Tattoo Styles and What They Mean

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts how important it is to know which style tattoo you want before contacting a shop to book in. This is because a lot of artists these days have styles they specify in, and by booking with the right artist means you get the best tattoo possible. But what if you’re not sure which style to go for? Or even what styles are out there?

Well I’ve complied a quick list to help you out with a brief explanation of each.

1. Traditional – Defined by big bold lines, simple designs and a limited colour pallet, traditional tattoos were more commonly associated with sailors in their early days. You may even recognise some of the more well known works by American tattooist Sailor Jerry as pictured below.



2. Neo Traditional – it’s a deviation of the classic traditional tattoo while keeping the bare essentials the same. Neo Traditional differs from it’s predecessor in that it consists of a variety of lines weights, has a broader colour pallet and is generally more illustrative.


3. Realism – This does what it says on the tin. Tattoos that look real, more commonly consisting of portraits of people or animals. Realism has become far more refined since the improvement in technology and equipment. There are no lines in realism so the tones really do the talking.


4. Tribal – most commonly done in black, tribal is an umbrella term given to indigenous body art. Designs mainly consist of patterns and shapes, many of which have significant meaning behind them.


5. Blackwork- another umbrella term, blackwork tattoos are essentially tattoos done using just black ink. However being limited in colour doesn’t mean limited in what you can do with it. A lot of blackwork tattoos are very intricate, often consisting of lots of lines and dots, they can achieve beautiful illustrative works of art.


6. Japanese – very identifiable because of their themes, Japanese tattoos often depict creatures from Japan’s rich mythology and past such as dragons and koi. They’re also commonly brightly coloured, feature solid lines, and flow well with the use of waves and clouds to connect pieces together.

traditional japanese tattoo artist san francisco New Dragon and Tiger sleeve by Kevin Marr at Resolution SF San Francisco

7. New School – this is a very fun and playful style usually comprising of bright colours and bold lines. It differs from neo traditional in that it’s more of cartoony and exaggerated with much more of a youthful appeal.


8. Watercolour – very common among women, watercolour tattoos are just that; made to look like watercolour paintings with faded edges and the odd paint splatter here and there.


This is by no means a comprehensive list of every style out there. It’s more of a brief overview of the most currently sought after styles at the moment. Hopefully it’ll help you pinpoint the right style for your next tattoo!


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