The compass was invented more than 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty in China. Oddly enough, the first compasses were not created for guidance in direction. The Chinese used compasses in fortune telling. Over time, the compass became the main navigational aide for ships, soldiers, pilots and other travelers. Compasses are still used today in locations where GPS technology is unavailable and by outdoor enthusiasts as well.
Much like anchors, compasses were popular tattoo choices for people serving in the Navy, captains of ships and other travelers by trade. Today, compass tattoos are worn by a variety of people and can symbolize many different things. Some may choose a compass tattoo to remind them to follow their “true north” while, for others, a compass tattoo signifies being guided by something bigger than one’s self.
You could ask 100 people the meaning of their compass tattoo and get 100 different answers. Although some compass tattoos have traditional meanings, they are still a very personal choice for the wearer and can symbolize anything and everything they desire.
Are you considering a compass tattoo? You’ll find lots of inspiration here! We have comprised a list of the best compass tattoos and a brief overview and interpretation of each one to make your search for the perfect compass tattoo a little bit easier.
This small and dainty compass tattoo has clean lines and is elegant in its simplicity. The arrows on the compass may be to remind the wearer to follow their own arrow wherever it points.
Compass tattoos that include roses in the design usually indicate a search for love or passion. They could also mean they have found their place in life with the person that they love or that they will not stop searching for the love of their life, regardless of where they are.
Traditionally, anchor tattoos have symbolized being firmly grounded, secure and steady. They are also sometimes used as signs of the Christian faith, meaning the person is “grounded” in their Christian beliefs. When paired with compass tattoos, anchors could symbolize being grounded along life’s journey or a reminder that you can pick up or drop anchor anywhere you’d like along the way.
Thing interesting compass tattoo features a cutaway design showing parts of a globe and a mountain scene at the stop. This sort of compass tattoo may symbolize that the wilderness or out of the way places will always be their “true north”.
This compass tattoo is pretty amazing, simply because of the splashes of color featured around the edges. If you look closely, you will see an arrow to the north and an anchor to the south that have been incorporated into the design. These added elements could be a reminder to follow your arrow wherever it points, but always stay grounded.
Here’s another nicely done compass tattoo that’s quite unique. It has red and blue accent colors in the middle, along with an arrow traveling northward. Perhaps this tattoo is a tribute to finding a path in life that’s straight as an arrow leading you to where you are meant to be.
Compass tattoos are sometimes the tattoos of choice for people who like to travel and explore. They signify having no real destination and kind of just wandering around wherever the road takes you. This tattoo is a tribute to the wandering spirit. The quote below it, although partially covered by the tattoo shading, reads “All who wander are not lost.”
This amazing sleeve tattoo incorporates a compass in the middle of the design. Above and below the compass you will find words that have special meaning to the wearer inked that have been inked upon banners. Two beautiful roses frame the compass, which add a touch of romance to the finished design.
This beautiful compass tattoos features amazing coloring and shading that create a sort of Alice In Wonderland effect. The compass itself has a cool 3D effect with extremely vivid details. Just above the compass are Roman numerals and initials that are of special significance to the wearer. At the top and bottom of the sleeve design are the words Faith and Love in bold, colorful font with a banner background. This really is a super nice tattoo and would look just as great on the leg.
This beautifully feminine compass tattoo features many of the same elements we’ve already talked about. In the middle, you have the compass that is perfectly centered on an anchored featuring beautiful woodwork designs and a soft, red rose at the bottom. These three things have their own meanings separately, but make a more dramatic statement when put together.
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This compass tattoo is one of the more unique ones that we have seen. The base of the tattoo is a cutaway of a globe with continents on it and two different kinds of compasses on the ends. The countries featured in this design could signify the person’s heritage and the compass over each one may indicate two people finding their way back to each other, despite being separated by distance. The grayscale color scheme of this tattoo creates a very artistic, yet understated look.
This stunning compass tattoo looks like a page from a fairytale! It features an amazingly realistic lighthouse scene in the background, complete with a caretaker’s house, billowing clouds and seagulls. In the foreground are crashing waves and a very intricate compass leading one to the safety of the lighthouse. A truly amazing piece of ink art right here!
If you are suffering from a case of “Tattoo Regret”, you may be considering your options to cover up your mistake. A compass tattoo may be the perfect solution. This tattoo started off as a poorly defined dream catcher tattoo that had faded over time. Using large, gorgeous roses and a strategically placed compass, this tattoo artist was able to turn regret into some pretty amazing ink art.
At first glance, this compass looks extremely realistic. You may not even realize it’s a tattoo! It features amazing depth and detail that really bring the design to life. Beneath the compass is a map and the word “Miami” – which could possibly mean that Miami is this person’s home and the compass is always with them to guide them back, should they lose their way.
Here’s another compass tattoo that is so realistic, it looks like it came from the pages of a magazine. It features a map and the names of various cities as the backdrop and stunningly detailed compasses adorn each end. This tattoo could tell the story of a pilot that travels often with one compass to guide him on his journeys and the other to guide him back home again.
This large compass tattoo is another one that pays tribute to the wandering soul. It also features large letters to denote the directions of the four winds along with the quote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” This tattoo would be a good reminder that just because they wander whichever way the wind blows, does not mean they have lost their way.
Sometimes, less is more. This simple, yet elegant compass tattoo reminds us that not every tattoo has to be colorful. large and bold. It features capital letters for the directions of the four winds and two crossed arrows in the middle. This tattoo also has a raised finished so it isn’t flat and uninteresting like the typical compass tattoos that you usually see.
