Tattoos have been around in some form or other for thousands of years, and nowadays it seems that everybody wants a slice of the inking action. With tattooing and its related culture becoming more and more mainstream, it’s inevitable that cheesy clichés will pop up (we all remember the time when everyone was getting Chinese writing tattooed on them). The fonts used within tattoos are one of the worst areas for these clichés, and if you settle for a generic and overused typeface in your artwork, odds are that you’ll regret it at some point down the line.
But, for every cringe-worthy font available, there are many more that have been crafted by talented designers whose creations deserve space on your body or in your artwork. Here’s our top ten favorite non-cheesy tattoo fonts.
Måns Grebäck is a prolific type face designer, and Angilla is one of his best. This script-based tattoo font gives a fun taste of biker culture, but without being too literal. Modern and clean, there’s only a slight Hell’s Angels flavour it, making it much more widely usable. It’s also more easily legible than traditional (and clichéd) biker style tattoo fonts, making it better suited if you’re wanting a sentence or two.
This font includes 357 characters including upper and lower case. There are also a selection of calligraphic brushstrokes that can be attached to the type, so you can get creative with your text. It’s free for personal use, or around $70 for a professional license.
2. TRUE LOVE
Italian web designer Davide Cariani created this font as an experiment in his spare time, and we’re really glad that he did. Inspired by traditional old school tattoo typography, Davide has retained the retro feel of those classic sailor tattoos, but with a more refined edge. The font is best used sparingly: think LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoos with a twist.
True Love is available in bold and regular, but is limited to uppercase lettering, numbers, period, and dash. It’s free for personal and professional usage, so feel free to go wild with it.
Roll up, roll up: this typeface is straight out of the circus. Gilang Purnama Jaya of the Decade Type Foundry clearly had the carnival in mind when creating this retro style font.
Tattoo fans and designers alike appreciate this font for its blatant reference to the tattoo industry itself. It’s easy to imagine this typography adorning an 1800’s ink shop, and this makes it perfect for old school artwork.
Clean and rough styles of Hustler are available, and there are more than 300 glyphs available. A clean demo version of this font is available for download, but a license will cost around $30.
4. BLESSED DAY
No best fonts list would be complete without designer Billy Argel. The guy behind some of the best tattoo fonts available online had great success with Blessed Day, and its handwritten style is popular with the tattoo community.
Legible enough for longer pieces, this font is well suited to quotes or song lyric tattoos. It’s also great for headings on print work like posters and flyers, thanks to its clean but classic lines.
The free version of this font features upper and lower letters, but is only available for personal projects. However, you can contact the designer to enquire about commercial usage, and it might be worth doing so even if you only plan to use it personally: the commercial version is revised and features additional glyphs.
Looking for something a little tougher than the other fonts that we’ve featured so far? Then search no more: meet Original Gangsta.
Another Gilang Purnama offering, OG is tough, meaty, and totally satisfying as a tattoo font. Drawing on those old street tattoos we all recognize from hip hop videos, Gilang’s version moves away from the corny italic version that springs to mind when you think of traditional gangster ink. This font is more grown up, and a little more sophisticated. Street, but a nice street in a decent neighborhood.
Original Gangsta is available free for personal use.
6. HIGH ON FIRE
Similar to, but not to be mistaken for Hustler, High On Fire is another offering from Billy Argel. Achieving a less literal version of carnival-style typography, Billy has produced a font that is big, bold, and lots of fun.
This is one of those typefaces that’s best used sparingly. As with the True Love typeface, think along the lines of knuckle tattoos and simple one or two word compositions. In terms of design work, it’s perfect for anything fun, vintage and/or bold.
There’s a free version available for personal use, but it is only a partial set. For the full range of letters, numbers and glyphs, contact Billy directly.
This is our second Måns Grebäck shout out, but this Swedish designer has so many beautiful fonts in his back catalogue that it would be impossible to pick just one.
This sharp tattoo font isn’t the easiest to read, so is best limited to headings for design work. Thinking about having it inked on your body? Go big, or go home: this bold font works best when it’s nice and large.
The full set of upper and lower case letters are available, as well as numbers and a good selection of special characters. A single license is $70 if it’s being used professionally, otherwise you can enjoy it for free.
Champignon is another traditional script font with a twist. Designer Claude Pelletier is renowned for having many creations in this style of typeface, but it’s this one that really stands out to us.
Perfect for longer tattoo scripture such as quotes or song lyrics, Claude’s offering is a slightly cleaner and more legible version of the classic cursive.
A full set of upper and lower letters are available, as well as numbers and some special characters. The font is free for personal use, although donations are gratefully accepted by Claude.
We’re obviously staying clear of clichéd fonts, but it’s important to recognize the difference between corny and classic. Designer Rafa Miguel has created a brilliant example of balance with MOM, which effortlessly straddles this fine line.
Rafa has clearly been influenced by traditional old school inkings, and what we like about this font is how true to the original it’s stayed. This tribute to American traditional ink works best in, well, American traditional artwork.
MOM is free for personal and professional use and includes upper case lettering and numbers.
There’s nothing about Dieter Steffman’s Canterbury font that screams originality, but sometimes that’s fine, and this is one of those cases.
This classic old English font was created in 2003 and showcases everything that is good about a traditional tattoo font. The typeface is the perfect balance of legible and ornate, and although usage should be limited to smaller sections of text, it’s easily readable.
Dieter has provided everything you could possibly need for your next tattoo session: upper and lower letters, numbers, and lots of special characters. Want more great news? The font is available for free download for both personal and commercial use.
Wrapping it up
Whether you’re a tattoo artist, tattoo collector, or a designer, think twice before settling on generic tattoo fonts. There’s so much out there that will set your artwork apart from the rest, and by going for something a little more original, you’ll avoid being stuck with something corny that you come to regret in a couple of years’ time. Do you have a favorite? Please share!