Photorealism is a genre of art that became popular in the 1960s. The practice involved an artist using a photograph to create a painting or drawing that looks just as real as the picture. Artists like Chuck Close and Leigh Behnke became famous for their attention to detail and their ability to capture a scene in near-photographic precision. Since the 1960s, body art and tattooing have gained popularity and with more people getting inked up, there are new techniques and technologies available to tattoo artists that allow them to experiment with the medium. Tattoo artists are using special ink and needles to achieve photorealistic tattoos. Like the painters before them, many tattoo artists use photographs to base their tattoos on and then get to work recreating them. The canvas in their case is human skin which has its challenges like color, texture, and shape. It’s truly remarkable what tattoo artists are capable of creating. We took a deep dive into the world of realistic tattoos and photorealistic tattoos to bring you 25 of our favorite tattoo designs.
25. The Sloth
This portrait of a sloth is captivating. The tattoo artist has managed to bring focus to the creature’s face while blurring the periphery. It seriously looks like you’re gazing at a photo from National Geographic and not a tattoo.
24. The Odyssey
This tattoo of the iconic image from Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Oddysey looks so real that it’s hard to believe that it’s a tattoo. The way the artist has used the wrap of the design around the arm is remarkable.
23. The Fox
This friendly looking fox looks like it was painted with a brush instead of a tattoo gun. The artist has managed to give details that hint at realism but has employed an almost feathered effect that you normally associate with brushstrokes. Fantastic!
22. The Son
This tattoo is a portrait of the tattooed’s son. The thin lines of the hair create the illusion of a somewhat disheveled little boy. We love how the image seems to fade the further the eye strays from the focal point, the boy’s face.
21. The Galaxy
In this psychedelic design, we’re treated to a fantasy in which a whale floats through the cosmos. The color here is vibrant and stunning and is truly a sight to behold.
20. The Post
This tattoo made us laugh. Not because it’s a bad portrait of Post Malone, but because there’s a tattoo of a tattoo here, which was a lot. The way the artist has captured the eyes is astonishing.
19. The Masterpiece
This very colorful and elaborate back tattoo is also very big. It almost looks like a panel of fancy wallpaper. The birds moving through the dense floral scene are gorgeous.
18. The Cardinal
While we’ve got birds on the brain, take a look at this cardinal. Again, this design appears to have been painted on instead of tattooed. The colors truly pop and it’s a beautiful piece.
17. The Kirsten
We’re big Kirsten Dunst fans here at Mamas Uncut, so we were super excited to see this still from The Beguiled in tattoo form. The black, white, and grey tattoo catches both light and shadow in such a convincing way. Also, the pattern of the wallpaper behind Kirsten is so ornate and well-done. Phenomenal!
16. The Landscape
This landscape style tattoo depicts a tree and its reflection in a pool of water. Both are rendered with precision and both are haunting. The colors of the setting sun are compelling and look very much like a colorful sunset anyone would love to experience.
15. The Astronaut
This whimsical design is such a blast! It’s got everything. There’s an astronaut meeting with the superior being, the cat. The cat’s fur looks so real and the flashes of light from the stars give the whole design a cinematic feel.
14. The Bug
This tattoo is like taking a magnifying glass to a ladybug. There is so much detail from the ribs of the blade of grass that the bug is on to the reflection of light on the bug’s exoskeleton. This ladybug’s a beauty.
13. The Rose
The main focus of this tattoo is the large, pink rose, but if you look at the background, you can see that there’s so much going on. There’s a lovely indigo blue that leaves and flowers seem to be suspended inside. You can even see droplets of water on some of the leaves that catch the light and magnify the surface they sit on.
12. The Baby
Look at this little chimpanzee’s eyes! The cutest! This baby monkey seems to be staring right at you and there’s also a great little detail with our friend, the ladybug. The way the artist has used the tattoo gun to create very thin lines for the monkey’s fur is magnificent.
11. The Surrealist
The subject matter of this tattoo is a bit of a mashup. We’re given a portrait of Salvador Dali who just so happens to be wearing a chef’s hat with the animated rat from Ratatouille. Why? No clue! But, does it even matter? This fantastically weird tattoo includes some of our favorite stuff: sweets, handlebar mustaches, and a rat!
10. The Leap
This tattoo design pays homage to a little-known monkey in American space exploration. Ham or Ham the Chimp was a chimpanzee and the first hominid launched into space, on January 31, 1961, as part of the U.S. space program’s Project Mercury. This tattoo does an excellent job of recreating our brave friend, Ham.
9. The Balloon
While we’re on the subject of space, take a look at this beautiful design that imagines a hot air balloon ascending into the galaxy. If you start at the wrist, you’ll see a closeup of flowers and as your eye travels up the arm, the scope is blown out into outer space.
8. The Gods
This tattoo uses black, white, and grey ink to depict a scene from Antiquity. The shading of the muscles and curves of the bodies make the two figures look statues.
7. The Sunset
In the foreground of this tattoo, we can see the interlocking chains of a fence. Byone the fence, there’s a black silhouette of a mountain range surrounded by truly jaw-dropping colors. The way the light is used in the sky and then reflected from the water gives this tattoo a lot of movement.
6. The Purrfect Pal
This tattoo is the cat’s meow (sorry!). We love everything about this kitty portrait from the deep eyes to the colors used for the cat’s fur. The fern fronds that surround the feline are also a good touch. This tattoo looks so real you can almost feel those whiskers.
5. The Genius
This tattoo has a double-portrait of genius, Albert Einstein. The tattoo artist has managed to produce a lifelike portrait through the use of only black, white, and grey. If you look at the Einstein on top, specifically at his eyes, you can get a sense of just how amazing this artist is. The eyes appear bright and reflective surrounded by realistic wrinkles. The artist has included lines of Einstein’s notes to complete the concept. This is a fun one.
4. The Wave
Surf’s up! This realistic design puts you right in the center of a breaking wave. The water appears to be in motion and the colors it captures are thrilling. Additionally, the artist has used the shape of the chest to inform the overall shape of the design and it turned out really well. This is a smart design.
3. The Daughter
We shared a more minimalist portrait of someone’s son earlier on this list and now we’re going to the other end of the spectrum. This hyperrealistic tattoo of a daughter is so good it looks like it could be a photograph. It’s uncanny!
2. The Hummingbird
This pretty tattoo of a hummingbird feeding on luscious flowers utilizes white ink in the most interesting way. It highlights the feathers of the hummingbird and the tips of the flower petals making this tattoo appear as if it was done in chalk or pastels.
1. The Waterfall
There’s nothing like the serene splashing sound that comes from a waterfall and the tattoo artist has captured that peacefulness in this tattoo. The blues of the water have such depths while the green of the leaves brings it to life. The three birds really do look they’re in flight and could leave this person’s calf at any moment.
Tattooing has changed so much over the years and there have been a lot of developments. As artists and their tools become more advanced so too are the designs they’re able to achieve. As with all art forms, we’re seeing these designs push the limits of what tattoos can be and the reception they deserve. You can’t look at some of these designs and argue that they’re not art. There is so much skill and talent on display. We absolutely love the photorealism genre of tattoo and hope you have enjoyed looking at these stunning works of art as well.
Chicago based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet. Cheese and crackers are a mood.