As someone with what any grandmother would refer to as “too many tattoos,” one of my absolute worst fears is that I will — somehow, someway — eventually have one done with a gigantic mistake I don’t even notice right away.
Well, this week, redditor u/Sorceress683 asked, “Tattoo artists, what was your worst mistake and how did the client react?” and, WHEW BUDDY, did people come the heck through with some nightmare-inducing stories!
So, here are just a few of the wildest, weirdest, and cringiest tattoo horror stories shared:
This missing “H”:
“I was a receptionist at a tattoo shop. One of the artists misspelled ‘Neighborhood’ on this guy’s neck. He spelled it ‘Neigborhood,’ leaving out the first ‘H.’ ‘Neighborhood’ was the guy’s nickname and it was a pretty large, elaborate tattoo, so there was no fixing it. I don’t think I have ever cringed so hard in my life.
The guy was surprisingly really cool about it, since he did see the drawing and approved it before it was tattooed on. He ended up making the artist tattoo a ‘H’ on his palm so — if anyone gave him shit about the misspelling — he could smack that person with the missing ‘H.'”
This American-to-European mix-up:
“I was working at a shop when this guy came in for a full back piece made up of three different cars. It took like four sessions to finish, and each visit he’d look at it and say it looked awesome and then he would take off.
On the last visit, they call me in to look at it to show me how awesome it turned out. Well, all the steering wheels were on the wrong side and the reason no one caught it was because the dude was looking in a mirror to check his progress so they looked correct!
I’m pretty sure the guy was super chill about it, and they offered a bunch of free work, so they ended up fixing it in another session.”
This frightened(?) gentleman:
“The best one I ever saw wasn’t done by us, but was when a guy came into our shop asking about a coverup.
He had what we call a ‘belly rocker.’ One of those lettering tattoos that arcs over the belly (think Tommy Lee’s “mayhem” tattoo). These are usually done in some gothic font. His was beautifully executed with bold, black, old English letters across his belly. The issue was that it was supposed to read, ‘Scarred for life.’ However, the artist who did the tattoo had forgotten one of the letters: The second ‘R.’
So, this guy had ‘Scared for life’ written on his belly.”
This acronym gone wrong:
“I had a client email me asking for a four-letter acronym. I don’t do freehand script, so I put the letters into a font generator and sent him back some options. He picked the one he liked best and we set an appointment date.
On the day of his session, I showed him the acronym again and we chose a size. I placed the stencil and he approved it and I got started. Midway through the tattoo, I asked him what the letters stood for and he told me. My heart stopped.
The letters were in the wrong order. The middle two were swapped. I ran to the shop computer to check my email and, sure enough, he’d sent me them correctly. I had typed them into the font generator wrong. In my defense, he had seen them several times since then and also didn’t notice my mistake.
I spent the rest of the session covering them up with another design he’d had as a backup tattoo idea and I didn’t charge him, but it was a good learning experience for me to always ask what initials/acronyms stand for ahead of time to make sure I get them in the right order!”
This vowel-forgetting father:
“I had a guy who spelled his own kid’s name wrong!
I had him write their name down. Literally, HE wrote it down: ‘Bently.’ I drew up a fun custom script, he loved it. I put the stencil on him and had him check it out (I even told him to make sure everything was right), all good. Did the lining and had him check it out while we took a break, still loved it. Finished the shading, drop-shadow, etc. All finished. He’s checking it out in the mirror, loves it, until I hear,
‘Uhhh, what about the E?’
‘What E?’ I reply in dismay.
‘The E! Bentley has an E!’
So I show him what he had written down, and he groans, ‘Oh man, I always fuck that up…my wife is going to kill me!’
So I sit down with the original drawing and manage to turn part of the L and the Y into an E, add another couple lines to re-form the L and Y, and boom: ‘Bentley.’ It worked out in the end and I felt like an absolute wizard, but DUDE, it’s your kid’s name and you didn’t notice the spelling was wrong the 10 times you checked it out during the process?!
