A Beginner's Guide: 10 Tattoo Styles Explained

beccyrimmer in Guides

What's the difference between American Traditional and Neo Traditional? Beginners, explore 10 popular tattoo styles with our useful guide!

1. Traditional

Traditional (also referred to as American Traditional or Old School) is the oldest form of tattooing (after ancient tribal techniques). In the modern world, as we know it, tattooing began with this identifiable style. Solid black outlines, a limited colour palette, less detail and impeccable precision... traditional tattoos stand the test of time.

Popular traditional imagery includes roses, hearts, nautical, eagles, skulls, daggers and women's heads.

Traditional tattoo flash by Brad Murphy.
Traditional tattoo flash by Brad Murphy.

2. Realism

A tattoo that looks exactly like it would in the real world. A fine art skill, realistic tattoos done well look like photographs on the skin. Here, it's important to have a good photo reference and pick a skilled, well-known artist. Pay as much as you can for a tattoo of this kind - you get what you pay for, and cheap realism and portrait tattoos look whack.

Iron Man, by master of realistic pop culture tattoos, the unmatched Chris Jones, UK.
Iron Man, by master of realistic pop culture tattoos, the unmatched Chris Jones, UK.

3. Watercolour

Currently very popular, Watercolour tattoos mimic an experimental artistic process - using splashes and streaks of colour to give the impression of paint being used on canvas or paper.

The watercolour effect can be all-encompassing to the design, with no line-work or other styles, but it can also be combined with realism or solid outlines, to form just the background or foreground of a tattoo.

Often bright colours are used and themes of nature.

Watercolour stag by Joanne Baker, UK.
Watercolour stag by Joanne Baker, UK.

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4. Tribal 

The oldest tattoo style, from ancient times. Nearly always black in colour, often using symmetry and geometrical design. Sometimes un-detailed with block black lines, or like the tattoo below, utilising delicate detail and precision. A good artist will carefully design a piece to compliment the shape of the body, like this one.

Tribal tattoo by Desmond Kaleolani Alexander.
Tribal tattoo by Desmond Kaleolani Alexander.

5. New School / Nu Skool

Cartoon-like designs influenced by graffiti and hip-hop artistic techniques and styles. Bubble-like designs, bright colours, exaggerated dimensions and features. Popular with popular culture icons and animals.

New school Edward Scissorhands by Ryan Ousley, UK.
New school Edward Scissorhands by Ryan Ousley, UK.

6. Neo Traditional

Like Traditional, Neo-Traditional tattoos use bold outlines and careful, precise shading. Contrastingly to Traditional tattoos, they are more detailed, more experimental with colour and blending, more dimensional and often brighter – yet often inspired by the 2D layout, limited symbology and specific technique of Traditional tattooing.

Neo-Traditional might also merge different styles together, be elaborate and experimental and often try to be as unique and custom as possible.

Neo Traditional tattoo by Fishero.
Neo Traditional tattoo by Fishero.

7. Japanese

Dating back to 10,000BCE, Japanese tattooing is one of the most sacred tattoo arts. Detailed designs often cover large areas of the body such as the back or the arm. This tattooing style follows a very strict set of artistic rules - positioning, imagery used, direction, colour and more, all adhering to the ancient traditions. Imagery includes cherry blossoms, koi fish, lotus flowers, dragons, war dogs and geishas.

Japanese tattoo sleeve by Korean tattoo artist Horichiro.
Japanese tattoo sleeve by Korean tattoo artist Horichiro.

8. Dotwork

Intricate designs that use lots of tiny dots in areas where you might normally shade or use block colour.

Dotwork shade tattoo designs by Lydia Amor, UK.
Dotwork shade tattoo designs by Lydia Amor, UK.

9. Geometric 

Intricate designs made of shapes that might use symmetry and repetition to create a large design. Alternatively, geometry may be added to a Neo Traditional or other style tattoo. 

Often black but may use colour, create a 3D effect or incorporate dot work.

Geometric tattoo sleeve by Jonas Willy.
Geometric tattoo sleeve by Jonas Willy.

10. Script

Gothic, swirly, intricate fonts are popular but there's no limit to what font a script tattoo might utilise. A good script artist, like Boz De Niro, will create a completely custom tattoo for you, not use a downloadable font.

Loyalty and respect tattoo by Boz De Niro, UK.
Loyalty and respect tattoo by Boz De Niro, UK.

beccyrimmer

@Beccy Rimmer

Tattoo blogger, writer, dreamer, thinker. Aspiring teenage witch, crazy cat lady.

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