There are A LOT of tattoo styles to choose from (skip to the bottom for a list of the styles we’ll be covering in the coming weeks).

When it comes to picking the right ink for you, learn the styles and see what’s out there.

This is a comprehensive list of tattoo styles that we’ve come across.

And it keeps growing!

Once you’re done reading this, you’ll know the difference between traditional tattoos and neo-traditional tattoos, or the difference between blackwork and black and grey tattoos.

As humans, we’ve been marking our skin for a very long time.

Some people think of Polynesian or Asian cultures, while others think of pirates and criminals.

Regardless, tattoos have been symbols representing us for millennia.

oriental japanese chinese tattoo style guide dragon tattoo black and white shoulder sleeve

We honour the ancient art of tattooing for the sake of aesthetic pleasure and a rite of passage.

Few are able to stop at just one.

We’ve done our best to embody the infinite world of tattooing with this style guide, but it’s impossible to list the sheer plentitude of tattoo options.

A tattoo is as unique as the individual who wears it.

So, it comes down to your own personal preference.

Don’t forget to keep in mind that you may choose to mix and match any of these styles.

You can have a realistic dot work tattoo or geometric sketch.

The possibilities are truly endless.

What images will represent you as you go about your daily life?

It may well be that clothes maketh NOT the man but your tattoo certainly does.

Classic Americana Tattoos (Old School Traditional)

Also known as Traditional American, these tattoos are among the most well known Western tattoo styles.

It’s the first style your parents (or grandparents) will think of when you say you’re getting a tattoo.

It represents counterculture rebels and America’s tough-guy history.

Traits of traditional tattoos:

  • Bold, saturated colours
  • Simple colour palette
  • Simple shading, if any
  • Thick black outlines
  • Precise and crisp two-dimensional images
  • Elemental, clean designs (symbols and motifs)

This style is attributed to Norman Collins, aka Sailor Jerry, who learned the craft from Japanese hand poke tattoo artists.

They’re closely tied to the ocean and nautical imagery, pinup girls, fierce animals, hearts, roses, and daggers.

Sailors would tattoo their nautical achievements at sea. 

For example, a tattoo of King Neptune meant you crossed the Equator. 

A sparrow tattoo would be earned for every 5,000 nautical miles traveled (which is roughly a quarter of the earth’s circumference). 

When you think of flash tattoos on the walls of a tattoo studio, think traditional.

We have Classic Americana tattoos to thank for birthing other styles like New School, Neo traditional, Realism, and others you’ll read about here.

Choose this style for a tattoo that will age well and likely never go out of style (they haven’t yet!).

traditional tattoo death before dishonour dagger heart tattoo style guide

Old School Tattoo Style, Celebrity Ink

New School

Love the idea of old school tattoos but looking for a modern take without the limitations?

tattoo styles new school tattoos bart simpson rebel smoking red hat black jumper hoodie spider web

New School Tattoo Style, Celebrity Ink

New school tattoos are for you.

Old school is the grand-daddy of tatty and new school is the rebel teen.

Originating in the 1970’s, this style is hard to miss, and was the start of modern tattoo culture as an art form.

People wanted to be part of the design process, customising their ink with their own flare.

Traits of new school tattoos:

  • Bold, heavy outlines (most often black)
  • Vibrant, in-your-face colours
  • Playful, disproportionate, and exaggerated designs (i.e. cartoon-ified characters and themes)
  • Degradês of traditional tattoo designs (i.e. customised hearts and daggers)
  • Elements of shading, depth, and 3D effects

Think of new school as having a character or scene from a comic book tattooed to your body.

It’s a heavily stylized tattoo design but keeps to the older feel of classic Americana; not quite neo-traditional which leans towards the abstract.

New school tattoos veer off the beaten path of flash walls and towards experimental designs in graffiti, hip hop, and pop art.

Choose this style if you wish to put a creative spin on your piece while honouring tradition.

Neo-Traditional Style

It’s really easy to confuse neo-traditional tattoo style with classic Americana tattoos.

Why?

Because as the name suggests, this style evolved from its name-sake.

While old school themes are the focus of neo-traditional, this style boasts lush, decorative details.

Like new school, neo-traditional honours old school with a modern and colourful approach.

The main difference between classic Americana tattoos and neo-traditional tattoos comes down to the use of colours and a broader range of motifs.

With traditional ink you’re limited to anchors and mermaids, but with neo-traditional pieces you can ink pretty much anything you want from animals to florals.

neo traditional tattoo tattoos style classic americana wolf native american maple leaves crow skull

Neo-Traditional Tattoo Style, Celebrity Ink

Impress your friends by knowing the difference:

  • Pronounced line-work
  • Dark, clean outlines
  • Lush colours, from a larger palette (but still classic)
  • Decorative, highly illustrative, art-nouveau, and art deco aesthetics
  • Colour gradients and often the use of white ink to highlight

Art nouveau and art deco combine in this style, bringing together strong curves, romanticized scenarios, and luxurious detail.

Neo-traditional style differs from new school in that it’s more artsy as opposed to graffiti.

New patriotic imaginarium, such as Native Americans, portraits and skulls, are found in this style.

Unlike new school, which aims to blow out proportions and almost mock the strictness of old school, neo-traditional remains true to the art of tattoo aesthetics.

It’s as if the new school style grew up and learned that being traditional isn’t so bad afterall.

whats the difference between old school new school neo traditional tattoos classic americana

Coming Soon

Watch this space for a look at the ultimate list of tattoo styles at a glance:

  • Classic Americana Tattoos (Old School Traditional)
  • New School
  • Neo-Traditional
  • Black & Grey
  • Chicano
  • Stick & Poke
  • Realism
  • Hyperrealism
  • Portraiture
  • Trash Polka
  • Blackwork
  • Silhouette
  • Anatomical
  • Bio-mechanical
  • Horror
  • Surrealism
  • Psychedelic
  • Abstract
  • Polygon
  • Gradient
  • Cover Up
  • Blast Over
  • Dot work
  • Pointillism
  • Minimalist
  • Fine line
  • Continuous Contour
  • Outline
  • Pinstripe
  • Optical Illusion
  • 3D Tattoos
  • Sticker/Patch
  • Broken Glass
  • Glitch
  • Inverted
  • Negative Space
  • Stained Glass
  • Torn/ripped skin
  • Wood carving
  • Pop Art
  • Pixel
  • Graffiti
  • Script
  • Letters
  • Quotes
  • Ambigram
  • Geometric
  • Mandala
  • Henna
  • Japanese
  • Mambo
  • Ornamental
  • Tribal
  • Polynesian
  • Maori
  • Samoan
  • Hawaiian
  • Aboriginal Dreamtime
  • Norse
  • Celtic
  • Mayan/Aztec
  • Sak Yant (Thai Bamboo)
  • East Asian
  • South Asian
  • North American
  • Earth Lines
  • Skin Stitching
  • Watercolour
  • Fantasy
  • Paint brush stroke
  • White Ink
  • Illustrative
  • Sketch
  • Anime
  • Comics
  • UV Glow in the Dark

Still hungry for more? Check out these blogs from the archives;

Animal Tattoo Trends for Animal Lovers

Are Tattoos Art?

The Greatest Tattoos in Film