Tattoo flash are prepared tattoo designs which are intended for use in rapid tattooing. Most visitors to tattoo shops have seen tattoo flash, as they are typically displayed in the walls and in portfolios to give customers an idea of the kind of work they can receive. Flash encompasses a wide range of styles and designs, and it can come from a variety of sources.
Originally, the pieces were designed by the artist, who would display flash so customers could pick a tattoo they wanted. Artists would also modify flash or create custom pieces on request. Over time, artists started trading flash with each other, and also also selling tattoo flash, disseminating styles and designs across a broad community. Ultimately, companies started hiring designers, who produce a high volume of pieces for commercial sale on individual sheets or in books of collected flash.
Some people look down on tattoo flash, arguing that while it's fine to use flash for inspiration, tattoos really ought to be custom designed, to create a unique and original piece. Copying from flash can also have complex copyright implications; for example, a client who prints out a piece from the Internet and asks to get it as a tattoo might potentially be violating copyright laws, unless he or she has been given explicit consent to use the work.
Others feel flash make for a great jumping-off point, and they point out that many people like to get vintage tattoos from the original tattoo flash so that they are true to their roots. Flash examples by talented and famous artists like Sailor Jerry are often on display at tattoo shops for patrons to admire and use, as is flash by contemporary artists, and flash can be very useful for basic designs like stars and flowers, especially when clients want to be tattooed quickly.
Typically, tattoo flash sold for use by tattoo artists comes with a full color flash sheet which is designed to be displayed or shown to clients, along with a stencil, which just features the linework. When a client decides to use flash for his or her tattoo, the artist can copy the linework to transfer paper, which is used to create a stencil on the body of the client. As always, after a stencil has been applied, clients should double check to ensure that it is not accidentally mirrored, especially if there is lettering.