A Beginner’s Guide: 6 Different Tattoo Styles Explained

By Katarina Todorovic, Switzerland

Do you want to get a tattoo? Maybe here in Santa Barbara? But you don’t really know what you want? Let the following six tattoo styles inspire you!

  1. Traditional:

The so called American Traditional or Old School style is the oldest style in the modern world of tattoos, as we know it nowadays. It is known for its solid black outlines, a limited color palette and less detail. Usual traditional imagery includes roses, hearts, nautical, eagles, skulls, butterflies and women’s heads. For this kind of tattoo you can go to any tattoo artist because it obviously isn’t a style which is hard to tattoo on the skin.

  1. Realism:

That is a tattoo that looks exactly like it would in the real world. A fine art skill, realistic tattoos done well look like photos or portraits on the skin. Here it is important to have a good photo reference and pick a skilled, well-known artist. Nowadays every artist has a Facebook or Instagram account where you can have a look on his work. Pay as much as you can for a tattoo of this kind because you definitely get what you pay for! Cheap realism or portrait tattoos look terrible. See the difference below:

  1. Watercolor:

This style is currently very popular. Watercolor tattoos mimic an experimental artistic process by using splashes and streaks of color to give the impression of paint being used on canvas or paper. The watercolor effect can be all-encompassing to the design, with no line-work or other styles, but it can also be combined with realism or solid outlines, to form just the background or foreground of a tattoo. Often bright colors are used and themes of nature. Like before: be careful while picking an artist.


  1. Tribal

This is the oldest tattoo style from ancient times. Nearly always black, often using symmetry and geometrical design. Sometimes un-detailed with block black lines, or utilizing delicate detail and precision. A good artist will carefully design a piece to compliment the shape of the body, like this one.


  1. Dotwork

Dotwork tattoos are one of the most intricate styles.  Complicated geometric images are created with nothing but dots. The tattoo artist must be very patient and very talented because he has to place every dot in the right place. Many dotwork artists have also abandoned the tattoo machine and are performing hand poked tattoos. Dotwork tattoos are a style on their own, and the shading you get through dots is almost 3D. You can’t get that kind of shading with any other method. The dotwork technique is used especially for geometric tattoos, religious and spiritual tattoos, but mostly for mandalas.

  1. Japanese

The Japanese tattooing is one of the most sacred tattoo arts. Detailed designs often cover large areas of the body such as the back or the arm. This tattooing style follows a very strict set of artistic rules: positioning, imagery used, direction, color and more, all adhering to the ancient traditions. Imagery includes cherry blossoms, koi fish, lotus flowers, dragons, war dogs and Geishas.

Hopefully this article inspired you for your first or next tattoo if you were planning to get one, educated you a bit if you weren’t interested in tattoos before, and helped you not to have a prejudice against tattooed people if you had one because each tattoo has its own story, meaning or reason behind it.

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