The Art of Tattoo Flash

Posted by jonee cocchia on

  How It Is Created and Applied in Today’s Industry

Tattoo flash is a staple of the industry.  When you imagine yourself in a tattoo shop, you likely envision all kinds of tattoo designs hanging on the walls of the waiting area.  This art is called “flash.”  Flash has a couple of different purpose in addition to decorating the shop.

First of all, it offers ready-to-go designs for customers who are able to find something on the walls (or within binders) that they like.  Tattooists could simply use the flash design to ink the customer on the spot.

This was the typical use for flash until fairly recently.  Nowadays, flash is used more as a reference point.  Customers look at a shop’s flash to get ideas and then customize them for their own desires.  Often, a client will come through the door with a good idea of what he or she wants.  Looking through flash designs can provide an idea of style, size, and coloring for what they’re envisioning.

The old-school method of creating flash is to draw it by hand…

Tattoo artists can then buy, sell, or trade designs with one another.  Of course, the original artwork belongs to the person who created it, so it is necessary to make sure that it is being used legally with the original artist’s blessing.  In the Internet age, it is easy for someone to find a design online, print it out, and then take it to their own artist to have it inked.  This is pretty bad form, however, and many artists understand that that doing so would be the same thing as stealing.

The advent of technology hasn’t just brought problems to the industry, though.  It’s also created lots of opportunities.  Graphic design software can be used to create original designs.  The ability to scan in even those that are hand drawn means that there is an opportunity to try out different colors and sizes without having to redraw the work again and again.

Buying and Selling Flash

Flash doesn’t usually refer to just a single drawing.  Instead, the artist will create several pieces that are all on one page.  This works best if there’s some unifying feature to the page.  For example, the drawings may all revolve around a certain theme or will all have a signature style to them.  In addition to the final, detailed images, a flash artist will usually include a page with just the line drawings.  This allows the purchaser to use them in multiple ways and makes it easier for him or her to choose different colors.  This is another reason that technology is so helpful.  Rather than tracing your drawing, you can scan it in and make as many copies as you like.

It’s most common to sell several sheets as a package.  In this case, the flash artist needs to decide whether all of the sheets will have a unifying feature or if they will all be different in order to provide a wide variety of designs.  So, when flash is purchased, the artist will usually be providing several sheets of designs, along with a second set of those sheets that are only line drawings.  In the US, these sheets are usually 11”x14”.

Prices for flash will vary according to what the market wants.  A highly sought after artist will therefore be able to charge considerably more than a new, unknown artist.  That said, having a new perspective or incredible style can certainly make a newer artist’s work more valuable.

Of course, he or she must get the flash in front of potential buyers.  Again, technology can be beneficial.  Where previous generations had to beat the pavement to personally go to local tattoo shops, today’s flash artists can create web sites and market their work online.  In order to avoid having designs stolen, however, there are some good practices to keep in mind, such as using small, low-resolution photos and applying a transparent watermark over the design.  This helps to show who owns it and discourage others from using it without payment.

Remember that the market for tattoo flash is not the same as the audience for a tattoo.  The person coming into a shop for a tattoo is not the flash artist’s target audience.  Instead, the work should be marketed to the shop itself.


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