Tattoo Design: How We Create Beautiful Art

Tattoo design is an essential component of our industry: Although it’s often done behind the scenes, our artists spend considerable time drafting, drawing, and perfecting each piece. Even a small tattoo may have been worked on for several hours before it ever becomes a stencil.

Tattoo design is an essential part of what artists like Daniel Madsen do in Long Beach.

Our clients primarily see the application side of our industry, but on today’s blog we’re walking you through some of the basics of tattoo design.

Tattoo Design for Custom Commissions

When you make an appointment with an artist to work on a unique piece, it is a custom commission. That means we create a tattoo design especially for you, without turning to past designs or flash sheets. Our primary focus is custom tattoo work–just check out what we’ve been working on lately!

Our inbox is always open to discuss ideas, but to start on your tattoo design we need to see you at the studio for a consultation. (We can sometimes accommodate virtual consultations for certain tattoos, but that is up to the individual artist.) During a consultation, we accomplish a few central goals:

  • Discuss ideas. A reference pic is a great jumping off point for your tattoo design, but a face-to-face consultation allows us to tease out what elements of the reference you are actually drawn to. If the idea is still in your head, our experienced artists know just the questions to ask to start drafting a concept. (You’ll be amazed at how readily we can sketch out on paper what’s been floating around your mind!)
  • Sketch a draft. While the majority of tattoo design is done outside of your consultation, the back-and-forth conversation gives us a chance to start drawing up a sketch with you. We can then use the sketch as a foundation for a first draft, knowing that you’ve walked us through any specifications you might have.
  • Measure your arm, leg, etc. A hugely important consideration for tattoo design is the space we have to work with. A picture of your arm is great—but to compose something that truly fits your anatomy without being too crowded or too sparse, exact measurements are ideal. This also allows us to know what size you want your tattoo to be: You may want a “medium-sized” tattoo, but we may have very different ideas of what that means in actual inches.
  • Check your vibe. An in-person meeting can reveal a world of information that an email can’t. By chatting with you, seeing your other tattoos, and getting a feel for your personal style, we can gather details both big and small that can impact the overall feel of your tattoo design. 

Digital Tattoo Design 

Rarely does a tattoo design spring fully formed from our heads. Instead, we tend to go through several drafts of a design based on the consultation notes, our artistic mood, the input of our peers, the creative studies we are undertaking, and many other factors.
Many of our artists like to make a tattoo design 100% digitally. When using a program like ProCreate, we add numerous “layers” to an individual piece, each of which can be removed or further built on. If you ever have watched a time-lapse video of an artist using ProCreate, you’ll understand how much time we spend adding, erasing, adding again, and fine tuning each tattoo design.
Digital tools can also allow an artist to use a photograph for a realism tattoo as the basis of their design. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is easy: An artist still puts time into composing the piece, whether that means making a collage of photographic references or drawing in additional details. You can see an example of the latter in this pet portrait by Suzanne Shifflett, who used the dog’s picture as the basis for her design but created a custom frame.

Tattoo design of a pet portrait by Suzanne Shifflett.

Additionally, an artist must map out the lines of the tattoo onto the photographic references rather than printing out a stencil-version of the picture as is. This requires a careful eye, as the artist is essentially deconstructing the photograph to capture its essential composition.

Hand-Drawn Goodness 

While iPads have truly made their mark on our industry, many artists still prefer to draw out your tattoo design by hand. It’s a similar process in that we create an initial draft and make countless changes until we feel it is ready to present to you for a final inspection. But unlike ProCreate, a sketchbook does not feature an undo button. This means that any edits must be made by hand—which often means starting over entirely.
We have artists who prefer to do a mix of hand-drawn and digital designs. Owen Juarez often does color studies by hand, for example, before rendering a digital tattoo design to advertise on Instagram. Everyone’s process is unique—just like each tattoo we create.
Tattoo design by Owen Juarez.

Elements of Tattoo Design

Whether we are working with colored pencils or an iPad, there are a few critical elements that help us navigate the design process:

  • Composition: The way a tattoo design is laid out can make or break the finished piece. Does the design feature just one subject? Is there a focal piece with additional embellishments? Are there multiple focal points? Is the tattoo meant to tell a story? Are the various elements sized correctly with respect to one another? The goal is a design with proportionate elements, an overall sense of balance, and a pleasing aesthetic—and it is a lot more complicated to get there than you might think. Artists spend hours re-sizing, mirroring, moving, and replacing individual elements to get your tattoo design just right.
  • Size: Are you interested in a full sleeve or a palm-sized tattoo? Depending on your answer, we will give you two vastly different tattoos. Larger pieces allow for more details as well as more freedom when it comes to composition, while smaller pieces typically require simplification or fine linework. No size is inherently better than another, but it is nonetheless an important consideration during tattoo design.
  • Readability: Readability applies to more than just script tattoos. Whatever the subject, an ideal tattoo design is easy to understand when you look at it: There should be no question of “what am I looking at” when you show off your new piece. We achieve readability through a variety of techniques, such as bold linework or adjustments in the color palette. Size and composition also dictate what we can do with your tattoo to make it readable.
  • Placement: We create each tattoo to match the unique flow of your body. This means each piece is tailored to your specific anatomy. A full sleeve and a thigh piece are both large tattoos, but they require very different approaches to design. An aquatic-themed sleeve would have a lot of lovely movement and multiple focal points, for example, while a thigh piece would allow for a much larger central subject with a great depth of detail.
  • Longevity: A tattoo is yours for a lifetime. We want it to look good for years to come, not just the day you leave the studio. We keep the aging process in mind with your tattoo design, which is why we may advise that you size up or simplify certain pieces.

