Is it ok to copy a tattoo?

Is it ok to copy a tattoo or art by a tattooer you are a fan of?

Imagine you come up with a really great concept for a new piece.  You’ve done your homework, found an artist you really love, pitched the idea and booked the appointment.  You trust your artist with your idea and wait until the exciting day your appointment arrives.  The design is perfect, even more than you imagined!!  You get your wonderful new tattoo applied and take a photo to show off to your friends or to share over instagram or pinterest.  Your artist is proud of their work, and they too, take a picture and add it to their portfolio & share it online!  Very exciting indeed, they’re so stoked on the piece, they want to show it off!

Everything is roses.

Fast forward a few months, sometimes only a few weeks or days, and you come across your tattoo on the internet again, though, it’s not on you.  It’s heart breaking, someone has ripped off your EXACT IDEA!  Not only that, but the artist ripped off another artists work, entirely, claiming it to be there own!!   There are differences of course, probably most are negligible, it may have some new script added to it, or some colours & placement are different, but it’s definitely not applied as well.

What do you do?  What does your artist do?

Unfortunately, this happens ALL the time.  And sadly, there is not a lot that can be done, other than educate.

What we try and tell clients when they come in with a picture of a tattoo they want is “We do not copy tattoos”, period.  We follow with telling them that particular tattoo belongs to someone else, and we can design something original and unique for them.  We try to persuade them in a positive manner, most of the time, they totally understand.

The fault of copy cat designs is not entirely on the client, often, they don’t know any better.  For the most part, it is the copy cat artists fault as they DO know better and it is their job to help educate the client.

Things to keep in mind if an artist is willing to directly copy a piece:

  • The artist has zero integrity, they are being lazy and taking your money that is not earned in honesty.
  • They are taking advantage of you as an uninformed client and also taking advantage of another artists hard work.
  • Their art & skill are also not up to snuff.  Any true artist would want to put their own spin on a piece, a little bit of themselves into a tattoo.
  • Pride of craftsmanship, if you encounter an artist that has no qualms with copying another artist’s piece, you know you’ve encountered someone who does not care, do you really want to be tattooed by someone who doesn’t care?

is it OK to copy a tattoo? | tattoo etiquette series on

Ultimately and sadly it comes down to plagiarism and after you’ve been tattooed with a copy cat design, you are branded for life as a copy cat.  The world is both very big and also very small.  What would you say if you walk into a coffee shop while on vacation and someone comments on your tattoo, you’re stoked, but it turns out the person commenting on your tattoo is the original owner.  They’re choked and you’re left embarrassed.

is it OK to copy a tattoo? | tattoo etiquette series on

Tattoos are a wonderful form of expression.  If you see a design or style by an artist, see if you can get tattooed by that artist!  Sometimes it requires travel (what an awesome souvenir!), or sometimes they travel to conventions that are close to home!  If you find a design you like, investigate local artists with a similar style, bring your reference into them and see what they can spin out for you!  You will be far more happy with an original piece, done just for you, than a poorly executed copy cat job!  Your artist will be thankful to have a chance at a fun new piece as well!

Here are some great links coming from an artists perspective!  Give ’em a read through!

Guen Douglas: How To Avoid Tattoo Plagiarism

Read more on tattoo etiquette:


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  1. 1
    • 2

      It’s a real bummer how much this happens. Maybe that artist figured they had changed it enough because the floral is different. Maybe the client was dead set on that design and was pushy. It’s a shame and is more and more of an issue. Artists want to share their work out of pride, to get recognized and hopefully garner new clients. Meanwhile unethical tattooers or overly entitled clients feel they can help themselves to someone else’s art. I feel bad for both the artist and the original client when pieces are ripped off.

  2. 5

    I’m working on a thigh piece of a leopard, and I am looking through Pinterest Google and Instagram and saving pics for the purpose of placement taking real photos (I want it colorful and realistic) meshing together an album to serve as inspiration only. Is this okay? But discuss HOW we can turn it into an original masterpiece.

    • 6

      Building a group of reference is strongly encouraged and the best way to go about it. Once you have found an artist you want to work with, take it in and tell them what it is you like about each piece. Then leave it with them and trust that they will come up with the best art for you!

  3. 7

    I almost always have a reference piece or two for the idea but let my artist run with it. He hasn’t failed me yet. Proud to say none of my five are copy cat tattoos.

  4. 8

    So you only really talked about if the client brings in photos of tattoos. I have a friend who drew me this really cool picture that I want to get done as a tattoo. If I have the original drawing and the artists permission, is that fine to get done?

