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American traditional tattoo

This is the type of tattoo you probably think of first, as it’s one of the most popular tattoos styles; an old-school style characterised by bold outlines, a small colour palette, and similar motifs. They are closely linked to maritime symbolism and images of pin-up girls, wild predators or a combination of hearts, roses and daggers. This tattoo style was made famous by Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins in the 1930s, but is still a common choice today.

Blackwork Tattoo Style

Generally, tattoos are called Blackwork if the artist has used only black ink. This can result
in a wide variety of designs, which in turn are stylistically very diverse. This is why you can
find almost anything under Blackwork, from ornaments and geometric designs to very
finely detailed illustrations.The fact that such a variety of tattoos can be created with black
alone is a clear testament of the creativity of the tattoo scene.

Neo-traditional tattoo

Neo-traditional is a kind of new edition or further development of the traditional tattoo
style. Neo-traditional tattoos are characterised by clear lines and rich colours. Unlike
traditional tattoos, the colour palette in Neo-traditional is very broad.
In addition, the designs can be very detailed, with tattoo artists often using thick outlines
and finer lines for the details.
In addition to borrowing from traditional tattoos, you can often see an Art Nouveau or Art
Deco influence in Neo-traditional tattoos. The most common Neo-traditional motifs include
flowers, animals or portraits of women, although there are no limits to the choice of motif.

Realism or Realistic Tattoo Style

Realism is a tattoo style in which the tattoo should be as close as possible to reality. In this
type of tattoo, a photo is usually reproduced faithfully and three-dimensionally on the skin.
The tattoo motifs can be in colour or black and grey – more or less like a colour photo or a
black and white photograph.
Similar to reality, the colour palette for Realism is also wide-ranged. Because realistic
tattoos should be as detailed and true to the real colour as possible. Therefore, Realism
tattoos do not have outlines, as these do not exist in the real world.
It is also common to see artists combining single Realistic elements with other styles. This
gives Realism tattoos a creative touch and makes them look like more than “just” a photo.

Traditional Tattoo Style

Traditional tattoos are, as the name suggests, deeply rooted in the history of tattooing. Big
names in the tattoo scene such as Sailor Jerry, Lyle Tuttle or Ed Hardy also belong to the
Traditional or Old School style. Furthermore, these traditional tattoos are particularly
rooted in seafaring, which is why they are often called “Sailor Tattoos”.
Sailors had certain symbols tattooed on them that reflected, for example, their experiences,
places they visited of deployment or rank. The classic old school motifs include swallows,
anchors, dragons, ships, snakes, skulls, eagles or panthers. A dragon tattoo, for example,
means that the wearer has served in Asia.
Swallows, on the other hand, traditionally stand for the first sea voyage or 5,000 completed
nautical miles. Similar to these examples, most of the other classics also have a traditional
meaning, although these no longer play such a large role today.
What distinguishes this style quickly becomes clear when looking at the portfolios of the
above-mentioned tattoo artists. The motifs always have thick black outlines and rich
colours, but a very limited colour palette. This is supposed to be good for the tattoo’s
longevity, which is where the saying “Bold will hold” comes from.

What is watercolor style tattoo?

A watercolor tattoo is a bright, vivid marking made up of a number of subtle color gradients
and techniques that create a more gradual color fade-out. This effect is intended to mimic
the characteristics of a classic watercolor painting, which is where the style gets its name.
Because the style of watercolor tattoos is more delicate and fluid than “traditional” tattoos,
it’s easy to think that they’re created with different equipment. However, watercolor tattoos
are actually created in the same way and don’t require any different set-up. The only
difference is that an artist must learn a number of techniques—including blurs, bleeds,
fades, and runs—to achieve a watercolor look, which is why it’s important to find an
experienced and trained artist.

Tribal Tattoo Style

Tribals are usually silhouette-like symbols or ornaments that are almost always tattooed in
black.There is evidence that both body painting and tattooing were practised by the
prehistoric Indians, the Vikings or in Asia and Africa. Tribal motifs, however, originated in
the Polynesian region in the form we tattoo today.

More and more often, however, they are also seen in black and grey.