Deposit = Tattoo Design

Because of the nature of the tattoo design process, we require a deposit before we will get to work on your piece. We are happy to sketch out ideas with you during a consultation, but we will not work up a full preview before you commit to an appointment.
As artists, we do not charge you for the many hours that we spend working on your design, which means that we don’t get paid unless you get tattooed. That’s why we want you to be totally sure you want a tattoo before we start the design—and your deposit is a sign of good faith that you’ll be coming back to us. (If you back out at the last minute or miss your appointment, please keep in mind that the deposit doesn’t actually cover our design time.)
On occasion we get asked if we can create a tattoo design as an art piece. Some of our artists are open to custom commissions, but the price is typically more than that of a deposit.

Making Changes

If you have small edits to make to your design the day of your appointment, we can typically accommodate you. This might include a change in the eye color on a portrait, for example, or adding a small element like a single flower. Major changes may require both a new appointment and a new deposit, with each artist making this decision at their discretion.
To avoid any inconvenience and to show respect to the design process, we usually require a consultation for any large-scale custom work. We also ask that you let us know of any changes you have well before your tattoo session. Not every artist provides previews of a tattoo design in advance; but if you are clear in your communication and trust our creative expertise, we do an excellent job of capturing your ideas.

Get Started Today

If you’re ready to start your tattoo design, email us today to start on a consultation!

Why Skincare Matters to Your Tattoos

You already know how critical aftercare is to the final outcome of your tattoo (and if you don’t, we’ve got lots of information to share with you!). But did you know that daily skincare plays a huge role in how your tattoos look? From scrubbing down in the shower to protecting yourself from the sun, you can make the most of your ink with just a little bit of effort.

Proper skincare can keep this tiger sleeve from Mikey Vigilante looking fierce.

(Mikey Vigilante)

Skincare = Exfoliation

If you’ve been diligent about aftercare, you know how great a tattoo looks during those first few weeks. But after time has gone by, some people might notice that their tattoo has started to look a little dull–even though they’ve practiced proper suncare (more on that later!).

Don’t fret: That dullness could be the result of dead skin cells that have built up over time. Because out skin is constantly regenerating, we have cells that die off and need to be shed. These cells can make your skin in general look dull–and it’s especially noticeable on tattoos.

Rinsing off might get you clean, but consider working exfoliation into your skincare routine to see real results. You don’t need any major tools: Just give your fully healed tattoo a good scrub the next time you’re in the shower. You’ll see colors brighten up and black-and-grey/blackwork regain much of its crispness.

Skeletons need skincare, too.

(Jesse Iris)

Contrary to what some believe, exfoliation will not fade a healed tattoo. Tattoo ink is injected into the dermis, and we only deal with our epidermis during the course of normal skincare.

Remember: This is only for healed tattoos! Don’t scrub at a tattoo that’s still peeling!


Skincare = Moisturization

Exfoliation isn’t the only way to tackle dry skin–and aftercare isn’t the only time that moisturization matters.

Once your tattoo is fully healed, moisturization is an important part of daily skincare if you want to keep your art crisp and vibrant. This is especially true of areas that get a lot of exposure to the elements like your hands, arms, feet, or legs. But even a stomach tattoo that’s always covered can benefit from the soothing effects of a good moisturizer.

The top layer of your skin (the stratus corneum) is a network of skin cells, fats, and oils. When you apply a moisturizer, you help the stratus corneum lock in moisture that keeps your skin from drying out or cracking. This means you’re also protecting the dermis from infection by ensuring your epidermis is healthy and whole.

Think of your skin as a living canvas. When it’s hydrated with the help of a moisturizer, your skin is smoothe to the touch. That means your tattoos have a better surface on which to shine.

We suggest using moisturizers that are free of chemical irritants to best protect your tattoos. All-natural options are typically our favorite!.

Skincare = Suncare

We can’t talk about suncare enough when it comes to tattoos. If you want to prevent fading, you absolutely must use sunscreen or protective clothing with built-in SPF.

Suncare is part of skincare.

(Lindsey Morehead)

An easy way to be sure you protect your tattoos is to make suncare a step in your daily skincare routine. Many moisturizers include SPF, so you can always just apply one of these to your tattoos when you start your day. If you’re going to be out in direct sunlight, consider sunscreen as an additional step to keeping your tattoos looking great.


Proper Skincare = Radiance

If you’re free of skin conditions that require special medication or attention, proper skincare in and of itself can make a huge difference in your overall glow. Washing your skin gets rid of pollutants and irritants that build up throughout the day, as well as those dead skin cells that can cause itching and redness. Moisturization can prevent infections that can destroy your tattoos, simply by keeping your epidermis from developing fissures that let in bacteria. A little bit of sun protection can help you avoid a nasty sunburn that ends with blistering and peeling (which can in turn lead to infection or color loss).

Again, your skin is a canvas. When it’s healthy and happy, you’re more likely to avoid irritations like rashes or scaly spots that can impact how your tattoo looks. If your skin is radiant, your tattoos will be, too.

Please note: If you’ve got a condition that causes you to have irritated skin (dryness, hives, etc.), we suggest talking with your doctor about what you can do to help your tattoos look their best if your condition impacts them.


