50+ Bright & Trendy American Traditional Tattoos To Be Inspired

American Traditional
Get inspired by the colorful and unconventional designs of the American traditional tattoo. 50+ ideas and their meanings in one article.

Born in the mid-19th century, the American old-school style of tattoo is popular to this day. Most likely, you have already noticed that every day there are more and more sketches of the American traditional tattoo on the web. Also not surprised by the high trend of this style of tattoo in Western countries, because that is where it originated.

In this article, you will find more than 50 of the most trending American traditional tattoo designs and their secret meanings. But to understand the meaning of this trend in the world of tattoos, you need to familiarize yourself with its history

So let’s get started!

History of American Traditional Tattoos

History of American Traditional Tattoos

It all started after James Cook circumnavigated the globe back in the late 18th century. The explorer and his crew returned from the voyage with unusual images on their bodies.

Then, the American traditional tattoo began to gain widespread popularity in the mid-19th century. It is thanks to the sailors of that era who had such tattoos and made them famous among others. 

Norman Collins, popular by his nickname Sailor Jerry, was one of the first people to ink in the American traditional style. He began tattooing in 1930, and his style is characterized by bold lines and colourful pictures. His vibrant tattoos symbolized his decision to live outside the lines rather than blindly following the mainstream.

American traditional has been one of the most popular tattooing styles ever since. Let’s discuss their design. The classic images of American traditional tattoos are:

🌊 Anchors,
🌊 Ships,
🌊 Maps,
🌊 Octopuses,
🌊 Crabs,
🌊 Inscriptions,
🌊 Flags, etc.

How To Recognize the American Traditional Tattoo?

To be sure that the tattoo is made exactly in the style of American old-school, you need to know its main characteristics. It won’t be a problem to recognize such a classic tattoo if you take a look at our guide.

How to Recognize the American Traditional Tattoo?
A guide to distinguishing the American traditional tattoo

So, the main distinguishing features of the American traditional tattoo are:

βœ… A bold outline around each visual element of the tattoo.
This is perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of this tattoo style. It perfectly accentuates each element of the tattoo, making it more expressive.

βœ… An unrealistic image without volume.
This visual effect can be achieved without adding shadows and light to the elements of the tattoo composition. It is very important not to break this rule, because having added a shadow at least to 1 element of the tattoo, it loses its traditional look.

βœ… The colorfulness of the image on the body.
American traditional tattoos have never been performed in black tone, the contours of the figure must be filled in with colored colors. The main traditional colors of this style are red, green, blue, and yellow.

50+ Best American Traditional Tattoos: Take Yours

We’ve already figured out what the trends for the American traditional tattoo were at its inception. So what are its tendencies now? 

The main popular motifs of the American tattoo are:

πŸ‘€ Skulls;
πŸ‘€ Snakes;
πŸ‘€ Panthers;
πŸ‘€ Swallows;
πŸ‘€ Hourglasses;
πŸ‘€ Octopuses;
πŸ‘€ Bottles with notes;
πŸ‘€ Women’s images;
πŸ‘€ Tigers;
πŸ‘€ Eagles;
πŸ‘€ Marine themes;
πŸ‘€ Nature and landscapes.

Let’s move on to their detailed review right now!

Skull Tattoos

A skeleton is one of the most common tattoo designs in any style. But just look at how cool such a design looks in the style of the American traditional tattoo.

The American traditional skeleton tattoo means:

πŸ’€ Vitality;
πŸ’€ Longevity;
πŸ’€ The fleetingness of life;
πŸ’€ Good health;
πŸ’€ Rebirth;
πŸ’€ Predictability of the end;
πŸ’€ Prosperity.

Snake Tattoos

Perhaps it is difficult to find another creature with such powerful energy, which has as many mystical symbols as the snake. This reptile has taken a special place in the culture of many countries and parts of the world.

The meaning of the snake tattoo in its sketch without additional elements:

🐍 Temptation;
🐍 Revival;
🐍 Healing;
🐍 Impartiality;
🐍 Destruction;
🐍 Invincibility;
🐍 The constant renewal of life.

The snake tattoo with roses has a different symbolic meaning:

🐍 Dexterity;
🐍 Wisdom;
🐍 Strength;
🐍 Temptation;
🐍 Insecurity;
🐍 Protection.

Panther Tattoos

The panther has always been a symbol of grace, beauty, and danger. Such a brave and fast animal can’t be left without attention in the world of tattoos.

The black panther symbol was often found in Native American tattoos. So it’s not hard to guess how the black panther gained popularity among traditional American tattoos.

The American traditional black panther tattoo means:

🐾 Speed;
🐾 Endurance;
🐾 Strength;
🐾 Ferocity;
🐾 Bravery;
🐾 Courage;
🐾 Familiality;
🐾 Leadership;
🐾 Power.

Tattoos With Swallows

A tattoo with a swallow is very popular among women because of its delicate and minimalistic image. However, such an American traditional tattoo looks very beautiful on the male body as well.

The American old-school swallow tattoo has these meanings:

🐦 Freedom;
🐦 Love;
🐦 Home comfort;
🐦 Positive Change;
🐦 Travel;
🐦 Creativity;
🐦 Youth;
🐦 Beauty.

Hourglass Tattoos

The American traditional hourglass tattoo has one of the most philosophical meanings. So when choosing such a tattoo, make sure its meaning coincides with your life values.

The meaning of the American traditional hourglass tattoo is as follows:

βŒ›οΈ The fleetingness of time;
βŒ›οΈ Balance;
βŒ›οΈ Cyclicality;
βŒ›οΈ Expiration of time;
βŒ›οΈ Thoughts about the value of life;
βŒ›οΈ Life priorities.

