Tattoo styles evolved with time, tools and techniques have changed significantly. The most popular form of modern tattoo art these days is tattooing performed with a sterile machine using a great selection of different shades of ink.
One can argue that tattoo styles can be broken into 5-10 main categories, others will insist there are more than 50 different styles to choose from. It’s a never-ending dispute and the fact that different styles can also be mixed and blended into one unique tattoo, which might or might not create a brand-new category, tells us that the days where tattoos looked the same are long gone. The tattoo scene embraced the change and is evolving every day.
As a family we are proud to have an extensive knowledge of tattooing and each member of our team specialise in different styles to suits our customers’ needs.
Very popular style used to recreate images as they would appear in real life. Realism takes the details of photographic images and transforms them into true life scenes embedded into the skin. The tattoo artist does not create bold outlines that can be found in more traditional forms of tattooing, the main core lies in precise shading and colour to bring quality to the image.
The best of realism that can be obtained are 3D designs, the hyperrealism. Take a talented artist and add a large a dose of imagination and very precise shadowing; you will receive a piece that looks like it’s about to jump out of the skin. The early planning for 3D tattoo might include the strategic placement of the tattoo on a certain body part, to bring it out more. Shadows will add that extra dimension.
Another sub category of realism is illustrative style that lies somewhere between the traditional style of tattooing and realism. The proportions vary, depending on the design, they might be colourful or black / shades of grey. They feature bold outlines with intense colour and realistic shading to create artwork that resembles an illustration more than a tattoo.
Another popular subject of realism is a horror theme that as its name suggests evolved over dark and morbid subject matters. Colour horror usually features realistic portraiture and characters from movies or comic books. Black & grey horror style could also be a combination of biomech and organica styles blended with black & grey realism.
Finally, there is black & grey which is typically associated with realism tattooing but artists only use black ink and water. The trick is to water black ink to create shades, hues and colour contrasts. These days some artists will also make use of an actual grey ink and white ink for highlights.
Old School (also known as American Traditional)
Old school tattoos are usually simple designs with bold black lines filled with a simple colour palette, consisting mainly of primary colours, with little shading or none. Most popular old school designs are roses, guns, daggers, hearts, ships, pin-ups, ribbons, skulls and animals.
New School is based on heavy bold lines filled with bright colours. It’s a highly animated style of tattooing that exaggerates the original version of a design subject. Often the images represent caricatured characters doing something unexpected of their nature. Funky New School designs are about fun artwork personifying objects as seen in cartoon movies.
Neo-traditional offers a modern variation of old school (American traditional) tattooing with more realistic depth, bold lines, shading, colour and details combined with traditional conventions. Neo is still evolving and more styles are born every day, it could be anything, from personified animals but also symbols and images that weren’t originally considered old school style. Neo is vibrant with colours and resembles illustrations.
Blackwork tattoos are created using only black ink to execute designs through intense colour blocking and/or flawless line work. The origins of the style lay within tribal tattooing. Blackwork tattoo artists perfecting their skills in the realm of dark, are usually the ones with a good eye for illustration. Mandalas are common images used in blackwork tattoos, also geometric designs and anything highly graphic. Blackwork tattoos are very popular and the term blackwork style is now broad enough to include most other tattoo styles.
Dotwork is a style of tattooing that solely uses dots to build up texture and shading in design. Complex designs require hours of work, ad-hoc tattooing would not function well with this style as sketching the pre tattoo is a job on its own. Shading and depth are defined by how far apart each dot is from the next. Dotwork became very popular, especially through mandalas and sacred geometry.
Geometric type of tattoo is usually symmetric and made of geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles creating patterns. For some this style is desirable due to its hidden meaning and symbolism. Others focus on the eye-catching and visually capturing effects. One of the most popular designs is the “flower of life”, which consists of a repeating pattern of overlapping circles.
Sketch tattoos mimic the rough hand drawn features such as elements that seem incomplete, unfinished strokes, rough lines; the design should look like a preliminary pencil drawing and usually are in black and grey tone; in the hands of talented artists they make for some pretty interesting and unique tattoos.
Polynesian tattoos are Blackwork too. Derived from the cultural traditions of many Polynesian tribal peoples, like the Maori and the Samoans. Born through Tribal symbolism in ancient tribes to define the identity of its wearer, hand-poked into the skin. This tattoo style is one of the oldest in the world and in many ancient cultures, getting tattooed grants its owner a rite of passage and displays their social status.
