Complete Guide to Getting Realistic Tattoos

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Tattoos have always been a part of human culture since time immemorial.

There are even records of archaeological discoveries about tattooed people that date back hundreds of years, and some even more than 3, 000 years, before the Common Era.

Although not exclusively, tattooing in ancient times was frequently practiced in the Asian continent, particularly in Eastern and Southeastern Asia.

The art of tattooing was initially done by different indigenous groups, each had its unique meanings and interpretations for their art. 

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History of Tattooing
Realism Tattoos
History of Realistic Tattoos
What Separates it from other tattoo styles
Most Realistic Tattoo Designs

How Much Do it Cost
Things to Consider
Finding the Best Realism Tattoo Artists
Key Takeaways

A person’s achievements and feats are often used as the idea for tattoos. A tattoo is also used as a rite of passage into adulthood. Tattoos often demonstrate faith, superstitions, and other beliefs.

People of faith would have tattoos that relate to their gods or anything they worship. Warriors have intricately designed body art that depicts their triumphs in battle. 

Some get inked when they pass a certain trial in their lives. It has even come to a point where a tattooed person signified importance and higher placement in society, like in Egypt’s history.

In ancient Egypt, women with tattoos on their bodies indicate their prominence and power – the most prominent women tend to have the most elegant tattoos.

Tattoos from the Past

The art of tattooing became a trend due to its aesthetic and practical appeal only in the past few hundred years.

Stemming from the predominant principle of being part of the cultural upbringing and environment of people, tattoos slowly gained other applications. Identification is a typical example wherein tattoos had a significant impact since they can be applied, not only to people but also to animals. 

This practice still exists in the present day. Prisoners in ancient times had tattoos to help with identification. Pirates and slaves also had tattoos for the same purpose. Modern people are more open-minded with regards to tattoos in general, but not everyone tolerates them.

There are still some instances where having a tattoo becomes detrimental to opportunities, such as getting a job or attending school, to name a few. Fortunately, the principles of the people nowadays are becoming more progressive and they are slowly letting go of the long-held stereotype regarding tattooed individuals.

The outcome is that everyone gets a level playing field, regardless of the presence or absence of tattoos.

As mentioned before, a considerable number of people are already moving on from the idea that people with tattoos have a negative image in society. A good example of the positive impact of tattoos is their functional application, like in the case of some Alzheimer’s patients.

They can have their basic details tattooed onto their bodies to help with identification in the unfortunate case that they go missing. Cosmetics is another instance where tattoos have a purpose. 

These generally apply to women but are not exclusive to them. Women sometimes opt to have eyebrows tattooed. They can also hide scars through tattoos; it will just look like makeup and thus make the overall aesthetic more natural.

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What are Realism Tattoos?

Realism, by definition, is the portrayal or representation of any scenario and must be as accurate as reality. These are done mostly in painted artworks and can be seen in different periods. Because tattooing is also an art, it is not surprising to use realism in tattoos as well.

The term “realism tattoos” can also be interchangeable with hyperrealism or photorealism tattoos for its almost similar representations or output in tattoos. 

Regardless of the term used, the ultimate purpose of this style is to capture a concept or idea and translate it into a visual image of the body as accurately as possible.

Tattoos that apply and showcase this kind of stylization evoke a “living” and “breathing” concept to the image and give off an immersive experience for anyone who sees it.

Realism tattoos rely heavily on the depths and shadowing that emphasize the contour and degree of elements in the artwork.

Previously, the tattoos done with realism in mind were mostly done in gray and black with varying degrees of shade, but further advancement in technology, better ink, and other tattoo paraphernalia led to the conception of colored realism tattoos. 

Some artists specialize in either black or grey, some in colored realism work, and some go for both. This is not only limited to the color schemes of realistic tattoos as it can also cover the kind of tattoo that an artist may specialize in. 

Some have an affinity towards creating realistic tattoos based on sceneries or animals (instead of people). Some are also more proficient in movies, anime, comics, or cartoon characters. There are a lot of categories that fall under realism tattoos, but all of these ultimately have the same goal – making the tattoo look real as possible.