What a job.”
This cringey Cringer:
“I was doing a big ol’ tattoo of Cringer (aka, Battlecat) on a really cool client’s leg. I got so into doing this big, awesome tiger head that I forgot that it WASN’T a goddamn tiger at all, and colored the stripes black.
I realized about a third of the way through filling them in and let the guy know. He was disappointed, but mostly okay with it. I felt like I was going to puke. I finished the thing feeling so sick, and then refused payment. Man, going from that feeling of elation to IMMEDIATE crushing disappointment was hard to shake. It was extra crushing because it was a fun tattoo during a time when I wasn’t that busy and was doing mostly absolute dreck.”
This moment of Murphy’s law:
“I worked as a piercer in a shop a decade ago. A guy came in and wanted ‘Murphy’s law‘ tattooed. The artist freehanded a design on him, he green lit it after watching in the mirror, and they did a beautiful piece with a banner. Only problem is it read: ‘Murpy’s law.’ That seemed fitting, and the guy actually loved the fact that his one messed up tattoo was the Murphy’s law one.”
This Italian error:
“My ONLY spelling mistake ever was in Italian.
A girl wanted a phrase in Italian. She wrote it down no less than five times on paper. I told her to make sure it was correct, as I don’t speak Italian. She insisted it was correct. I drew up some nice script, tattooed it with no issues, bandaged it, and she paid and left.
She came back in hysterics and told me I spelled it wrong. I hadn’t thrown out the paper, so I showed her that I had spelled it exactly how she’d spelled it. I asked what she wanted to do, and she decided, ‘Eh no one I know speaks Italian, anyway!’
That was about 15 years ago, and I often wonder if she ended up getting it covered up.”
This cursed tattoo:
“I work at a tattoo shop with a few artists. One of our artists fucked up tremendously on a face tattoo. She did the stencil beforehand and showed him, after his approval she started above his brow.
He wanted ‘Cursed,’ but he left the shop with ‘CUSRED’ tattooed on his forehead.
He was pissed, of course, and we never saw him again.”
This permanent bruise:
“My worst mistake was made when I was learning to tattoo. As an apprentice, I had to take what I could get when it came to practicing (thank goodness for dumb friends).
I tattooed over some very thin skin for the first time (inside the elbow) and blew out a couple of the lines (a ‘blow out’ is when the needle goes a little too deep, and the ink spreads a bit in the soft slushy layers of the skin, so it looks like a permanent bruise). She didn’t say too much about it at the time, but I knew she was pissed!
Luckily, I was able to shade over the area eventually and cover up the mistake when we added to the tattoo.”
This mirrored image:
“Back when I first started tattooing (I think I’d only been doing it for about 3 months at this point), one of my pals asked if he could come to me for finger tattoos. I asked my mentor, and he said it was too early for me to move onto hands just yet.
Well, one of the other guys in the studio overheard us and said he’d actually been wanting to get his fingers tattooed for a while, so, if my mentor was okay with it, he’d let me practice on him. My mentor okayed it, so he got to work on the stencil. The tattoo artist I was practicing on is ambidextrous, and had an exact font in mind for his finger tattoos, so he said if I got everything set up, he’d freehand the script (no stencil) on his hands, and then we could just get started.
I finished the first hand, everything was fine, until I went on to start his second hand, at which point he was checking out the tattoo I’d just finished and realized he’d written the script out left to right FACING HIM. Meaning, to everyone else, the finger tattoos were backwards. Cue panic from both of us: From me, convinced that he was going to go mental for my not noticing and from him, convinced he’d landed me in deep trouble with my mentor.
Eventually, we both calmed down and started spitballing on how to fix the tattoo on the fly. The phrase he’d gone for (‘Riiff Raff’) was similar enough on each hand that all we had to do was block out the vowels a bit more and make them slightly larger than the other letters to hide the original vowels underneath. In the end, we fixed it, and you couldn’t even tell there was once a mistake under it.”
