The Different Tattoo Styles – Part 1
8 July 2020
When thinking of getting a new tattoo, one of the first step is to pick a style that suits your project. The are countless tattoo styles and subcategories for you to choose from.Therefore, it is interesting to explore every option in order to have a global view of all the possibilities. Since the art of tattooing is in perpetual evolution, this article will focus on the most popular and influential tattoo styles of the last years. Another article will be published soon listing additional tattoo styles.
The American traditional tattoo style comes from the roots of the art of tattooing in America. Easy to identify due to its simplicity and iconic recurring symbols, this style is characterized by bold, black outlines, an absence of details and a limited colour palette (typically: yellow, red, green and black).
The American traditional tattoo style features the emblematic boat anchors, pin-ups, roses, eagles, swallows, daggers, snakes and panthers.
The neo traditional tattoo style is a modern take on the American traditional style. Inspired by the bold outlines and flashy colours of its predecessor, the neo traditional style however allows for the use of a more complete colour palette, fancy gradients and various new subjects. This style is known for its aestheticism and its usual themes revolving around flowers, female portraits and animals.
As the name implies, this tattoo style is known for its realistic appearance. Realism tattoos can even look exactly like a photo. With the help of impressive techniques, the artist can replicate details with incredible accuracy. There are two variants of realism tattoos: color realism and black and grey realism. The subjects of this tattoo style are infinite.
Not to be confused with neo traditional, the new school tattoo style was born in the 80s and is characterized by its goofy caricatures and cartoonish look. In contrast with the American traditional style, the new school tattoo style stands out with its flashy colours, its unrealistic proportions and its comical subjects. Even though old school is very different from classic tattoo styles, it still uses the typical bold, black outlines.
Tribal tattoos were very popular in the 90s. This tattoo style derives from tattoos originating in aboriginal tribes around the globe and have been practiced for millenniums. There are many styles of tribal tattoos which all have their characteristics and stories. Modern tribal tattoos are known for their bold, black lines with smooth curves and pointy tips. They usually highlight the muscles with their fluid design. They can also include animals or simplified symbols in harmony with the style.
The Japanese traditional tattoo style (or irezumi) took roots in Japan over hundred of years. Very stylish, the Japanese traditional tattoo style is comprised of rules and restrictions that have to be respected. These tattoos are known for many iconic symbols that each have their own set of rules and meaning. Japanese traditional tattoos are generally large pieces, often even full body suits. Typical symbols of this style are dragons, koi fish, tigers, water and waves, Japanese masks and trees.
The illustrative tattoo style borrows techniques both from realism and traditional. Bold outlines are mixed with vibrant colours and realistic shading. These tattoos have the particularity of looking more like an illustration than a tattoo. Illustrative tattoos combine many styles to create a dynamic and colourful illustration.
Blackwork, sometimes called neotribalism, is an ornamental tattoo style characterized by completely blacked out sections, dotwork and geometric patterns. These characteristics plus the highly precise technique make this tattoo style perfect for covering up old tattoos. Blackwork is often used for big pieces and combined with other styles.
Pretty recent, the watercolour tattoo style stands out drastically with its use of very little to no black ink. This style is best known for its colourful shading replicating the look of watercolour paintings. Subjects and looks range from the minimalist colourful paint drop to the perfect replica of a watercolour painting.
Anatomical tattoos are pieces based on scientific diagrams or illustrations of human or animal body parts. They’re usually composed of fine lines and accompanied by labels identifying the different anatomical parts. A derivative of this style is the realistic anatomical tattoo style, where muscles are depicted in lifelike fashion.
Biomechanical is a tattoo style giving the illusion of the tattoo being an extension of the body and is made from a mix of biological and mechanical parts. This style uses special effects with depth, intricate details and realistic shading. Subjects often include pistons, gears and printed circuit boards. Very similar to its counterpart, the bio organic tattoo style differentiates itself from biomech by using biological and organic elements only.