New School Tattoo Style

New School established itself as a tattoo style in the early 70s and gained popularity in the
80s and 90s. Although you can still recognise old school influences in this style, the
differences are enormous. The “New School” mainly includes thick outlines and very vivid,
bright colours. Another aspect of this style is the very exaggerated, silly or crazy depiction
of the chosen motif. So, it is not surprising that New School tattoos often resemble cartoons,
graffiti or caricatures.


One of the biggest stars, Shane O’Neil, shows us with his portraits how realistic tattoos can
be. These are a subcategory of Realism (i.e. realistic representations of images).Without the

black outlines of the better-known styles, artists create eerie interpretations of people in
both colour and black and grey.


Biomechanical tattoos are usually done freehand, adapt to the unique course of the body
and are meant to imitate machines that might be hidden under the skin.
When talking about this kind of tattoos, one can hardly avoid mentioning the name Roman
Abrego. His alien and machine-inspired images cover the arms and legs of his clients.

Sketchy tattoos

Sketchy is the name given to tattoos that resemble a typical pencil sketch. Lines can also be
imperfect and unfinished or not coincide exactly. A sketchy motif can still contain
orientation lines as a stylistic device, for example, or be hatched in some areas. In addition,
regular colour areas or thick outlines are rather unusual for this style.
Generally, the motif looks like an unfinished draft – something that is still in the middle of
editing. But on the skin, such a sketchy motif has a completely unique effect than on paper,
as the viewer knows that it is usually completed. In addition, some tattoo artists combine
sketchy elements with other stylistic devices to create a “raw look”.


Geometric tattoos, as the name suggests, are characterised by geometric shapes. In addition
to typical shapes such as triangles and circles, this style also includes fancy patterns
composed of shapes only. An important feature of such patterns is that they are regular and
a certain sequence of shapes is repeated.
Of course, it is especially important for geometric tattoos that the tattoo artist works
cleanly. Only with straight and even lines can a geometric tattoo achieve the desired effect.

Traditional Japanese Tattoo Style

Japanese traditional tattoos are known as Irezumi. These tattoos originated in the Edo
period, although they were more popular among the working class in Japan. Since tattoos
were used from 1720 onwards in Japan as a kind of branding for criminals, tattoos acquired
a very negative connotation.
They were also often associated with the Japanese mafia. Tattoos were even completely
banned in Japan until 1948. The motifs of Japanese tattoos often come from mythology,
legends, symbolism or the history of the country. In addition to dragons or demons, for
example, you will find cherry blossoms, which are considered a symbol of beauty or
A dark trend developed at the end of the 19th century, when horror stories became more
and more popular in Japan. Thus, more bloody and brutal motifs were added, such as
chopped-off heads, called namakubi. But erotic and explicitly sexual motifs, called shunga,
also became part of Japanese tattoo art.
Traditional Japanese tattoo motifs are as diverse as Japanese art and history. Stylistically,
Japanese tattoos are characterised, above all, by clear colours and rich details. Likewise, this
style is particularly suitable for larger areas. That is why large projects such as sleeves,
front pieces, back pieces or complete bodysuits are often included in the Japanese style.
Even today, tattoos are still stigmatised in Japan and associated with criminality. But the
trend is actually going in the other direction: Fewer and fewer gang members are getting
tattoos because they don’t want to attract attention. And so, the connection between the
criminal milieu and tattoos is also gradually dissolving.

Here are twelve of the classic styles of tattoo art, the ones you
definitely want to know before you start getting into tattoo design.

1. Classic Americana tattoo

These may be the first kind of tattoo you think of, an old-school style
defined by bold outlines and the use of similar colors and imagery.
They’re closely tied to the ocean and nautical imagery, pinup female
figures, fierce predatory animals, or combinations of hearts, roses,

and daggers. The tattoo style was popularized by Norman “Sailor
Jerry” Collins in the 1930s, but is a consistent choice today—shown
here by Frankie Caraccioli of Kings Avenue Tattoo.

2. New school tattoo style

New School tattoos are like a crazy comic book on your body. Jesse
Smith‘s work is famous in this category, depicting fabulous imagined
worlds full of chaos and very often chariactured animals in vivid color.

3. Japanese tattoo style

As we showed you in a previous post, there are centuries of history
for the art tattooing all over the world. One that has maintained it’s
popularity is the Japanese style Irezumi. Tattoo artists still create both
traditional and new takes on these classic masterpieces. And it’s a
genre particularly known for large images that cover the back, arms,
and legs.
Here, Chris O’Donnell of New York shows off the traditional animal,
floral, and samurai imagery of this style.

