Styles of Tattoos

Gray and black styles
Gray and black styles

The world of tattoos is now very diverse, especially for styles of designs which are beginning to be many and to also identify the various artists. As for the painting, you can recognize many different styles, and some of the most talented tattoo artists are able to invent new ones.
Many tattoo artists then remain faithful to their style or what can most passionate about them. The most popular styles and appreciated are:

The Old School

The Old School is a simple, colorful and tradition of both European and American. As the word itself is part of the first tradition of tattoos, one of the achievements with a few crude tools, which today takes advantage of the new equipment while maintaining its style made up of sharp lines, thick and black, with flat colors but very lively in the interior of the draw, but without any nuance.
Imagine having to work again with the nineteenth century needles and you can understand what is the inspiration of the Old School. Moreover, in those days, to have tattoos were mostly sailors and prisoners, and then the portraits subjects generally come from that tradition, with important symbols for those social classes like swallows, daggers, roses, a pin and maritime symbols such as sailboat or anchor.
The Old School is simple yet very decorative and attractive. In modern era, the first artist to use this style was Sailor Jerry in the 50s and 60s. The style aligned itself to the real subjects caricatures, highly stylized that today are living a second youth.

The New School

The New School course is derived from the Old School, while heightening the very features and tones, enlivening the tattoo a little action and varying themes.

The tribal style

Tribail style
Tribail style

The tribal style is directly inspired by the first tattoos of the history and its protagonists, the tribes in fact, taking over those that are indigenous traditions, especially those remote and isolated populations that still associate with the tattoo an anthropological and not aesthetic significance, with abstract drawings and only blacks. Typically the inspiration comes from the tribal tattoos Polynesian or Maori, once seen as rough, but today very appreciated aesthetically, with fascinating designs, which represent abstract bracelets, animals like snakes or lions as well, with well defined shape and contour and without shades.
If for modern Western man, tribal tattoos is just a matter of aesthetics, for indigenous peoples it is still an integral part of their culture, like an open book on their history, to mark the milestones of life. In fact these tattoos have very specific meanings, both for the “wearer”, both for who watch them, in the tribe, to indicate generally the social status of an individual, so that he can be recognized from the drawings on the body.
A man or a married woman, or fertile, may indicate with a special tattoo that status, in order to show that they are engaged, a bit ‘like our wedding ring”, or be ready to choose a husband. By the tattoo is also possible to understand the lineage and ancestry of a person, to know how important it is in the community. The Warriors have their tattoos, but the world of the tribals is so vast that an encyclopedia could be written about it.


Polinesial style
Polinesial style

Directly taken from the tribal style, the Polynesian tattoos derive from cultural traditions of tribal peoples, such as the Maori or the Samoans. The figures are taken from the tribal symbolism and are specifically created for the person receiving the tattoo. This is “engraved” with a chisel, manually, thanks to the famous technical for tribal tattoos, the color of which stays much longer than tattoos made with the needle.

Realistic style

Realistic style reproduces shapes and colors from the real, with a wide use of shades and planes of depth. If desired, you can also tattooed a portrait of a loved one or famous person, in whole or only for the face, and they enter in the sub-style of portraiture. This is a very challenging style for any tattoo artist, but the best ones are able to duplicate a face so well that look like a photo on the skin.

Illustrative style

Very close to the realistic style is the illustrative one, which combines the traditional style with the realism technique. Here you will depict images with strong contours, rich colors and shadows that make the tattoo a sort of illustration, equally challenging to achieve.

Portraits and sketches

sketch style
Sketch style

The portrait style was born of one part of realistic style, often executed in white and grey using a stencil on a photograph or image in order to reproduce the same lines on the skin.
Tattoos Sketch style mimic the traits of an image between the sketches of an artist giving an effect of something undefined. They are usually semi-colored and with unclear lines.

Gray and black

Another offshoot of the realistic genre, is the tattoo done entirely in white and gray, which is obtained by mixing ink and water. The tattoo artists use water to make black lighter, creating shadows, shades and color contrasts. Currently tattoo artists use ink already dealt with the water or directly gray ink and white for the points of light.

Japanese style
Japanese style

The traditional Japanese style

It is inspired by the ancient Japanese technique called tebori tattoos that were naturally hand-made, and even today this technique is widely used, without electric machines. The Japanese style was made famous by the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, and as in traditional American, using marked and black lines, shading minimalist, with artistic representations and traditional Japanese nature, or even with the creatures of Japanese folklore. The most common images are the lotus flowers, carp, tigers, warriors and waves. Tattooing in Japan has very ancient origins, with having aims, from decorative to indelible mark as a punishment. The Japanese-style tattoo is often conceived as flat and “comic” but has evolved into a significant use of shades.
The themes that characterize this style are the dragons of both water and fire, wingless, the Shishi lion, the snake Hebi, Buddhist deities, Koi carp, Hannya masks, the ideograms, the “phoenix” or the Hou-ou bird, the chrysanthemum flower, the peony, lotus and cherry, the Kirin (or Kilin), a mythical animal of good luck bearer.
Often these are unique designs, very big, inspired by the kimonos decorations.