This penis raven:
“When I first opened my shop, I was SUPER nervous about making mistakes, so those first few clients were a roller coaster of anxiety.
Well, of course, one of my first clients came in and asked for a tattoo to be covered because another artist screwed it up. The tattoo was meant to be a peanut riding a motorcycle, however, the tattoo artist screwed up so bad that it looked like a penis riding a malformed motorcycle from hell.
So I get to work covering it up with a new design — she asked for a raven to cover it up since I could color the raven in black and cover up the other artist’s mistake. No problem, all good, right? NO.
The tattoo was in a SUPER awkward position and the client wouldn’t stop squirming. Eventually, I finished and, to my dismay, I noticed my fuck up.
I didn’t cover the peanut part of the original tattoo properly, so the raven looked like it had a little penis coming out of it. When she realized, she was angry and demanded it be fixed. The only solution I saw was to attach another smaller raven to the original one as a sort of chain link.
The client now tells people that the tattoo is two chained ravens because ‘our inner darkness must be chained,’ but we both know why she REALLY got it: little penis man.”
This unfortunate language barrier:
“I had a client who decided he wanted lettering on his forearms that were sayings in Greek and Hebrew. He didn’t speak either language, but he had one of his friends double-check the spelling before he sent the references to me. He came in, we did the tattoos. Overall, it was a pretty simple appointment.
Fast forward to a couple weeks later, I get a message from that client about the tattoo that was done in Hebrew. He owns a small construction/restoration company, and had a few Israeli guys who worked for him. Apparently, they were giving him A LOT of shit for his Hebrew tattoo because it was spelled wrong.
Basically, the font he had chosen off a quick google search changed a couple of the letters (think of it kind of like the difference between an ‘f’ and a ‘t’), making it mean a completely different word. We ended up being able to fix it pretty easily and had a good laugh about it, but my tip to everyone is always beware when you’re getting tattoos in a language you and your artist don’t speak!”
This impatient irony:
“My worst mistake was on myself.
I tried to tattoo ‘PATIENCE’ on myself when I was 16 using the stick and poke method. I made it as far as “PATIEN” and stopped. I never finished it.
Eventually got it covered up when I was 28 because I literally didn’t have the patience to finish it.”
This wrong time:
“This didn’t happen to me, but to an artist that used to work in the booth next to me:
Some lady came in and wanted a pocket watch with roses in her arm, so my coworker agreed to do it. The client specifically wanted the pocket watch to be stopped at ‘4:20.’
He drew it up for her right arm and she was SO excited — but, for some reason, at the last second she decided to change it to the left arm. No problem, he runs in the back to the printer to mirror the image. She still loved it, so they slapped the stencil on and started tattooing. When they’re almost done, he realized when he mirrored the image, the clock didn’t say ‘4:20’ anymore, it said ‘7:40.’
He didn’t know what to do besides finish the tattoo. When the client checked it out in the mirror, she didn’t notice and loved it. The lady ended up coming back a few weeks later — just to say, once again, how much she loved it!
I always wonder if she ever figured it out…”
This fan rage:
“A girl I used to know was tattooing a Manchester City badge on someone. She was a little bit airy around the ears, and was thinking about her boyfriend while she was doing the tattoo. Her boyfriend is a Manchester United fan.
Two hours later, the irate customer returned and demanded to know why she had a City badge tattooed on her leg with the letters ‘MUFC’ in the scroll.”
And finally — this non-mistake:
“I once had a client call the shop crying hysterically because, according to her, I had done her tattoo ‘backwards.’ It took a few minutes to get her to calm down, and then we quickly realized she was looking at it in the mirror.
She apologized and hung up.”
Do you have any tattoo mistake horror stories? Share yours in the comments below!