The ultimate guide for men who want to get a tattoo design in 2021. We've got all the information you need to make the best tattoo design choice.

Tattoos for Men in 2021

Tattooing is an art form with a long history, and it only grows more popular with each passing year. While tattoos are only relatively recently coming to be socially acceptable for women to have, they’ve long been accepted as a way for men to express themselves and communicate their identity to the world. In this guide, we’ll go over the most popular designs, locations, and styles for men’s tattoos in 2021.

Popular Men's Tattoo Designs

While the possibilities for tattoos are really quite infinite, here is a brief list of some of the most popular and iconic tattoo designs for men.

Animal Tattoos for Men

Animal tattoos have always been popular as people identify with the natural world and animal kingdom. Many tattoo lovers feel a kinship with a particular animal and express it by tattooing that animal on their body. These are just some of the animals that men most often tattoo.

Wolf in the forest tattoo design

Wolf Tattoo

A striking animal, the wolf tattoo is popular among men because of its strong appearance. Because wolves are pack animals that depend on one another for survival, tattoos of wolves often symbolize family, loyalty, and protection. Their nature as a fierce wild animal also means that people sometimes use wolf tattoos to signify freedom and nature.

Dragon Tattoo on Sleeve and Chest

Eagle Tattoo

Birds in general are a very popular tattoo as a symbol of freedom, but eagles tend to be one of the most popular bird tattoos for men. Eagles are often associated with strength, courage, inspiration, power, victory, longevity, speed, and pride. Sometimes, they are meant to symbolize patriotism as bald eagles are a national emblem of the United States.

Dragon Tattoo

Though they are a mythical creature, dragon tattoos are no more rare than tattoos of any other animal among men. Dragons have held an important symbolic place in many different cultures and traditions for centuries and centuries. In Christian traditions, the dragon symbolizes evil. In contrast, Eastern cultures often view the dragon as a positive symbol of supernatural power, wisdom, strength, and hidden knowledge. In general, most cultures associate the dragon with intellect, dignity, authority, and chaos.

Realistic Lion Tattoo Design

Phoenix Tattoo

The phoenix is another mythical creature that is a powerful symbol across many cultures. The myth of the phoenix is that it is a unique bird that burns at the end of its life but can then be reborn from its own ashes. As such, the phoenix has become an inspiring symbol of rebirth, renewal, second chances, eternity, hope, and strength. Many men find their phoenix tattoo incredibly meaningful, especially if they’ve had a difficult life, made mistakes, and are taking advantage of a second chance at a better life.

Lion Tattoo

As the king of the jungle, the lion is known as a fierce apex predator not to be messed with. It’s both a powerful animal and a powerful symbol representing concepts like majesty, strength, courage, justice, and might. The lion is a central figure in many traditions such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Hinduism, and Buddhism. As the symbol of the zodiac sign Leo, the lion is connected to traits such as intuition, self-confidence, fieriness, territorialness, control, passion, generosity, and loyalty.

Realistic Portrait Tattoo Design

Snake Tattoo

Both fearsome and alluring, the snake has long captured the human imagination as a symbol of something that balances danger and interest. Snakes can have an incredibly wide variety of meanings in tattoos, ranging from the obvious meanings such as evil and cunning to other meanings taken from the snake’s biology (rebirth, transformation) to meanings associated with myths and tradition (temptation, sin, reincarnation, fertility, and life force).

Portrait Tattoo

Many men turn to tattoos as a way to honor their families and people they love, and often they do so by getting portrait tattoos that realistically portray certain people. A man might get a portrait of their partner, child, parent, or sibling. Or they may go in a different direction and get a portrait of a famous person they admire.

Full Back Skull Tattoo

Name Tattoo

Similarly, men sometimes choose to honor the people they care about most by having that person’s name tattooed on them. While there is the cliche, common “Mom” tattoo, really anybody’s name is fair game, though, of course, it’s always a good idea to wait until you’re absolutely sure about your romantic partner before getting their name tattooed on you.

Snake Tattoo

As a particularly tough and intimidating image, many men get skulls tattooed on them. Though they are obviously associated with death, skulls can also represent wisdom, loyalty, and allegiance.

Cross Tattoo

Men who are especially dedicated to their religion, spirituality, or faith often get cross tattoos as a direct reference to Christianity and Jesus Christ.

Quote Tattoo on a Forearm

Compass Tattoo

Compasses are a common design choice for tattoos because they are so intricate, detailed, and visually striking. They can also carry a lot of meaning, symbolizing things like travel, perseverance, ambition, dedication, guidance, safety, and faith.

