Traditional Tattoos: 50+ Ideas & Their Meaning [2022]

tattoo on arms
Find out 50+ traditional tattoo designs & their meanings in our article. Bonus: expert explains what tattoo styles exist and their differences.

One of the most popular tattoo styles in modern times is the old-school or traditional tattoo. They look very vivid and expressive on the body thanks to their bright coloring and a clear black outline around them. Also, this style has extraordinary features due to its unique and rich history.

The first owners of traditional tattoos were sailors back in the 19th century. With these pictures, they imprinted their love of adventure, the events they experienced, and even a talisman for future voyages.

Traditional tattoo is easy to distinguish from other styles considering the following features:

  • Bright coloration (mostly with yellow, red, blue, and green);
  • Black outline for each tattoo element;
  • A primitive two-dimensional image style with no added shadows for the reality of the image.

We’ve collected 11 traditional tattoo themes for you, among which you’ll find 50+ designs for inspiration. We’ll also share with you the top 5 tattoo masters in the US who will make your most daring traditional tattoo ideas a reality.

How Many Tattoo Styles Do Exist?

In total, 13 basic tattoo styles can be found. Each of them has its unique distinctive features, which we have described in the table below.

Tattoo styleMain distinctive featuresExample tattoo design
Traditional (Old-school)
  • Colorful sketches;
  • Predominantly yellow, red, blue, and green ink;
  • Black outline for each tattoo element;
  • Unrealistic visualization (2D perception).
Realistic
  • Both color and dark monochrome sketches;
  • Accuracy in the rendering of all tattoo elements;
  • Preservation of proportions;
  • The elaboration of light and shade;
  • Realistic transfer of the volume of tattoo elements;
  • Detailed elaboration of each element of the tattoo.
Chicano
  • Smooth and clear lines;
  • Dark ink palette (black and gray shades);
  • Use of Mexican cultural motifs;
  • Lettering (use of letters and fonts);
  • Main symbols: clowns, guns, roses, skulls, saints (religion).
Japanese
  • In most cases, large-scale tattoo designs;
  • Traditional symbolic images: plants, spirits, animals;
  • Bright ink colors (primarily red and black);
  • Variety of shades;
  • A clear outline of the elements;
  • Expressive design, bringing the design in motion with muscle contraction/relaxation.
Dotwork
  • The density of the dots;
  • Maintaining a certain spacing between dots in the sketch;
  • Dark tattoo designs (black and white palette);
  • The symmetry of the tattoo elements;
  • The predominantly large size of the tattoo sketch;
  • Geometricity of tattoo design.
New-school
  • A bright and even neon color palette;
  • A cartoon style of images;
  • Large sizes of tattoo designs;
  • Unrealistic tattoo images;
  • Abstraction;
  • Humorous designs;
  • Designs look like graffiti.
Graphic
  • Well-distinguished shading;
  • Thickly drawn tattoo elements;
  • Black and white ink palette;
  • Sharp, straight, bold, linear strokes;
  • Monochrome design;
  • Use of halftones.
Trash Polka
  • Black and red colors take precedence;
  • Use of violence, death, and brute force symbols;
  • Newspaper font of lettering;
  • Predominantly large design size;
  • Depiction of stains and smears as colored tattoo elements.
Tribal
  • The symmetry of patterns in tattoo design;
  • Absence of blurring of the image;
  • A clear drawing of tattoo details;
  • Drawing the contours of the elements;
  • Predominantly black and gray palette;
  • The presence of hidden symbols;
  • Sharpened ends of elements and patterns.
Geometric
  • Combining geometric elements;
  • The main geometric shapes are square, circle, line, cone, and triangle;
  • Straight and flat shapes and lines;
  • The use of clear proportions;
  • Accuracy of depiction.
Watercolor
  • Bright palette of colors and shades;
  • Lack of clear boundaries;
  • Stains, splashes, and strokes;
  • Imitation of runs and stains;
  • Smooth color transitions;
  • Combination of dark and bright ink tones.
Biomechanical
  • High level of detail of the tattoo elements;
  • Realistic image;
  • Clear elaboration of each tattoo component (even small);
  • The elaboration of halftones;
  • The use of contrasts of colors and shades;
  • Monochrome images.
Blackwork
  • Fill large areas of the skin with black;
  • The use of negative space (the picture is formed in areas not filled with paint);
  • Not using halftones, shadows, and color transitions;
  • A saturated drawing without gaps or gaps in the paint;
  • Use of ornaments and geometric shapes in the sketch.

