Do you think we still can come up with new tattoo styles? Or have we discovered everything we could, and there are fundamental limits to our creativity? Well, what we know for sure is that a vault of artistic ideas is a source of inspiration and creative materials to innovate upon. Our treasury is organized by tattoo styles, from old school to trash polka, and we welcome you to borrow from it.
After grasping just how vast the world of tattooing is, we’ll start exploring the collection: traditional, watercolor, fine line, you name it. It will be extensive—you’ll find a multitude of ideas, a selection of works by the best artists in different tattoo styles, and the exciting stories behind their creative inventions. On top of that, we’ll give you an idea of what is trending in the tattoo world and how to choose a style that will uncover your charisma even better. Time to make some magic happen!
How Wide Is the Variety of Tattoo Styles?
Stumbling upon lots of similar tattoos on Instagram might lead some people to conclude that there is probably not so much variety inside the ink world. In fact, listing all tattoo styles and diving into every intricacy would take an encyclopedia. Defining characteristics of an art style include color scheme, imagery, technique, tattoo placement, and many other aspects. Sometimes, the difference between tattoo styles is obvious, but sometimes—very subtle. We present more than 10 genres of ink art in our selection—check them out!
The Artistic Palette: From Mainstream to Niche
Realism in Ink
Realistic tattoos are a testament to the talent and skill of a tattoo artist. Despite sounding simple, picturing things as they are in real life is an enormous task that requires a meticulous approach and attention to every single detail. The artist’s goal is to create an image that would look like a photo transferred onto the skin. Sometimes, the artist would even use photographic reference (that’s why it is also called photorealism) to create a tattoo.
A realist tattoo is always a sophisticated piece that requires perfection of every nuance. An artist is ready to replicate the tiniest details of a portrait or a landscape, however, the theme of the tattoo can vary greatly. The most distinctive characteristic of a realistic tattoo style is its exceptional dimensionality and depth (unlike an illustrative style). Shadows, highlights, texture, and color transitions must be nailed to give the tattoo a sense of depth and make it appear as though it’s emerging from the skin.
Traditional Style Tattoos
Traditional tattoo, also known as American or old school, is an iconic tattooing style that originated in the United States in the early 20th century. This genre was shaped by legends like Sailor Jerry and Amund Dietzel and has several well-defined characteristics. First, traditional tattoos stay in two dimensions and use little or no shading. It doesn’t mean, however, that they are not detailed—the selection below proves the opposite.
Another essential aspect of traditional-style tattoos is their classic imagery and color scheme. The classic designs include sailing symbols—mermaids, ships, anchors, swallows, or national symbols like the American flag or eagles. The color palette of the American traditional is rather strict as the artists use lots of black ink alongside primary colors like red, blue, and yellow. These tattoos remained popular for more than a century, and, probably, it is thanks to the feeling of nostalgia the timeless designs evoke.
Striking Blackwork Designs
Blackwork tattoo style is a bold and impressive tattooing genre defined by the extensive use of solid black and the complete absence of color. There is no limit to the themes of a blackwork tattoo, and the artist can create both medium-sized, relatively simple, or large, intricate designs. Many blackwork tattoos feature precise and symmetrical patterns and geometric shapes that can hold a variety of meanings.
From an aesthetic standpoint, blackwork is the best way to create attention-grabbing, dramatic contrast on your skin. Sometimes, people confuse this style with black and grey tattoos, and we’ll elaborate on the differences between the two a bit further.
The easygoing yet captivating watercolor tattoos create the starkest contrast to precise, minimalist blackwork. Inspired by the watercolor paintings, the style leaves lots of room for artistic expression and creativity. Unlike many other tattoo styles, watercolor typically uses minimal or no outlining. With a wide range of vibrant and transparent colors, the artists can create elegant and almost ethereal tattoos.
The most impressive aspect of the watercolor is the harmonious color blending. It takes a lot of time to perfect the seamless ink transition, and not every artist is comfortable working in this style. Luckily, there are watercolor masters on InkMatch, so check the selection below to work with one of them!
Elegance in Ink: Fine Line Tattoos
The fine line tattoo style is a very delicate and sophisticated genre. The defining characteristic of a fine line tattoo is the extensive use of incredibly thin lines, often resembling pen or pencil drawings. People often underestimate the precision required to perform such seemingly simple tattoos—even the slightest inaccuracy will be very visible on a minimalist portrait or a lettering piece.
Finding a skilled tattoo artist experienced in fine line work is crucial, so if you want to get a meaningful, minimalist fine line tattoo, you should definitely check out the artists section on our website.
Iconic Japanese Tattoos
If we talk about nations with vibrant tattoo traditions, the best word to describe the Japanese tattoo style is probably iconic. These tattoos seem to come from a parallel universe, inviting you to explore the centuries-old cultural heritage and meet the beasts of Japanese folklore. You can recognize a Japanese tattoo by spotting the traditional imagery, including dragons, koi fish, cherry blossoms, tigers, samurai, and mythological creatures like the phoenix and foo dogs.
