Getting a tattoo is a, dare we say, life-changing and permanent decision. For many individuals, tattoos carry a special meaning for them, symbolizing what they represent, who they are, their values, beliefs or pivotal moments in their lives.
When looking for inspiration for their next design most individuals turn to the internet, flipping through digital archives and examples of tattoos, but without giving much thought to the particular “style” or styling of each.
This guide will answer questions such as: how many tattoo styles are there? Do some styles look better than others? And more.
Depending on the desired location and size of your tattoo, and what type of tattoo design you like, there may be particular styling or styles of that design that are better suited to your personality, tastes and goals.
This guide explores some of the most popular tattoo styles available. Having a better understanding of styling will help you gain insight as what different styles of tattoos exist and which one may resonate more with what you’re looking for.
How to Choose a Tattoo and Corresponding Style
Below we’ve outlined the most common tattoo styles to consider for your next ink.
1) Traditional Tattoos
Traditional style tattoos have bold lines and bright colours. These tattoos also often feature stereotypical designs such as crosses, skulls, and anchors. Tattoos of this nature have maintained their popularity for a reason: they are strikingly beautiful and timeless.
Some examples of traditional tattoo styles include those featuring:
- Sailor Jerry
- Bert Grimm
- Don Ed Hardy
These tattoos are often referred to as “American traditional tattoos” and sometimes make use of bold black or deem coloured outlines.
2) Realistic Tattoos / Realism
Have you ever seen a tattoo that looked like it could be a portrait? Or a tat that was so detailed and layered that it looked like it could jump right off of the skin? Those are realism tattoos.
Tattoos of this style:
- Are usually shades of black and grey
- Often depict the faces of celebrities or people close to you
- Can show scenes of nature or surreal art
- Show the true talent of an artist who can turn a tattoo into a sketch
Take caution! These types of tattoos take specialized skill and experience. Be sure to have your tattoo artist show you examples of their realism tattoos, or you may end up a meme on the Internet!
3) Watercolor Tattoos
An increasingly popular and fun expression of body art is the watercolour tattoo style. These tattoos are reminiscent of watercolour drawings and paintings, but require intense technical expertise to create on the human body.
Popular examples of watercolour tattoos include:
- Recreations of paintings
- Whimsical characters
But watercolour tattoos aren’t just a genre of their own. Elements of watercolour can be added to existing tattoos or other styles in order to bring them to life and combine contrasting elements to create a truly unique piece of art.
4) Tribal Tattoos
Tribal tattoos are another style that has stood the test of time as a tried and true classic dating back to actual tribal cultures. Tribal tattoos can be found as far back as ancient times, with each indigenous people or group having their own style of markings.
By combining elements from different cultures, artists can create new symbols or use those from specific tribes to communicate meaning.
Tribal tattoos are:
- Usually done in black ink
- Showcase elaborate patterns
- Highlight different tribal cultures
Whether deeply meaningful or a design that you find aesthetically pleasing, tribal tattoos are always a great option.
5) Neo-Traditional Tattoos
The Neo-Traditional form of tattoo comes from the traditional genre. Neotraditional tattoos vary from traditional tattoos in a few ways.
- Neo-traditional tattoos usually resemble illustrative works.
- Tattoos are often influenced by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.
- These tattoos contain decorative detail and lush designs.
- Flowers, animals, and faces are popular in this style of imagery.
6) Japanese Tattoos
Reminiscent of woodblock prints seen among the ancient merchants of Japan, Japanese tattoos are often large and colourful. These tattoos showcase the rich history of Japan and its colourful folklore.
Japanese tattoos often have:
Japanese style tattoos are a specific form of tattoo, using the appearance of waves to make the tattoos appear dramatic.
7) Blackwork Tattoos
These tattoos are created entirely with black ink. The lack of colour, however, does not make them any less dramatic or impactful.
Popular designs in this category involve:
- Sacred geometry
- Abstract ornamental design
- Detailed illustrations
This genre of tattooing is striking and often used for experimental designs. If you are bold and adventurous, you may find blackwork tattoos an interesting concept.
8) Chicano Style Tattoos
Chicano culture is taking off, and the tattoo industry is well aware of this. With deep Mexican influence, Chicano tattoos display the essence of lowrider culture, Pachucos, and the Mexican Revolution.
- Utilize fine lines in their drawings
- Originate from artists in prison working with what they had
- Rely on black and grey for dramatic effect
These tattoos are beautiful and demonstrate the strong love that Chicano culture embraces.
9) Trash Polka Tattoos
Yes, you read that right! One style of tattoo is referred to as “trash polka”. Originating in Germany, smudges and kinetic images are combined with realistic images in this tattoo style.
- These tattoos can contain words and often look disjointed.
- Only black and red ink is used.
- It is characterized by opposites attempting to unite in harmony.
Trash polka tattoos are memorable and can convey deep statements about the world around us.
What is the Process of Getting a Tattoo Like?
Once you decide on a basic tattoo design or concept and have found a professional you enjoy working with, the next step is your appointment to get the tattoo itself. Depending on the size and complexity, multiple sessions may need to be scheduled.
Here is what to expect when you go in:
- The area to be tattooed will be cleaned with rubbing alcohol and shaved if any hair is present.
- A blueish stencil of your tattoo will be placed on your skin.
- The tattoo artist will prepare their workstation and ink colours.
- Tattooing over the linework begins.
- Colours are filled in after the linework is finished.
- The tattoo is dressed and bandaged.
After your tattoo is completed, you will also have to care for it.
- After 24 hours, remove the bandage and gently wash the tattoo as instructed by your artist.
- Use antibacterial ointment twice a day.
- Gently wash with soap and water a few times a day.
- Repeat for 2 to 4 weeks.
Finding the Perfect Tattoo for You
Whether you want an old school tattoo, a new school tattoo, or an eclectic mix, find the style that speaks to you. This is your body and your life to enjoy! Now that you have read up on a few different tattoo styles, you will know what you want to discuss with your tattoo artist.
Tattoos are a wonderful form of expression, colourful art, and a permanent keepsake. There are styles to fit every personality, and your tattoo artist will work with you to settle on the perfect way to express yourself.
Ready to get your next tattoo?
Chronic Ink Tattoo Shops are home to some of the best tattoo aritst in the world across all styles. Our staff will work closely with you to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible through your entire tattoo process, from your first consult to the time you are leaving the chair.
Looking for your next Tattoo Idea?
Browse our selection of one of a kinda tattoo designs created by our Chronic Ink artists. Each piece is individual and will only ever be tattooed once.