Tattoo flash is a tattoo design printed or drawn on paper or cardboard.
It is typically displayed in tattoo parlors to give customers ideas for their own tattoos. You usually see the walls of the shop plastered with 11 x 14 pieces. If they have a very large selection they’ll probably also have binders of additional flash for you to look through.
Traditionally, tattoo flash was designed and drawn by the individual artist for display in his own shop, or traded and sold among artists in the business.
Hand-drawn, local tattoo flash has been replaced by professional “flash artists” who produce prints of flash and sell them at conventions or through the Internet. They may not be tattoo artists but they can draw up the imagery that does well with tattoo collectors. The artists with the best reputation in the business will usually sell a set of flash which consists of multiple pages that possess a similar style and topic. The sets can sell for hundreds of dollars but if they’re popular, the tattoo shop will likely get multiple requests for the design. Part of owning a reputable shop is offering customers a nice selection of flash to choose from.
There is no standard size for tattoo flash, but it is commonly found on 11×14 inch prints. Tattoo flash may or may not come with an outline, also known as a stencil. This outline is typically printed on a separate sheet and usually just consists of a bold black outline. This is convenient for the tattoo artist, who would otherwise have to draw the line work for themselves. The artist will use the outline to create the stencil that will give the artist a temporary guide on the skin. Some artist hand-trace the outline with thermal paper and then use that to transfer the outline to the skin. Sometimes this part of the tattoo procedure is done by an apprentice. More sophisticated shops own expensive thermal machines. With these, the outline is placed in what looks like a small copy machine and it produces the outline on thermal paper for you. It’s a great time saver but the machines typically run about $1,000.
Most flash today is found on the Internet, with customers bringing it into their own artist to have tattooed. This method is available from a number of sites. Although this method is becoming commonplace, it can be a form of copyright violation. Artwork found in books, magazines, or on web site is the property of the original artist and not in the public domain. In most countries, the original copyright holder can take action against the tattoo artist, or the person who illegally supplied the tattoo flash. For this reason, many of the top tattoo flash sites are now offering legal downloads of individual designs.