We know your tattoos are your best accessory, so we urge you to take care of them through daily skincare. If you’ve done any damage to your ink, we would love to help you get it looking great again with a touch-up (or even a cover-up if necessary), so get scheduled with us today!

The Best Time to Get a Tattoo: Winter!

While we’d like to say that the best time to get a tattoo is any time, the true answer is actually very layered. Work schedules, travel plans, financial considerations–these factors and more must be weighed, especially for large-scale tattoos.

Winter is the best time to get a tattoo from Owen Juarez at Paper Crane in Long Beach!

(Owen Juarez)

But at Paper Crane, we understand that sometimes the urge for a new tattoo can’t be denied. The good news: We’re currently in the perfect season for impulsive ink. Read on to find out why winter is the best time to get a tattoo!

No Beach Days = the Best Time to Get a Tattoo

You might visit the beach even on a cloudy day in December, but we’re guessing that you’ve got on a lot more clothing than if you were planning a summer swim. This means you’ve got less chance of getting a sunburn on a new tattoo. During the aftercare window, it’s especially important to protect healing skin from the sun’s rays, as a bad sunburn can lead to peeling. This in turn can cause ink to fall out, leaving you with a tattoo that is faded or patchy.

Unless you’re into polar bearing, we’re also guessing you won’t be diving into the ocean during the colder months. Oceans, lakes, and other waterways can be home to all kinds of bacteria and pollution, so it’s imperative that you don’t take a dip during the ten-day aftercare period.

No Pool Parties

The ocean isn’t the only water you need to avoid while your tattoo is healing! Pools are also out, which makes winter the best time to get a tattoo if you spend most of the summer in a unicorn floaty. Harsh chlorine can damage a tattoo that hasn’t fully healed yet, as can the bacteria potentially present in a pool.

Please note that you also need to avoid the spa. Although it’s a great way to warm up this winter, it’s not such a hot idea if your tattoo is still fresh.

Less Exposure = the Best Time to Get a Tattoo

We’ve already visited the potential dangers of getting a sunburn on your new tattoo–but did you know that your clothes protect you from more than just the sun? If you’re bundling up in the winter, you’re giving your healing tattoo extra protection with every layer you add. This includes exposure to sunlight as well as germs, dirt, physical contact with other people, and the general grime we encounter on a daily basis.

That said, clothing can’t protect you from everything. You still need to steer clear of working out at the gym, digging in the garden, and other activities that would put your tattoo at risk of infection. You can read more about what to avoid on our aftercare guidelines.

Less Crowds

Winter typically is the slowest season for tattoo studios. People are busy with holiday plans–and they’re spending their extra cash on presents, outings, etc.

While we don’t encourage you to get a tattoo if you’re broke from holiday spending or right before you travel, we do suggest coming to see us now if you’ve been thinking of getting tattooed. Our artists typically have shorter wait times than usual–and some even have immediate availability to tattoo you.

Once the holiday rush has full ended, we tend to get busier and busier until summer comes to an end, at which point the crowds thin out to a degree. So if you’re thinking of coming to see us and don’t want to be on a long waiting list, winter is the best time to get a tattoo.

The Best Time to Get a Tattoo You Can Show Off This Summer

Especially if you’re planning on a large project like a sleeve, you want to ensure that your new art has plenty of time to heal before you expose it to the elements. If you get started in the winter, you will have a chance to complete multiple sessions (if necessary) well before summer dawns.

Aftercare aside, getting tattooed in the winter means your tattoo will have plenty of time to settle. This is true even for small pieces: After the initial healing phase, a tattoo can take several weeks to a few months to actually look the way it is supposed to. Reds that look milky or sections that seem darker than intended often even out after a period of time (during which we encourage proper moisturization and suncare). If you get tattooed in the next month or two, your piece will look beautiful by the time you’re ready to hit the beach.



How Much for a Small Tattoo?

We love getting inquiries about new tattoos! Sometimes we get extremely detailed emails, where people know exactly what they want and who they want to work with; other times, a person isn’t sure about the process and needs some direction. We’re happy to guide you no matter where you’re at with your tattoo journey, but for the beginner looking for a starting point we’ve put together some information on one of our most frequently received questions: How much for a small tattoo?

Colorful compass tattoo by Sof PMA at Paper Crane Studio (Sof PMA)

Define a Small Tattoo

Size matters in tattooing. When you ask how much for a small tattoo, every individual at the shop has a different definition of what that means. For some, it’s a tiny squiggle on the top of your finger. For others, it’s a palm-sized piece. One customer might consider a certain piece in their collection a small tattoo while another person might think of the exact same tattoo as huge.

Because size is relative, we can’t readily answer how much a small tattoo will cost. The same goes if you ask us about a medium or large tattoo, since we all have different ideas on those terms.
What we suggest instead is providing a rough estimate of the size. That can be in inches (for example, a 3″ x 5″ tattoo) or in comparison to a common object (for example, the size of an iPhone). This will help us to understand your expectations so we can advise you on what’s doable at that size and what the cost will be.

Spill the Details

In addition to the size you’re thinking of for your small tattoo, the level of detail is a critical factor when we are providing an estimate. If you’re thinking of getting your favorite animal tattooed on you at around 5″ x 5″, that’s a sizable enough space that an artist can work in a significant amount of detail–if that’s what you’re interested in. But perhaps you’re just interested in a basic outline of a bear, which would take much less time than (for example) an illustrative bear. Or maybe you want a geometric tattoo that just happens to be in the shape of a tiger’s head–again, that would be a different tattoo in terms of design, execution, and cost than an Irezumi or American Traditional tiger.