Traditional VS Realistic Tattoos

The traditional tattoo is the exact opposite of the realistic style. Old-school tattoos are more like felt-tip sketches: paint-filled elements with a clear outline without shadows, etc. Realistic tattoos, on the other hand, are detailed black and white designs with the elaboration of light and shade.

Realistic style tattoos are often called photorealistic because of the high accuracy and detail of the design. Sometimes it can also be called 3D due to the excellent shadow work for each element of the tattoo. 

Traditional tattoos on the other hand are 2D images on the body with the main emphasis on the brightness of the ink palette and beautifully outlined shapes. By retaining its classic look, the traditional tattoo still has the spirit of the 19th-century era.

50+ Relevant Traditional Tattoo Motifs & Ideas

The 50+ ideas that we have listed below will suit both those who have already decided on a design and those who simply like this style of tattooing. 

Ideas such as lady faces, skulls, and sharks are a reflection of traditional tattoos as they perfectly convey the hallmarks and meaning of the style.

Let’s move to choose!

Minimalistic

Traditional minimalist tattoos are different from other styles. They also use a lot of detail and different colors, just like large tattoo designs. 

There can be many ideas for such tattoos, but we have gathered for you the most popular ones and listed their meanings.

Blade πŸ”ͺ

  • Dexterity;
  • Courage;
  • Freedom;
  • Sharpness;
  • Revenge;
  • Determination;
  • Power.

UFO πŸ›Έ

  • Obscurity; 
  • Mystery;
  • A desire to learn new things.

The Bomb πŸ’£

  • Brilliance;
  • Unrestrained;
  • Explosion;
  • Activity.

Lightning with flower ⚑️

  • Purposefulness;
  • Self-sufficiency;
  • Leadership abilities;
  • Strong willpower;
  • An out-of-the-box view of the world.

A Bottle of Alcohol 🍾

  • Integrity;
  • Insight;
  • A good sense of humor.

The Bee 🐝

  • Hard work;
  • Perseverance;
  • Wisdom;
  • Thriftiness;
  • Selflessness;
  • Obedience.

Skeleton Hand 🦴

  • Shortness of time;
  • Willingness to live life to the fullest;
  • Good health.

Diamond πŸ’Ž

  • The hardness of mind; 
  • The inflexibility of intentions;
  • Perfection.

Anchor

The ideas of traditional tattoos with an anchor are canonical because it was sailors in the 19th century who popularized this style.

Below we list the meanings of traditional anchor tattoos.

βš“ Hope;
βš“ Salvation;
βš“ Safety;
βš“ Strength;
βš“ Loyalty;
βš“ Cautiousness.

Lady Face

Lady faces’ ideas of traditional tattoos are also canonical. These were some of the first designs to gain widespread popularity.Β 

One of the main elements of such tattoos has always been flowers or a heart. They emphasized female beauty, grace, and tenderness.Β 

Below we will list the meanings of the lady face tattoo.

πŸ‘© Beauty;
πŸ‘© Tenderness;
πŸ‘© Enigma;
πŸ‘© Passion.

Eagle

Traditional tattoos are also referred to as American ones. Therefore, it is not strange that the white-headed eagle is very popular among ideas. It has been the national symbol of the United States since 1782 and is depicted on the country’s coat of arms. 

Below we will list the main meanings of the traditional white eagle tattoo.

πŸ¦… Power;
πŸ¦… Strength;
πŸ¦… Pride;
πŸ¦… Power;
πŸ¦… Pace;
πŸ¦… Freedom.

Dragon

Japanese motifs are also reflected in traditional tattoos. One of the most popular ideas is the drawing of a dragon. It is depicted similarly to Japanese mythology.

In Japanese tradition, the dragon is a symbol of power and strength. Also, below we will list other meanings of this traditional tattoo idea.