4. Black and grey tattoo style

Jessica Mascitti of LA’s East Side Tattoo shows us great examples of
different kinds of work in a genre that can encompass a wide range of

styles. Black and grey images aren’t as limited by subject matter,
depicting anything and everything realistically in shades of grey,
originally done by watering down black ink to create a spectrum of

5. Portraiture tattoo

Shane O’Neill shows us how realistic you can get with tattoos with his
portraiture, a sub-set of the realism genre (which is just like it
sounds—realistic renderings of imagery). Without the black outlines of
some of the more classic styles, artists are able to achieve eerily
accurate renditions of people both in color and black and grey.

6. Stick and poke tattoo

Artist Slowerblack shows off the possibilities of the stick-n-poke,
where the artist uses a single needle to create simple designs.
Recently popularized for DIY tattoo-ers, in the hands of a professional
this art can go to beautiful levels, characterized by thick and bold lines
most often in simple black with small decorative patterns.

7. Realism tattoo

Realistic tattoos can portray anything from scenery or objects to
animals and people. Whether colorful or in black and white, this is a
classic tattoo style that is ideal if there’s something very specific you
want to portray. Realistic tattoos are hard to get perfectly right and it

takes a skilled tattoo artist or tattoo designer to create a realistic-
looking artwork with amazing visual impact.

8. Blackwork tattoo style

Blackwork is a tattoo style originally derived from the original tribal
tattoos, made of thick and bold black lines in a variety of geometric
shapes. But artists continue to take this genre to new levels,
incorporating patterns and imagery derived from all sorts of sources
into mesmerizing pieces swirling in different forms around the body,
like these from Nazareno Tubaro (who also created the featured

9. Biomechanical tattoo

Typically freehanded, Biomechanical tattoos adapt to the unique flow
of a person’s body, meant to mimic machinery that could be hidden
within the skin. It’s hard to get away from Roman Abrego‘s name
when you bring up these bad boys—his alien and mechanical-inspired
images covering often the arms and legs of his clients.

10. Geometric tattoo style

Geometric tattoos are very popular right now and can be really
timeless when done right. They can either feature geometric elements
only or have a combination of geometric and organic (often floral or
natural) elements. The contrast between the exact, sharp lines of this
tattoo style and the curves of the body makes them stands out in a
bold way.

11. Realistic Trash Polka tattoo

Realistic Trash Polka was created by Germany’s Buena Vista Tattoo
Club. Created by Simone Plaff and Volko Merschky, it’s instantly
recognizable for it’s collage-like structure, intricate and sampling from
printed materials—from photography to hand-writing, paint splashes
to type-writing.

12. Surrealism tattoo style

The art genre of surrealism gives artists loads of material to work with.
The artistic style can change, the subject can change, but as long as
the viewer comes out of the experience with that feeling of sublime
fantasy, the artist has achieved their purpose. Pictured here are the

There’s such a wide variety of tattoo styles that it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to
decide what’s best for your aesthetic. There are dozens of different kinds of ink (more than
even listed below) and everyone has their own preferences. However, the key to a beautiful
and unique tattoo is taking time to understand each style in terms not just of how it looks, but
its background as well.

Minimalist Tattoos

Minimaist tattoos don’t necessarily have to be small; designs of this style are more
driven by simple, clean lines and the heavy use of negative space. The idea behind
minimalism is that “less is more,” and minimalist tattoos follow this same concept by
featuring graphic designs and varying delicacies of linework.
Because minimalist tattoos tend to break designs down to basics, it works best with designs
that can be visualized with a small number of lines or without a lot of complexity. Any color
goes for minimalist tattoos as well, although black ink tends to be more common to keep the
design as simple as possible.

Negative Space Tattoos

Negative space tattoos are created by using skin as part of the image and inking
pigments to contour areas to create a visual. Rather than using an outline to create the tattoo’s
image, negative space tattoos use the skin as the outline and the pigment as the normally
“blank” parts of a design.
Any design can be made into a negative space tattoo, but it may require more planning than
just knowing what you want. Make sure you plan out negative space designs with an
experienced tattoo artist to ensure that the proportions are right and the correct areas are filled

in versus what is left bare.

