A back tattoo can be a big commitment (literally, if you get a full back piece). Punny jokes aside, though, there are tons of benefits of getting a tattoo on your back. For starters, because the back is such a large canvas, the tattoo design possibilities there are nearly endless—you can get everything from a massive traditional piece to a tiny minimal design. Another benefit is that depending on the exact location of your piece, back tattoos score relatively low on the pain scale. The upper and lower back are pretty padded with muscle and fatty tissue which helps dampen the pain of getting tattooed there. Plus, regardless of the size of your back design, it’s easy to cover up (most shirts will keep it covert) if necessary.
So if you’re toying with the idea of a back piece, but need more inspiration, you’ve come to the right place! Here are 19 great back tattoo designs.
1. This minimal madame
Large-scale back tattoos don’t necessarily need to be busy or hyper detailed—minimal designs are equally stunning. Take this linework portrait by Carlo Amen, co-owner of Les Maux Bleus, a private tattoo studio in Paris. Amen, who specializes in cubism designs—pieces reminiscent of the works of artists like Picasso—placed this tattoo right in the center of his client’s back where it’s framed by the canvas’ natural curves.
2. A dazzling dragon
Robby Valentino, the UK-based tattooer behind this colorful dragon design, specializes in three-dimensional tattoos. For this piece, he used the signature red and blue ink that define his typical 3D designs, but opted for a cool 2D illustrative piece—right in the center of this client’s upper back—instead. Robby is currently based in Kelham Island, Sheffield (in north-central England) and is a resident artist at The Workhouse Tattoo.
3. This spacey Shiba Inu
Is this a space tattoo or a pet tattoo? We think it’s both! So if you’re a pet parent with a penchant for outer space, this design by Zlata Kolomoyskaya, co-owner of New York’s Dot. Creative Group (a private tattoo studio), is perfect for you. The fun single needle tattoo design is incredibly intricate, but what we love most about it is the casual way the astronaut is strutting with their Shiba Inu along the rings of Saturn. So. Damn. Cool.
4. This big blackwork piece
If you’re planning to go big with your back tattoo and are into blackwork designs, this piece by South Korean tattoo artist Woojin Choi (AKA Oozy) might provide some great inspiration. The resident artist at one of Seoul’s most popular tattoo shops, Studio by Sol, designed the tattoo to span his client’s entire back, plus some of their shoulder and buttocks. But its size isn’t even the most impressive thing about this piece; the complexity and level of detail (check out those three intertwining snakes) is more astounding.
5. Some flowy foliage
Another great example of going big but with a minimal design is this piece by Toronto-based tattooist Jess Chen. Chen is no stranger to large-scale tattoos. She regularly does massive ‘body as a canvas’ style pieces (single designs that span massive areas of the body). Most of her designs are inspired by nature (think: flowers and other botanicals) and she tattoos both by hand and using a machine.
6. Some trippy text
Life is boring with something (or, perhaps many things) to be passionate about. Lucky for this client, they literally have “something passionate” with them forever thanks to his text tattoo by Brooklyn-based tattooist and co-owner of smallshop studio, Zachary Robinson Bailey. Most of Bailey’s designs are relatively small compared to this piece, but the artist is hoping to do more large-scale tattoos in the future—when they shared this design they wrote that they would “love to do more big [tattoos] like this.”
7. A winged wonder
Has anyone else been seeing butterfly tattoos everywhere lately? The cute winged creature was a staple of ’90s tattoo design, and now it’s back and more popular than ever. This butterfly piece by Mumi, an artist based in Seoul, mixes watercolor and detailed single needle tattoo design. It also includes some geometric elements which all combine to create a delicate and beautiful composition.
8. This powerful painting
Kerry James Marshall is an American artist known for his paintings depicting the effects of the Civil Rights Movement on the everyday lives of African Americans. Drawing from contemporary and black culture, his work is iconic. Here, Shannon Wolf, a tattoo artist at Daydream Tattoo in Portland, reinterpreted one of Marshall’s paintings (the piece is called “Portrait of a Curator“) as a minimal back tattoo with added florals.
This piece also helps dispel the myth that colorful tattoos don’t look good on darker skin tones. They do! But for any BIPOC clients who are worried about what color will look like on their skin, Wolf offers free tattoo color tests.