πŸ‰ Luck;
πŸ‰ Revival;
πŸ‰Wisdom;
πŸ‰ Longevity;
πŸ‰Fearlessness.

Shark

Sharks have always intimidated sailors with their invisible presence. Because of this, they are reflected in traditional tattoos.

Traditional shark tattoos have the following meanings:

🦈 Fearlessness;
🦈Power;
🦈 Courage;
🦈 Bravery;
🦈 Grace.

Heart

Traditional heart tattoos were done by sailors to immortalize their love for their family, wife, or girlfriend. They are usually placed on the forearm. 

Traditional heart tattoos have the following meanings:

πŸ’• Love;
πŸ’• Friendship;
πŸ’• Courage;
πŸ’• Devotion.

Skull

Traditional skull tattoos often depict death in cartoonish images. It is transferred to our realities of life, so you can even find ideas of a skeleton on a skateboard. In them, death is more of a character than a personification of the inevitable.

The meanings of traditional skull tattoos are listed below:

πŸ’€ Longevity;
πŸ’€ Resilience in life;
πŸ’€ Good health;
πŸ’€ Rebirth;
πŸ’€ Prosperity.

Panther

The most popular places on the body for a traditional panther tattoo are the thighs. It is because in these places you can draw the animal, which seems to be climbing on it. This action is one of the main ones for panthers in their natural habitat.

The meanings of traditional panther tattoos are listed below:

🐾 Speed;
🐾 Endurance;
🐾 Grace;
🐾 Dexterity;
🐾 Beauty.

Eye

Traditional eye tattoos reflect a person’s emotional and mental state. Elements such as tears, thunderstorms, or rain can add additional context in the form of sadness or anger to the wearer.

Traditional eye tattoos have the following meanings:

πŸ‘€ Protection;
πŸ‘€ Joy;
πŸ‘€ Mystery;
πŸ‘€ Knowledge;
πŸ‘€ Peace.

Flowers

Flower tattoos are some of the most popular ideas in all styles, including traditional tattoos. They are depicted by both women and men. The most popular tattoo spots are the wrist, forearm, and hips.

Traditional flower tattoos have the following meanings:

🌹 Love;
🌹 Joy;
🌹 Freshness;
🌹 Passion;
🌹 Beauty.

Top 5 Traditional Tattoo Masters in the USA

Once you have chosen the idea of a drawing it is worth paying attention to 5 of the best tattoo artists who make beautiful and unique traditional tattoos. If you can’t find one nearby, you can check out the full list of traditional tattoo masters.

NameStylesExperienceBest tattoos
Marco Mazzarelli

Philadelphia
American traditional
Japanese
Black and Grey
8 years
See more tattoos
Steven Tefft

Groton
American traditional
Color
Black and Grey
20 years
See more tattoos
Tracey Rose

Woodbridge
American Traditional21 years
See more tattoos
Nick Wallin

Berkeley
Color
American traditional
10 years
See more tattoos
Christopher Arendt

Roseville
American Traditional
Neo-traditional
10 years
See more tattoos

Summary

Traditional tattoos are one of the most popular styles. Its founders and popularizers can be considered sailors, who were inspired by the aesthetics of travel and the culture of other nations. 

It is difficult to choose one idea among thousands of worthy ones because all designs are worthy of attention. So in this article, we’ve selected 50+ the most unique traditional tattoo ideas, compared them to realistic tattoos, listed the best tattoo artists in the US, and pointed out the differences between all existing tattoo styles.

FAQ

🀫 What is the difference between traditional and neo-traditional tattoo styles?

Neo-traditional tattoos differ from traditional ones in a wider range of colors and a greater number of subjects.

🌹 What is the traditional tattoo?

Traditional tattoos are a style that uses simple subjects, with a thick outline, and a limited color palette.

πŸ’‰ Does a traditional tattoo cause more pain during tattooing?

The pain of a traditional tattoo depends on the location of the body. It is not recommended to do a tattoo where there are many nerve endings or bones close to the skin. For example, on the knees, inner thighs, and collarbones it is very painful to get a tattoo.

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