It’s time to delve deeper into the world of tattooing.
Below, we’ve reviewed the best tattoo books for artists and collectors.
They include tattoo flash, the history of tattooing, and inspirational autobiographies of tattoo artists.
With them, you’ll learn more about vintage tattoos and cultural body art.
These are the top tattoo books for your studio and your own personal collection, too.
- Best Tattoo Books
- Basic Fundamentals of Modern Tattoo
- The Tattoo Textbook
- Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo
- The Tattoo History Source Book
- The World Atlas of Tattoo
- The Tattoo Dictionary
- 1000 Tattoos: The Most Creative New Designs from the World’s Leading and Up-And-Coming Tattoo Artists
- Tattoo Johnny: 3,000 Tattoo Designs
- Vintage Tattoos: The Book of Old-School Skin Art
- Tattoo Sourcebook
- Tiny Tattoos: 1,000 Small Inspirational Artworks
- The Graphic Art of Tattoo Lettering
- Andres Hurtado: Biomech Visions
- Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design
- Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia
- Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern
- The POLYNESIAN TATTOO Handbook
- Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America
- Viking Designs
- Fantastic Ornament: 110 Designs and Motifs
- Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico
- Skulls & Anatomy: Copyright-Free Vintage Illustrations
- Tattoo Coloring Book for Adults
- Go Big or Go Home: Taking Risks in Life, Love, and Tattooing
- Bang Bang: My Life in Ink
- Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink
- Sixty Tattoos I Secretly Gave Myself at Work
Best Tattoo Books
Basic Fundamentals of Modern Tattoo
Whether you’re a novice artist or just curious about how to tattoo, here is one of the best tattoo reference books.
It’s written for apprentices as it covers the basics of the tattoo process. Some of the contents include building a tattoo machine, which type of needle configurations to use, and choosing pigments.
It features detailed illustrations, plus free access to more training online.
The Tattoo Textbook
Although you can find a lot of information online about becoming a professional tattoo artist, this book will save you the effort of endless searches.
It’s written by an artist with more than 14 years of experience. She’s also the director and instructor of a tattoo school in Oregon.
The full-color pages contain all the fundamentals of tattooing as well as making a living with your art.
Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo
If you’re interested in vintage tattoos and the history of tattooing, this book is a must-have.
When it was first released, it astonished readers worldwide. It documents how tattoos have changed the lives of women worldwide from the nineteenth century to modern times.
It covers a wide range of body art and personal experiences from sideshows to celebrities and cancer survivors.
This masterpiece is now in its third edition, updated and expanded with even more rare photos.
The Tattoo History Source Book
When did tattooing begin? In which cultures was it taboo?
Those are only a couple of the many questions explored in this impressive worldwide history of tattooing. It’s recommended for enthusiasts, collectors, artists, and anyone with a few minutes to spare.
Each chapter begins with background information about topics such as Japanese tattooing, Polynesian tribal techniques, and body art from Greek and Roman times. The contributors include tattoo artists, criminologists, anthropologists, and physicians.
Meanwhile, the graphics run the gamut from line drawings to full-color photos.
The World Atlas of Tattoo
Deepen your knowledge of tattooing around the world by perusing over 700 illustrations. This world atlas covers tattoos from every part of the inhabited world, from prehistoric times to the present.
It includes work from one hundred professional artists to showcase changing styles.
The Tattoo Dictionary
The Tattoo Dictionary is the pet project of talented collaborators. One is an award-winning tattoo artist, and the other is the editor of Tattoo Master magazine.
After detailed research, they reveal the meanings behind popular tattoo symbols like Maori patterns and Mexican skulls.
Once you know the story of the symbol, you’ll never look at the ink the same way again.
1000 Tattoos: The Most Creative New Designs from the World’s Leading and Up-And-Coming Tattoo Artists
There are dozens of tattoo flash books on the market. Why would you choose this one instead of any of the others?
For one, it’s written by an author with decades of experience in the tattoo world. He was one of the first modern photographers to treat tattoos as serious art.
Next, the book features radical new designs from the world’s best tattoo artists. It encompasses wide diversity with respect to gender, culture, race, and geography.
It contains the inspiration you need to enhance your personal style.
Tattoo Johnny: 3,000 Tattoo Designs
This is one of the best tattoo books for beginners, as it includes thousands of designs. Yes, it has everything from angels to pirates to zodiac signs.
It’s better than hunting them down on the Internet as you can practice tracing them right in your lap. There’s no need for a printer.
Once you’re done harvesting ideas from its pages, leave it in your studio to entertain clients while they wait.
Vintage Tattoos: The Book of Old-School Skin Art
You’ve heard about Sailor Jerry and Don Ed Hardy. Check out their vintage art as well as the work of other famous artists.
The chapters are organized by themes like patriotic and nautical tattoos. The book doesn’t just show you the images but also reveals the meanings behind them.
As Needled put it, it’s over 250 “pages of art and anecdotes” from the time of backroom parlors.
Have you heard of the Tattoo Finder website? This flash book contains nearly two thousand of the best designs from there.
It’s so intriguing that you’ll find it hard to put down.
The detailed images have been contributed by artists from around the world. For example, do the names Friday Jones, Guy Aitchison, or Lyle Tuttle mean anything to you? If not, crack open the pages and get inspired.
Tiny Tattoos: 1,000 Small Inspirational Artworks
This is a book for fans of minimal ink designs. It has a mix of black and white graphics and color photographs that illustrate little works of art.
The subjects range from classical symbols to quotes, animals, and abstract patterns.