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History of realistic tattoos

The history of realistic tattoos can be traced back to a few decades, specifically around the late 1960s and towards the 1970s and 1980s. This period was when the photorealism art movement began.

Without photography, there will not be any source for the photorealism movement, same with realism and realistic tattoos. Artists typically start with a printed photograph and will then systematically transfer the image to a canvas. This kind of system became the foundation for the emergence of realistic tattoos. 

Although still quite young, the heritage of realistic tattoos can be further traced back to the Renaissance period (during the 15th to 16th century) – a period where a multitude of great artists flourished.

During the Renaissance period, which is also a time of great social change, art evolved and branched out in different disciplines. Artworks that attempted to capture reality bloomed and were pioneered by the likes of Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, just to name a few.

This was largely due to that particular period’s “quest for truth”, which in turn translated into their art – to make it more natural.

Modern realistic tattoos have their roots in mundane everyday sceneries such as landscapes and streets. With the help of photographs, they can “freeze” a scene without worrying about the changes in the image while tattooing the scenery onto someone’s body.

With the onset of improvements and technological advances in tattooing techniques, artists also leveled up on their techniques and styles. One such distinct style is hyperrealism, which traces its roots from photorealism, and arguably more advanced application compared to its predecessor.

Although the term is predominantly applied to sculptures or paintings, it can also be used to describe body parts

Some artists believe that photorealism does not fully capture the subject but the scene in general, thus they turn to hyperrealism which focuses the spotlight on the subject itself through the use of softer yet more complex focus.

Do they hurt?

There are various ways to get a tattoo, but ultimately it depends on one’s pain threshold or tolerance. The design or style of a tattoo does not affect the degree of pain a person might experience.

The pain will be more subjective depend more on the particular body part to which a tattoo will be applied. Each person’s strength to endure pain will differ from one another, but there are areas of a person’s body where it would generally hurt more as compared to others. 

Certain parts of the body contain more nerve endings than others, like the armpits, elbows, or ankles. Other painful areas are located near bones like the rib cage and the head; and also places where there is a thin layer of skin. Getting tattoos in these places can cause intense pain thus some artists might even discourage you to place tattoos in these areas. Other parts of the body are more manageable such as the thighs, forearms, and calves. Areas, where there is a sufficient amount of muscle to absorb the pain, will surely help alleviate the stress on the nerves. 

If you are getting a tattoo for the first time, it is highly advisable to start with tattoos on parts of your body that will not hurt too much. This can aid you in gauging or assessing your tolerance to the pain associated with getting tattoos.

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What separates realistic tattoos from other tattoo styles?

Having realistic tattoos means your tattoos get more depth. The shadows or shading have more emphasis to bring out the contrasts between an image’s components. With realistic tattoos, it is more life-like and fluid in depiction. The placement of realistic tattoos also plays great importance in bringing out its maximum potential. 

Compared to the usual tattoo that can be placed anywhere, a realistic tattoo needs careful consideration. Wide, clear parts of the body, like the back, biceps, or chest are good places to have a realistic tattoo. Unlike simple tattoos, having realistic tattoos may also take a while.

It may take multiple sessions before the final image is done, since the artist may advise or opt to do it step by step. Sometimes, if the tattoos are colored, only the initial outline can be done, and the colors will be filled in during succeeding sessions.

Aside from the striking difference of realistic tattoos from the more traditional ones, another aspect is the duration it will take to get one. Depending on its size, it could take around two or more sessions to have it completed. Another big factor would be the creativity and skill of your chosen tattoo artist, this factor will make or break your tattoo. 

It takes a fine eye for detail to make the tattoo look alive, thus tattoo artists who do not have enough experience in doing this kind of stylization will find it difficult. The techniques needed to create and achieve a pleasing result needs sufficient practice.

Do they last longer?

Tattoos, including any kind of permanent tattoo, will retain their general image even after a long time. Although it can be argued how permanent a tattoo may be, it will certainly last for an extended period, given that it is not forcibly altered or removed.

A short answer to the question of “Will my tattoo be permanent?” is yes, but the constant changes in a person’s skin will have an impact on how the tattoo will look in the long run. Our bodies are in a state of constant change and our skin is not an exemption to this. Younger people tend to not notice the difference much, but it will be quite evident as one grows older. 