Hand-poked Tattoos

Hand-poked tattoos—also known as stick-and-pokes or machine-free tattoos—are
designs that are created manually. Rather than the tattoo artist using a rotary or coil machine
to insert the ink into the skin, hand-poking is done by attaching a needle (professionals use
tattoo-grade needles) to a rod-shaped element, like a pencil, to create an analog tattoo
machine. They are less invasive, less painful, and “less intimidating” than a machine-done
tattoo, notes Jamerson of Brooklyn-based tattoo studio Nascent Flash.
While hand-poking is a return to the origins of tattooing, the designs aren’t necessarily
minimal or basic themselves; some may look “handmade,” says Jamerson, but there are
artists whose hand-poked art almost looks like it was done by a machine. It’s best to find an
artist whose portfolio you like first to ensure your stick-and-poke looks exactly how you want

Words and Phrases

Word and phrase tattoos, which are sometimes called “script” when referring to cursive
designs, are popular because there are no real rules or structure to them—other than that they
have to contain letters. You can take a word or phrase and add an image to it as well,
essentially mixing different styles of tattoos into one. Of course, no matter what you want
your word or phrase tattoo to look like, whether it’s large and dark or small and bright, it’s
still a good idea to get it done by a tattoo artist experienced in words and phrases to make
sure the spelling is accurate and the design looks good.

Floral Tattoos

Floral tattoos have a range of meanings depending on the type of blossom you get (a lily,
for example, represents both devotion and purity). On the other hand, floral tattoos could also
be purely aesthetic, as flowers are a common love and tend to feel dainty in tattoo form.
There are dozens of different options for what flowers you can get tattooed, so it can be as
complex or simple as you want, with any design elements from vivid colors to heavy black
outlines. Some common floral tattoos include roses, lavender, lotuses, and laurels, but
there is no real limit to what florals you can get inked—as long as you find an experienced
tattoo artist with the ability to create it.

Line Art Tattoos

“I noticed line art tattoos begin to blow up around 2015 on Instagram,” says Astrid
Elisabeth, co-founder of Somewhere Tattoo in Queens, NY. “I actually taught myself
to tattoo because I couldn’t find anyone embracing this style. Since then, they seem to have
exploded in popularity.”
Line art tattoos look as though the design is one continuous line that wraps around and even
overlaps. Almost any design can be done in a line art style—as long as it’s the right size, says

Watercolor Tattoos

Watercolor tattoos are designs done in a way that mimics the look and fluidity of a
watercolor painting with pigment. From ink with bold lines and abstract patterns to tattoos
with a soft look and pastel color palette, any image looks good in a watercolor style; they can
even work as cover-up tattoos because of their fluid look and the need to fill up space.
The watercolor effect is achieved by using the same general techniques as any other tattoo
style, says tattoo artist Britta Christiansen. A common misconception is that less ink is
used than in traditional designs, but the opposite is the case. The same needles and depth are
used, notes Christiansen, but the design employs a wider range of ink colors to create a fading
gradient effect.
“If a particular watercolor tattoo would include the color red, I will typically use at least five
different red tones, from dark red to light red, in order to create a watercolor effect,” says
Although a large color gradient is one element of a successful watercolor tattoo, Christiansen
says that the real way to create a good-looking and lasting watercolor tattoo is the contrast,
not the color choice. The style can be achieved with black and shades of grey just as well
as it can be with pastel or vivid colors the key is to have a thorough understanding of the
underlying skin tone and how the colors mix together.

Abstract Tattoos

Abstract art is based around the idea of representing concepts through art that don’t
necessarily represent the reality around us but instead focus on the shapes, colors, and
textures that make up that reality. Abstract tattoos follow the same principles by using more
aesthetic imagery, like random shapes, blobs of color, and different line styles. These designs
tend to focus more on how it looks rather than what it means, and artists often develop their
own styles based on their experiences and likes.
Because abstract tattoos stick to such specific concepts, the tattoo itself becomes a work of art
and tends to represent the artist—like a signature on a painting. It’s important to find an
experienced tattoo artist whose work you like when looking at abstract tattoos to be sure it
fits your aesthetic and what you want for your ink.