Tattoos are works of art. Head to any tattoo artist, and they will have a completely different style from another tattoo artist that you may approach. When you consider the tattoo styles you want, you must consider the type of artwork you want on your body. This will make your search for a tattoo artist all that much easier.
On this page, we are going to go through some of the more popular of the different tattoo styles. We are hoping that this may generate a couple of ideas in your head about the type of tattoo style that you favor the most.
For some of these tattoo styles, we will even be sharing a bit of information on the most common tattoo types for that art style. This way, you can get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Different Types & Styles of Tattoos, Complete Guide:
1. Traditional/Old School/American Traditional
The traditional tattoo style (sometimes called American traditional) will be characterized by its clean black lines. While they will have a small amount of color on them, they won’t be shaded. Think along the lines of solid blocks of color. These tattoos have their roots in the 1930s.
While traditional tattoos are not known for their huge amounts of detail, the images that they depict are rather clear. Honestly, it is a tattoo style that any reasonably competent tattoo artist should be able to replicate.
American traditional tattoos can include traditional tattoo images such as crosses, skulls, nautical designs, and animal designs. Nothing too complicated. Just a simple piece of art that can be created quickly.
2. New School
New school tattoos started to pop up in the 1970s. You can see them as a twist on the more traditional American tattoo. New school tattoos thicken up the lines a little bit. They also opt to use bigger and brighter colors.
One of the interesting things about New School tattoos is that, unlike traditional American tattoos, they don’t go for the whole realism approach. Instead, you may find the features of New School tattoos to be a little bit exaggerated. Some of the better New School tattoos will focus on caricatures of images.
3. Trash Polka
Trash Polka is a tattoo art style that has its roots in Germany in the late 1990s. Trash Polka predominantly features red and black colors. It is rare for any tattoo that features Trash Polka art to have any color other than red and black.
Realistic images surrounded by graphical images characterize trash polka. This may include solid shapes or geometric patterns.
Trash polka tattoos will never use shading. Instead, they will opt for solids, blacks, and reds. When done properly, trash polka tattoos can look stunning.
You can think of neo-traditional tattoos as being an evolution of American traditional. They are very similar to traditional American tattoos in a lot of ways.
Neo-traditional tattoos are still about the simpler images with defined lines. A bit of color will be squeezed in there too. However, unlike traditional American tattoos, neo-traditional opts for brighter, more modern colors. It may go a little bit heavier on the shading too.
Because neo-traditional tattoos often go heavier on the shading, the images tend to feel a bit less flat than they would in a traditional American style.
As with American traditional, any tattoo artist worth their salt should easily be able to replicate a neo-traditional style.
Lettering tattoos have gone through a bit of a renaissance as of late. They are often an option for those that favor more simplistic tattoos. They can still have a bit of artistic flair to them because there are countless fonts to choose from, and a good tattoo artist will be able to replicate many of them.
Lettering tattoos often feature names close to a person. This could be family members or close friends that have died. In some cases, it may be a motto or a bible verse.
While lettering tattoos can seem somewhat basic, the right font can make them look tremendous.
Animals carry a lot of symbolism. For example, the lion has always been a symbol of courage. The snake has been seen as a symbol of rebirth and fertility. The wolf is a symbol of loyalty. This is what we mean when we say that people have spirit animals. It is an animal that tries to give you the strength that you need. Many people that opt for these tattoos idolize the symbolism behind an animal.
Of course, other people will have their pets tattooed onto them. This can be a little bit of a tribute to their furry friends (or whatever skin covering your pet has!)
Popular animals can include the lion, tiger, snake, eagle, owl, and wolf. You can even throw mythological creatures into the mix with the Phoenix.
When most people think of flag tattoos, they think of the typical national flag. We suppose that is the first thing that springs to mind for us. A flag can be a symbol of national pride. It may be a symbol of your heritage, even if you have never been to the country that is depicted in the flag.
Of course, flags stretch well beyond national flags. For example, you can get tattoos that are meant to represent your sexuality. You have flag tattoos that represent political causes that you may be affiliated with. We have flags that represent who we are as people.
Flag tattoos are often simple tattoos and will be favored by those that want something a little bit smaller, perhaps on the wrist.
Religious icons have always been a firm favorite of those receiving tattoos. It is a way to show your commitment to the faith. In some religions, it may be a demonstration of the values that you hold the dearest. Some religions require you to get tattoos to show your commitment to your faith.
