A Guide To Shoulder Tattoos

Cosmic Shoulder Tattoo @conlll

When you think about getting a tattoo, it’s not only the design that matters, it’s also the tattoo placement. Where you choose to get your tattoo depends largely on the tattoo design. If you want something large and intricate, a shoulder tattoo could be the ideal choice. 

Shoulder tattoos have come back in a big way partly because it’s a large canvas to work with. If you like the idea of mini tattoos, the shoulder can still work as a great placement if you are drawn to the look of negative space around a small tattoo. 

Before getting inked on your shoulder, there are a few things you should know. 

“I am enough” Shoulder Tattoo @juliapolczantattoo

The Different Sections Of The Shoulder

While the shoulder is a large area, it’s broken down into sections: There’s the shoulder blade on the back, the top of the shoulder curving down from the neck, and the front of the shoulder with the collarbone. 

The shoulder blade is a large, flat surface to work on, however, if you decide to go further than the blade to the rest of the shoulder, choose a design that still looks good with a wrapping, rounded effect. 

Moon Phase Clavicle Tattoo @amandakoztattoos

Do Shoulder Tattoos Hurt?

All tattoos can be painful – after all, it is a process of a needle breaking the skin multiple times. That being said, there are certain tattoo placements that hurt more than others. Tattoos tend to hurt more in areas that have a lot of nerves and less flesh covering the bone.

“The outer part of your shoulders has thick skin with few nerve endings, making it one of the least painful places to get tattooed. The pain of being tattooed here is usually low to low-moderate,”


However, as you move up towards the neck and down to the collar bone, there will be more pain because of important nerves, and because of less cushioning between the bone and skin.

“The clavicle bone runs along the top of the chest, out to the shoulder – you can feel it if you use your hand to pull your shoulder down. The clavicle is notorious for being a very painful location. The skin is super thin, and there is little fat here to cushion the bone,”

Authority Tattoo

Don’t let the thought of pain stop you – there are ways to deal with it. 

Single Word Shoulder Tattoos @simbar_tattoo

How To Reduce The Pain Of A Shoulder Tattoo

Preparing for a less painful tattoo experience starts way before you walk into the tattoo studio. 

Don’t drink any alcohol before your appointment or take any aspirin-based painkillers. These things thin your blood resulting in more bleeding. 

Up your water intake – hydrated skin is much better to tattoo than dry skin. Inked Mag points out that staying hydrated,

“…will actually allow the skin to accept the ink more easily due to the hydration and allow the tattoo process to happen faster without thinning your blood.”

With your many glasses of water, make sure to eat enough, too. Getting a tattoo actually burns a lot of energy, so it’s important not to go into your appointment with low blood sugar levels. For the meal before your tattoo session, choose foods that are high in vitamin C and protein.

“Vitamin C is also dermatologically proven to aid in wound healing, which will benefit your tattoo and the skin itself in the long term. Vitamin C has exceptional antioxidant qualities, and it can also help in enhancing skin firmness,”


Protein also helps with repairing your body and raises your energy levels. If your tattoo is large and intricate, bring snacks with you – the more detailed your tattoo, the longer your appointment will be and you’ll need to keep your energy levels up. 

Never underestimate the power of a full night’s sleep. When you’re well rested, you’re more easily able to deal with the pain of the tattooing process. 

Flower Shoulder Tattoo @ankh.artist

Pros Of Shoulder Tattoos

A shoulder tattoo is a great choice if you need to hide your ink often for work or family reasons. A button down shirt or a T-shirt will be able to cover your shoulder tattoo completely. 

This is a versatile placement. Whether you choose to only tattoo your shoulder blade, the shoulder cap, or along the clavicle, there are a lot of styles that would work well in these areas. 

Mandala Shoulder Tattoo @gabibastarda

Cons Of Shoulder Tattoos

It may be difficult to see your shoulder tattoo, and therefore challenging to follow aftercare instructions. This is only if your tattoo is on the back blade of your shoulder. You need a mirror to see this part of your body and it can be difficult to reach when putting on lotion. 

While this area is versatile, if you do decide to go for a smaller tattoo design, you’ve got to think about whether you want to eventually incorporate this into a larger design (because of the large surface area). 

Shoulder Sentence Tattoo @wildflowers.tattoo

6 Shoulder Tattoo Ideas

1. Floral Tattoos

Due to the flowing nature of flowers and plants, the curved area of the shoulder can be the ideal canvas for a large floral tattoo design. This can also be a theme for a full sleeve tattoo, with flowers and vines travelling down the length of your arm from the shoulder. 

Shoulder Tattoo @norapruyser

2. Wing Tattoos

The shoulder blades are often popular placements for wing tattoos. Wing tattoos can be minimalistic in design or more intricate, and can represent freedom as well as divine guidance. 

3. Tribal Tattoos

While contemporary tribal tattoos are popular, it’s important to remember that these tattoo designs come from ancient cultures, and the intricate patterns – while they often look amazing and the curves go well on shoulders – have significant meaning.

“These cultures use their art to depict rites of passage, social status, and family identification,”

Tat Ring
Tribal Sleeve Tattoo @best_polynesian

4. Dragon Tattoos

When it comes to dragon tattoos, there are so many styles to choose from. Chinese or Japanese style dragon tattoos are curving in design, so can flow well around the shoulder and onto the bicep if you’re looking for a larger design. 

Dragon Shoulder Tattoo @ambeet_tattoos

5. Word Tattoos

The long line of the collar bone or the top of the shoulder sloping towards the neck can make for intriguing spots for a long, thin single word or sentence tattoo. You can also choose to tattoo your chosen word on your shoulder blade, but you’ve just got to be okay with the negative space around it. 

6. Mirror Tattoos

No, not of an actual mirror. This refers to two tattoos on either shoulder that match. These duplicate designs on both of your shoulders can create a sense of balance.

As much time as you spend thinking about the perfect tattoo design, also make sure to weigh the pros and cons of different tattoo placements. Loving your tattoo for the long run includes liking where it’s placed.

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