Scorpion flash tattoo by Mikey Vigilante at Paper Crane Studio
Detail and size go hand-in-hand for more reasons than cost: With a small tattoo, some details just aren’t possible to capture in a way that reads well and will age well. We often get requests for flash tattoos to be done at 2″ or 3″, but our artists typically ask clients to consider sizing up to do the design justice as-is. An alternative to sizing up is to simplify, whether it’s for a flash tattoo or a custom piece.

Choose Your Artist for a Small Tattoo

The style of your small tattoo will potentially impact which artist you end up working with, as everyone specializes in different types of tattooing. Blackwork, American Traditional, illustrative, Irezumi, realism–each aesthetic is unique. Many of our artists are versatile and can tackle a number of styles, while others tend to work in only one or two styles.
Size and location can also be a factor when choosing an artist. Some artists are more comfortable than others with truly tiny tattoos. The same is true of placements like fingers or the inner lip, both of which we often get asked about for a small tattoo.
We are always happy to suggest an artist who will be a solid fit for your small tattoo, or you can let us know who you’d like to work with. The choice will be another factor in your estimate, as each artist sets their own hourly rate. These typically vary between $160 and $225 but are subject to change.
Please note out studio minimum is $100 even for the smallest of tattoos. (Again, that’s our studio minimum: An individual artist may have a higher minimum based on their hourly rate.) This covers our materials as well as the time needed for setup, breakdown, and of course tattooing.

Snake and mistletoe tattoo by Joy Shannon in blackwork style(Joy Shannon)

We often get asked if we can do less for a small tattoo, but our rates are not negotiable. The truth is there’s no such thing as a simple tattoo. Small linework tattoos have no margin for error, which means you need an experienced artist with a steady hand. If you want to end up with a tattoo you love, our studio is an excellent choice.

Come See Us

If you provide us with detailed information on size, location, and style and include a picture of where you’d like to get tattooed, we may be able to provide an estimate in person for your small tattoo. But to get the most accurate and expedient answer, we strongly suggest that you come see us at the studio for an in-person consultation.
Why an in-person consultation? This allows us to discuss your ideas one-on-one and work with you on any changes that will improve the final look of your small tattoo. It also allows us to check out the location you’re thinking and cover any concerns on placement such as pain level, distortion, etc. An artist will also have a chance to look at your skin, which can impact the tattooing process.
Some artists see consultations by appointment only while others accept walk-ins if time allows, so send us a message to get started.

Save Your Pennies

The reasons for wanting a small tattoo vary dramatically and are totally personal. While we might recommend sizing up in some cases so as to not lose any detail, we otherwise respect the decision to go small.
While we’ve got you on the blog, though, we’ll ask you this: Are you getting a small tattoo due to a limited budget? We understand that and can absolutely work with your budget–but if you actually want a larger piece, we don’t want you to be unhappy with your small tattoo down the road.
Our artists are happy to do multiple sessions on a tattoo to make it more affordable. This is a very common approach, and some tattoos actually necessitate multiple sessions even if budget isn’t a concern. Just let us know what you’re comfortable spending in total and on each session so that we can come up with a plan that works for you.

Blackwork tattoo by Jackie Siu of Paper Crane Studio

(Jackie Siu)

Whether it’s your first tattoo or you’re new to our studio, whether you want a small tattoo or to start a sleeve, reach out today to get started. We’ll see you soon!

September the 13th

Friday the 13th is a time-honored tradition in the tattooing world, and we are excited to celebrate this year on September the 13th. Every shop has their own way of participating, but typically it’s a time for artists to offer some amazing deals on pre-drawn designs while connecting with a whole bunch of clients, both new and established. We are taking a slightly different approach this time around than usual, so read on for all the details.

September the 13th flash sheet by Joy Shannon

September the 13th Guidelines

On September the 13th, we will be offering $113 tattoos that would otherwise be around $160-$225.
We will be taking appointments in advance, with non-refundable deposits required to secure a time. Appointment times will vary by artist, with the earliest appointment at nine in the morning and the latest at nine in the evening.
To book your appointment, please contact the artist who designed the piece you’re interested in getting tattooed. We will not be booking appointments through the shop.
You can see flash sheets as artists release them on Instagram/Facebook. If an artist has not posted work yet, stay tuned!
Walk-ins are welcome and will be taken by artists with openings on September the 13th. Any open artist will be able to tattoo any flash piece.
We have nine artists participating, so we estimate we will be able to tattoo 60-90 people.
If all of our artists get booked with appointments, the designs may be available at full cost on other days by the original artist. Please contact the artist of the design you’re interested in for more details.

September the 13th Lineup

Mikey Vigilante

Tan Vo

Joy Shannon

Jade Quail

Lindsey Morehead

Lindsey Morehead

Jackie Siu

Jesse Iris

Owen Juarez


Friday the 13th Superstitions

Friday the 13th’s origins are apocryphal, with many citing the original unlucky date in 1307 when the Knights Templar were eradicated. While this has largely been proven false, our superstitious tendencies on this day still persist. Which ones do you watch out for, on Friday the 13th or year round?
If you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Bad luck also ensues if you walk under a ladder or open an umbrella indoors.
Putting your purse or bag on the floor invites financial ruin.
To keep bad luck at bay, get out of bed on the same side you got in.
If you spill salt, you’ll summon the devil–but you can blind him by throwing it over your shoulder.
Breaking eye contact during a toast is considered bad luck in some cultures, as is toasting with water or an empty glass.
If you’re walking by a cemetery, hold your breath to avoid breathing in a hitchhiking ghost!

