Tattoos are not only examples of beautiful artwork, but also often have significant meaning to the wearer. In addition to showcasing gorgeous tattoo designs or intriguing patterns, tattoos can commemorate someone important or keep the wearer inspired about the future. No matter what message is intended by a tattoo, the tattoo style used in the design can help tell that artistic story.
This artistic storytelling medium has existed for millennia and across numerous civilizations, so it’s not surprising that there are a variety of tattoo styles that have developed and gained popularity. In this blog, we’ll discuss 7 popular tattoo styles, where they came from, and how they can be effective for telling different stories.
Obviously there are many tattoo styles out there that can help someone get the perfect artistic expression they desire. Even though we’ll mostly be discussing 7 of some of the most popular tattoo styles here (along with some honorable mentions), we encourage you to go out and explore all the amazing tattoo styles that exist out there today.
Searching on the internet and following tattoo artists or tattoo shops on social media channels like Instagram are a fantastic way to get the full spectrum of tattoo styles that is out there. You never know which tattoo style might end up appealing to you the most!
While classic realism has been part of fine art since the Renaissance, classic realism tattoos have only become popular since the 1950s, and they’ve developed a lot since then. Realism tattoos can depict anything, with the only requirement being that the tattoo looks as close to photorealistic as possible.
Portraits of famous people, loved ones, nature, and meaningful objects are all common choices for realistic tattoos. If you’re looking to celebrate an important person, object, or event in your life, realism can be a great tattoo style to consider. Make sure that your artist has experience in realistic tattoos and check out their portfolio to see how realistic their work can be!
The question of which tattoo style is more painful is a common one, especially when it comes to realism tattoos. Different styles could provide different tattoo experiences. And even though a particular tattoo style does factor into how much pain you might experience, it’s not accurate to consider that factor alone when trying to gauge how painful a tattoo might be.
Pain when getting a tattoo is unavoidable. Sometimes the location of the tattoo on your body will have more to do with how much pain you might experience than the tattoo style. There are several factors to consider that could all effect how much you might experience and not just the tattoo style and location on your body.
The size of the tattoo, the length of the tattoo session, the skill of the artist and the equipment they use, even how well rested, well fed and hydrated you are before your session could have an effect on how much pain you will feel. And, in the end, it could always come down to an individual’s own pain tolerance!
This is all another great reason why it’s important to communicate with your artist about what you’re looking for, where on your body, and other questions, concerns, or fears you may have.
If you want to know more about tips to help avoid pain from getting a tattoo, you can read our blog about that before your next tattoo!
Traditional tattoos, with their bold lines and bright primary colors, can trace their roots back to sailors in the 1700s. The traditional tattoo style (also known as old school style or American traditional) has evolved since then as inks and tattoo machines have improved over the years.
Designs like hearts, anchors, roses, flags, and birds are popular examples of a traditional or old school tattoo. Sailor Jerry tattoo designs are some of the most famous examples of this style.
Bold, black lines are the basis of traditional tattoos with simple bold primary colors incorporated into the interior of the designs. While this tattoo style reached its peak popularity in the mid 20th century, it’s still a fundamental and popular tattoo style.
Neo-traditional tattoos are similar to traditional tattoos but tend to have more complex color palettes and more variation in line weight. The subject matter for this tattoo style is also more varied and there are beautiful examples of neo-traditional animals, people, and plant life.
As stated above, a traditional tattoo and a neo traditional tattoo have a lot in common since the latter is the evolution of the traditional tattoo style. Neo traditional tattoos have much more variety all around from the color and line weight to the vibrancy and decorative details used.
Watercolor tattoos are a style that’s becoming increasingly popular. This creative and challenging style uses a lighter, layered application of tattoo ink to create a brushed-on, watercolor appearance.
This style mimics the appearance of watercolor paintings and it’s great at incorporating gorgeous colors into your tattoo. If you’re looking for something that’s beautiful but not overwhelming, these designs might be the perfect tattoo style for you.
