getting a new tattoo

Timeless Tattoos: The History of Flash Art in Tattoo Design


Walk down the street and the chances of seeing someone with a tattoo are pretty high. From celebrities to soccer moms, it seems like everyone’s getting inked these days. In fact, 30% of Americans have at least one tattoo, which is a huge boom compared to even a couple of decades ago! 

One of the reasons for this is flash tattoo designs. They’ve helped popularize the art and make it easier than ever to get some ink on your skin.

Learn more about flash tattoo history and whether it’s the right option for you in our guide. 

What is a Flash Tattoo?

Walk into a tattoo studio these days and they’re covered in designs, right? From the store windows to pretty much every inch of wall space, art is everywhere. You’ll probably even find folders containing even more sheets of tattoo designs, showing off what the artists can do and giving you some inspiration.

These designs are known as tattoo flash sheets. They’re pre-drawn by the tattoo artists in the store and provide a ton of different designs for people who want to get inked. Typical designs include hearts, skulls, and faces, but there are usually more unique drawings by the artists too.

If you’re walking into a tattoo studio with no idea what you want, check out the flash designs and you’ll probably find a piece you fall in love with pretty quickly.

The Origins of Flash Tattoo Designs 

The history of tattoos hasn’t always been a happy one. They’ve often been frowned upon by society and have even been banned at times (crazy, we know). Despite everything tattooing never went away, and the invention of flash designs paved the way for our more positive attitude towards tattoos today. 

Flash tattoos originated in the early 1900s, just after the invention of the electric tattoo machine in 1891. They were incredibly popular in New York City, which became a hub for tattooing – particularly in the Bowery neighborhood. 

Traditional flash art included designs of ships, daggers, eagles, roses, snakes, and skulls, and they all had different meanings attached to them. The black, bold lining of the designs filled in with highly saturated colors became an iconic part of traditional flash tattooed, and it’s still a fairly common style today!

The tattoo artists of the 1900s started to trade their flash designs with each other, too. They’d compare and swap them at trade shows or through the mail, helping diversify the design options available and to share techniques. 

The invention of the flash art tattoo alongside the tattoo machine made it easier than ever for people to get inked. They could walk in, choose a design, and come out with a tattoo; it was more simple than ever. There were hundreds of design options available too, and the industry was revolutionized by this simple invention. 

It’s no surprise that the popularity of flash art quickly spread. Nowadays pretty much every tattoo artist draws up flash designs and every studio is covered in the sheets. But it was the old artists of New York City who paved the way for the artists of today.

Can You Get a Custom Flash Tattoo?

Flash tattoos and custom tattoos are two very different things. Flash tattoos are designed to be repeated over and over, making them less unique.

They’re also drawn by the artist so it’s unlikely they’ll hold much personal meaning to you, but in the world of tattooing that doesn’t really matter. As long as you love it, who cares, right?

Custom tattoos, on the other hand, are designed just for you based on specific requirements. For example, you might want a specific flower in a certain color designed for a part of your body, like to wrap around your arm. They’re individual and designed to your taste.

Custom tattoos can be more expensive and you won’t be able to walk in and have it done on the spot. The artist will need time to develop the tattoo design after your initial meeting, and then you’ll come back in when it’s ready to be done. Be sure to pick a professional studio for such task, such as Maui Tattoo Shop.

Whilst you can’t get a completely custom flash tattoo, your flash design might be able to be changed a bit depending on your artist. You could ask for different colors, add important initial or numbers, or change small aspects of the design. But whether your artist wants to or can do the changes is up to them.

Both options are popular and neither is the ‘better’ tattoo. At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference, so pick what you want!

Flash Tattoo Style

Whilst flash tattoos all used to be of a similar style and were often shared between artists, the 1980s-1990s saw a shift. Instead of using the same designs, artists started creating their own unique flash tattoos. They developed their own style, creating pieces that were unique to them and their customers. 

This is the more common practice we use today. Artists take pride in creating their own work, and part of the fun of tattooing is in the creativity of the design.

It also helps bridge the gap between flash and custom. Whilst they’re still not individually designed for you, they are unique to the artist you’re using. 

Get Inked

Whether you’re looking for a flash tattoo or have a custom piece in mind, Skin Factory Tattoo can do it all. Get in touch to ask us about flash or to pitch your own idea; we love hearing what you’ve got in mind!

If you’re looking for inspiration, be sure to check out our gallery of past tattoos to see what we can do. 


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