What If I Can’t Be There September the 13th?

We understand that Friday the 13th isn’t a national holiday, unfortunately. Some of our artists like Joy Shannon will do flash by appointmentappointment on other days–just not at the Friday the 13th price. This is also true of some past flash sheets, so feel free to ask your favorite artist about resurrecting a design you loved from a previous event!


Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen. It’s the reason you don’t see a thirteenth floor button on elevators, even though we all know the fourteenth floor’s true identity. Winston Churchill was said to refuse to be part of any dinner group that had thirteen members.
Many flash events include tattoos that are based around the number thirteen. This can include spooky characters like ghosts and spiders or classic pieces bedecked with the number thirteen itself. We think that’s great and sometimes do thirteen-themed flashed sheets ourselves.
Most of the time, we are broader in our approach to Friday the 13th when it comes to designs. Some artists opt for a theme of their own (as Joy Shannon did in the sheet featured at the top of this blog), while others throw out a bunch of designs only connected by their awesomeness. We suggest checking out our artists’ social media pages to see what they will be offering–and check back frequently if they haven’t posted yet!

Tips Welcome

We price these special tattoos at $113 in keeping with the spirit of Friday the 13th, but we always welcome tips at your discretion. We are thankful for the appreciation our clients show our artists.

We’ll See You There!

We are pleased to continue offering our Friday the 13th event and thankful to have you there through its many evolutions. We know this day will be just as memorable as past ones, so we look forward to seeing you soon!

Custom Tattoos in the Digital Age

At Paper Crane, we have the pleasure of creating beautiful custom tattoos seven days a week. Our artists specialize in a wide array of styles, from black-and-grey realism to painterly tattoos in vivid colors. We have a heavy focus on custom tattoos, but we also often have up-for-grabs designs and flash sheets that you can choose from on a whim. There’s one thing we don’t offer, though: Pinterest or Instagram reproductions.

Custom tattoos are our specialty, like this chrysanthemum by Mikey Vigilante

Pinterest-Worthy and Instafamous

In the digital era, we have limitless access to tattoos and tattoo designs. You can hop on Pinterest or Instagram, drop in any search term, and discover a million takes on a single theme. The same is true if you use a search engine like Google. You might even discover pictures of your own tattoo if you look long enough!
On a regular basis, tattoo trends go viral on social media sites. Recently we saw a huge surge in requests for embroidery-style tattoos after they became popular on Instagram, for example. Individual tattoos can also become Instafamous if they are particularly outstanding, whether it’s for their unique composition, lifelike realism, or beautiful execution.
Thematic tattoos are another great example of pieces that become wildly popular on social media. Just think about it: During the Game of Thrones finale, you probably saw a lot of available designs and cool tattoos inspired by this epic show. (If you follow us on Instagram, you definitely saw GoT pieces from our studio!) Custom tattoos inspired by fan favorites–from Harry Potter and Star Wars to the Avengers and Pokemon–often get an incredible amount of shares and likes on platforms like Pinterest.

Authentic Art and Creative Respect

We love that the internet has allowed tattoo collectors and artists to connect with one another. Social media is a great way to discover professional artists and explore creative ideas–but it can also lead to a frustrating lack of proper credit and an abundance of copycatting.
At Paper Crane, we are committed to creating authentic art for our clients–and we are equally committed to showing creative respect to all artists, at our studio and beyond. Whether an artist has gone viral on Instagram or has just shared an available design with their small Facebook following, we respect that their work is the fruit of their time, effort, and talent.
This is true of non-tattoo artwork as well. It might be an uncredited mandala you discovered on Google or a watercolor portrait of a tiger that’s been repinned to numerous boards on Pinterest–whatever the medium or popularity, we applaud the artist for creating something beautiful to share with the world.

Inspiration for Custom Tattoos

We sometimes have customers send us pictures of custom tattoos or other artwork they’ve discovered and ask to get that exact piece tattooed. We never mind that question: If you are new to tattoos or fall hard for a particular design, it’s easy to assume that it’s not a big deal to get yourself a carbon copy. Out of respect for the original artist and for ourselves as creative professionals, though, we will decline to replicate another person’s work.
Rather than seeking a copycat piece, we encourage you to look at existing tattoos and other artwork for inspiration. What about a particular tattoo grabs you? Is it the color scheme? The composition? The details? The overall “feel” of the piece? Sometimes it’s helpful to find several pieces that speak to you in order to understand exactly what it is that you are drawn to.
We always appreciate getting references when working on custom tattoos, so feel free to send us the pieces you love. If your heart is set on getting an exact replica of that Death Eater tattoo you found on Pinterest, we are sorry to say that we can’t accommodate your request–but if you’re open to our creating vision, we would be happy to make you a custom Death Eater tattoo that we know you’ll love.
We’d like to note that we custom design even the most straightforward of pieces. If you bring us a Pinterest tattoo of a crescent moon with a smattering of dotwork stars, we will work with the concept–but we will at the very least redraw it so that it is uniquely yours. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something like a well-known symbol–say a rune of protection from a videogame–we can typically accommodate that request without major retooling.

