Top 7 Traditional Tattoo Styles: A Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Old School or Traditional American
  2. Realism or Realistic
  3. Tribal or Indigenous
  4. Japanese or Irezumi
  5. Neo-Traditional
  6. New School
  7. Biomechanical

If you're curious about the world of ink and body art, it's important to first understand the different traditional tattoo styles. There are a variety of styles, each with its own unique characteristics and history. From the bold lines of Old School American to the intricate patterns of Tribal or Indigenous, there's a traditional tattoo style to suit every personality and preference.

Old School or Traditional American

Let's kick things off with one of the most iconic traditional tattoo styles — Old School American. This style is also known simply as 'Traditional American.'

You've probably seen these tattoos on many folks without even realizing it. They're known for their bold, black outlines, solid color fills, and often, a dash of humor. Common themes include roses, skulls, eagles, anchors, and nautical stars.

What makes this style special? A few things:

  • Simple, bold designs: Traditional American tattoos favor clarity and readability. You won't find overly complicated or overly detailed designs here. Instead, these tattoos are all about making a bold statement with simple graphics.
  • Deep roots in American history: This style has been around for a long time, and it’s deeply tied to American history. It grew from the sailor culture of the early 20th century, and its influence can be seen in many modern tattoo styles.
  • Timeless appeal: Traditional American tattoos have stood the test of time. Their designs are as popular today as they were decades ago. If you're looking for a tattoo that will never go out of style, this might be the one for you.

So, if you like bold, simple designs and a bit of history attached to your ink, Old School or Traditional American could be the perfect choice for you in the realm of traditional tattoo styles.

Realism or Realistic

Next on our list of traditional tattoo styles is Realism or Realistic. As the name suggests, this style is all about creating tattoos that are as true-to-life as possible.

Realistic tattoos can be either black and gray or colored, and they can depict just about anything you can imagine. From portraits of loved ones to scenes from nature, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Here's what sets this style apart:

  • Attention to detail: Realistic tattoos demand a high level of skill from the tattoo artist. They require a deep understanding of shading, texture, and color to create a believable, lifelike image.
  • Personal and meaningful: Many people choose realistic tattoos as a way to honor someone or something important to them. A well-done realistic tattoo can be a beautiful and powerful way to carry a piece of your life story with you.
  • Versatility: Because realistic tattoos can depict anything, they offer a lot of flexibility. You can choose to have a realistic tattoo of a person, an animal, a landscape, an object — the choice is yours.

If you're drawn to art that captures the beauty and detail of the real world, you might find that the Realism style is just what you're looking for in a tattoo.

Tribal or Indigenous

Stepping away from the hyper-realistic, we venture into one of the most ancient and deeply-rooted traditional tattoo styles—the Tribal or Indigenous. This style has a rich history, rooted in cultures from around the world, and carries a distinct aesthetic that is both bold and symbolic.

Here's what you need to know about Tribal or Indigenous tattoos:

  • Symbolic Designs: Tribal tattoos often feature geometric shapes and patterns. These designs are not random; they carry deep symbolic meanings tied to the culture they originate from.
  • Black Ink: These tattoos traditionally use black ink, emphasizing the boldness of the patterns and symbols. The dark ink stands out against the skin, making the designs more noticeable and striking.
  • Connection to Ancestry: For many, Tribal tattoos serve as a connection to their cultural roots. They can represent a person's heritage, traditions, or spiritual beliefs.

Remember, it's important to approach this style with respect, as these tattoo designs hold significant cultural value. If you're drawn to this style, take the time to understand the meaning behind the patterns and symbols you choose. After all, a tattoo is not just a piece of art—it's a statement.

Japanese or Irezumi

Next on our journey through traditional tattoo styles, we land in the Land of the Rising Sun—Japan. The Japanese or Irezumi style is recognized worldwide for its intricate, detailed designs and deep cultural symbolism.