Usually, such tattoos are large, detailed pieces, with lots of emphasis put on deep symbolism and storytelling. And, of course, the Japanese tattoo style is characterized by a bold and vibrant palette featuring rich red, deep blue, yellow, and green colors.
The surrealist movement was born in the 1920s, heavily influenced by the cruelty and destruction brought by the First World War. The feeling of frustration and senselessness has led artists, writers, and philosophers to experiment and try to express the unconscious part of human beings. One of the most famous examples of surrealist art is The Persistence of Memory by the great Salvador Dalí. Surrealism as a tattoo style carries the same vibes—bizarre, intriguing, illogical, but extremely creative imagery.
When the goal is to blur the boundaries between the real and the unreal, the conscious and the unconscious, the artist uses meticulous shading and an unconventional color palette to combine unrelated elements and create unique tattoo designs. Of all the tattoo styles presented in this article, surrealism endorses the most creative approach, and getting on the same wave with your tattoo artist can truly work wonders.
Distinctive Dotwork Tattoo Style
The name of the style speaks for itself—the artist uses a different-sized needle to place dots of different sizes and create intricate patterns and aesthetically pleasing designs. The absence of bold lines or solid shading areas adds to the minimalist appeal of a tattoo. If you want your first tattoo to focus on simplicity and subtle details—the dotwork tattoo style might be the right choice for you. While there are no limitations on the subject of the dotwork tattoo, popular designs include mandalas, geometric shapes, and negative space. Here are a couple of cool ideas:
Bold Tribal Tattoos
Tribal tattoos celebrate the rich symbolism of indigenous cultures in a very stylish way. These tattoos are characterized by bold, black ink designs featuring geometric patterns, abstract shapes, and ornaments. Tribal tattoos can be traced back thousands of years as many indigenous cultures practiced tattooing carried ritualistic and spiritual meaning. The social context behind a tribal tattoo has evolved significantly, but many symbols have preserved their relevancy.
Common elements of tribal tattoo style include triangles, circles, lines, and spirals. Some of these patterns may represent abstract concepts such as balance, harmony, and unity, while others relate to the aspects of nature or the animal world. It is also worth noting that popular tribal tattoo styles include Polynesian, Maori, Native American, and Borneo, among others, and each culture has its unique aspects.
Sleek and Modern Geometry
The geometry tattoo style is a contemporary and enticing option for tattoo enthusiasts who appreciate mathematical precision and minimalist designs. A great thing about geometry tattoos is that they are highly customizable and can merge several styles. For example, you can combine a fine line image of an animal with abstract geometric elements to emphasize the sophisticated yet concise design.
Another exciting option for a geometric tattoo is to go outside the realm of classic geometry. Illogical and counterintuitive shapes like Penrous triangles can symbolize intricacy and mysteriousness. Overall, if you are fascinated with geometry tattoo style—there is a wide range of possibilities you can explore, including the ones below.
The Avant-Garde: Trash Polka
Don’t let the name fool you—there is nothing cheap about this tattoo style. Trash polka is a young and innovative genre developed and popularized by Simone Pfaff and Volker Merschky of Germany in the early 2000s. This style is defined by its bold and chaotic designs, often featuring a mix of realistic and abstract elements. The authors describe their style as a “combination of the opposites,” and you can see why, in the selection below.
The traditional colors of trash polka are black and red: bold black lines are complemented by vivid red accents, ramping up the overall intensity and dramatism of the design. If you love striking contrasts and want to express this duality in a tattoo, trash polka is a wonderful choice. It combines elements that seem polar opposites: photorealistic portraits, abstract brushstrokes, and bizarre surrealist elements, leaving lots of space for the original ideas.
Now you might ask, “But what about neo-traditional or black and grey—are they just the same?” Well, sometimes, it might be difficult to distinguish styles like neo-traditional and illustrative, so we decided to dedicate a separate section to answer all the related questions.
Same, or Not Really? Comparing Tattoo Styles
Traditional vs. Neo-Traditional Tattoo
Neo-traditional tattoo style is a modern evolution of traditional tattooing. It takes inspiration from the American traditional style of tattoos but incorporates more contemporary elements. Here are the main differences:
🎨 Color palette
Traditional tattoo style uses a stricter color scheme where black, red, blue, green, and yellow prevail. On the other hand, neo-traditional tattoos do not shy away from more nuanced and pastel colors.
🔍 Amount of details
Neo-traditional employs more complicated shading techniques and tries to make its imagery more detailed and realistic. Classic American tattoo is, on the other hand, more simple and two-dimensional.
🗡️ Common imagery
In large part, without anchors, roses, swallows, nautical stars, daggers, hearts, skulls, and other iconic tattoo designs, the old-school style would not be called traditional. Neo-traditional style, however, can depict a wider range of subjects, including animals, portraits, fantasy elements, and pop culture references.
Realism vs. Illustrative Tattoo
Realist and illustrative tattoos can indeed look very similar, however, the two genres have fundamental differences in their philosophy. Let’s examine those:
Unlike realistic tattoos, illustrative tattoo style often incorporates bold, visible lines that define the image. These lines add emphasis and structure to the design. However, this approach does not work for realism artists because they seek to maintain a natural, photographic appearance.