As you can probably imagine, the bulk of the religious tattoos will be received by Christians in the US. This means that crosses, Jesus, Angels, and Bible verses are some of the more popular tattoo ideas.
Portraits are tattoos often produced from the image of a person or an animal. It is very much like a beautiful portrait painting, and only the body is being used as a canvas. Because of what a portrait is supposed to represent is often created in a more realistic style. This means complete with shading and beautiful lines. However, we have seen some artists that favor a more humorous approach to the portraits that they create.
A lot of people get portraits for their pets. This could be a dog portrait or a cat portrait. In other cases, you can get a face portrait of those closest to you or people that have had an impact on your life, e.g., musicians. Some people even get portraits of their partners, in the case with women portraits or their whole family with family portraits.
The geometrical style of tattoo is characterized by simple shapes, often squares, triangles, and circles linked together to create beautiful patterns or imagery. It creates a truly skilled tattoo artist to create a geometrical tattoo. This is because it requires a lot of talent to ensure that the patterns are truly geometrical. Even the slightest mistake could throw the whole image off.
Of course, the most common geometrical tattoos will be mathematical partners. They look stunning. However, with the right tattoo artist, images can be made. This may include a geometric wolf, geometric flower, mountain, bears, geometric bees, or a geometric rose.
The best part about geometrical tattoos is that just about any image that you want can be replicated in geometric patterns.
At the time of writing, several tattoos colors have been banned in some countries. This is due to the potential harm that they can do to the skin. It may be worth holding off on getting a color tattoo for a while, just while more research is carried out into how certain inks work on the skin.
If you opt for a color tattoo, then the main highlight will always be the colors used and how they are used. For example, gradient color tattoos will often feature a single color used in an interesting, almost shaded way. Color wheel tattoos will use complementary colors to create something that looks gorgeous. Of course, a flower or butterfly tattoo will lean heavily on color to create something that truly pops.
12. Black & Grey
Black & Greys are interesting to work with when it comes to tattoos. This is because tattoo artists do not have the colors to bring an image alive. Instead, they need to create an eye-catching tattoo using nothing more than sleek lines and blacks, greys, and the skin’s natural tones.
Many black & grey tattoos will often be gothic, and it is an art style that works incredibly well for tattoos depicting death and sorrow. However, we can also see this particular tattoo style being a firm favorite among those that want smaller, simpler tattoos.
13. Time Capturing
Time capturing tattoos often make use of time implements to depict time. This can include clocks, hourglasses, melting clocks, or pocket watches.
Time capturing tattoos often depict the hold that time has over our lives. For example, hourglass tattoos will often depict that life is just a ticking clock. We must live our life to the fullest until the hourglass runs empty. The melting clock is meant to signify that we are nothing but slaves to time.
Clocks and pocket watches may capture a time that is important in a person’s life. This may, for instance, include the time that one of their children was born.
Music tattoo ideas are leaned on heavily by those that live and breathe music. While the most common music tattoos will often feature favorite artists of the person being tattooed, they may even include song lyrics or key parts of album covers, e.g., the flying pig often depicted on Pink Floyd album covers.
Because music tattoo styles are supposed to depict the affinity that one has with music, you will often find the style used to represent the person as an artist. For example, violin lovers may go down the root of a violin key. Classic music lovers may opt for music notes, often of their favorite songs. Singers may get a microphone as a tattoo. Musicians may get a tattoo of their favorite instruments.
Family tattoos are loved by those that want to show how much they love and care for their family. The whole idea of a family tattoo is to ensure that your family is close to you always, even if you are separated by distance….or even death.
Some of the most common family tattoos will often link up with lettering tattoos. For example, a person may have the names of their family members or their birthdays tattooed onto them. In some cases, there may be a date of death.
Other tattoos will fall firmly into the portrait category—for example, family portraits. Just make sure that you choose a good portrait for this one of the tattoo ideas!
Tribal tattoos are meant to depict links to culture. Many cultures around the world have leaned heavily on using tattoos to symbolize the status of a person in society or the achievements that they have gained. Some cultures have utilized animals as part of their tribal patterns.
Many people who often get tribal tattoos will have some sort of affinity with the culture they are having tattooed onto them. For example, if somebody opts for Filipino or African tattoos, then they will often have their roots in one of those cultures. Dragons and turtles often play a prominent role in many of these cultures too.
Most tribal tattoos will be in a blackwork style. This means they are characterized by thick black lines and make heavy use of negative space.
