Butterfly tattoos are back. For a long time, tattoos of the cute creatures had a bad rap. “A butterfly on the lower back…is universally panned,” Rocky Rakovic, the former editor-in-chief of Inked told CBC in a 2012 interview. But butterfly tattoo designs are beautiful (as are lower back tattoos, for that matter), so we’re very pleased to report that they’re back in style.
The trend is in part thanks to superstar musician Shawn Mendes. This past July, Mendes got a fan’s suggested butterfly tattoo, and since then, people everywhere have been hopping on the butterfly bandwagon. There are tons of reasons you might be considering some ink of the insect, though. Maybe you’re going through a big life change—many people think of butterflies as symbols of transformation—or maybe you just really like fluttery wings. Either way, here are 13 unique butterfly tattoo designs for inspiration.
1. This cute kaleidoscope
Did you know that a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope? This colorful kaleidoscope was done by Czech hand poke tattoo artist Monika Vlckova who has made great use of her canvas—her client’s back—by scattering 11 tiny butterflies across it from top to bottom. And much like the 17,500 species of butterflies from around the world, each butterfly tattooed here is unique in size, shape, and color.
2. A fine line flutterer
Diana Bustamante, the LA-based artist behind this fine line bicep piece, is also the co-owner of Baby, the women-owned studio where this simple—but nonetheless striking—butterfly was tattooed. And butterflies seem to be a recurring subject in Bustamante’s designs. By our count, she tattooed three butterflies in the last two months of 2019 alone.
3. A bold butterfly tattoo
We recently put together a list of what we believe will be the top 2020 tattoo trends, and super visible ink—think: face, ear, hand, finger, and neck tattoos—was one of them. These highly visible placements are rising in popularity as tattoos become increasingly mainstream. So if you’re looking to make a statement with your ink, a butterfly tattoo on your neck—like this big blackwork piece with flaming wings and mirrored skulls—could be the way to do it.
4. This pretty pastel piece
This butterfly tattoo by South Korean artist Dal, is what we like to call a style crossover (which is one of 2020’s top tattoo trends, too). The tattooer combines two styles in her piece, including elements of both fine line and watercolor design. Plus, the design doubles as a floral tattoo since the butterfly’s body is filled with lush, pastel colored flowers.
5. This dotwork ditch design
The ditch—AKA the inner elbow—is one of the more painful spots to get a tattoo, but it also makes for a pretty stunning placement. Case in point: This black and grey butterfly with dotwork detailing by Kenny Sanchez, resident artist at Golden Rooster tattoo studio in California. According to Sanchez’s caption, this design was the final piece of his client’s nature-inspired tattoo sleeve.
6. A colorful cutie
Alternatively, you can choose to go old school with your design, like this client who opted for an American Traditional style butterfly. The colorful wrist tattoo was done by Jim Sylvia, an LA-based artist who specializes in both American Traditional and Neo-Traditional tattoo styles.
7. Some wavy wings
New York’s Mira Mariah—better known as ‘Girl Knew York’—is one of the city’s most in-demand tattooers. (She’s also one of Ariana Grande’s go-to tattoo artists). And it’s not hard to understand why she has such a large, loyal following—she currently boasts and impressive 191,000 followers on Instagram. It’s because—aside from the fact that she’s a cool, fun, fashionable feminist—she has a sweet signature style: the minimal, wavy, sketch-like linework that you can see in the butterfly tattoo above.
8. This liquified butterfly
Butterfly tattoos have a reputation for being girly and delicate, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, this unconventional piece, which Swiss artist Randy Lahaie calls a “liquid butterfly,” is a welcome break from the normal crop of butterfly designs.
9. This teeny take
Tiny tattoos have been trending for years now, and there’s no sign of their popularity slowing down. So if small designs are a better fit for your style, this little butterfly by the tattoo artist known as ‘247.K’ might be the perfect inspiration for you. Plus, to make the simple, single needle tattoo a little more interesting, the artist opted to use red ink rather than the standard black.
10. This big, back piece
Most of the butterfly tattoos on this list are relatively small—just like butterflies themselves. But this person decided to get a massive take on the trendy design done by Sabrina Amante, a resident artist at Kali Tattoo Studio in Buenos Aires who specializes in American Traditional style design.
11. This asymmetrical insect
We love this little asymmetric hand tattoo by New York’s Kyle England. And although hands are another tattoo placement that many people find highly painful, consider this: a short bout of pain is a small price to pay for a beautiful tattoo that lasts a lifetime.
Another thing that’s great about this piece is that it shows colorful ink on darker skin—something that, unfortunately, we still rarely see on tattoo accounts. If you’re a POC who’s interested in a color tattoo like this one, but you aren’t sure what it will look like on your skin, know that tattooers—the good ones at least—will usually offer tattoo color tests. These allow you to test a range of colors (before committing to a full tattoo appointment) to see what they’ll look like on your unique skin tone.
12. This color-blocked critter
Not every tiny tattoo has to be super simple and delicate. Take this piece by EQ, a resident artist at one of Seoul’s most popular tattoo shops, Studio by Sol, for instance. Rather than sticking to fine lines for the design, the artist used color-blocking. They filled in the critter’s wings using complementary hues of purple, pink, blue, and green. The result is an edgy, geometric effect; a contemporary take on this popular category of tattoos.
13.This realistic render
Livia Tsang is a master of realism and portrait tattoos. She’s so good at what she does, in fact, that the Toronto-based artist has attracted some celebrity clientele, most notably Shawn Mendes. She’s done several of his tattoos, including his famous butterfly design. This particular butterfly tattoo isn’t Mendes’ though. And while it’s arguably more of a flower tattoo than a butterfly tattoo, the perched black and grey realism monarch at the top of the forearm piece is really what completes the large-scale design.
Liked our gallery of butterfly tattoo designs? Be sure to check out 21 Flower Tattoos: Literally Just a Garden of Inspo for Your Next Piece.