Beginner’s Guide on Tattoo Styles: 11 Most Popular Types of Tattoos

tattoo styles

Getting tattoos is a big deal. It’s your responsibility to find a design that will make you happy for the rest of your life. Many times a person is unhappy with a tattoo. It’s because the client acted in haste and took a short cut of some sort to quickly get a tattoo.

The key to a successful experience with inked body art lies in planning and goal setting. Do that before a drop of ink ever goes into your skin. The more knowledge you have about tattooing, the better your body art will be and the happier you’ll be. Have a clear idea from the moment of conception through the healing process. Take time to really know and understand what kind of tattoo is right for you.

Tattooing is essentially permanent; re-do’s or removal will not create the perfect solution to a bad tattoo decision. You only have one body and it comes with one covering of skin. Take the time to make your body art an expression of your inner-self, blended with your personal creativity. An expression often heard in tattoo artist circles is;
Too many tattoos are created in the “Now”, the trouble with “Now” means it’s gone tomorrow
You must give careful consideration to the number of tattoos you’ll be getting. Is it one, two, three or perhaps inking a large portion of your body? Some people lack in planning and goal setting. They end up getting a bunch of little tattoos that are never satisfying. Those bunch of little tattoos never blend to make a unified expression. If you are seriously considering a lot of artwork you must consider each piece with the end result in mind.

What Kind of Tattoo Should I Get?

To get a tattoo you’ll be happy with, you have to know what you want. Or shall we say, at least have a solid concept of what you want. Good tattooists, if allowed, can create fantastic body art from your ideas. However, before a tattooist can work magic on your body you have a homework. You need to carefully consider each piece of artwork and how it will tie-in with existing or future body art. Impulsively or randomly picking art for your body seldom results in long term satisfaction.
Most tattoo ideas originate from life’s experiences, things we’ve seen or concepts and thoughts we hold dear to our essence. A concept or idea for a tattoo can be a realistic characterization, abstract art, meaningful words, borrowings from the great mosaic of ancient or futuristic art or traditional tattoo artwork. Anything that means something to you can become a beautiful rendering of body art.

In order to intelligently plan your body art you should be aware of the characteristics and styles that are available. Tattooing imagery is limitless. By mixing one of the basic tattoo forms with another, you can create a unique tattoo.

Before you settle on a style you should first decide the basic form or characteristic you would like to have.

Definition of the 3 basic approaches of tattooing artwork:


This form of tattooing characterizes lack of details. Flat tattooing uses solid blocks of color. It doesn’t use shades, textures or details of any kind. This is one of the earliest forms of tattooing but is still popular in modern day body art. If flat tattooing is done well & complements your body type it can be a flattering and beautiful piece of body art. Flat tattooing generally looks best on a muscular male body. However, it can also work well for women. The Tribal style of tattooing is the most popular example of Flat tattooing.

Traditional and Neotraditional

This form of tattooing consists of thick black outlines and solid blocks of color. Traditional tattooing and its cousin Neotraditional is based on clean simple design. They use thick black outlines filled in with solid blocks of color. There’s little detail in the art other than what is necessary to convey the design. Crosses, hearts, snakes, butterflies, pinup girls and animal imagery are all forms of traditional tattooing. This form uses color and some shading in the presentation of the art.
Several advantages of Traditional tattooing are that the art pieces age well and are visually attractive. These simple artistic renderings use bold colors and thick outlines that make them easy to read from far away. This is in contrast to fine line tattooing that generally takes close inspection to interpret.

Fine Line

This form of tattooing designates thin lines, precise shading and extreme detail in the design. Modern Fine Line tattooing has expanded the horizon and artistic embellishment of modern body art to new levels. With Fine Line tattooing, the craft has been opened up to serious art creations that are suitable for framing. Virtually anything you can dream about translated into a beautiful piece of artwork. If you can draw it on paper, it can also be tattooed with equal quality.
Fine Line tattooing gives much attention to the lines of the tattoo. It also focuses on delicate coloring, subtle shading and undertones, intricate patterns and realistic presentations. Using multiple needle configurations (single needle, three needle or perhaps up to five needle setups), the artist creates complex and detailed artwork. It is nothing short of incredible. A common use of fine line tattooing is in the creation of human portraits or a collage of imagery blended to form one large tattooed area.
Now that you know a little about the three basic forms of tattooing it’s time to move on. Let’s find out the many different styles that exist. In addition to the three tattooing forms mentioned above, there are a eleven popular tattooing styles. Once you have an understanding of these styles you’ll be able to narrow the search for the tattoo. Just remember that within the context of the 3 tattooing forms any of the 11 styles can co-exsist. In some cases, the distinction between tattooing Styles and the three tattooing forms is hard to differentiate.

Tattoo Styling 101:

Over the course of tattoo history many tattoo styles have evolved. However within the past three decades tattooing has had its largest advancement in artistic creativity and acceptance. Coupled with high quality tattooing guns and multiple needle setups, tattoo artists can now create permanent body art. It is as good as any artwork you’ll see at fine art galleries around the world.

What’s the right tattooing style for me?