Rose Tattoo

One of the most popular tattoos of all time is the rose, which has been a staple of tattooing for a very long time. Not only is the rose one of the most beautiful flowers on this planet, but it can also be very meaningful to the people who get them tattooed. Roses are often associated with romance, but they may also signify balance, honor, faith, beauty, passion, wisdom, intrigue, devotion, sensuality, and timelessness.

Quote Tattoo

A lot of the time, people get tattoos to remind them of a particular sentiment, idea, or worldview. One of the most straightforward ways to represent a specific concept is to get a quote that speaks to it. Some of the most popular quotes for men to get tattooed include:

  • Find what you love and let it kill you
  • Only God can judge me
  • Pain is temporary, pride is forever
  • Never let your fear decide your fate
  • Wars begin in the minds of men
  • Go west young man, your future is untold
  • Family where life begins & love never ends
  • Trust your struggle
Arrow Tattoo on a Forearm

Sword Tattoo

Of all of the tough tattoo designs out there, one of the most effective is the sword, which is universally recognized across all cultures as a symbol of power, protection, authority, strength, and courage.

Arrow Tattoo

The meaning of an arrow tattoo can vary greatly depending on factors such as location, orientation, and what other designs it is paired with. Generally speaking, however, this long traditional tattoo tends to symbolize direction, strength, protection, unity, toughness, and courage.

Abstract Tattoo

Sometimes, men don’t want to get a tattoo that has an immediately obvious meaning. In those cases, they will often opt for an abstract tattoo, which uses shapes, lines, and symbols in a way that doesn’t depict any one particular thing. Abstract tattoos have the advantage of being incredibly unique and customizable to your particular tastes. They’re also a good choice for men who are more mysterious and aloof.

Roman Numeral Tattoo Design

Abstract Tattoo

Sometimes, men don’t want to get a tattoo that has an immediately obvious meaning. In those cases, they will often opt for an abstract tattoo, which uses shapes, lines, and symbols in a way that doesn’t depict any one particular thing. Abstract tattoos have the advantage of being incredibly unique and customizable to your particular tastes. They’re also a good choice for men who are more mysterious and aloof.

Roman Numeral Tattoo

One of the best ways to get a tattoo that has a strong, specific meaning to you without it being as literal and obvious to the outside world as a quote or person’s name is to reference a number. Whether it be a birth date, coordinates, the year something important happened, or something else, many men like to get number tattoos. Instead of using normal numbers, Roman numerals are often preferable as they are thought to be more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Pop Culture Tattoo

In modern times, a very common use of tattoos is to get something you love permanently inked on your body. Whether it’s a reference to your favorite book, movie, song, band, or TV show, a quote, image, symbol, or inside joke, an incredibly popular tattoo among men these days is a pop culture tattoo that refers to a piece of media that they love and find personally meaningful, poignant, funny, or interesting.

Popular Tattoo Locations for Men

If you know what tattoo design you want to get, the next thing to think about is the best places for guys to get tattoos. Here are some of the most common answers to the question, “Where should men get a tattoo?”

Back Tattoo

For tattoo enthusiasts, the back is one of the most exciting parts of the body as it is essentially a large, blank canvas just waiting to be covered in ink. In fact, this is probably the largest piece of skin real estate on the body, and many men carefully plan how to best make use of it. Back pieces can be very large, intricate, and detailed, which is very exciting for those who love tattoos and want to make a significant statement with theirs.

Arm Tattoo

One of the most popular tattoo locations of all time is the arms and for many good reasons. Not only are the arms highly visible to the outside world, but they are also easy for the tattoo wearer to see, so you can enjoy your own tattoos at the same time as you show them off to others. Arm tattoos can range from full sleeves to half sleeves to smaller, simpler tattoos on various parts of the arm to just one tattoo making an impression on its own.

Forearm Tattoo

In particular, the forearm is a very popular spot for men’s tattoos. Not only is it one of the less painful tattoo locations, but it’s also easy to display whenever you wear a T-shirt. It’s also worth mentioning that many women find men’s forearms sexy, especially when shown off in a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and the appeal of this look is only enhanced with a high-quality forearm tattoo.

Hand Tattoo

Although hand tattoos are not for the weak or mild, they are still pretty popular with men who don’t mind being immediately and easily identifiable as a tattooed person. In fact, a lot of men like that hand tattoos are so upfront, out there, and in your face, as they can really create an impression and tell the outside world something about you.