    • 9

      That’s definitely ok, though I would allow your artist to make changes if they suggest it, as not all art is ‘tattooable’. They can take the original art and tweak it to make it the best tattoo possible that will hold up over time! cheers!!

  5. 10

    I want to get my first tattoo soon and get a sleeve. There is one tattoo that someone has that I really really like. If I took it to the artist, could he help come up with something like the one I like while keeping it original? I’ve been getting a bunch of pictures of similar tattoos that I like as a reference for when I finally do go.

  6. 13

    I thinking about getting my first (and extended tattoo) so I really need to understand this. There a design a really love. I don’t care about getting a tattoo, I care about getting that tattoo. I’ve seen variations of the design, which I don’t like and would never wear for the rest of my life. That one though, I would. The design happens to exist on someone’s arm. What I supposed to do? I completely understand the fact that a tattoo artist is an artist who doesn’t do copycats, but this doesn’t solve my problem. I want that tattoo. Since it’s something I am going to wear on for the rest of my life, I feel like I’m entitled to decide what’s best for me. You talk about trusting the artist, but honestly I don’t think it’s something I can allow myself to do. As good as he/she can be, what does he/she actually knows about me and what I like? Nothing. I’m talking about a big tattoo that I will have for the rest of my life. What should I do then? It’s an honest question, please give me your opinion.

    • 14

      What should you do? Not steal someone else’s tattoo.

      Because this is what that is, theft.

      It will never look as good as that tattoo will either, because only second rate tattooers will copy tattoo art, which means you are getting subpar work done.

      If you want it to be awesome, you go to an awesome artist and you let them do their thing.

      What I don’t understand is you trust someone enough to mark your body permanently, but not trust an artist to come up with something that is outstandingly good to mark you permanently. It’s baffling.

    • 15

      If you desperately want that exact tattoo then find a way to contact the original tattoo artist and ask if they can do it. If not then tough luck.

  7. 17

    I’m extremely upset by this. When I went to get my very first tattoo I had brought in two reference photos, saying what I liked and disliked about them, what parts I liked, the colours etc. I didn’t know about all this at the time. I didn’t know better. I wanted something that was my own and inspired by those images, and what I got was something that I thought was beautiful, but way to similar to an already existing piece. And now I feel like a terrible person, and I don’t know what to do. Luckily it is only a part of a very large piece, but its still a part. I’m quite discouraged and unsure of how to fix it. I’m scared to go back to that place. I also question what that tattoo artist was thinking at the time. I wonder if he thought it was an ok thing to do. I wonder if he thought I was just stupid. My whole experience has ruined tattoos for me, I don’t think I will ever get any more because it was just an awful experience.

    • 18

      Something similar happens to me. Maybe bc it is floral and i bring him only 3 references but mine ended up kinda similar with one of it. I know florals kinda everywhere but I was hoping for something more original. Same as you I kinda thinking what I’m going to do with it. I want something inspired by those not copied

  8. 19

    There is a graphic artist on pinterest that i love, i live her art. If i ask her to design something for me (assuming she does) and take it to a tattoo shop and ask to get it, is this ok? I’d credit both artists whenever i take pictures or someone asks about it.

    • 20

      Yes, this is ok. The most important thing is to ask the original artist, they may ask for compensation, which is fair. Then when you take it to a tattoo artist, they may suggest changes to make it the best tattoo possible, please listen to what they suggest.

  9. 21
  10. 23

    Hey, I totally agree with you! Stealing someone else’s work is nothing but rude, uncreative and disrespectful.

    However, I am planning on getting my very first tattoo soon. I have had the idea for the last three to four years and soon, I’ll be old enough to finally get it. (It’s supposed to be a tattoo based on the constellation canis major.)
    It has A LOT of meaning to me and I have already had an idea in mind on what I want the tattoo to look like. So yesterday, I was looking up some pictures for reference (so that I can explain exactly what I want to the tattoo artist).

    And I suddenly found a picture that is pretty much exactly what I want. (I’d like to have some smaller changes to it, but the overall tattoo would look very similar).
    This is the picture:

    I found out that someone else has exactly this tattoo on their shoulder.
    So now I’m really disappointed because if I get the tattoo done now, it would look like I stole it – which is not my intention at all! As I said, I already had pretty much the same idea in mind without knowing this tattoo already existed.
    Would it still be considered as “stealing” somebody else’s artwork if I get this?

    I am so disappointed right now!

    • 24

      I’d say take this inspiration into an artist and let them do their own take on this idea. They will change it enough and make it special for you so that it’s similar, but still your own unique piece. Find an artist you get along with well and like their style and let them draw you something, I’m sure they will come up with something in a way you haven’t even imagined yet that will knock your socks off.
      Best of luck!

  11. 25

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