The world of tattoos is forever evolving and, as a result, artists and tattoo lovers are constantly looking for new ways to push boundaries. It should come as no surprise that this also includes tattooing new parts of the human body, and with every square inch of skin tried and tested, some are turning to new surfaces as a canvas. One of those surfaces is fingernails.
“I think it is super cool, and I encourage people to do it,” says Jes Valentine, a tattoo artist who offers the service at her shop, Haven Studio. “But I don’t know if I would even call it a trend yet. Most people don’t realize it’s even a possible thing to do.”
But, as Valentine proves, it is possible. If you take a dive through Instagram or Pinterest, you will find a handful of relatively new posts featuring fingernail tattoos, usually paired with a caption expressing a feeling of half confusion and half delight with the process and finished product.
To understand the basics of this blossoming maybe-trend, it is best to first appreciate the canvas on which it is drawn. Your fingernails are made of a protein called keratin – the same stuff that your hair is made of. They grow under your skin, and in the process, dead cells get moved up and out. That is why the fingernails that you see, paint and bite, have no sensation. However, blood vessels and nerves sit just under your nails, and if you go too deep, you will feel that pain and cause damage.
Fingernail tattoos live on the surface of your nail – the dead part. Although applied with a needle and ink, they do not go deep and they never reach your nail bed. This is one of the main selling points for this type of tattoo; that it doesn’t hurt. “It feels weird because it vibrates pretty strongly,” Valentine continues. “But it is painless.”
However, only tattooing the surface of a nail means the design grows out as your nail grows. This can be a freeing idea, but also one that keeps people from spending money on it. “I think it is a new idea,” says Valentine. “But people always try to think of something different they can do with tattoos, and this is different.”
The fact that nails grow, however, should be taken into consideration when choosing a tattoo design. Dots like these, applied by Valentine, are ideal for your nails as the design continues to evolve as it grows. “People mostly want something pretty minimalist,” Valentine says. “Simple designs, lines and dots, snowflakes, hearts, numbers, letters.”
However, in spite of the many sleek minimalist designs out there, tattooed nails filled with flowing designs can also be a showstopper. Many of these tattoos cover more of the nail, and call attention to the hand. These wild designs by Needle Nails, filled with lines and dots, are whimsical and pretty with a lace-like quality.
The disappearing nature of fingernail tattoos also allows you the freedom to go a little wild and choose a design you may like but not want to have forever. It gives you a chance to experiment or go for something a little less serious, like this “GRL PWR” tattoo Valentine applied on her former coworker.
Of course, nail tattoos are not limited to just black ink. Any color you would use in a skin tattoo you can also apply to your nails, and a pop of brightness goes a long way. These cute designs applied by tattoo artist Jessica Channer are a perfect example, although as Channer points out in her comments, the colors may fade a bit over time.
This blue flower, another by Jessica Channer, is not only colorful but detailed, complete with a full bloom and green leaves. Unfortunately the image would be cut in half as it grows, as Channer says in her comments, but while it lasts, this design is certainly an eye-catching one.
If you are in the market for something detailed, you may want to let your nails grow before sitting through the process. “If you have longer nails I can do more details. If you have short, little nails, it would have to be more simplified,” says Valentine. This tattoo is testament to an effective, full nail design.
As you can see from Channer’s design above, floral-inspired designs work well for nail tattoos. Not only are they full of personality, like this one from Reb McComb, but sit perfectly as standalone pieces.
The beauty with finger tattoos is that they also offer the opportunity to have a number of different designs that work together as a whole. This design combines nail tattoos, both visuals and with words, as well as some extra nail jewelry.
As with all tattoos, trust is key. Just because the design grows out over time doesn’t mean you wouldn’t want to make sure that you and your artist are on the same page. In fact, it may be even more crucial that this trust is established, as most nail tattoos are done by hand. “I always freehand,” says Valentine. “I don’t want to use a stencil or a stencil pen because it will stain the nails.”
Be sure to find someone you like, and communicate your idea clearly. Even though the tattoo grows out, you are spending money and nails are still a part of your body. Most importantly though, get creative and have fun!