Tattoo Styles and Designs - With Photos
Only a few years ago, having one or more tattoos was still not socially acceptable. Today, it has become much more widespread and normalized. Although it is not the same everywhere, having tattoos generally doesn’t mean that you can’t have a normal life.
Tattoos have not lost any of their originality. As with any artform, they are still developing. They are now so widespread that the world of tattoos has grown tremendously. There are ever more possible styles. Nevertheless, as they are so personal, you could say that there are almost as many types of tattoos as tattooed people.
In this oneHOWTO article we have made a summary of many of the tattoo styles and designs that exist. We also provide photos so you can see exactly what they look like.
Old-school never goes out of style in music and fashion. The same is also true in the tattoo world. When having ink printed on the skin arrived as part of fashion and style in the West decades ago, the traditional (or old-school) style was the most common design. It is immediately recognizable because of its thick strokes, bright and solid colors, and motifs such as the sailor or pin-up girl. This is seen in Sailor Jerry tattoos, in particular.
Of course, you can always give your own personal meaning to your tattoo. However, if you like this style of tattoo you can find out more about some of the most popular motifs in these articles:
Tribal tattoos were by far one of the most common styles in the 80's, 90's and even in the early 2000's. They often featured quite basic or simple designs, and were often without any clear meaning or reference to specific tribes. These tattoos originate in different parts of the world at different times, and their roots may include various cultures such as Celtic, Maori and Polynesian.
Nowadays, there are claims of cultural misappropriation with tribal tattoos. For this reason, you will really need to research your tattoo and make the decision if it will be appropriate.
The Japanese style is one of the oldest and, also, one of the fastest growing fashions nowadays. A classic style with a rich tradition and deep cultural meaning, it also has very a very distinctive look. Irezumi or traditional Japanese designs often contain large stories that sometimes cover the entire body.
Some people have one or several separate tattoos, but those who go for this style often join the tattoos together. They may do so using elements such as trees or waves to unify the whole design. For example, they may fill the back, arms and chest with one design. The Japanese body suit or full body tattoo is a very popular style both in Japan and all over the world.
Cherry blossoms are a common motif in Japanese tattoos. Take a look at our article on the meaning of cherry blossom tattoos to know more.
The realism style is one of the most daring of the tattoo world, as it often involves portraits in almost photographic detail of faces or very specific places. Logically, it is also a very complicated style to execute, as it requires an impeccable mastery of both the design and the use of the needle. Therefore, if you truly want a good result, it is really important to have the tattoo done by a professional tattoo artist who specializes in this style.
This style almost always uses strokes that are modern, thick and sharp, but also incorporates hatching and blurring to create a three-dimensional effect. The possibilities are endless, but whoever goes for this style has to really want it. It is not simply a drawing on your skin, instead the effect of the tattoo will visually transform the shape of your body.
This is a classic style that has, however, evolved a great deal and continues to do so. One of its most popular variants is the bio-organic tattoo style. It appears 3D, and suggests that there is a machine inside the body. Usually it combines motifs such as bones and muscles with gears and cables that seem to come out of the skin.
The pointillist or ‘dotwork’ tattoo is another tattoo style made popular in recent years. It uses the same pictorial technique of drawing many dots to create anything from flat geometric shapes to realistic images. Not a single line is used but the effect is beautiful and surprising.
As such, the technique can be used in most, but not all, different styles of tattoo. It may be used throughout the whole design or only on one part of the piece.
They are known as white tattoos, but in reality they could be made using white ink or just a very light tone. They are often not noticeable at first glance. Once we do notice them on the person we are talking to, they are hard to ignore and can look very beautiful.
White ink does not usually stay on the skin for as long as brightly colored or black ink. For this reason, you should find a real expert in the use of this ink, and bear in mind that you will need to renew them from time to time to keep them looking fresh.
UV or blacklight
Fluorescent ink is another ink type that was only created and popularized recently. The appealing thing about this style is that you can have designs that are invisible in normal light but that are revealed under an ultraviolet or black light. You can even have a design that is partly visible in normal lighting, but then changes shape or is completed when seen under ultraviolet light.
For this reason, tattoos that glow in the dark, or the part of the tattoo that has fluorescent ink, are normally only seen in bars and nightclubs with the correct type of lighting, or alternatively if you have a UV flashlight at home.
