Since the days of sailor tattoos, the shoulder has been one of the most popular places for men to get inked. That’s because the shoulder is traditionally associated with strength and power. However, just because shoulder tattoos are traditional, that doesn’t mean there aren’t new or exciting designs. Check out these cool, meaningful, and badass options that will look great on any man’s shoulder.
1. Dragon Shoulder Tattoo
Dragons have been popular tattoos for men for decades as they represent strength, power, and wisdom. Dragon tattoos are also a versatile option as they can be adapted to many different art styles. For a dynamic shoulder tattoo, you could choose a Chinese or Japanese-style dragon as their long, snake-like bodies look great wrapped around your bicep, trap muscles, and chest.
2. Eagle Shoulder Tattoo
The look of an eagle tattoo will depend on the individual; for some men, it could be a skull, weapon, or tribal design. For others, a bird of prey – like an eagle – makes for a powerful and intimidating inking. A soaring eagle about to strike looks fantastic as a shoulder tattoo because the wings can be tapered to span across the chest and around the bicep too.
3. Shoulder Blade Tattoo
Shoulder blade tattoos are one of the more unusual placements, which makes them stand out. Because your shoulder blades are part of your back, you can opt for an oversized tattoo with lots of detail. One of the more popular designs for shoulder blade ink is wings. You can personalize the look of the wings with a watercolor art style, or add realistic details with black and white shading. Make the feathers extend to the back of your arm for a striking look.
4. Shoulder Tattoo for Black Men
The shoulder is a popular tattoo placement among black men. That’s because tattoos in these areas represent strength. Popular designs include religious symbols, family tributes, and lions. However, it’s important to consult an artist with experience in tattooing black skin before you get your shoulder tattoo. That’s because tattoos age differently on darker skin tones when compared with light skin, and some ink shades won’t look vibrant, even when fresh. Plus, black skin tends to scar more easily.
5. Tribal Tattoo
First reaching the mainstream in the ’90s, the tribal art style remains popular for tattoos today. The thick, curved lines are ideal for a shoulder tattoo because they appear to ‘move’ with your body. Your artist will use your muscles as a guide for where the lines of the design should lie, and shape the inking to match. The final result is a striking and masculine tribal tattoo.
6. Small Tattoo
While your shoulder is a fantastic place for larger tattoos, small designs also look great. Try a one-word inking, a geometric symbol, or a simple yet meaningful tattoo like a cross. Plus, smaller tattoos take less time to apply, while your shoulder is one of the least painful places to get inked – making this an ideal choice for your first tattoo.
7. Religious Shoulder Tattoo
Religious men often choose the shoulder for a meaningful tattoo because it is associated with strength. A religious tattoo on your shoulder indicates that your faith keeps you strong and is the foundation of your life. When it comes to the design of the inking, there are many options – a simple cross, dove of peace, or Sacred Heart all suit the shoulder placement.
8. Celtic Tattoo
The Celtic art style features striking rings and knots, making it perfect for a shoulder tattoo. The circular symbols and lines help shape the tattoo around your muscles, meaning the design won’t warp or look static on your skin. Celtic spiral patterns also have a deeper meaning; they are believed to represent the sun’s life-giving energy, the union of the physical and spiritual worlds, and eternity.
9. Maori Shoulder Tattoo
As a Polynesian culture, tattoos are traditional for the Maori people of New Zealand. Maori tattooing is called ta moko and originally involved applying ink with chisels, rather than needles. However, today many Maori men are inked using modern tools, which makes the tattoos smoother and less painful. The nature of a Maori person’s tattoos can reveal details about their family, tribe, status, and achievements. For Maori men, the shoulder is one of the traditional places to be tattooed.
10. Small Shoulder Blade Tattoo
The shoulder blade can be more painful to tattoo than other parts of the shoulder, like the bicep, so some men opt for smaller tattoos in this placement. Matching shoulder blade tattoos – such as double stars or sparrows – are popular choices as they add balance and symmetry. Shoulder blade tattoos are also a great way to emphasize back muscles and broad shoulders.
11. Polynesian Shoulder Tattoo
For men of Polynesia heritage, tattooing is a traditional and sacred right of passage. Polynesian tattoos combine curved lines with geometric symbols as well as solid black shapes. They have a distinctive and unique appearance, as well as a rich cultural heritage. The designs themselves are made up of protective and nature-inspired symbols. One of the most recognizable is the wave, which is believed to preserve and increase a person’s mana or life force. Armbands and shoulder tattoos are traditional in Polynesian cultures.
12. Tiger Tattoo
Tigers are popular tattoo choices for men as they represent active, fierce, and powerful predators. Because tigers are considered significant in many Asian cultures, these animals are frequently tattooed in the Japanese or Chinese art styles. A tiger looks excellent on your shoulder as its striped body can be curved to fit around your muscles. The result is a life-like tattoo that’s full of movement.
