Tattoo lettering ranges from bold black Maori-style words or delicate flowing colored script to medieval and Gothic calligraphy or Asian kanji symbol letters. Online font libraries allow free trial texts to view a tattoo word or phrase in hundreds of styles. Tattoo artists offer sample books and charts for customers to select a lettering style for their ink. An experienced tattooist advises clients about the most effective fonts for inked word art.
Test-drive a tattoo font online before taking an idea to a tattoo parlor, but expect the artist to refine, resize or redesign the sample or to suggest something else entirely. Tattooists don't charge extra for font styles; the design is part of the total price for the work. They typically point out that very small letters tends to blur as the ink spreads slightly under the skin, and very elaborate fonts may be illegible, depending on the location of the tattoo.
A Shakespearean quote is typically inked in an Old English style of lettering, while liturgical Latin phrases in medieval scripts use traditional fonts. Plain typewriter or book-font letters are easy to read and work for both longer and one-word tattoos. Letters entwined in Celtic knots and illuminated manuscript fonts may be used for Irish phrases and Celtic-style tattoos.
Kanji is Asian tattoo writing in which words, names or ideas are written in Chinese or Japanese letters. Trash Polka, a tattoo style modeled after the ink designs from Germany's Buena Vista Tattoo Club, resembles very clean hand-printing, always in black. Ambigrams are two different words combined in a single tattoo that may be viewed from more than one angle.