Here's what makes Japanese or Irezumi tattoos stand out:

  • Full Body Artwork: This style often involves large designs that cover extensive parts of the body, such as full sleeves, back pieces, or even entire body suits. The result is a cohesive, interconnected piece of art that flows with the body's contours.
  • Symbolic Imagery: Japanese tattoos frequently feature images from nature, like koi fish, cherry blossoms, and waves, as well as mythical creatures like dragons and phoenixes. Each of these symbols carries a specific meaning in Japanese culture.
  • Vibrant Colors: While some Irezumi tattoos are black and grey, many incorporate a range of bright, vivid colors. This gives the designs a dynamic, visually striking appearance.

As with any tattoo style steeped in cultural tradition, understanding the symbolism and history behind Japanese or Irezumi designs is crucial. It's more than just a striking piece of art—it's a narrative, a moment in time, a testament to a rich cultural tapestry. So, if you're considering this traditional tattoo style, dive into the stories, meanings, and cultural significance behind the symbols you choose.


Let's now turn our attention to a style that is a modern spin on a classic - the Neo-Traditional tattoo style. This approach has its roots in the Old School or Traditional American style, but with an updated, 21st-century twist.

So, what sets Neo-Traditional tattoos apart from other traditional tattoo styles? Let's have a look:

  • Modern Influence: While Neo-Traditional tattoos pay homage to traditional designs, they're not afraid to incorporate modern elements. You might find a classic rose, but with an unusual color scheme, or a sailor-style swallow depicted in a hyper-realistic manner.
  • Detailed and Dimensional: Unlike the minimalist, flat designs of Old School tattoos, Neo-Traditional tattoos are all about detail and depth. Expect intricate linework, a broader color palette, and a sense of three-dimensional realism.
  • Expanded Imagery: While Neo-Traditional tattoos may still feature classic tattoo imagery, they often branch out to include a wider range of subjects. From portraits to animals and from objects to abstract shapes, the sky is truly the limit with this style.

Neo-Traditional is a perfect choice if you love the nostalgia of traditional designs but want something a little more tailored to your individual personality. It's like wearing a classic outfit, but with a modern accessory that makes it uniquely yours.

New School

Just when you thought tattoo styles couldn't get any more exciting, allow me to introduce you to the world of New School tattoos. This style is a breakaway from the traditional tattoo styles and is, as the name suggests, a newer addition to the tattoo world.

Here's what makes New School tattoos stand out in the crowd:

  • Bold and Bright: New School tattoos are known for their vibrant colors and bold outlines. They take the concept of "go big or go home" to a whole new level.
  • Cartoon-inspired: This style often features exaggerated, cartoon-like characters, making your tattoo look like a still from your favorite animated movie.
  • 3D Effects: New School tattoos often play with perspective and shading to create a three-dimensional effect. This makes the design seem to leap off your skin.

If you're someone who loves the world of animation and vibrant art, then New School could be the perfect style for you. It's about taking the traditional tattoo styles and turning them up to 11, creating a piece that is as unique and individual as you are.


Ever wondered what it would look like if you were part machine? Well, you're not alone. Enter the intriguing world of Biomechanical tattoo style. It's a style that takes inspiration from machinery and robotics, giving the illusion that parts of you are made from mechanical components. Yes, it's as cool as it sounds!

Here's the lowdown on Biomechanical tattoo style:

  • Sci-fi Inspired: Biomechanical tattoos often draw inspiration from science fiction — think the intricate machinery from the "Terminator" or the "Alien" movies.
  • 3D Illusions: Like New School tattoos, Biomechanical styles use shading and perspective to create a three-dimensional effect. However, here it's used to give the illusion of mechanical parts beneath your skin.
  • Custom Designs: Because of its complex nature, most Biomechanical tattoos are custom designs. Each one is unique, designed to fit and flow with your body.

Biomechanical tattoos are for those who want to push boundaries and explore the intersection of humanity and technology. If you're a fan of sci-fi and want a tattoo that's truly one-of-a-kind, this might just be the style for you.

If you enjoyed learning about traditional tattoo styles and want to explore your own illustration style further, don't miss the workshop 'Finding Your Illustration Style' by Florencia Fuertes. This workshop will guide you through the process of discovering and developing your unique illustration style, which is essential for creating remarkable tattoo designs.