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What are Tattoo Flash?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Tattoo flash are prepared tattoo designs which are intended for use in rapid tattooing. Most visitors to tattoo shops have seen tattoo flash, as they are typically displayed in the walls and in portfolios to give customers an idea of the kind of work they can receive. Flash encompasses a wide range of styles and designs, and it can come from a variety of sources.

Originally, the pieces were designed by the artist, who would display flash so customers could pick a tattoo they wanted. Artists would also modify flash or create custom pieces on request. Over time, artists started trading flash with each other, and also also selling tattoo flash, disseminating styles and designs across a broad community. Ultimately, companies started hiring designers, who produce a high volume of pieces for commercial sale on individual sheets or in books of collected flash.

Some people look down on tattoo flash, arguing that while it's fine to use flash for inspiration, tattoos really ought to be custom designed, to create a unique and original piece. Copying from flash can also have complex copyright implications; for example, a client who prints out a piece from the Internet and asks to get it as a tattoo might potentially be violating copyright laws, unless he or she has been given explicit consent to use the work.

Others feel flash make for a great jumping-off point, and they point out that many people like to get vintage tattoos from the original tattoo flash so that they are true to their roots. Flash examples by talented and famous artists like Sailor Jerry are often on display at tattoo shops for patrons to admire and use, as is flash by contemporary artists, and flash can be very useful for basic designs like stars and flowers, especially when clients want to be tattooed quickly.

Typically, tattoo flash sold for use by tattoo artists comes with a full color flash sheet which is designed to be displayed or shown to clients, along with a stencil, which just features the linework. When a client decides to use flash for his or her tattoo, the artist can copy the linework to transfer paper, which is used to create a stencil on the body of the client. As always, after a stencil has been applied, clients should double check to ensure that it is not accidentally mirrored, especially if there is lettering.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Musical Expert researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon80074 — On Apr 26, 2010

When did flash work start? Lol. Since the very beginning. Know your tattoo history if you are going to tattoo.

By lokilove — On Jan 26, 2010

When did flash work start? It seemed like suddenly it just exploded everywhere. I remember seeing some artist examples posted on walls, and of course the books of their work, but now all you see are rainbow walls of flash pages instead.

Flash is good, I suppose, if you're a co-ed wanting a "cute" first tattoo, but tells you nothing about the skills and artistic talent of the actual artist.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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