This article provides a brief overview of the origins and proliferation of tattoo flashes or tattoo design sheets commonly seen in tattoo parlors.
Tattoo flash refers to tattoo designs that hang on the walls of the tattoo parlor and are available to potential tattoo customers to choose from for tattooing. The look of such tattoo designs stems from traditional Western tattoo styles and the way the flash is drawn is very systematic.
Why do people get tattoos?
For example, the flashes found in tattoo parlors in the same neighborhood often differ only in slightly subtle ways and the designs mainly involve images of female pinups, military insignia, ships, vicious beasts, knives, and skulls.
Tattoo flashes were first put up for sale by certain “Lew the Jew” Alberts, a wallpaper and tattoo designer in the early 1900s. Prior to the availability of tattoo flashes, a tattooist wishing to reproduce another tattoo design had to copy the design off the customer’s body.
The brilliant Alberts saw a business opportunity and started producing tattoo flashes that every tattoo could buy and quickly set up a tattoo parlor. Once a flash sheet has been acquired by a tattooed person, he can only copy it completely or make minor changes, and then use it as his own. Because copying and reproduction are so important but legal, it is quite difficult to identify the original creator of flash.
Pin by Gabrysia on Tattoos
Nonetheless, the introduction of tattoo flashes raises a win-win situation as tattooists increase the likelihood of sealing a deal by quickly offering customers different design options. In turn the customer can save valuable time and money. However, even if a tattoo has multiple flash sheets, the number of options is still somewhat limited.
As a result, the use of flash tattoos, certain designs or variations of these designs has become classic, worn by the majority of tattooed people in certain social groups. Fads of course may change from time to time but certain classic tattoo designs like roses remain very popular today.
Nowadays tattoos offering flash tattoos will use a sheet of translucent rice paper to transfer the design onto the customer’s body. First, rice paper was placed on a flash sheet. Then, the design is immediately traced onto the paper to produce a stencil. Finally, the tattooist will apply a small amount of carbon powder to the stencil and transfer the design to the body prior to the actual tattoo.
In the 1980s a wave of change emerged as tattoo parlors started moving towards contemporary tattoos or custom designs. Until then, most tattoo parlors had flashes covering most of the walls, front windows and often the ceiling as well. For those who enjoy intricate flash designs, you can easily buy a “pork cutlet” or an inexpensive flash design sheet for a dollar or more.