Sagging skin is a natural effect of growing older and this can affect how your tattoo will look compared to how it initially did. The placement of a tattoo can also affect its duration, or more specifically how long a tattoo can retain its original image.

Tattoos on the arms, legs, or any other part of the body that has frequent exposure to sunlight can lose its color, even if it is just black ink. Colored tattoos degrade or fade a lot faster. 

Over time, this fading may dull the tattoo and will need some reapplication or an overlap to make it bright or fresh again. Frequent exposure to water also speeds up the process of discoloration of tattoos. Those hand and finger tattoos generally fade so much quicker since it is usually washed with water and exposed to sunlight.

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Most Realistic Tattoo Designs

1. Innovative

Innovative tattoo designs pretty much cover anything that the mind can conceive. As the old saying goes: “creativity is only limited by your mind”. This particular genre of tattoo styling shines the spotlight on out-of-the-box designs

A common design that uses this style is the mech-like tattoos usually found on arms or legs. This led to the designs that were coined as “biomechanical tattoos” – these tattoos transform your limbs in such a way that you will look like a cyborg. The popularity of this design is probably due to the spread of science fiction genres in novels, movies, and radio. 

The pioneer for this kind of body art is Swiss artist H.R. Giger in the 1970s. People are able to imagine futuristic ideas; however, technology is not advance enough to turn it into reality, thus getting a tattoo would be an easier alternative.

2. Religious

Religious tattoos (tattoos with religious themes) are one of the earliest styles which people used for body art. Even before the advent of realism tattoos, religion-related tattoo designs were already being practiced in various parts of the globe.

Egyptians used tattoos to show veneration to their gods. Warriors from Asia had tattoos as a way to ask for strength from the gods during battle.

Some cultures had it for protection from various forces of nature and supernatural entities. Crosses are very common for Christians; Bible verses or short excerpts of the scriptures are the usual designs requested by clients.

There are also tattoos called “yantra tattoos” of Southeast Asia that showcase Buddhist-related images, prayers, and scriptures. It should be noted that some religious beliefs or practices do not tolerate tattoos because, for them, it violates the sacredness of the human body

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3. Natural

This realistic tattoo style is one of the earliest styles among realism tattoos. Depicting natural landscapes provides a sense of ease for tattoo artists since it can be more “static” and easier to replicate as compared to moving sceneries.

Natural styles are still prevalent in the modern era, largely because of their soothing nature for people. 

These include plains, waterfalls, forests, or sometimes even just plants like simple roses and sunflowers also fall within this category. Human beings tend to gravitate towards an image that exudes serenity in a chaotic world.

These tattoos adhere to the concept of “tracing one’s roots” and “being one with nature”. Having natural realistic tattoos often requires a wide area of your body in order to bring out its glory. 

The back and chest are good places to have these kinds of tattoos since there is a lot of space for an artist to work with and they can also add finer details.

4. Animals

Tattoos with animals as inspiration look cool. These tattoos often showcase the animal’s eyes, head, or the whole body itself. There are many different ways in which a tattoo artist can capture this image and there is a great multitude of animals to choose from. 

Creepy-crawlies like centipedes, insects like spiders, bees, or ants are examples of small animals that can be tattooed on the body. Other fierce-looking animals are also widely requested. These include realistic tattoos of wolves, sometimes accompanied by a full moon; some prefer lion heads, gorillas banging their chests, or bulls charging.

These are only a few of the almost endless number of animals you can choose from. You can even have one of your pets as the model for your intended tattoo design! 

This is commonly done by a lot of people because tattoos preserve the memories of their pets. In certain countries, some animals are more popular than others. Asian countries have fish as one of the popular animal tattoos.

Even dragons are quite popular, although we’re not sure if you can call that an “animal”. Nevertheless, if you’re just going to have your first tattoo, having an animal design is a pretty safe bet.

5. Pop Culture

Pop culture has found a good niche in the tattoo society for its progressive and open-minded approach to things. Culture will always have a significant and considerable impact on the current situations of society at any given time. Pop culture tattoos draw inspirations from principle and become immortalized on a person’s body. 