13. Quarter Sleeve and Shoulder Tattoo
A quarter sleeve tattoo doesn’t extend as far as a half or full sleeve tattoo, ending around your bicep. Because there’s less space for the design on your arm, it looks great when paired with a shoulder tattoo. Traditional Polynesian men’s tattoos are often inked here. Because your upper arm has curved sections from your muscles and bones, it’s essential to choose a tattoo artist who can adapt your design so that it doesn’t warp and moves with your body.
14. Angel Tattoo
An excellent shoulder tattoo choice is an angel. While it can have a religious meaning, an angel can also represent a loved one who has passed away, or a person’s ‘guardian angel’ who they believe protects them from harm. On the other hand, many Christian men choose angels from the Bible as the basis for their body art to show their faith. A popular choice is the archangel Michael, who is the leader of the army of God.
15. Back Shoulder Tattoo
Men who want a detailed, complex tattoo should consider a piece that extends across their shoulders and back. If you already have a sleeve, take similar elements from your existing ink and have your artist continue the design further. Doing so will give your final ink a more connected look. Otherwise, the back and shoulder are great options for a narrative tattoo – one inspired by a story – or a meaningful ink like a family tribute or religious tattoo.
16. Lion Tattoo
Lions represent strength, power, and confidence, which is why these tattoos are so popular with men all over the world. You can adapt a lion tattoo design in many different ways, from the art style to the position of the piece. For your shoulder, try a profile roaring lion’s head that can stretch from your bicep to your chest.
17. Shoulder + Half Sleeve Tattoo
A half sleeve tattoo extends from your shoulder to your elbow. A badass option for this type of tattoo is a knight’s armor, complete with chainmail, plate, and scratch details. You can even add your family crest as a cool, personalized detail. It’s an unusual design that speaks to the hero inside all of us and will remind you to live up to the knight’s values of bravery and integrity.
18. Skull Tattoo
Skulls are one of the most versatile tattoo designs. From Mexican sugar skulls to Gothic skulls or even realistic anatomical skulls, they look great in every art style. As skulls tattoo involve circular elements and curved lines, they suit the shoulder placement. Plus, you can easily adapt your skull shoulder tattoo to create a badass skull sleeve.
19. Star Tattoo
For men looking for a simple, striking, and meaningful tattoo, stars are an excellent choice. Because stars are visible at night and were traditionally used for navigation, they represent guidance through the darkest times in life. For some people, they represent faith in God. A cool option for a shoulder tattoo is a trail of different stars that stretch from the trap muscles down to your chest.
20. Clock Tattoo
As clocks mark time, they are considered to represent life and death when used in tattoos. They remind us that our time on Earth is limited and to make the most of every day. Because they are so meaningful, many men pair their clock tattoo with other symbols. For example, flowers and clocks could represent the beauty and transience of life, while owls and clocks represent the gaining of wisdom over a lifetime. Like other spiral and circle designs, clocks look great on your shoulder – particularly the curve of your shoulder joint itself.
21. Colorful Tattoo
While black ink is very popular for shoulder inkings, colorful designs look equally striking. If you have an extensive and complex shoulder tattoo – like a half sleeve – color can be used to make different elements of the design stand out. Japanese-style inking traditionally incorporates a lot of colors, giving these tattoos a distinctive and dynamic look.
22. Upper Back Shoulder Tattoo
Upper back shoulder tattoos are very popular with men all over the world because they emphasize broad shoulders and back muscles. Plus, as the back is a wide, flat part of the body, it’s ideal for large and complex designs – popular choices include tribal tattoos, Celtic symbols, and animal motifs. As a shirt usually covers your back, you can easily hide your ink, so you can be as creative as you want.
23. Flower Tattoo
For guys who like classic and old school tattoos, roses are an excellent choice. These flowers have been popular since the early sailor tattoo days, and represent both the beautiful and challenging parts of life. The rounded shape of the flower fits the shoulder placement because it fits the curve of your muscles.
24. Geometric Tattoo
Geometric tattoos have been growing in popularity in recent years due to their understated yet undeniably cool look. Futuristic and minimalistic, they are perfect for guys who want a simple shoulder tattoo that still stands out and shows off their personality.
25. Badass Shoulder Tattoo
The look of a badass tattoo will depend on the individual; for some men, it could be a skull, weapon, or tribal design. For others, a bird of prey – like an eagle – makes for a powerful and intimidating inking. A soaring eagle about to strike looks fantastic as a shoulder tattoo because the wings can be tapered to span across the chest and around the bicep too.
How bad do shoulder tattoos hurt?
In the scheme of things, your shoulder is one of the least painful areas to get tattooed. There's plenty of muscle and fatty tissue to act as padding. Plus, the skin on this area tends to be thicker, and therefore less sensitive.
How much does a shoulder tattoo cost?
Most tattoo shops charge by the hour, and the rate might be a standard shop price, or it could vary by artist depending on their experience, exposure, and popularity. Expect to pay between $120-$200 per hour, on average. However, the total cost will also depend on the size of your tattoo and how much detail it has—the larger and more intricate, the more expensive. When you book in for a consultation and discuss your design with the artist, you'll be able to ask for a ballpark quote.
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