Knuckles Tattoo

Closely related to the hand tattoo are knuckle tattoos, which are popular for the way that they allow you to get multiple smaller designs together in close proximity. This creates a very impactful effect. In particular, it’s quite common for men to tattoo words across the knuckles of one or both of their hands.

Chest Tattoo

Chest tattoos are a very good option for men for lots of different reasons. First, this is another part of your body that is pretty large and serves as a good, almost flat canvas for tattoos of a larger scale and more detailed nature. Second, chest tattoos are easy to hide with a shirt if you don’t want other people to see them, yet also easy to show off when you do want to do so. They can be a great talking piece at the gym or in a game of shirts versus skins.

Shoulder Tattoo

Shoulder tattoos are very common among men because they do a great job of complementing the musculature in a way that is very flattering and masculine. Shoulder tattoos tend to lend themselves well to designs that feature more curved lines. This is also one of the less painful places to get a tattoo.

Leg Tattoo

Like those located on the chest, leg tattoos are great because they are equally easy to hide with a pair of pants as they are to show off with a pair of shorts. Because the legs aren’t as immediately in-your-face as the arms, this is a spot where men will often tattoo a design that is a bit more personal or that they don’t necessarily want to be the first thing that people see when they look at them.

Most Popular Tattoo Styles for Men

While all of the tattooing styles are fair game, there are certain ones that men tend to favor. Here is a list of some of the most common tattoo styles among male tattoo wearers.

Tribal Tattoos

A large part of the storied history of tattoos is among tribes of various nationalities who used tattoos to represent various identifying details such as rank, clan, social status, and so on. Today, tribal tattoos remain incredibly popular among men as they are seen as masculine, impactful, and bold. For men who have a heritage in a tribe, tribal tattoos can be a great way to connect with one’s culture and roots. Tribal tattoos tend to pair very well with the shoulder or arm placement.

American Traditional Tattoos

Also called old school, the American traditional tattoo style has its history on ships among sailors. Already somewhat outside of polite society, sailors weren’t restricted by the stereotype that tattoos were uncivilized. Starting in the 18th century, sailors would get tattoos as mementos of their journeys. Today, the visual style (bold lines, vivid colors, minimal shading) and design motifs (anchors, sparrows, pin-up girls, skulls) of these old school tattoos remain incredibly popular among men.

Neo-Traditional Tattoos

An evolution of the traditional style, neo-traditional tattoos updated the old school look by keeping American traditional’s bold lines and adding an illustrative quality inspired by Art Nouveau and Art Deco aesthetics. Neo-traditional tattoos tend to have more shading, more color, more detail, and more decoration than old school tattoos, and their subject matter varies more widely. That being said, one of the most common new-traditional tattoo design motifs is natural imagery.

Realistic Tattoos

Realistic tattoos are exactly what they sound like – 2D tattoo images that aim to mimic the look of the 3D object they depict as closely as possible. Realistic tattoos vary quite a bit in subject matter, but some of the most common designs for realistic tattoos include portraits and animals. You may be shocked at just how impressive some realistic tattoos can be, as certain tattoo artists have really perfected the craft.

Black Work Tattoos

Another tattooing style that is on the newer side but that men are embracing and loving is the black work tattoo, which is (also) pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Black work tattooing has its origin in tribal tattoos, which tend to include large patches of black. In essence, black work just refers to tattoos that use black as the only color in a way that is central to the design. Black work is often combined with other tattoo styles such as illustrative and dot work.

Japanese Tattoos

Another tattoo style that is currently popular with men but has a long history is Japanese tattooing, which is also called Irezumi, and originated during the Edo period between 1603 and 1868. Japanese tattoos have a distinct smoky and wavy appearance and tend to feature specific images that are central to Japanese mythology such as dragons, phoenixes, and kirins.

Geometric Tattoos

While you may not think of geometric design as particularly organic, the natural world is actually full of the straight lines, sharp angles, and symmetry that is characteristic of geometric imagery. This is the inspiration behind the sacred geometry tattooing style, which uses repetitive shapes and patterns to create images that have a lot of meaning, history, and power. This style can be used for many different subject matters and can be combined with other tattooing styles to create an even more impactful effect. It is quite popular among men.

The extended popularity of tattooing as a means of self-expression among men is showing no sign of dying down anytime soon. In fact, it’s only growing in acceptance, demand, and favor. So whether you’re a full-bodied tattooed expert looking for inspiration for your thirtieth tattoo or a newbie to the game nervous about getting inked for the first time, we hope this guide helped give you some ideas for what you can use to express yourself.

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