Custom Tattoo Design in San Diego

Many city tattoo shops, San Diego included, popularized midnight walk-ins — you know the deal: after a fun-filled night out you randomly hit up a shop and pick from one of the menu items… something like your standard-issued Japanese tiger or daggered heart. But these days the best tattoo artists specialize in custom tattoo styles, and it makes sense — custom tattoos are one-of-a-kind and wholly unique to you. Anytime you work with custom tattoo shop or artist, it gives you an opportunity to express your creative thoughts, your history, life experiences, and more.

But how do you go about deciding on a piece let alone finding someone who will best develop custom tattoos?

There’s a few things you’ll want to keep in mind while you’re looking for shops in San Diego.

Step 1. Decide on a Tattoo Style

There are many different tattoo styles to choose from. Before you jump into finding an artist, first you’ll want to get a better idea of the tattoo style you’re looking for.

Here’s a refresher:

  1. Traditional tattoos. The traditional americana or “old school” tattoo is the style of your grandpa’s time. The distinctive style was developed in the 18th-20th century, spearheaded by the greats such as Norman Collins (known as Sailor Jerry), Gib ‘Tatts’ Thomas, Bert Grimm, and Mildred “Millie” Hull. This style is often characterized by thick, black line work with themes centered around pinup girls, swords, birds, flowers,  broken hearts, and maritime components, such as ships and anchors.  Coupled with bold, distinctive line, this old school approach is now deemed the traditional American tattoo style. 

  2. Biomechanical. These tattoos are a stylistic approach to tattooing which combines the human body with a contemporary design that makes it look as if the body is made up of mechanical parts. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator with half his face was ripped off and that glowing red eye, or the inner workings of a clock.

  3. Tribal. In many ways, these are a nod to the very first type of tattoo. The earliest tribal tattoos were used by many indigenous tribes and cultures to communicate personal details. Things like social status, family lineage, religious beliefs, and philosophies. Ever heard of Otzi the Iceman? He’s a 5,000-year-old mummy who was found on the border between Austria and Italy and may be the most famous modern example of tribal tattoos. Otzi’s body featured 61 tattoos, most of them only consisting of horizontal or vertical lines. Many contemporary tattoo designs use this same simple line work, while others borrow from Mexican Aztec, Polynesian, and even ancient Japanese culture, which feature bolder shapes and designs.  

  4. Blackwork. Using geometric shapes and bold line work to create intricate patterns and designs, this style is similar to tribal tattoos and the result is often a stunning, contemporary take on indigenous design.  

  5. Neo Traditional Tattoo Style. As the name suggests, this style of tattooing blends the traditional art form with contemporary elements. Often, neo-traditional tattoos will combine many aspects of traditional tattooing, such as heavier line weights and old school themes with modern elements and more delicate line work. In short, this is where old meets new.  

  6. Watercolor. Although a slightly newer type of tattoo style, featuring soft “washes” of pigment instead of dark or opaque coloring, this style mimics the effect of a watercolor painting and tends to lack the defined line work that traditional tattoos feature. When done correctly, they are beautiful and delicate; however, because of the light washes of color they are not as resistant to sun and may fade more quickly than other styles. 

  7. Surrealism. With nod or two to the surrealist greats such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Mirò, surrealist tattooing evokes a dreamlike or subconscious quality. As a whole, it reflects the cultural and artistic movement developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War blending various visual imagery which relate in strange or unusual ways.

  8. Portraiture. Ranging from illustrative to extremely realistic, only very skilled artists are able to achieve the amazing graduation and fine line detail required to do portrait tattoos well. Some artists even forgo that dark outlining so that the result mimics that of classic portraiture. Portraits are among some of the hardest work to do well, so it’s critical to do your research.  

  9. Stick & Poke. The DIY kings and queens were among the first to popularize this style of tattooing, which uses a single needle to build up line work and create different shapes with decorative patterns. 

Step 2. Find an artist who specializes in that style

Once you’ve figured out the style you’re most interested in it’s time to do your research! Not all artists specialize in the same style, and as we discussed, some tattoos (like portraiture) really require artists who have a good deal of experience working with those types of subjects.

Professional artists are typically really passionate about the work they do, and so it’s in your best interest to find an artist who really loves to work in the style you’re most interested in. Trust us… the end result will show!

Instagram is a great place to review local San Diego tattoo shops as well as talented tattoo artists work. Review portfolios and get a feel for the best tattoo shops and their tattoo style.

Sometimes really amazing artists are mobile and will work as guest artists at different shops. So, if you’ve been following a tattoo artist for awhile you may be able to book an appointment with resident artists.

Also, don’t forget to read reviews. Customer satisfaction is huge, so take some time to look over some online reviews of both the artist you’re interested in as well as the shop. The San Diego area has a lot of tattoo artists, so make sure you really take your time.

Step 3. Visit The Shop

Now that you’ve identified a few artists or shops to do your custom piece, call to schedule an intro appointment or make a point to stop by. Tattoos are not only expensive, but they’re also a whole vibe. You want to make sure the tattoo experience is a good one, so it’s helpful to make sure the shop has a welcoming and comfortable environment.

Make sure to scope out their certifications and ask about compliance standards. By law, tattoo shops must follow OSHA Compliance since the industry uses materials which come in contact with bodily fluids. Make sure to choose a San Diego tattoo shop that closely adheres to sanitation guidelines. No matter how amazing an artist may be, the last you want to do is choose a shop that isn’t following health guidelines and best practices.

san diego tattoo shop

Step 4. Talk Design

By this point, you’ve done your research and you’re in-person visits. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of your custom designs.

Here’s a few things you’ll want to consider for your appointment:

  1. Bring references. Whether you want a new school tattoo, a Japanese-inspired design or are considering custom cover ups, make sure you bring reference photos or art that you love so your tattoo artist can get a feel for the tattoo style you’re going for.

  2. Ask for what you want. Remember, this is part of the custom tattooing experience process. After your artist talks with you and sees your references, the next step is to mock up some designs. Often, it may take or two iterations to land on a design you really love. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. While you don’t want to get hung up on nit picky things, if you don’t like something, speak up!

  3. Don’t ask your artist to copy someone else’s work. While you may really love a piece of body art you’ve seen online, don’t ask your tattoo artist to copy someone else’s work…in the end that wouldn’t really be a custom piece.

Remington Tattoo Tattoo Shop

Built in 1914 and restored in 2011, Remington Tattoo Parlor + Gallery is an industrial, modern meets apothecary artist’s studio which specializes in custom tattooing and body piercing services. We’re located in the North Park district in the heart of San Diego, near the corner of 30th and Upas, at 3009 Myrtle Avenue San Diego, CA 92104.

Visit our unique shop, meet our artists and find the one that is right for you and your tattoo. Our Latest Works page showcases our most recent tattoos and behind-the-scenes shots that don’t make it to our portfolios. To schedule an appointment with one of our artists at Remington, contact us today.

Visit our unique shop, meet our artists and find the one that is right for you and your tattoo. Our Latest Works page showcases our most recent tattoos and behind-the-scenes shots that don’t make it to our portfolios. To schedule an appointment with one of our artists at Remington, contact us today.