📸 Artistic freedom
Realistic tattoos are designed to replicate reality as closely as possible. It explains the enormous attention to detail in every aspect like shading or texturing. On the other hand, the philosophy of an illustrative genre is to preserve the animated feel of the tattoo. Therefore, the illustrative tattoo style emphasizes artistic interpretation and creativity and leaves more freedom to the artist.
Blackwork vs. Black & Grey Tattoos
Blackwork tattoos are executed in black ink only. This approach contrasts the solid black ink with lighter skin to create a stunning visual impact. At the same time, black & grey tattoos use a spectrum of grey tones to create depth, shading, and a realistic appearance.
🧑🎨 The subject of the tattoos
Blackwork tattoo style often incorporates abstract and geometric designs and symbols. This style does not try to appear realistic (because you can’t do shading with only one color). It is the opposite of the black & grey: the black & grey tattoos excel in realism. Tattoo artists use different tones of grey color to replicate the texture, lighting, and three-dimensionality of the subject, often depicting faces, animals, or other objects in a lifelike manner.
What Are the Tattoo Trends Today?
While tattoo styles seem to be rather stable and don’t experience sharp spikes in popularity, you can certainly feel the shifting trends in the world of tattoos. The industry keeps growing, meaning that more and more opinions and tastes get into the market every year. So, what do tattoo enthusiasts, both young and veterans, request when they get to a studio these days?
😇 Minimalist tattoos
Minimalism is a rather broad term, and many styles can offer you a minimalist tattoo. If you are fascinated by sleek and concise aesthetics, we definitely recommend looking into fine line tattoo style. The delicate technique defines the fine line tattoo, and a skillful artist can reach magnificent results in this genre. Don’t be afraid to experiment—while most tattoos employ black ink, you can choose a more extravagant approach, for example, getting an exquisite white ink tattoo.
Olivia Wilde’s recent minimalist tattoos
🌀 Tribal tattoo style
It seems like the appeal of tribal tattoos is getting more appreciation in recent years. Likely, the influence of public figures like the Rock and Jason Momoa has contributed to the popularity of the genre. Tribal designs stood the test of time and can carry rich symbolism and deep meaning. It can also be a great way to show masculinity while being stylish at the same time.
An iconic intricate tribal tattoo of The Rock
🤯 Original and innovative ideas
Generally, the social restrictions on personal expression are getting lighter, and it becomes more acceptable to try creative and attention-grabbing outlooks. It is also true for the tattoo industry, and styles that use vivid color schemes and intriguing subjects are on the rise. One such style is watercolor, and if you enjoy translucent, free-flowing art, a tattoo like this can help you ride the wave.
A soft and sweet watercolor tattoo on Selena Gomez
Why Choosing a Tattoo Style Is Important?
Getting a tattoo is always a significant decision, and choosing a style that fits your personality is a part of the challenge. There are no good or bad styles, and all the tattoo styles use meaningful symbolic systems to add depth and significance to your tattoo. And still, before you settle on one specific option, you might want to ask yourself these questions:
- What is your emotional connection to a tattoo you’re getting?
- Do you know enough about the cultural significance of the style you’re choosing?
- What will you feel about this design in a couple of years?
If you have an elaborate answer to these questions, you are most likely ready to proceed with the style you like. And one final comment: don’t hesitate to ask an artist about their opinion—there is nothing better than getting into a creative tandem with a skilled and experienced artist who is knowledgeable in many different tattoo styles and actively participates in the design stage.
Selecting a tattoo style is an example of a choice paradox—there is so much variety that it gets hard to choose. We tried to help you with this process and extensively covered more than a dozen different tattoo styles: from highly detailed realism tattoos to innovative and unorthodox trash polka. For each category, we’ve selected beautiful ink pieces created by our artists.
Sometimes, you might confuse tattoo styles that look similar, so we also prepared hints to help you distinguish between traditional and neo-traditional tattoo styles, realism and illustrative. There are also a couple of things you should know about the trends in the tattoo world and a brief recommendation on how to find the most fitting tattoo style for you.
We hope you enjoyed our collection and found a style that would inspire you to get a new or first-ever tattoo. We wish you to find your creative tandem here, on InkMatch!
🤔 What Are the Different Styles of Tattoo?
😍 How Do I Know What Tattoo Style I Want?
The most important thing about choosing a tattoo style is, of course, your own vision and artistic preference. Nevertheless, there are a couple of questions you might want to answer before getting a tattoo to ensure that the style you’ve selected reflects your personality and values.
📈 What Is the New Tattoo Trend Called?
In recent years, fine line tattoo style received lots of attention because of their minimalist appeal. You can check out a couple of sleek ideas in our selection.
🤖 What Is the Name of the Trashy Tattoo Style?
Despite being called trash polka, the tattoos performed in this style are very often sophisticated and detailed. It is a relatively young tattoo style that thrives on stark contrasts and inspires you to try the unorthodox art.