Permission Granted

At our discretion, we might agree to tattoo a piece designed by another artist on the grounds that you’ve obtained permission from the original artist. Even with permission, we might suggest changes: For example, if you’ve gotten permission to get an artist’s painting tattooed on you, we might need to adjust the design to allow it to “read” more clearly as a tattoo. Not all works of art translate well into tattoos, for reasons that include level of detail, color scheme, and original medium.
An artist might also decline to tattoo a design by another artist despite their blessing, perhaps because they are focusing on custom tattoos they’ve created themselves or simply aren’t comfortable with the style of the piece. We will always let you know our honest thoughts and try to work with you on an alternative solutions.
Creating custom tattoos is a privilege, one that allows us to explore our creative talents while bringing your vision to life. We deeply respect your ideas and can’t wait to work with you to design a one-of-a-kind piece, be it a totally original idea or something inspired by a beloved work of art.

Best of Instagram Vol. 5: Beautiful Tattoos in Long Beach

At Paper Crane, we get to create some of the most beautiful tattoos in the industry on a daily basis. That’s why we are featuring work from all of our artists on this special edition of our social media spotlight!

Beautiful tattoos in Long Beach--large blue snake on client's side by Owen Juarez.

Owen Juarez specializes in Irezumi-style tattoos but also enjoys working with cultural themes from around the world. This particular piece is striking for both its bold color and flattering placement.

Game of Thrones inspired tattoo of a naked woman riding a red dragon--by Lindsey Morehead.

We’re still recovering from Game of Thrones. Many of our artists have created beautiful tattoos honoring the series, each in their unique style. We are especially in love with this one by Lindsey Morehead.

Foo dog tattoo on upper arm, one of the beautiful tattoos done by Tan Vo in Long Beach.

Tan Vo does incredible traditional tattoos, whether you are interested in floral work or a mythological creature. This foo dog has our vote for both its fluid composition and pleasing palette.

Over the Garden Wall sleeve by Justin Tauch.

If you are interested in illustrative work, Justin Tauch does beautiful tattoos in this style. He especially loves nautical and natural themes, but he also enjoys creating tattoos that pay tribute to fan favorites. This Over the Garden Wall sleeve is a great example of his recent work.

Full color hummingbird chest tattoo by Suzanne Shifflett of Long Beach.

Suzanne Shifflett is another artist at our studio with a flair for illustrative tattoos. She enjoys both black-and-grey and full color, with carefully rendered details that speak to her fine-art background. This hummingbird looks ready to take flight!

Blackwork portrait with Love and Light script by Jackie Siu.

Tattoo apprentice Jackie Siu makes Paper Crane proud with her beautiful tattoos, from classic designs to thematic originals. We are all about this unique piece she created for a client this month.

Large Medusa tattoo on client's thigh by Joy Shannon.

Have you checked out Joy Shannon’s ritual tattoo work? This amazing offering provides clients with the opportunity to explore a more spiritual side of tattooing. We can’t wait to see more progress from Joy on this Medusa portrait.

American traditional tattoo of a bottle containing a lighthouse and the ocean by Sof PMA.

Sof PMA delights us on a regular basis with her whimsical work. We love both her realism and her cartoon creations, but this traditional piece captures everything we love about nautical tattoos.

Two birds with roses blackwork tattoo by Jesse Iris on a client's arm.

You can often find available designs on our story from Jesse Iris. These little lovebirds highlight his penchant for both floral designs and animal tattoos.

Peter Pan pirate ship tattoo, blackwork by Jade Quail of Paper Crane Studio.

If anyone knows the way to Neverland, it’s the incredible Jade Quail. Her beautiful tattoos always enchant the imagination–and this Disney piece is no exception!

Koi cover-up on upper arm by Mikey Vigilante.

Rounding out our special installment of the Best of Instagram are these majestic koi from founding artist Mikey Vigilante. Cover-up work can be challenging, but Mikey excels at seamless transformations, as shown by this piece.

Thanks for joining us for a look at the beautiful tattoos are artists have been working on in Long Beach. Message us today to get started on your next piece at Paper Crane Studio.


Tattoo Fading–and How to Avoid It

Tattoo fading is a serious concern if you’re an ink enthusiast. There’s nothing like showing off a freshly done piece when it’s vibrant and crisp–and there’s nothing as disappointing as seeing that same piece turn dull or blurry.

Although it’s true that all tattoos are subject to aging, we’ve got some inside insight on what you can do to prevent tattoo fading. Grab your sunscreen and read on!

Tori Amos as the Sphinx sleeve by Mikey Vigilante at Paper Crane Studio in Long Beach

(Sleeve by shop founder Mikey Vigilante)

1. Choose your artist wisely.

The way a tattoo is applied makes a big difference to the final outcome, but did you know it can also impact how well a tattoo wears over time? Needles need to penetrate the dermis to deposit ink properly, which means an artist needs to aim for about 1-2mm into your skin. If a needle goes deeper than that, the tattoo might not settle properly. Similarly, if an artist goes shallow by penetrating only the epidermis, tattoo fading is likely to occur.

We strongly suggest choosing an artist who is experienced or who is being apprenticed by an excellent artist. This will ensure that a tattoo is being properly applied according to tried and true practices.

Additionally, we encourage you to check out an artist’s healed tattoos, either in their portfolio, on their social media, or in pictures clients have tagged them in. If there is a major discrepancy in the way their brand new tattoos look compared to ones that are a few weeks to a few months old, that can be a red flag to consider.