The Graphic Art of Tattoo Lettering
Every artist should know how to do tattoo lettering. But anyone interested in calligraphy and graphic design can benefit from this book, too.
It features step-by-step instructions for hand-lettering, plus background on leading artists who specialize in it.
There are nearly 400 illustrations of techniques and styles.
Andres Hurtado: Biomech Visions
This New York City artist specializes in hyper-realistic and surrealistic designs. Some images remind me of The Terminator with a mix of sci-fi and horror.
It’s the kind of body art that never fails to grab attention.
Also, besides the excellent collection of tattoos and drawings, the text is in English and Spanish.
Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design
Enter the world of irezumi or Japanese tattoos. There are more than 350 photographs, plus interviews with Japanese artists and clients.
How often is it that anyone gets to peer inside the private worlds of Japanese people?
Inside its cover, you’ll explore everything from hand-poked tebori to pop culture. Just as important, the book helps Western collectors understand the meaning behind Japanese symbols. Read it, and you’ll never ink the wrong kanji.
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia
There are at least three volumes of the encyclopedia of Russian criminal tattoos. It’s a unique culture with specific symbols and meanings.
The author’s father was an ethnologist and a prisoner in the gulag system of the Soviet Union. The author himself eventually became a prison guard. With this access, he was able to study thousands of tattoos.
Where possible, there are photographs of the tats. Otherwise, there are intricate drawings reproducing the original images.
Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern
Filipino tattoos are often overlooked as artists are more curious about Polynesian tribal art, Russian criminals, and Japanese Yakuza.
Now, traditional Filipino tattooing is nearly extinct. Fortunately, the author has been studying and documenting the art for over two decades.
The result is this detailed study of symbols, mythology, and social structure with regards to body art in the Philippines.
There are hundreds of images, plus rich background information that will give you a new appreciation for primitive tattoos.
The POLYNESIAN TATTOO Handbook
Get the inside information you need about Polynesian tattoos from an expert. The author has studied symbolism and tattoos from the islands for over two decades. He also creates new art used by modern artists.
This is more than an exploration of culture and history. It contains a step-by-step explanation of the traditional tattooing process.
There’s also a dictionary to help you choose the correct symbol for the meaning you want to express.
Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America
How about a scholarly review of Native American tattooing? It gets a bit dry at times, but it’s packed with archaeological evidence and historic portraits.
It digs into the meanings of symbolic tattoos. Plus, it reveals the toolkits that created sacred body art.
No, this isn’t a tattoo flash book, but rather a history of art in the Nordic realm. It contains reproductions of authentic art from Viking lands.
It will give you the background you need to re-create Norse symbols and mythology, plus attractive patterns suitable for sleeve tattoos.
Fantastic Ornament: 110 Designs and Motifs
At some point, someone will ask you to tattoo a dragon, gargoyle, or devil. Prepare now by studying these otherworldly decorations.
They come from a nineteenth-century source with illustrations from Renaissance artworks, Elizabethan textiles, and more.
Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico
Designers and tattoo artists need to see this book. There are over 700 designs with primitive themes from the Aztec, Maia, and early Mexican cultures.
Most of the royalty-free art has never been printed and is available for use without special permission.
Skulls & Anatomy: Copyright-Free Vintage Illustrations
Skulls are an essential item to have in your repertoire. You can get skeletons and other anatomical designs here.
The book is filled with vintage pictures derived from woodcuts and engravings from around the world.
Even better, it comes with a download link to get high-resolution TIFF or JPEG files.
Tattoo Coloring Book for Adults
Coloring isn’t just for kids these days. Grown-ups have discovered the meditative relaxation that comes from shading intricate designs.
The elaborate illustrations are printed on only one side of the page to prevent problems with bleedthrough. They are worth framing once you’re done with them.
Go Big or Go Home: Taking Risks in Life, Love, and Tattooing
I can only imagine that if you haven’t heard of Kat Von D, then you must be living entirely off the grid. Not only is she a famous tattoo artist, but she owns a well-known tattoo shop, develops makeup for Sephora, has been on a TV series, and has published other books.
This is her autobiography covering her personal development in love and art. It reveals the tattoo industry as seen through her eyes and experiences.
It includes large-scale tattoos explicitly created for the book, as well as sketches and photographs. You’ll also see work she’s done on Billy Joe Armstrong and other celebrities.
Bang Bang: My Life in Ink
Bang Bang is famed for tattooing Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Lebron James, and many more celebrities.
His real name is Keith McCurdy, but his nickname comes from the guns tattooed on his neck. He is a self-taught artist from Delaware with brilliant skills and contagious passion.
Discover his journey from his mother’s kitchen to working 40,000 feet in the air.
Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink
Jeff Johnson is the owner of Sea Tramp Tattoo Company in Portland. In his book, he sets the stage for what it’s like to be a professional artist. But his dramatic tales are larger-than-life.
After all, how many artists have had to stop saloon-type fights in their shop? On the other hand, many have inked gang members and celebrities.
If you’re fascinated by the tattoo industry, you’ll end up awed and entertained by this one.
Sixty Tattoos I Secretly Gave Myself at Work
The title is light-hearted, but the stories range from scary to hilarious and heart-warming.
See the images and get the background on each of the author’s hand-poked tattoos. It will make you want to ink yourself ASAP.
We selected the tattoo books above for their wealth of information and beautiful illustrations.
They are excellent for increasing your knowledge of tattooing. But they are also convenient as gifts when you’re just not sure which ink brand or tattoo machine is appropriate.
Happily, many of them are available in e-book and audiobook formats to allow you to enjoy them on other platforms beyond the traditional.
If you have suggestions for additional tattoo books that should be included here, just let us know.