Oriental style

Oriental style
Oriental style

Oriental style, very close to the Japanese, is one of the most beautiful and varied. Colored or black and white, depicts subjects such as dragons in the clouds, Samurai warriors, or carp. Besides the depiction of subjects, this style has a sub-style, the lettering, with representatives tattoos written in oriental languages like Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai or Sanskrit. Nice work may include both written and subjects.


It is the style in which letters or words supersede or complement the design, and is the art of writing. There is a written tattoo and you can decorate it to your liking. They are tattoos that are made only of letters and words, using fonts that range from the standard up to characters made by hand.

Traditional American

American Traditional
American Traditional

This style was made famous in the 30s of the twentieth century by the tattoo artist Norman Collins, called “Jerry the Sailor”. It is based on strong lines, black, minimal, with rich colors and mostly primary. The most common depictions are skulls, roses and daggers, and is similar to the old school style.


The biomechanical is a style that has seen great success in the late ’90s, with designs that represent creatures with humanoid features.
So tattoos are born recently, from the new school, and often represent skin lacerations from where you can catch a glimpse of an internal mechanical part or a part of the anatomy. It needs a certain skill by the tattoo artist, to achieve them, but their effect is guaranteed. They are based with lines which follow those of the body to make them appear as if they came out from it. The lines usually run freehand, and tattoos evoke the movement of the body through mechanical-inspired themes, alien or cyborg.


The fantasy genre, as you might guess, is the style of tattoos that refers to the fantasy representations as gnomes, elves, fairies, dragons and other mythological subjects typically of fairytale, but also inspired by the fantastic genres, like extraterrestrials and the astronomy.

Flowers and decorations

Floreal style
Floreal style

This style is very simple and takes as its subject the flowers and various naturalistic decorations, such as leaves and other vegetables, with intricate or simple themes, much appreciated by women but also by men.


The surreal style has been greatly influenced by Salvador Dalì, the father of surrealism in painting.
It is exaggerated, imaginary images, with various styles mixed together, for great creations that do not exist in reality, although apparently might seem plausible.


Trash polka
Trash polka

The Trash-Polka is a style that has become famous thanks to the Buena Vista Tattoo Club, realizing fully blacks and red tattoos with images similar to a collage, for telling moments of realism, letters or geometric or abstract shapes.


The blackwork style includes made tattoos completely in black ink, with very clean lines and beautiful play of light and shadows that come out.


The new style of Stipple realizes any shape and image with tight dots. Shadows and depth are determined by the greater closeness or distance between points.

Geometric style

Here the tattoos are made using only lines and geometric shapes to obtain the desired image, realistic enough, but certainly schematic of the subject, which can be either a person, an animal, or a natural element. You can talk, as regards the geometric style, about a kind of pictorial art of Cubism transposition in tattoo, although the association seems a little ‘stretch’.

The stick and poke

Stick and poke
Stick and poke

The stick and poke recalls the style of it yourself tattoos, typical of the prisoners. Using the needle dipped in ink and then the design is drawn as if it were speckled.

The watercolor style

 The watercolor style is executed with a technique reminiscent of the brush strokes and the watercolor style. The forms are not defined and there are no contours. They are usually very colorful and can be associated with a little bit the pictorial style of impressionism.

Watercolor style
Watercolor style

The Chicano style

The word Chicano had used in the 40’s, to indicate in defamatory way the Americans of Mexican origin, and later became a term of identity and pride of Chicano political movement of the 60s.
Chicano tattoo was used in the 40’s by Pachuco gang and then, the next decade, in California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
The tattoos were handmade with a sewing needle dipped in simple black ink used for writing and drawing, to make women, skulls, flowers and religious figures on the skin.
The small Pachuco cross into the space between the thumb and the index finger is perhaps the most classic of these tattoos, which initially identified the gang members and out of the Barrio identified crime and violence. Among Chicanos instead was a symbol of loyalty to the community, families, women, and to God.

Paños style

A sub-style of Chicana art are the ‘Paños’, which means handkerchief because for the writings were initially used tissues among the detainees to communicate, then you depict religious and political symbols.
Today Panos are inspired by the lettering of Chicana art of murals, with symbols such as clocks, hourglasses and the masks’ Laugh now, Cry Later’.
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