The art derived from pop culture is vast and covers a lot of images, ranging from popular movie characters, comic superheroes, iconic phrases, specific events in time, etc.

With its ties to monumental events or great changes, it does not always necessarily follow that tattoos that have pop culture as their inspiration are all serious business. 

Cartoon characters, anime scenes, or game characters are quirky examples of pop culture that can also be used for tattoos.

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6. Musical

Tattoos related to music is often requested by clients and had become one of the most popular tattoos. It is quite common to see musical instruments tattooed on music artists’ bodies. It comes as no surprise since music is a big part of anyone’s life. 

There are a variety of options to choose from if you intend to get a music-related tattoo. You can get tattoos of instruments like guitars, drums, flutes, harps, even violins. You can also have your favorite artist as the subject of your tattoo.

There are numerous tattoos like this such as the King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Queen. Of course, music lyrics also fall in this category, similar to religious writing in tattoos.

7. Gothic

Gothic designs have a rich history that dates back to the Medieval Age. It is closely associated with the architectural style of that era; gothic art shares a common ground through the artist’s attention to detail.

The gothic style may be a bit somber than other genres of tattooing, but it does not pale in comparison to the intricacies it requires to be conceptualized. 

This is an early example of artists trying to shift to a realism approach with their work. Often associated with a dark and brooding atmosphere, the gothic style’s actual focal point is often lost on some people.

Having this kind of tattoo does not automatically associate your tattoo with a morose aura, but will generally have less color than some of the more vibrant genres. 

It may be off-putting to some people, but having a black and gray color scheme for a tattoo is not all that bad. It still has a commanding appeal, especially when done beautifully by a master tattoo artist.

8. Portraits

Portraits, almost like photographs, are very good inspirations for tattoos. Some famous ones are widely used, like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch’s Scream – which is often misappropriated as Van Gogh’s work. Although that would be the initial impression when putting portraits and tattoo art together, it is not limited to those kinds of images. 

Portraits of famous actors or actresses can also fall under this category. Loved ones or family, children, grandchildren, or any significant person in your life can also count as a portrait tattoo.

Other die-hard sports fans even opt to have their favorite player or favorite team tattooed on their bodies, either to show support or just appreciation in general. Having portrait tattoos generally shows another person as art, and shows how important they are to you.

9. Photos

This genre of realistic tattoos was the very first inspiration for realism in tattoos. In the past, tattoo artists would take a photograph and use it as a guide in their work, to make it easier. They do their best to replicate the image they see on the photograph and make it as realistic and accurate as the photograph

It aided the tattoo artists immensely because having a photograph will not change the scenery at all, which means they can take as much time as they need to perfectly imitate the image.

Up and coming tattoo artists who want to try their hand in realistic tattoo art would certainly go through this category to hone and build up their skills and confidence. This often serves as a stepping stone for better and more grandiose tattoo art in the future.

How Much Do Realistic Tattoos Cost?

Acquiring a tattoo is relatively easy nowadays in most places. Some cities even have dedicated places where people can go to have their bodies inked. Most, if not all, rates will vary greatly depending on the intricacy of one’s chosen design. Sizing is also a big factor when computing a tattoo’s overall cost – the bigger the area you want to be tattooed, the more expensive it will be. 

As is normal, going to specific ink shops will also be a tad pricier, primarily due to its operational costs; although you may be more comforted by the fact that they are licensed and granted the necessary permits to operate.

Good hygiene and cleanliness, after all, is an essential requirement for this delicate work. It is also good to keep in mind that while some artists charge a flat rate for their work (a certain image dictates a set amount), while some charge by the hour.

A ballpark figure would ideally set you back around $20 at least, and these can only go up from there, with some even costing up to $2,000. Some ink shops or tattoo artists offer packages or discounts depending on other factors. These may include group packages, where you and a group of friends can have matching tattoos, seasonal rates, or multiple-session tattooing. 

If you are still concerned about how much exactly you’re supposed to spend on a particular design you have in mind, it is best to always think of the popular adage in the industry: “getting a good tattoo will fetch a good price. A bad tattoo will not.” Getting a tattoo is not just an ordinary expense, but an investment. And who would want to invest poorly, right?