Social media can be deceptive thanks to filters and editing software. We pride ourselves on showing tattoos as they are, without retouching or other tricks–and we try to get healed pictures whenever our clients drop by. What you see is what you get at Paper Crane, so you can trust that your tattoo will be applied correctly.

2. Think about placement.

Tattoo fading is more likely to occur with certain placements–even when the tattoo is applied perfectly by a reputable artist. If you’re thinking about one of the following tattoo placements, we encourage you to be aware that you might need a touch-up sooner than you would with another placement:

  • Foot
  • Kneecap
  • Elbow
  • Armpit
  • Finger, palm, and hand
  • Inner lip
  • Ear
  • Face

This is not an exhaustive list–and a tattoo in one of these places does not automatically mean you’ll experience an issue, as a lot of tattoo fading has to do with how you care for the piece. But in general, these areas either see a lot of sun or a lot of friction, exfoliate faster than other placements, or simply don’t hold ink well.

We are willing to tattoo you in these areas, but we ask you to consider fading before you move forward. If you understand the risk, we’ll be happy to work with you–or if you’d rather, we can suggest alternative placements that we know you’ll love.

3. Trust your artist.

Every artist has a different approach to tattooing–that’s one of the things that make it such a wonderfully varied art. At a single studio, you can find one artist who swears by “bold will hold” and another who does watercolor scenes all day long.

We believe that application, placement, and daily care are the biggest factors when it comes to tattoo fading, regardless of the style of tattoo you get. We also believe in trusting your artist: If you’ve researched their work and picked them for a reason, then listening to their professional input will lead to an awesome tattoo that you’ll enjoy for years to come. If an artist isn’t comfortable with a style or suggests tweaking an idea so that it will wear better, we encourage you to take their advice as the expert.

A good example of this is a white ink tattoo. White ink tends to be fickle: It can react to sunlight and potentially oxidize as a result. If you’re looking to get something that is only white ink, an artist will advise you about this risk.They might suggest a different color, or they might recommend moving the tattoo to a place that won’t be as likely to experience sun exposure.

If you can’t agree on something during a consultation, we suggest talking to another artist who specializes in the particular effect you’re going for. That goes for placement as well: Not every artist feels comfortable with finger or palm tattoos, for example, but they will typically be happy to refer you to someone else who can make that happen for you.

4. Observe the aftercare period.

We cannot stress the importance of aftercare enough. Your new tattoo is an open wound, one that needs to be protected diligently for ten days while it goes through the initial healing period. You can find our full aftercare guidelines here, or you can email us if you have questions.

If you get a new tattoo sunburned or pick at the scabs while it’s healing, you will very likely experience fading. A touch-up may remedy the problem–but your artist will definitely be able to tell whether or not you followed aftercare guidelines, so be prepared to be honest.

5. Prevent tattoo fading by protecting your skin.

Sun exposure is a lifelong concern for anyone due to skin cancer concerns. If you have tattoos, the sun can also cause major damage in the form of fading–even if you don’t get a sunburn.

Sun damage is cumulative, which means that over time your tattoo can start to fade if you don’t take the proper steps to protect it. We encourage you to put sunscreen on your tattoos daily, even if its chilly out. You can also consider clothing with built-in SPF, which can be worn throughout the day or thrown on after your sunscreen has worn off. If you opt for sunscreen alone, don’t forget to reapply!

6. Too late to stop tattoo fading? Get a touch-up!

If you’ve experienced tattoo fading, we suggest reaching out to your artist to see about getting a touch-up. If you can’t work with your original artist for whatever reason, you can always send us a picture of your current tattoo so we can see if a minor touch-up is a good solution.

In some cases–like a tattoo that has been sun damaged for many years–we might suggest a total rework of a piece to restore vibrancy and clarity. In other cases, a cover-up might be the best way to move forward.

Whether you’re getting ready for a new tattoo or wanting to protect one you’ve already got, we hope that you art stays beautiful for a lifetime!

How to Get a Tattoo You’ll Love

Whether it’s your first piece or you have too many to count, deciding to get a tattoo is always exciting. While it’s possible to get a tattoo on a whim or to snag a flash design at an event, typically there’s a certain amount of time and effort that goes into the process. Today we’re suggesting a few easy steps to help you get a tattoo you’ll love for a lifetime.