Names are a common tattoo style for those who wish to immortalize those closest to them. We often see this as one of the tattoo styles that is heavily focused on immortalizing loved ones. Quite often, the names depicted will be that of partners and children. Some may even want to include tattoos of their parent’s and siblings’ names.
This is a very simple tattoo style. The main highlight of name tattoos, at least from an artistic standpoint, will often be the font that is used. The font often says a lot about the name that is being represented.
Numbers are simple tattoos, much like names. When people opt for number tattoos, they often remind themselves of numbers or dates.
If there is a number that is particularly special to you, you may turn it into a decent tattoo. For example, you may find that numbers tattoos can depict birthdates, lucky numbers, certain times, and a whole lot more.
Just like names, number tattoos will always be characterized by the font selected for the tattoo.
19. Mythology Tattoos (Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Celtic)
Mythology tattoos look at ancient History and the depictions of Gods and mythological beasts. Back in ancient times, people were always looking for ways to explain the world around them. For example, Greek and Norse Gods were designed to explain death, the weather, emotions, and luck. Ancient Egyptian Gods were who you would pray to if you wanted something special in your life.
Because of this, mythological tattoos will often be steeped in symbolism, and since many of us are familiar with these ancient myths, the symbolism will be quickly apparent.
Common mythology tattoos can include:
- Greek God tattoos (including Hades, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Ares)
- Ancient Egyptian customers, e.g., Eye of Horus or Egyptian Gods
- Norse Gods such as Thor and Loki
- Mythological creatures such as the Kraken
20. Nature Tattoos
Nature is all around us. Most nature tattoos will often opt for a very realistic approach. These nature tattoo ideas often depict beautiful landscapes. At their heart, these tattoos show how connected a person is to the planet they live on.
Of course, nature tattoos will also be steeped in symbolism. Rivers, for instance, may indicate the river of life flowing or perhaps a new direction. Mountains can demonstrate strength and resilience. Different trees will have their symbolism, too, e.g., dead trees indicate death, willow trees indicate comfort, the cherry blossom new life, aspen trees protection, and oak trees resilience.
Aliens tattoos often take on a very sci-fi theme. For example, you have the typical alien head (the greys being the most common here) or alien spacecraft if you want something a bit more unique than alien hands.
Others may follow the aliens that you see featured in your favorite sci-fi movies. For example, you will often find Alien tattoos that feature some of the more prominent alien species in Star Wars. Some will show off the scarier aliens that you may find in movies such as Alien vs. Predator.
22. Movies Tattoos
Many movies will feature prominent tattoos. The tattoos may not always play a role in the movie (e.g., the Brad Pitt Snatch tattoo), and others are a key plot point (e.g., Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
When people get tattoos based upon movies, they often do so because they have an affinity with the movie or the actor in that particular movie. Sometimes, the artwork that you find featured in these movies will be far too good to replicate.
While we can’t highlight every single tattoo that you may find in popular movies, these are easily some of the most common tattoos:
- The tattoo adorned by Lisbeth in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- The religious-themed tattoos that Brad Pitt wore in Snatch
- The Red Dragon tattoo from the movie of the same name
- The tattoos are worn by Aquaman
- The tattoos are worn by Angelina Jolie in Wanted
- Robert de Niro’s basic, yet effective, tattoos in Cape Fear
- George Clooney’s flame tattoo in From Dusk Till Dawn
- The Latin tattoo worn by Keanu Reeves in John Wick
In other cases, movie tattoos may not just depict a tattoo in a movie. For example, some people have received Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Scarface, and Joker tattoos despite neither having a key tattoo in the movies.
23. Big Tattoos
Big tattoos are the tattoos that you will often have tattooed onto the larger canvass on your body. For example, you will have larger tattoos on your thighs and the chest.
Many tattoo artists love those that come to them with large tattoo ideas. This isn’t just because they are the most expensive of tattoos. It is because they can pour a lot of detail into the images that they create. Large tattoos can be created in any tattoo art style.
24. Small Tattoos
Small tattoos are favored by those that want a tattoo, perhaps a name or a symbol, but do not want to take up large parts of their body with one. These small tattoos will often be placed on the neck, wrist, or maybe even the foot.
While there is no limitation to the sort of tattoo art style that can be used with small tattoos, these tattoos will often have minimal detail. They will often be made purely in black and grey tones.