If you haven't seen this style yet, it is because it is a relatively recent addition to the tattoo tradition. However, it is is one of the most popular and fastest growing tattoo styles around.
It could have practically any underlying style: semi-realistic, kawaii, geometric, simple watercolor, etc. The important thing in these designs is that the ink is mixed with water and gradients are made, achieving a watercolor effect just as on a canvas. Designs usually use very vivid colors but the technique can also be applied in tattoos with only black ink.
Many people go for this style because they are small and discreet. Small and minimalist tattoos, sometimes almost imperceptible, convey a delicate look. However, you should choose the location so that it fits well with the drawing to make them look really good.
In this link you will find some ideas for small tattoos.
The neo traditional tattoo is very easy to confuse with the traditional style, since it is the same, but adapted to make it current. The strokes are more modern and can vary, sometimes using blurred effects or soft shadows that give a little depth to the drawing. Moreover, the colors are more varied than in the traditional style and, also, the motifs are broader or even mixed.
Nevertheless, the old-school traditional style is still recognizably present. Normally, the pieces will clearly show an old-school base and then mix in another style, such as simple realism, add fine lines (only thick lines were used in traditional tattoos), and or other features to differentiate them.
The New School style represents the evolution of the traditional style over the last decade. 3D, animated styles, and even realism are pushed and bright colors are toned down in the shading. Unlike Neo traditional, the motifs have been completely updated and we no longer see drawings related to sailing, roses or pin-up girls. Instead, all kinds of objects and characters are used, both famous and completely invented by the subject or the tattoo artist.
Blackwork and blackout
As their names indicate, these styles are characterized by being made entirely in black ink. Simply put, the blackwork tattoo style refers to designs, large or small, that use only black ink and incorporating some shading.
What is more, when taken further and the tattoo is completely filled in with black ink, the style is known as blackout. Thus, the shape of the drawing or created form ends up being defined by the area of the skin that has been left untattooed. Often the drawings are neo-tribal or geometric in style, and consist of covering a part of the body. This is why this style is sometimes used as a filling technique to join tattoos.
The kawaii tattoo style focuses on representing scenes from anime, manga, movies or invented characters in a very sweet Japanese style image. This is one of the most modern styles and is based on clean and crisp strokes, bright colors and simple representations but, always with a fine level of detail. They are also often done in bright or pastel colors, which are generally used in the kawaii style, both in tattoos and in the type of clothing and makeup.
The geometric tattoo became fashionable a few years ago and can be used to draw any object or character, but always geometrically, i.e., based on lines that come together to form geometric shapes. When joined together, they often form a larger image. In addition, it can be mixed with techniques such as watercolor or pointillism.
Sometimes, they feature sketch-style strokes, giving the feeling of looking at a sheet of technical design.
Learn more about scared geometry tattoos in this other post.
The geek style began to be seen around the 80s and 90s. Although in a broad sense it was used as a way of referring to those who are passionate about science, technology, computer science or video games, in the field of tattoos it also includes fans of the world of cartoons, especially manga and anime.
Thus, the motifs or the main character in these tattoos is something super varied. In addition, they can be done with different techniques: only black, very bright and solid colors, watercolor, geometric, realistic, etc.
Trash polka is one of the most recent tattoo styles and was created a few years ago in Germany. It is more difficult to identify because it mixes the trash style with realistic images, and includes a mix of watercolor strokes, with other more solid and defined ones like blackout, texts or lettering, surrealistic elements, etc. It is characterized by the use of black and red, with some white strokes and occasional shading.
Finally, let's talk a little about temporary tattoos made with henna. Widely used in areas such as India, the Middle East and Africa, henna is a natural dye of pigment from the dried and crushed leaves of the aleña. Its effect can be similar to that of white tattoos, but it is darker and, although it depends on the skin, its color usually reacts in orange and brown tones.
If you decide to get a henna tattoo, here you will find advice on how to make henna paste at home.
That was our selection of tattoo styles, but remember that a tattoo is a drawing and, as such, you can choose what you want and what meaning to give it. The most important thing when getting a definitive tattoo is to go to a professional tattoo artist. Moreover, it will always be better if you choose one who works exclusively (or predominantly) in the particular style you want. It’s better that he/she is a master in it than to use another general tattoo artist who does a great variety of styles.
Remember that choosing a professional tattoo artist is important not only for the final quality and appearance of the design but also for your overall health.
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