mattmatiktattoo

Watercolor tattoos may seem an odd choice for a negative space tattoo, but this style can work really well. Watercolors can highlight the negative space, or overlap the negative space design. 

Designs that don’t work well as negative space tattoos include:

Tattoo designs with a lot of details generally don’t work as negative space tattoos, and realism tattoos, Japanese tattoos, and traditional American tattoos rely heavily on small details or saturated colors to create the designs. 

Negative Space Tattoo Ideas

Staying Within The Lines

Minimalistic Negative Space Tattoo @erez_adato

The negative space of your tattoo can stay within a set colored background. This works well with thin negative space lines or thicker outlines. You could also opt for a simple silhouette as the negative space to create a minimalistic tattoo

Going Outside The Lines

Lemon Negative Space Tattoo @hemlocktattoostudio

You don’t have to stick within a set block of black ink or color for a negative space tattoo. Leaves, for example, can lean out of the background for a more 3D effect. 

Stencil And Dotwork Design

Plant Negative Space Tattoo @lynn.ivarsson

The background of a negative space tattoo doesn’t have to be completely solid and saturated. Dotwork can work well in negative space tattoos, creating an almost stencil and spray paint look.

Design Within A Design

Shark & Flowers Negative Space Tattoo @teddyxtattoo

You don’t have to stick to one image when it comes to negative space tattoos. You can have a main design, and within that negative space you could include additional design elements. Like above, the shark is the main negative space element, but within it are flowers that form to the lines of the shark.  

Negative space tattoos can definitely command attention for what they don’t contain. This style of tattooing can be a great choice for people who want to turn the concept of their tattoo design on its head. 

Choose a design you love, but listen to your tattoo artist! A tattooist who has experience in negative space tattoos will be able to advise you on what will work and won’t work. Of course, one of the keys to any successful tattoo is aftercare – follow the aftercare instructions that your tattoo artist gives you to keep your tattoo looking crisper for longer.

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