Realistic tattoo sample in the arm
Image Source: Zeke Nesher in Pexels

Things to Consider Before Getting Photo Realistic Tattoos

Perhaps the very first thing to consider when getting a photorealistic tattoo, or even any kind of tattoo in general, is its purpose. A tattoo is a lifetime commitment. Granted that there are numerous options in which you can cover up or remove a tattoo, it will certainly not be the same as before (pre-tattoo).

A tattoo will need to be taken care of since it will become part of your body. Frequent exposure to sunlight has a degrading effect on your tattoos, and realistic tattoos (with their minute details and complex construction) would be highly affected.

The second thing to consider would be your choice of tattoo artist. Tattoo artists are easily accessible nowadays and it is also relatively easy to set an appointment with them. Do your research first, find some information on the tattoo artist and his/her work.

The majority of reputable tattoo artists have social media pages where they show their portfolios. A popularly used social media platform would be Instagram, where tattoo artists post their finished products. 

A third consideration to keep in mind is the placement of your realistic tattoo. As mentioned before, realistic tattoos need appropriate placement on your body so that their effects can be fully maximized. Ideally, these would be places in your body that have a wide area of skin, like the back, biceps, etc. This gives your tattoo artist ample space to work with and thus gives you the best results. 

Finding the Best Realism Tattoo Artists

These days, it is quite easy to find tattoo artists almost anywhere. Some are working in shops while some are working independently and have their tattoo studio.

Regardless of the place, it would not take you a long time to look for an artist. South Korea is worth mentioning for great tattoos, just for a heads up. 

If you are planning to get a tattoo in South Korea, you must check whether the tattoo artist has a medical license to operate. The South Korean government imposed stringent rules regarding the practice of tattooing.

Operating underground can lead to imprisonment and heavy fines. Below are some of the most well-known tattoo artists that practice realism in their artwork. 

They are highly in demand and it will most certainly take you some time and might require advance booking before you can have your body tattooed. You might even need to wait for months before you can have your body inked.

  • Dmitriy Samohin from Ukraine
  • Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy from the USA
  • Sivak from New York, USA
  • Den Yakovlev from Russia
  • Youyeon from South Korea
  • Nikko Hurtado from Los Angeles, California
  • Niki Norberg from Sweden
  • Matteo Pasqualin from Italy
  • Tony Santos from Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • David Corden from Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Sean McCready from Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Ben Painter from Birmingham, England
  • Matt Jordan from New Zealand
  • Rob Richardson from the United Kingdom

These people are renowned for creating life-like art through tattoos. Dmitriy Samohin for instance is a multi-awarded tattoo artist and is globally recognized as one of, if not the best, tattoo artists that use realistic tattoo stylization.

Some may have more inclination or expertise in using only blacks and gray colors, while others may be sought after for their vibrant and delicate use of colors. Others can do both. 

These people are only a select few, but you can already see that they are located in different parts of the world. This means that there are more and more tattoo artists who can grasp the concept of realism and apply it to their work.

Finding a tattoo artist is a lot easier than you think, but the main concern would be if the artist is capable of bringing to life your ideal tattoo. 

Most tattoo artists nowadays have Instagram accounts where they post their works, and sometimes even the whole process of it, not just the end product. You can check it out to see if their style suits your tastes. This can help you assess the tattoo artists’ capabilities to make your ideal tattoo designs come to fruition.

realistic tattoos of skulls in hands and upper body part
Image Source: Clem Onojeghuo in Pexels

Final Thoughts

The freedom to express one’s self is an integral part of the self-esteem and personal growth of a human being. With art as an avenue for expression, and with tattoos as its medium, it can be surmised that getting tattoos is a perfectly acceptable way of expression and should not be stereotyped as a person leaning towards the more unpleasant side of life. 

Aside from its practical benefits, the overall aesthetics a tattoo can provide is a great boost of confidence. As long as you internalize the considerations mentioned above, you’re pretty much good to go. It will be always best to choose an artist you are comfortable working with. 

Set a meeting and have a consultation first – talk about what you want to be done, expectations, etc. so you can have peace of mind and confidence when getting your tattoo! 


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