Here’s another amazing example of 3D tattoos that are sure to “wow” anyone. At first glance, it looks as if you’re seeing a photograph, not an actual work of art on someone’s skin! The compass in the middle has rich details and a 3D effect that creates movement in the compass needle and depth to the perimeter. The gorgeous rose at the top of the design has water droplets on it that creates a very realistic effect. The lotus flower at the bottom is extremely lifelike as well. Such an amazing piece of work!
This compass tattoo is another one that pays tribute to a special place and time in the wearer’s life. It features the outlines of a few countries that could possibly be located in the direction the compass arrows are pointing. There are also dates and letters in the design that tie all the elements together to create a beautiful tribute for the wearer.
This cute and colorful compass tattoo probably doesn’t mean anything beyond being cute and colorful. It is a very unique design, tho. The compass in the middle is surrounded by paint splatters that add a creative artistic touch. We haven’t talked much about tattoos on the top of the feet, but they are a popular tattoo choice for women.
Whimsical designs make charming tattoos, as you can see in this example of a compass tattoo. The shading around the thicker parts are the perfect complement to the light and airy lines used in the design. The anchor at the bottom of the tattoo could be a reminder to stay grounded in your beliefs as you travel the whimsical path of life.
Compasses have been used to guide ships for hundreds of years and are a favorite choice for sailors. This compass tattoos pays homage to the sailor life with a pelican wearing a cool captain’s hat – complete with a peg leg and a pipe! on the bottom corner, there is a cutout of a map, perhaps of his home or some other place of special significance in his life.
This compass tattoo is another one that features a map and land masses, which likely represent the wearer’s native country. The compass is at the bottom of the design while the shaded outline of a cross can be seen just above it. This tattoo could represent being guided by faith.
Tribute tattoos are very popular among all social classes. Sometimes, they represent the likeness of a loved one or a name – while others commemorate special dates or events in a person’s life. This compass tattoo appears to be a tribute to a sailor of some sort, as it features a ship’s wheel and an anchor. The date reads September 22, 1934 – surely a special date the wearer wanted to remember forever.
Maps are common elements that appear with compass tattoos. Some of them are quite realistic – as you can see in this example. The map, land masses and longitude/latitude likes are extremely well-done in this piece. The compass is also shaded to perfection, creating a 3D affect with depth. The scroll and pen at the bottom and rope across the top add a touch of nostalgia to the design and pulls it all together to create an Old World effect.
We have already seen that compass tattoos and the sailor life go hand and hand. This one actually features a tall ship in the scene, surrounded by a land body. The land mass has a star, which likely indicates a port of significance for the wearer. The compass features a bold, yet elegant design along with large decorative font in the letters of the four winds. A beautiful piece with a nostalgic feel.
This compass tattoo is another example of simple elegance. It features clean lines, no shading and a very light and airy feel. There are various land masses in the center, which likely hold some sort of significance for the wearer. There is a also a tiny plan in the center, flying between the land masses, which indicates travelling – perhaps for work, perhaps for love or perhaps, just because.
This amazing compass tattoo has a gorgeous vintage look to it with the brown shading used to create the effect of patina on old wood. The compass in the center of the design is a very old style compass, which adds to the overall antique feel. There is an anchor and a rosary at the bottom of the design, which likely signifies the wearer being anchored in their faith, no matter where they may travel in life.
Here’s a gorgeous example of a tribute compass tattoo to someone’s homeland. There is a large map of Germany in the background, along with longitude and latitude lines and degrees, perfectly mapping the location on the wearer’s arm. The word “Germany” is prominently placed across the land mass and the actual coordinates of a German city appear right above the compass itself in the lower right side. This would be a great idea for anyone wanting to pay tribute to their native country with an awesome tattoo.
This is another compass featuring a tribute to someone’s native country. Here, you will see the Pacific coastline of Canada with a map dot locating Vancouver on the map. The compass itself features a vintage pocket-watch design instead of the more common one piece compass varieties generally found within compass tattoos. Again, this is another great idea for someone who wants to pay homage to their heritage or homeland in a tattoo.
We love this compass tattoo, simply because of the colors! But if you look closely, you will see that it also has a sparkle effect mixed in with the paint splatters – which is super cool. Beside the whimsical compass, you will see the word “Wanderlust” – which means a strong desire to travel. The moral of this tattoo? Travel when you get the urge – and remember to sparkle as you go!
We love colorful tattoos. They make for much more interesting designs. This gorgeous compass tattoo features a heart shaped rope with an amazingly detailed map inside. This map is so well-done, it even includes the names of cities and a lake! There is a lovely pink rose on one side and a compass on the other to create a perfectly balanced work of art.
This compass tattoo is one of those that has a 3D effect, due to the creative shading used in the design. It’s very cool and looks super realistic on the skin. Below the compass, you will see the silhouette of a mysterious traveler walking along some railroad tracks holding a lantern. Perhaps this tattoo is a tribute to wandering through the mysterious paths of life while keeping an eye on the light that guides you home.
Some of the most unique tattoos don’t look like tattoos at all -but more like pen drawings that someone just free-handed on the skin on a whim. This compass tattoo features two sets of coordinates above it, along with land masses in the background. This design is likely a tribute to a particular place in the world that holds a special importance for the wearer.
This is an interesting design for a compass tattoo that we have not seen before. The middle of the compass features a land mass denoting a country and the points of the four winds are done in large, elegant letters. The compass sits in the middle of half a dream catcher, as you can see along the left edge – while the feathers from the dream catcher fall around the bottom of the design and are adorned with beads. This could be a great choice for someone with Native American heritage or anyone else who appreciates the beauty of dream catchers.