Tattoos With an Octopus

One of the most popular tattoo designs at the birth of the American traditional style was the octopus. This is because sailors had tattoos associated with their adventures.

The octopus tattoo in modern times is interpreted as:

πŸ™ Eternity;
πŸ™ Danger;
πŸ™ Flexibility;
πŸ™ Grace;
πŸ™ Wisdom;
πŸ™ Aggression;
πŸ™ High intelligence.

Tattoos With a Bottle With a Note

A tattoo depicting a bottle with a note is also one of the most striking manifestations of the American old-school style. It’s the kind of design that has the feel of a gust of sea breeze on a sandy seashore.

The American traditional tattoo of a bottle with a note means:

πŸ“ Mystery;
πŸ“ Secrecy;
πŸ“ A message to the future;
πŸ“ Hope;
πŸ“ Travel;
πŸ“ Travel;

Tattoos With Images of Women

Tattoos with a female image can be found in both men and women. In the American old-school style, such tattoos are usually made with the image of a fictional woman.

The meaning of the traditional American tattoo with a female image is as follows:

πŸ‘© Inner power;
πŸ‘© Grace;
πŸ‘© Beauty;
πŸ‘© The patronage of a muse;
πŸ‘© Love;
πŸ‘© Responsiveness;
πŸ‘© Modesty.

Tigers Tattoos

This design of American traditional tattoo is very common among men. However, some women also want to emphasize their character and life aspirations with a tiger tattoo.

A tattoo with a tiger has these interpretations:

πŸ… Power;
πŸ… Leadership;
πŸ… Courage;
πŸ… Luck;
πŸ… Cunning;
πŸ… Fury;
πŸ… Bloodlust.

Eagle Tattoos

Even in ancient times, the eagle was considered a symbol of the gods, a messenger of the sun. This is due to its sharpness, power, and authority in the sky.

The American traditional eagle tattoo is interpreted as follows:

πŸ¦… Power;
πŸ¦… Inspiration;
πŸ¦… The desire to hold on to one’s power;
πŸ¦… Courage;
πŸ¦… Spiritual development;
πŸ¦… Authority;
πŸ¦… Victory.

Marine-Themed Tattoos

As we found out earlier, nautical tattoo designs are among the founders of the American traditional tattoo. Such tattoo ideas can be with anchors, lighthouses, ships, horizons, flowers, the sea, etc.

Lighthouse as an element of the American traditional tattoo means:

πŸ’‘ Help;
πŸ’‘ Kindness;
πŸ’‘ The desire to find a way;
πŸ’‘ Faith;
πŸ’‘ Hope for the best.

A tattoo with a ship, in turn, means:

⛡️ Crossing;
⛡️ Journey;
⛡️ Following a certain path;
⛡️ Freedom;
⛡️ Openness to the world.

The American old-school anchor tattoo is interpreted as:

βš“οΈ A protective talisman;
βš“οΈ Reliance;
βš“οΈ Hope;
βš“οΈ Caution;
βš“οΈ Safety;
βš“οΈ Strength.

The sea and sea waves in the American traditional tattoo mean:

🌊 Serenity;
🌊 Inspiration;
🌊 Serenity;
🌊 Sensitivity;
🌊 Infinity;
🌊 Mystery.

Flowers as an element of the American old-school tattoo are interpreted as follows:

🌸 Freshness;
🌸 Joy;
🌸 Vitality;
🌸 Unity;
🌸 Vitality.

Tattoos Inspired by Nature

One of the most popular themes of any style of tattoo is a natural landscape. Very colorful and creative design is done in the style of American old-school. Most often in this case in the tattoo, you can find seascapes, palm trees, sunsets, etc.

No tattoo design on this theme is without the image of the sun. The American traditional sun tattoo means:

🌞 Wisdom;
🌞 Purity of the soul;
🌞 Positive emotions;
🌞 Kindness;
🌞 Vitality;
🌞 Luck.

The oft-used palm tree symbol in American traditional landscape tattoos means:

🌴 Pursuit of success;
🌴 Longevity;
🌴 Triumph;
🌴 Victory;
🌴 Life continuation.


American traditional tattoos are perhaps one of the few styles that have not lost their popularity for many decades. The founder of this trend was the famous explorer James Cook, who after his journey returned with unusual tattoos on his body. Then the trend was picked up by other sailors. Thus the style of traditional American tattoos became widespread throughout the world.

Initially, only nautical motifs were depicted in this style. But later, other ideas began to be used for the image. Distinctive features of such a tattoo are black outlines and a bright palette of colors. Thanks to this, the picture is visible even from afar.

In this article we have collected 50+ ideas of male and female American traditional tattoos, divided them into 12 most popular categories, and described the history of the appearance of the style.

American traditional tattoos are timeless classics!


πŸ“Έ What Are the Most Popular American Traditional Tattoo Ideas?

The most popular traditional American tattoo ideas are skulls, snakes, panthers, swallows, hourglasses, octopuses, bottles with notes, women’s images, tigers, eagles, marine themes, and nature & landscapes.

🧷 What Is an American Traditional Tattoo?

It is a style of tattooing using black outlines, flat objects with no realism or volume, colorfulness, and red/green/blue/yellow filling colors.

πŸ“‹ What Are Some Classic American Traditional Tattoo Ideas?

Classic traditional American tattoo ideas were spread by sailors, so these included anchors, ships, maps, octopuses, crabs, inscriptions, and flags.

πŸ“Œ What Should I Do Before Going to a Tattoo Parlor?

Before going to the tattoo parlor you should have a good sleep, eat something sweet, do not drink alcohol, do not take blood-thinning medications (like aspirin), and do not sunbathe.


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