Blackwork cat tattoo by Jesse Iris at Paper Crane in Long Beach, CA

Step 1: Sort Your Ideas Out

Sometimes you just know what tattoo you want to get done. Other times, it’s a dilemma to decide which idea you like best of the hundreds flitting through your mind. We’ve been both places, so we get it!
Although we are always happy to help you figure out which piece go with, we strongly suggest sorting your ideas out before you head to the studio get a tattoo. Why?
  • Different artists have different specialties. Do you love the illustrative style of a particular artist? It may be that they tattoo in that style exclusively, so asking them to do an American Traditional piece might result in a no. (At Paper Crane, we will definitely refer you to another artist if this happens, so no sweat!). But if you know you want an illustrative piece for sure, then you know in advance that the artist you’re looking at will be a great fit.
  • Sometimes specialization is a matter of preference: An artist might only want to tattoo certain styles that they really love–or conversely, they might not want to do certain kinds of tattoos in particular, even if they are capable. You’ll sometimes encounter experienced artists who don’t like to do finger tattoos, for example, or ones who don’t do script, geometric tattoos, watercolor, etc.
  • Other times, specialization is more about skill level: A tattoo artist still working on their apprenticeship might do fantastic linework but not be ready for realism, for example.
  • Location matters. As mentioned above, not every artist does finger tattoos. The same is true for other body parts, whether it’s because an artist is new in their career or they just aren’t comfortable with certain locations. Examples include necks, hands, and genitals, so if you’re thinking of these as options it’s good to narrow that down before getting your heart set on a design.
  • Location impacts the design as well. As an example, hand tattoos tend not to age as well as other tattoos, for a number of reasons. If you’re wanting to get a tattoo on your hand, the design you have in mind might need to be altered to make that work.
  • Budget, budget, budget. Authentic art is expensive. If you’re deciding between several designs and on a budget, it’s a good idea to think about what you’re willing to spend. Maybe your budget means going with a smaller, simpler design, or maybe you’re willing to do multiple sessions to make a certain tattoo affordable. A consultation with an artist is a great place to discuss these concerns in detail, but knowing what you can realistically spend is a good starting point.

Step 2: Research Artists–AND Studios! 

Social media is a powerful tool for checking out tattoo work from artists all over the world. Often our clients discover an artist they love via Instagram and come to the shop specifically for that person. Other times, Instagram serves as the source of inspiration for the piece they want. (We will never copy another tattoo, but we can work off of ideas you find online!)
Instagram can also allow you to get a feel for the work an artist is turning out on a regular basis. If the quality and style line up with your goals consistently, this is a good indication that they might be who you should get a tattoo from.
Be sure to look for healed tattoos from artists when possible: Although aftercare and daily maintenance are in the hands of the client, a solid tattoo artist will turn out pieces that look amazing long after they’ve healed.
Researching an artist can help you also help you see that they are legitimate professionals. Industry regulations can vary by state, but it’s in your best interest to verify that an artist has had the proper safety training in addition to their artistic training. The same goes for studios, which should be in compliance with local safety standards.
Your tattooing experience should be incredible from start to finish, which is why we suggest reading reviews on studios as well as artists. A clean, friendly studio with welcoming artists and great customer service can make a huge difference in how you feel about your tattoo at the end of the day. (If you’re thinking about coming to Paper Crane, we invite you to browse our Yelp reviews!)

Step 3: Be Open Minded

Depending on the tattoo and the artist, you’ll typically have a consultation before you actually get a tattoo. Although we understand wanting to get a piece done exactly in the way you’re envisioning, we encourage clients to be open minded for a number of reasons.
An artist can often see things that a client can’t, whether it’s to do with the location or the design. Some concepts won’t “read” well as tattoos, for example–but your artist will typically be able to make suggestions that will turn your idea into a beautiful tattoo. This might mean changing the level of detail, increasing the size, trying the idea in a different style, etc.
Similarly, an artist might suggest moving a tattoo to a different location or altering the design if it doesn’t fit a person’s unique physique. We carefully consider each client individually and design tattoos to be a tailored fit, which means that a sleeve on a person with a narrow arm would look very different on a person with a fuller canvas. If you have a particularly thin forearm, we might suggest your upper arm or leg for the tattoo, or alternatively we could simplify the design so it isn’t crowded.
Our suggestions are always designed to ensure you get a tattoo you will truly love–and typically we are speaking from years of tattooing experience. We appreciate the trust our clients have in us and bring the full force of our talent and skill to each tattoo.
As noted previously, we will not copy another artist’s tattoo, and usually we will only tattoo an existing art piece with the permission of the original creator. But if a client can be open to creative input, we can design an original piece we know you’ll be happy with for years to come.

Step 4: Get a Tattoo!

Once you’ve met with an artist, put down a deposit, and saved up for your piece, it’s time to get a tattoo! We suggest arriving early to your appointment, reviewing aftercare guidelines in advance, and planning for food and water if you’ll be at the studio for a while. (Definitely eat beforehand if you’re just dropping by for a quick session!)
If you’re planning to get a tattoo at Paper Crane, we are always available to go over any questions or concerns. We will look forward to seeing you soon in Long Beach!

Best of Instagram: Vol. 4

Spring is on the horizon, and we are feeling it here in Long Beach. For this month’s Best of Instagram, we are featuring a few of our favorite floral designs.

Painterly rose from Suzanne Shifflett at Paper Crane

Suzanne Shifflett created this painterly rose. The placement elegantly fits the client’s forearm, while the colors make it look real enough to pluck. Suzanne does beautiful fine art tattoos, from pet portraits to elaborate floral pieces.

Vintage mushroom pinup tattoo from Lindsey Morehead at Paper Crane in Long Beach

Lindsey Morehead has a unique take on American Traditional. She has been working on some incredible lady tattoos, with a whimsically vintage vibe that we can’t get enough of. You can see her flash designs on our Instagram if you’d like to snag one for yourself!

Floral jelly

Jade Quail proves time and again that blackwork floral tattoos can be just as striking as color! This jellyfish is one of her most magical creations, with a lovely sense of movement to the design.

Black and grey floral tattoo from Sof Powdermink of Paper Crane Studio

We’re wrapping up this month’s featured florals with a black-and-grey piece by Sof Powdermink, the newest addition to our studio. You can catch Sof in Long Beach on Thursdays and Fridays, so stop by if you are in the area to get a tattoo!

Whether you’re interested in a floral tattoo of your own, a flash design, or a custom piece, come see our artists to get started on your next tattoo.