The Different Styles of Tattoos

Updated on January 28, 2016

Traditional / Old School Tattoos

Traditional or "old school" tattoos are a Western or classic Americana style, known for their bold outlines and solid colors. If done correctly, with proper aftercare this style will last a long time without having to be touched up.

Common Traditional Themes:

  • Native American
  • Nautical
  • Pin-Ups
  • Cherries
  • Roses
  • Daggers
  • Navy & Other Armed Forces
  • Hearts
  • Eagles
  • Swallows & Sparrows

Tattoo flash of an old school style flapper girl.
Tattoo flash of an old school style flapper girl.
A traditional-style rose packed with color.
A traditional-style rose packed with color.
Traditional sleeves. (Photo from Tumblr.)
Traditional sleeves. (Photo from Tumblr.)

New School Tattoos

We've talked about old school, so now it's time for new school. Unlike traditionalism, the new school of tattoo artistry is all about free-styling and unique patterns with custom ideas that haven't been used before. New school is becoming more popular due to modern equipment and new techniques. It's nice to see body art that's really different and no one else has.

Common New School Themes:

  • Fantasy
  • Graffiti
  • Jagged Edges
  • Sea Creatures
  • Bubble Lettering
  • Hip Hop Themes

This is my new school style tattoo, done by Charlie Torres in Davenport, Iowa.
This is my new school style tattoo, done by Charlie Torres in Davenport, Iowa.
By Mark Stewart at Four Aces Tattoo, Aldinga Beach, South Australia.
By Mark Stewart at Four Aces Tattoo, Aldinga Beach, South Australia.

Black and Gray Tattoos

Black and grey is a style that only uses black and white ink in varying shades. Typically, the tattoo is made by diluting the black ink with distilled water in various proportions, creating a "wash" of lighter shades. Some artists mix white with black ink to produce a gray shade, but it is not the traditional method. White ink can also be used to smooth out sharp transitions between the different shades, or as a highlight. This style supposedly originated in prison, where inmates had limited access to different colors of ink.

Common Black and Gray Themes:

  • Skulls
  • Wolves
  • Portraits
  • Money
  • Religious
  • Guns
  • Knives

Asian Style Tattoos

Asian tattoos are both clandestine and open and this is precisely what makes them so fascinating. The imagery has a vast and rich backdrop of culture, history, and allusions. The Asian aesthetic has always been all about handmade stuff, as machines came in very late to the Asian tattoo scene. This ever-growing collection of designs are big in scale and cover the entire arm or leg or even total body tattoos starting at the neck and continuing to the feet.

Common Asian Style Themes:

  • Dragons
  • Kanji (Lettering)
  • Waves
  • Koi
  • Flowers
  • Tigers
  • Snakes
  • Women
  • Cherry Blossoms

Script or Text Tattoos

Lettering and word tattoos are very common. The best thing about this type is it can be very meaningful, make a statement, express your feelings exactly, or just be wacky. When my mother passed away, I got the lyrics to the Ozzy song "Mama I'm Coming Home" inked on me because it was her favorite song and played at her funeral. Although it looks to be my most boring one, it's my absolute favorite because of the meaning behind it. They're also easy to get touched up or even covered if you no longer want them.

Common Script Themes:

  • Your Child's Name
  • Song Lyrics
  • Your Partner's Name (although not recommended but do whatever you want!)
  • Birth Dates
  • Passages from the Bible
  • Your Last Name
  • Famous Quotes or Phrases
  • Words from a Favorite Book

Biomechanical Tattoos

Paired with ripped-apart flesh and robotic parts, this type looks best when placed on muscled parts of the body. When designing this project, think of your legs, arms, or even neck and then get inspired by fantastical machinery. You may choose to draw the design yourself or shop around for a skilled biomechanical tattoo artist.

Tribal Tattoos

I'm not even going to go into it. This isn't the 90s.

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