9. The intrepid tiger
Tigers are the largest wild cats in the world. They’re fierce hunters, but they can also be incredibly majestic. This piece by French tattooist Nicolas Gumo shows off the animal’s majestic side by pairing a bold blackwork tiger with bright, illustrative florals. Gumo is actually known for the way he combines distinct styles in designs—like in this piece. His tattoos often include elements of realism, minimalism, abstract, blackwork, and illustrative design.
10. A funky take on Frida
Typically, Yuri Ci combines black and grey realism and minimal blackwork styles to create his unique tattoo compositions, but he changed it up in this piece. Here, the resident artist at 4.4 Tattoo Studio in Milan created a sketch style design that pays tribute to one of Mexico’s greatest artists, the inimitable Frida Kahlo.
11. This tarot-inspired trade
If you’re astrologically inclined, you might recognize the imagery in this tattoo. The piece is a rendition of The Star tarot card. The Star card often features a woman kneeling by water with one foot dipped in and one foot planted on the land. She’s typically pictured with a jug of water in hand. The card is said to signify creative inspiration, success, renewed hope, and openness to new opportunities.
This take on the tarot card was done by Lee (AKA @rat666tat) for fellow tattooer Shannon Wolf in a trade (which means Lee got a tattoo from Wolf in exchange). The artist is the co-owner of Tapestry Tattoo Collective in Toronto as well as the founder of Good Judy, a company that sells plant-based, eco-friendly tattoo products.
12. Some sweet hand pokes
This stunning back tattoo was hand poked (yes, those bold, black-filled shapes were tattooed by hand) by Berlin’s Brody Polinsky. The artist and queer rights activist has been tattooing since 2008 and has since honed their signature style: ornamental and pattern-based designs. Polinsky is also the owner of UNIVERSE Tattoo Studio and the curator of an Instagram account (@queer_tattooers) dedicated to showcasing the work of LGBTQIA+ tattooers.
13. This colorful creation
This colorful creation was done by Dave Walker (AKA Winston the Whale), a Portland-based artist and owner of Good Stuff Tattoo studio. According to Walker’s Instagram caption, the vibrant design took two years to complete, but we think it was well worth the time commitment. It’s bold and beautiful, plus it perfectly highlights the curves of the client’s back.
14. These eye-catching irises
We love a good flower tattoo, but this one is particularly special because it’s a rendition of one of Vincent van Gogh’s “Irises“. The painting that this fine art tattoo (which was done at The White Whale Tattoo Society in Padua, Italy) is based on, was one of the world-famous artist’s final creations. He painted it in 1890, the same year of his death, while living in a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France.
15. This lovely lower back piece
It’s really hard to tattoo straight lines—many artists agree they’re one of the hardest things to tattoo—and the longer the lines, the more difficult the feat becomes. Knowing that, let’s take a moment to appreciate the long straight lines in this minimal back tattoo by Emily Trajkovski. The hand poke tattoo artist executed this piece flawlessly.
16.This cohesive collection
From fish and flowers to demons and ballerinas, this tattoo collection really has it all. Instead of getting one large full back tattoo, this client opted for several distinct smaller pieces from the same artist. Together, the minimal designs create a cohesive collection. They come courtesy of Melbourne’s Hannah Simpkin, a multidisciplinary artist who—in addition to tattooing—paints, illustrates, and sculpts her own ceramics.
17. This dreamy desert
The desert sometimes gets a bad rap—it’s often described as dreary and desolate. But the desert can also be an incredibly lively place, filled with unique natural wonders. Seattle’s Ursula Rose does a great job of capturing that liveliness in this watercolor tattoo which features mountains, cacti, flowers, and a bird done using 13 different ink colors. The piece, which took three hours to complete, was done at Valentine’s Tattoo where Ursula is a resident artist.
18. A massive masterpiece
This blackwork piece (with dotwork detailing) is so big that it isn’t just a back tattoo, it’s also a neck tattoo AND a butt tattoo. Done by Katharine Alden of São Paulo, Brazil, the massive design required seven sessions and, per the artist’s Instagram caption, “a lot of commitment”. It also couldn’t have been easy for Alden’s client to sit through seven long, grueling tattoo sessions, but the final result was definitely worth all the time, effort, and pain.
19. Two lounging ladies
Philippe Fernandez, the artist behind this design, is another talented Berlin-based tattooer. A resident at AKA tattoo studio—one of the city’s most popular shops—he specializes in modern, minimalist and blackwork takes on American Traditional tattoo design. This back piece is from Fernandez‘s old flash, but many of his more recent designs take staples of the American Traditional style—like jungle cats, ships, and bird of prey—and reimagine them in more contemporary compositions.