25. 3D/Realistic Tattoos
3D/Realistic tattoos are up there with being some of the most complicated tattoo styles to create. As the name suggests, the purpose of this tattoo is to try and create an image that looks as realistic as possible. This will often involve a lot of detail and a lot of shading. These tattoos will often need to be placed on the larger canvases of a person’s body.
Hyper-realistic tattoos are often based on portraits of a person or an animal. They rely on 3D. Broken glass tattoos give the look of a 3D image by surrounding the tattoo with a broken glass style, almost as if you are looking into a portal.
26. Artistic Tattoos
Artistic tattoos are often designed to replicate the art styles of famous artists. These tattoos are true works of art, and they require a lot of talent in the tattoo artist to create something that looks amazing.
Many art styles can be utilized in artistic tattoos. For example:
- Abstract tattoos. A favorite of artists like Picasso. These images often use bold colors and geometric shapes to create an image.
- The sketch is basic line drawings that have the feel of somebody sitting with a sketchpad and drawing something.
- Paintbrush strokes look similar to paint on a canvas.
- Dot work art styles use thousands of dots to create an image. Unless you are looking closely, you won’t be able to see the dots.
- Line drawings are just that. Simple lines. The artist will use differing line thicknesses to create depth.
- Minimalist dials back on the detail. These are simple but beautiful tattoos.
- Negative space relies on the areas of the body that aren’t being drawn on. Line tattoos often focus heavily on negative space.
27. Watercolor Tattoos
Watercolor tattoos tend to look very similar to watercolor paintings. You can almost see the brush strokes in the art. These tattoos often use brighter colors to create. Watercolor tattoos will rely heavily on color gradients to create colors that almost fade out, much as you would see in a watercolor painting.
As you can probably imagine, many different tattoo images can be depicted in watercolor tattoos. The best images will be those that rely on heavy amounts of color, though.
28. Couples Tattoos
Couples tattoos are for couples. The idea is that both partners will have their tattoos. This could mean one person has one half of the tattoo, and the other has the other half.
This could be a matching tattoo, or they could be couples tattoos. In the latter case, you may find that couple ring tattoos are replacing that of the traditional wedding ring. Of course, a couple could also go down the slightly more stereotypical route and opt for King and Queen tattoos.
Cover-up tattoos do exactly what they say on the tin. Sometimes, a person may already have a tattoo, but they may not be a fan of it. This is because they may have moved on from that part of their life or selected a poor tattoo artist.
Tattoo removal can be a painful and expensive process. Cover-ups allow people to completely cover their old tattoo with a new one. Blast over cover-ups is among the most common here. They use blacks and the like to completely hide the old tattoo. No removal or tattoo adjustment is required.
30. Calligraphy Tattoos
Calligraphy tattoos are very similar to lettering tattoos. You are just writing letters, after all. However, calligraphy tattoos will often go beyond the typical alphabet.
Calligraphy tattoos are often used to write meaningful names and quotes in non-European languages. For example, in Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese. A lot of people will often feel an affinity for the cultures that they are using the lettering from.
Other calligraphy tattoos can include ambigrams. This is a very sophisticated style of writing. When done correctly, an ambigram will display a word or message no matter whether you are looking at it from the top or the bottom. It takes a very skilled tattoo artist to create something like that.
31. Stick and Poke
Stick and poke tattoos are among the most traditional tattoos there are. Although, they can often fade over time. If somebody claimed that they knew how to tattoo but weren’t an actual tattoo artist, then chances are they would use a stick and poke method.
A stick and poke tattoo involves being ‘poked’ with a single needle with ink on end. This places a layer of ink just below the skin. Of course, because it is a single needle, it doesn’t quite have the intricacy of a more modern tattoo style. Some people love the more rough approach that sticks and poke tattoos have.
Biomechanical is a realistic fantasy tattoo. These tattoos are meant to depict the human body’s inner workings, albeit in a mechanical style.For example, a biomechanical tattoo on the arm may depict the joints in the arm as being a series of cogs and gears. The bones may be metal tubes.
In some cases, tattoo lovers may favor a more ‘robotic’ look to their biomechanical tattoos.When done correctly, biomechanical tattoos can look stunning. It makes it feel as if you are peering into the body of a human being.
There doesn’t seem to be all that much consensus about what aesthetic tattoos entail. In the mind of many tattoo artists, aesthetic tattoos tend to be simplistic tattoos that have a more minimalist approach to them. These tattoos will often be in black and grey colors, but there are some aesthetic color tattoos too.
