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How to Draw Japanese Tattoos

Japanese tattoos may cover all or part of the body and feature elaborate designs.
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Japanese tattoos are full or partial body-covering artwork featuring traditional Japanese imagery and color. Every portion of the tattoo blends with the whole picture, though there may be smaller images incorporated. Often, Japanese tattoos wrap around the body, with a complete, continuous image so there is no beginning or end to the scene. To create this effect, the size and proportions of the body must be considered and the drawings modified to fit the given area.

Things You'll Need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Japanese Artwork Books Or Samples
  • Paper
  • Colored Pencils

Review Japanese artwork to gain an understanding of the styles and themes commonly employed. Japanese artwork books are a good source for examples as well as tattoo books and artists’ website galleries.

Decide on a location for the tattoo and use a measuring tape to determine the size needed for the tattoo drawing. Consider curves of the body as well as whether you wish the tattoo to wrap completely around the area or just have a portion of the area covered.

Sketch the rough surface area shape and size on a piece of paper. If possible, use paper that allows you to draw to scale.

Choose a theme for the tattoo such as a personality trait or other characteristic. Strength, courage, intelligence and patience are possible themes.

Use the main theme to design one or two large images for the tattoo. For example, if strength or courage is the main theme, the tattoo drawing may have one large warrior image or a dragon. Sketch the large image(s) within the area outlined on the paper, trying to mimic the styles of Japanese art.

Design the background of the tattoo by drawing nature scenes or symbols. Castles and ocean waves, the moon, trees and mountains often find their way into a Japanese tattoo background. Symbols such as swirls, waves or patterns reminiscent of kimono textiles are an alternative for background images.

Add color to part or all of your tattoo drawing. In traditional Japanese tattoos, large images may have color while background images may simply be done in blue-black ink using the skin tone for contrast.


If the tattoo drawing should wrap around the body seamlessly, you may need to use two sheets of paper to line up the drawing on all sides.

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