Two-line tattoo meaning, ideas, and historical origins explained

An arm with a tattoo on the forearm.

The meaning of two-line tattoos is complex and fairly subjective. Like nearly all other tattoos, it has a deep symbolism and meaning that is different for each person. Still, there are patterns in each tattoo indicating a wider meaning.

A two-line tattoo will often wrap around a person’s arm or leg. In a two-line tattoo, the lines will usually have varying thicknesses. Ink will be packed in tightly – creating a thick line that really stands out. There’s also likely to be a bit of variety in the thickness of the lines.

What is the meaning of two line tattoos?

A two-line tattoo is a representation of balance. The varying line thickness creates a sense of curation – a choice that the tattoo empowers. The contrasting lines are a signal of intent, while the negative space between lines creates a sense of duality.

There’s also a sense of simplicity in a two-line tattoo design that reinforces the idea of “balance.” If one line is much thicker than the other, it’s not going to look as aesthetically pleasing, and if they aren’t packed to the same density of ink, it’s going to look unprofessional. If you’re looking at a two-line tattoo, you’re going to feel drawn to the bare skin that is left visible between the lines, which creates personality.

Two-line tattoo origins

Despite the simplicity and surface-level meanings of two-line tattoos – to figure out a more historically accurate meaning for double stripe tattoos, you’re going to have to look first at its Polynesian roots. There are thousands of Polynesian islands, so it would be inaccurate to say that the two-line tattoo originated from a single place in the Pacific Ocean, though there are some places known to have been developing geometric tattoos for centuries.

A person displaying traditional Marquesan tattoos on their back.

Image Credit: Tahiti Tourisme

The image above displays what traditional Marquesan tattoos look like. While it’s much more complex and traditional than the two black line tattoos we’ve been talking about, there are clearly some foundational elements on display. Marquesan and, more broadly speaking, Polynesian tattoos often take geometric shapes and define them boldly to create their tattoos. Solid black areas (much like the trendy blackout tattoos of today) are combined with geometric designs and contrast. The two-line tattoo can likely be traced back to these Polynesian roots.

In Polynesian culture, tattoos were often associated with life and death – particularly due to warfare. It’s safe to assume that these tattoos would create a sense of power and strength. This idea of tattoos imbuing strength is still extremely prevalent today, mostly due to the pain and endurance associated with tattooing.

Two-line tattoo can also be seen as a response to mourning. Tattoos are a permanent feature on someone’s body, and what better way to remember someone than leaving a permanent reminder on your own?

Alternative two-line tattoo meanings

We’ve now covered the origins of two-line tattoos, alongside a broad meaning based on their visual appearance. There are, of course, plenty of other meanings. Thankfully, due to the nature of subjectivity, they are each just as valid as each other.

This video displays the process of getting an armband / two-line tattoo. The artist has their machine wrapped, increasing their control.

People might get two-line tattoos for any reason. Some people might get two-line tattoos to cover up faded ink on their bodies. This is known as a cover-up. For many people, covering up a tattoo with simple geometry is much easier than trying to re-work a tattoo into a whole new piece. Armband tattoos often coincide with cover-ups due to their simplicity.

As a tattoo artist myself, I often try and think about whether or not any of the tattoos I do have any meaning. My personal philosophy is that I’m not emotionally attached to my own tattoos – they’re here for aesthetics rather than meaning. I’m aware that not everyone else shares this rhetoric, but it’s definitely an opinion that I wish others would believe in too. Rather than ascribing meaning to visual imagery on your body – simply let it be a part of you.

Two-line tattoo placement ideas

Due to the nature of a two-line tattoo – it can’t really be placed anywhere on the body. You’d struggle to make it look good on your torso or chest, though the body has plenty of other natural places for it to be positioned.

Two-line tattoo on Arms (Forearm or Bicep)

The image above, sourced from Reddit, displays how an armband tattoo will amplify the musculature of the arm.

The arm is a likely placement for a 2-lines tattoo. Associated with strength, power, and labor, placing a two-lined tattoo here would associate balance with power. It might signify an equilibrium between gentleness and strength. Those who associate with masculinity might be inclined to place their tattoos here.

Two-line tattoo on Wrists

A two-line tattoo might fit well on a wrist. Contrasting the Forearm / Bicep placement, this one would be slightly more delicate and gentle. As this wrist constricts and narrows, you’re not going to want to have as thick and bold a tattoo here.

Two-line tattoo on Legs (Thigh, Calf, or Ankle)

Leg tattoos tend to be more personal. While arms, wrists and hands are generally on display, there’s more chance that leg tattoos are going to be covered in most places.

If you’re leaning on the side of two-lined tattoos being associated with life and death, you might get one on your legs. As it’s going to be covered, it’s going to be a much more personal association for the wearer.

Cover image sourced from @kswayart

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