If you’re still trying to decide on what style of tattooing will suit you, take a look here. Below is a list of the definition of the 11 most common styles. Hopefully, by understanding the various tattooing styles, you can quickly eliminate what doesn’t work for you. Then concentrate on what really works.

11 Most Common Tattoo Styles

Black and Gray

Tattooing art done with dye or black ink only is called Black and Gray. This is one of the earliest methods of tattooing and is still in wide use today. Using a single needle, modern day tattooist draw outlines and black areas to create the body art. Depth and artistic value is given to the tattoo by adding gray shading with the black ink.


A Biomechanical tattoo is inspired by the notion that machines can take on a human appearance. It shows the underlying makeup of the machine when the skin is pealed back. What are hidden under the skin are steel rods, fiber optics, electronics, molten metal, tennicals or a mass of goo.
Some forms of Biomechanical tattooing forego the machine theme. It chooses to show the human anatomy or any number of other imaginary renderings.


Celtic tattoos incorporate an intricate intertwining of weaved patterns. This style of art dates back to the “BC” era and has many ancient influences throughout its history of evolution. In our current era of Celtic art development, we see complex designs. They are flourishing with tiny interlaced animals mixed with spirals, knot work, humans and in some cases dragons. Traditionally Celtic tattoos have only one color -Black. Over the last decade many tattooist are adding an array of color to make beautiful Celtic designs.


Darkside tattooing addresses the notion of mortality and death, isolation, anxiety, fear, evil and the darkside of life. Depicted with images of skulls, demons, ghosts, vampires, mummies, and blood laden humans, this kind of tattooing sends a vibe of bad and evil. The focus of these images is to reflect uncertainty about mankind’s future and existence. Darkside tattoos when done well emphasize smooth shading and fine detailing and can be as artistic as any. Usually, Black and Gray shading is popular. Some artists are now starting to use fine line coloring to enhance the artistic creativeness of the Darkside tattoo.


Fantasy tattoos are made up of whatever your creative imagination or notion might be. Ranging from Angles to Wizards and accompanied by imaginary scenes, the tattooing ideas are limitless. Starting with a single fantasy character, a good tattooist can create fantasy artwork. It is artful in a fantastical, eye catching fashion. This style of tattooing is usually created using multiple colors to convey the whimsical illusion of fantasy.


Usually street gang members wear these types of tattoos. The purpose is to show a gang allegiance and to record the wearer’s activity and history within the gang. This takes the form of having the gangs name or motto tattooed on the stomach and or back. There can also be an element of artistic embellishment depicting criminal activity that extends the wearer’s personal expression.


This form of tattooing stems from Pacific Northwest Indian Tribes of the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia and Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. Black and Red ink is the most popular for this. Haida tattoos depict animals, birds, sea creatures and mythic beings. You can immediately identify the moiety (Raven or Eagle) and often the lineage of the owner. When done well Haida tattoos are expressive and visually interesting. Try to find a tattoo artist that understands Haida artwork, its origins and intrinsic meaning to create the true nature of Haida in a tattoo design.


People get memorial tattoos to preserve the memory of a person or event that was important to them. Usually this takes the form of a portrait or image that he/she wants to remember. In most cases a set of words accompanies the art to express the feelings of the wearer. There is no absolute method for making a memorial tattoo.

New School

Most of the tattooing styles we’ve talked about so far can be classified as “old school”. A group of young artist statrted new school tattooing in the 1980s. They brought a vigor and creativeness never seen before in tattooing art. New school tattooing exhibits bold and beautiful artwork. It Incorporates and mixes many of the old school styles with a limitless color and shading palette. New School tattooing knows no boundaries in style or artistic creativeness. It is responsible for the level of tattooing acceptance we have today. Elaborate color and shading is used to create stunning artwork. However, you should know that over time some of this will fade making the tattoo lose its fresh new beauty.


Oriental tattoos contain a broad range of Chinese and Japanese artwork. The designs of Oriental tattoo are elegant in style. They are colorful and symbolic. Red, black, gold, and jade green are the most common colors are. However, “new school” tattooing extends the boundaries of traditional oriental tattooing. In oriental tattoo designs, you will find flowers and plants quite often. Apart from that, oriental tattoos can have dragons, birds, fish (Koi) and, water. Religious imagery and oriental patterns in geometric shapes are also popular.

There is no such thing as a small oriental tattoo; rather the whole body is the canvas. The most common areas are full back chest, arm, leg or the entire body. Images are put on the body to tell a story. The are often very detail and follow the oriental perspective that ensures balance and symmetry. It’s important to find a tattoo artist that understands oriental artwork and its origins. The tattoo artist should know the underlying meaning in order to create the proper nature of oriental tattooing.


Tribal tattoos are generally flat, black, abstract art originating from Indian tribes of Borneo, Micronesia and Polynesia. New school tattooing extends tribal art by adding color and embellishment of the traditional tribal art characteristics. Typically, the geometric patterns or organic lines are the base of a tribal tattoo. You can customize them according to your body shape and color.

Tribal Tattoos offer simplicity. They look amazing when done well. They reinforce a positive feeling about ourselves and connect us to an element of mystery and ancient ancestry. People worn tribal tattoos for graphic design, personal reasons or ancestral connection. They are one of the most popular tattoo styles all around the world.

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