If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, or adding another one to the half-dozen or so you already have, the options of what are available may have multiplied since the last time you visited your tattoo parlor.

How about going 3-D?

The Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who died in May, is known mostly for his creation of the nightmare-inducing character in “Alien,” but he is also the godfather of three-dimensional tattoos. His work spawned a style called biomechanical tattoos, which have an allure that has recently extended beyond sci-fi fans.

“People would get these tubes tattooed on their skin in the ’80s,” said Mark Mahoney, the owner of the Shamrock Social Club in West Hollywood. “So it’s funny that it’s just been starting up again.”

Clients are bringing in photos from “Bodies: The Exhibition,” a museum show dedicated to showcasing the human body. “I just did a cutaway of real muscular imagery on somebody’s shoulder,” Mr. Mahoney said.

Other versions include the illusion of ripped skin and more-approachable styles, such as lifelike animals or objects that appear to be in motion.




An original watercolor tattoo by an artist in Spokane, Wash.; Corrine Skeen, from Baltimore, has a 3-D butterfly tattoo.CreditMatt Roth for The New York Times (right)

“The 3-D effect makes it look more organic, like it belongs on my skin,” said Corrine Skeen, 28, a dental hygienist from Baltimore. Last month she chose a 3-D tattoo to memorialize an aunt who died of cancer. “I wanted it to look like there’s a real butterfly sitting on my shoulder.”

Not for the sensitive, 3-D ink requires a large amount of detail and needlework, which can be fairly labor intensive. (Translation: more pain.)

“That stuff is so dense, and it has to have a kind of darkness to it,” Mr. Mahoney said. “So that’s a committed, real tattoo person at that point.”

So far, social media has the largest volume of 3-D inspirations.

“Instagram is a great way to view artists’ portfolios if I’m interested in a new piece,” said Ms. Skeen, who has four tattoos. “So when I saw photos of photorealistic and 3-D effect tattoos, I knew I wanted something like this.”

Despite hyper-realistic tattoos’ growing visibility on social media sites, Jon Mesa, a traveling tattoo artist who has recently worked out of Bang Bang Tattoos and Sacred Tattoo, warns that relying on some of these photos as references can backfire.

“It’s still really cool, but may not have that same shock value that it has on an image in your phone,” Mr. Mesa said.

A couple of other choices are out there for those who want to decorate themselves.




An original watercolor-style tattoo by Joey Hamilton of “Ink Master.”

Tattooing has long been regarded by many as an art form, but rarely do ink lovers get to make as literal a parallel than with watercolor tattooing.

The style is derived from a European free-form method of tattooing, Mr. Mesa said. “They are not based on old-school sailor designs or Japanese designs,” he said. “It’s more about expression, movement and color choice rather than just the power of imagery.”

Joey Hamilton, the season-three winner of“Ink Master,” on Spike TV, recently painted a watercolor butterfly on a client’s ribs. “You are trying to make them look like there are little paint runs or splotches of color,” he said. Elizabeth Vogt, 24, from Spokane, Wash., recently chose a watercolor tattoo of a bird for her fourth and largest tattoo. “This particular piece is from an artist that I’ve been following for a while, and it fit the watercolor, aviary theme that I seem to have going in the rest of my ink,” Ms. Vogt said.

In contrast to 3-D tattoos, watercolor tattoos have very little detailing to emulate the imprecise, flowing aesthetic of a painting. But a drawback is their inability to age as well as traditional tattoos. “The color is kind of applied as a wash, so less pigment means less saturation on the skin,” Mr. Mesa said.


Designed to look like bracelets, necklaces and beach bling, Flash Tattoos are this summer’s noncommittal style upgrade. Perhaps an answer to Tattly, the geek-chic temporary tattoos popular among design and typography devotees, Flash Tattoos are a hit among the surfer set and those with a bohemian flair. With summer music festival season afoot, the jewelry-inspired tattoos were already a crowd favorite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April. Alessandra Ambrosio and Vanessa Hudgens were among countless bloggers and festivalgoers seen showing off their adornments.