The idea is that they are noticeable but not so large that they will take up an entire arm or leg. Aesthetic tattoos will complement the look of a person, very similar to jewelry.
Bright, vivid colors often characterize cartoon tattoos. As you can probably guess from the name, cartoon tattoos often represent some of the most-loved cartoon characters. In the past, this is a tattoo style that would have been heavily loved by those that enjoy Disney movies.
While there is still a market for those Disney-focused tattoos, it seems that more and more tattoo artists are being approached to recreate anime characters in tattoo form.
Contours are very simple tattoos. Their thin lines characterize them. Most tattoos that feature contours will be simple line art. They are very quick to produce and may even use a single line to outline an area.
In other cases, these contour tattoos can be used to highlight specific body parts. For example, some people have received lip contours, muscle contours, and even whole body contours.
36. Zodiac Signs
Zodiac signs are tattoo ideas that probably don’t need that much in the way of introduction. All of us were born under an astrological star sign. Zodiac sign tattoos are designed to show a person’s affinity with their star sign. This means that you may end up seeing the following:
- Cancer zodiac tattoos
- Leo zodiac tattoos
- Taurus zodiac tattoos
- Scorpio zodiac tattoos
- Gemini zodiac tattoos
- Libra zodiac tattoos
- Aries zodiac tattoos
Of course, the tattoo you choose will be the star sign you were born under. We have also seen people get the star sign of those that are close to them.
Anatomical tattoos are similar to biomechanical tattoos. The idea is to keep an artistic peek into a person’s body. For example, you may see the tattoo feature muscles, bones, and organs that roughly match up with the person’s body parts. When created in a realistic style, it is something that can trigger a second glance.
Other anatomical tattoos may look at tattooing things such as eyes or organs onto a body, albeit in a way that doesn’t quite match up with a person’s real body.
38. Culture Tattoos
Cultural tattoos are tattoos that show an affinity with a certain culture. These tattoos may make use of artwork, symbols, and letters that are popular with that type of culture. Many cultures also lean heavily on the use of tattoos (e.g., Maori culture), and those tattoos are often replicated.
In many cases, people choose tattoos for cultures that they feel a part of (and you will often be frowned upon if you get a tattoo for a community you do not know). In other cases, it may be a cultural tattoo of a long-dead culture.
Here are some of the more popular culture tattoo ideas:
Symbols are simple images that have developed over the centuries. Tattoo artists often use symbols to convey an idea without taking up a huge amount of space on a person’s body.
Many of these symbols are going to be highly recognizable, and they will often be on a smaller part of a person’s body, e.g., the wrist or a shoulder. Some of the most common symbols for tattoo artists include the infinity, strength, and family.
Chicano tattoos are tattoos that use a black and grey color palette. Some of them are highly detailed, while others make use of simple line drawings.
Chicano tattoos are often used to memorialize people or show an affiliation. For example, you will find Chicano tattoos used heavily to signify a gang affiliation or to depict portraits of lost loved ones.
In other cases, a Chicano tattoo can be used to depict religious symbols, particularly that of Jesus or the Virgin Mary.
41. Glow In The Dark
In recent years, glow-in-the-dark tattoos have become more popular. They make use of UV ink. As with most glow-in-the-dark inks, these tattoos will ‘absorb’ light throughout the day. When the lights are turned off, the tattoo will light up.
These tattoos are not as popular as some other tattoo styles. This is due to UV ink not being that readily available. However, these tattoos can be depicted in most art styles, although line art often works the best.
New and creative tattoo styles will use more modern influences in the artwork. This can create some rather unique imagery when you are looking at them.
For example, the mambo style of tattoo, created by Mattia Mambo, is a tattoo style that depicts real-world objects in a simple line art style, albeit with a touch of color and unique perspective. It is almost pop art in the approach. You may also find these tattoos referred to as destructturato tattoos or deconstructed tattoos.
Steampunk tattoos carefully blend modern and traditional design elements, e.g., robots powered by steam-powered machinery. This has fast become one of the more popular tattoo styles.
Spiritual tattoos are often affiliated with certain cultures or spiritual outlooks on life. For example, the third eye tattoo is meant to show that a person has an eye that is gazing into the spiritual world. Chakra tattoos depict the focal points for ancient meditation.
These tattoos are meant to show a person’s connection with the spiritual world. Some of the more common tattoo ideas here can include:
- Henna style tattoos
- Mandala tattoos
- Dream catcher tattoos
- Chakra tattoos
- Third-eye tattoos