Keep in mind that this style may not wear as well as other tattoo styles with age as it tends not to have the black outlines that keep a design legible over time and some color inks fade. That said, it’s easy to get tattoos touched up, which is the perfect way to keep your watercolor tattoo looking breathtaking.
Geometric tattoos, or sacred geometry tattoos, are complex, challenging tattoos that have gained popularity in recent years. These tattoos use intricate patterns, shapes, and designs that have foundations in famous geometric images or in mathematical patterns.
Metatron’s cube, the flower of life, the nautilus shell, and other designs are popular examples of this tattoo style. These designs can be breathtaking if they’re properly executed, but make sure that your artist is up to the challenge!
Script tattoos simply refer to any kind of tattoo that’s primarily made up of text. Any language can be used for these tattoos, although it’s important to know what you’re saying and how it’s spelled. We’ve all seen those disastrous tattoos where a word is misspelled, so make sure that you and your tattoo artist are 100% certain of how your tattoo should be written out.
Even after you’ve decided on what’s being written, the font, style, placement, size, and other factors should be discussed with tattoo artists to make sure you have the perfect tattoo. There’s enormous creativity in these tattoos, making it a tattoo style that’s easy to start but takes a lifetime to master!
If you run across a tattoo design with sharp, precise lines and intricate, flowing patterns that’s done in blackwork, you’re probably looking at a tribal tattoo. Tribal tattoos, as the name leads you to believe, developed out of the designs created by native populations and have been adopted by cultures across the globe.
The tribal style primarily borrowed from Maori, Samoan, and Polynesian tattoo styles before becoming the incredibly familiar style that exists today. While tribal tattoos had its heyday in the 80s and 90s, it’s still a staple of tattooing.
Tattoos that evoke the style, traditions, and artwork of classic Japanese artwork and kanji are usually grouped together as “Japanese tattoos.” The history of tattoos in Japan dates back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and it’s as popular as ever today. Traditional Japanese woodblock prints, creatures from Japanese folklore, and written characters are typical subjects of modern Japanese style tattoos.
These tattoos can be done entirely in black ink or can have colors mixed in as required by the design. The intricacy of the designs and complexity of the written characters often requires a particularly skilled tattoo artist, so make sure your artist has experience in this tattoo style before they put a needle to your skin.
You’ve now read about some of the most popular and common tattoo styles, but with the growing popularity of tattoos these days, there are other styles that you are likely to see often and are worth mentioning.
The illustrative tattoo style can encompass a lot of tattoo art and styles. It is a style that is inspired by many different techniques and art movements. Many tattoo artists will often blend in their own style or aesthetic to make a piece even more unique.
An illustrative tattoo can also have a “base” that is an entirely different style. For example, you can find an illustrative tattoo that has strong elements of a traditional, Japanese, or watercolor style tattoo which is why it’s such a versatile tattoo style.
Trash polka is another tattoo style that is growing in popularity these days. It’s a style that is often described as a collage style since it resembles the technique and style of an art collage.
It tends to blend abstract elements with photo realistic images. Trash polka often incorporates a lot of shading and bold, black lines mixed in with dramatic pops of bright colors.
At its core, the black and grey tattoo style is quite simple! A black and grey artist will create gorgeous works of tattoo art using mostly just black ink. A lot of shading will often be used to create depth in a piece and sometimes the artist will mix black with white ink to create grey shading to take that sense of depth to whole new levels. You will often see black and grey style used for portraits, Chicano, realistic, and Japanese style tattoos to name a few.
The new school tattoo style is also a pretty common style and possibly some of the most colorful and vibrant tattoos you’ll see out there. This style really took off in the 80s and 90s with a really exaggerated and cartoonish aesthetic usually filled with a lot of color and detail.
The new school tattoo style doesn’t share much in common with old school other than their use of heavy lines. Otherwise they’re quite different with new school using a much more colorful and vibrant color palette and choosing to go with a really exaggerated and caricature-esque art style.