Maori is another style from the Blackwork family. Tattooing is an art form for the Maori and their tattoos were rather complex and detailed in design. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, receiving tattoos involved a set of rituals. The traditional Maori tattoo practice is known as ta moko, used to signify rank and status, facial tattoos involve the use of curved shapes and spiralling patterns. Interestingly if the actual pattern itself isn’t tattooed, the design blacks out the background to create a negative-space pattern. Maoris used a bone chisel with an extremely sharp edge and getting tattooed was no walk in the park, it is a long and very painful process of carving deep grooves into the skin.
Celtic characteristic is simple, powerful symbolism and something that connects to Celtic culture. Celtic tattoo art is usually expressed in knots, runs & crosses but also snippets of mythology of Celtic Gods.
Another style typically associated with realism in which a portrait of someone is recreated as a tattoo. Realism portraits can be done in colour or black & grey. A really good artist will achieve an exact likeness of the image after the ink has sunk in.
Also known as traditional Irezumi. Evolved from hand carved tattooing techniques, popularized in Japan by the Yakuza, the Japanese criminal underworld. Traditional Japanese is based on bold black outlines and very little shading, often filled with orange, red and blue colours. It features images inspired by traditional Japanese art and nature such as lotus flowers, cherry blossoms, dragons, tigers and Japanese warriors. The most popular motif is koi fish that represent success and good fortune. The art of Japanese hand tattooing is still popular among tattoo enthusiasts.
Neo-Japanese takes traditional Japanese and transforms it to more realistic in depth, detail, shading and colour style, often featuring the same subjects as traditional Japanese, but executed more realistically.
This style’s famous papa, Salvador Dali and his work of exaggerated, grotesque images, based on mixed up styles, and weird creations that aren’t present in real life – conceived one of the most beloved tattoo styles. Surrealism takes reality, twists it and manipulates it. The subject could be absolutely anything, the scope is limitless. Works well in colour and also black & grey.
Biomechanical tattoos usually imitate body flow through detailed patterns that are of mechanical, cyborg, or alien aesthetics. The style originated from biomechanical art, reflecting the human body like a mechanical part. It takes great skill making use of 3D effects to create stunning and often rather creepy tattoos reminiscent of ripped open body parts.
Bio Organic is another surrealistic subject that transforms skin entirely. Not quite biomech as free of mechanical elements but rather abstract in design, to create a perfect natural flow and appear as a part of the skin’s canvas. The most striking elements come from sci-fi or steampunk, details are often gore, like a perfect blend with monstrous animal skin. Totally badass.
Avantgarde (Abstract, Pop Art, Graffiti)
Another style with a very famous father – Picasso, well known for his way of distorting forms and shapes. Abstract tattoo style focuses on expression of a feeling about something, instead of imitating something else. Distorting reality on the skin it usually takes the form of a very unique and artistic tattoo. It can also represent people, animals or could be something spiritual too. Abstract uses bold lines, shapes and brushwork to create something delightful and yet sometimes shocking.
Optical Illusion, child of surrealism and avantgarde, with its bold lines and designs that give others a vertigo effect are key features of this form. Optical Illusion tattoos are loud statements and can be creepy on occasion. A properly executed work seems to twist and bend on the skin, the shading is definitely key here.
If you have ever heard of the famous Buena Vista Tattoo Club in Germany, trash polka style has its origins right there. The main characteristic of Trash Polka is a combination of two colours only: black and red, transforming into work of realistic greyscale and splashes of red or black ink. Trash Polka can be very versatile in a fine-art style: realism, abstract, geometric shapes, lettering; as long as there is a smudge in it.
Watercolour tattoos imitate the brushstroke and standard colour palette. No harsh and defined lines apply. They can be really stunning and they are a relatively new trend in the tattoo world but the watercolour technique is also popular among regular people, not only art lovers. The design can be anything but part of it must be splashed onto the skin in a unique way without hard edges.
Letter tattoos can be really cool but it might be hard to decide whether you are after a simple tattoo of letters and words in widely recognised fonts. Perhaps instead you desire highly customized and styled pieces with an addition of other elements such flowers for instance. Most favoured tattoo choices in this category are names, quotes, poems or statements of some sort.
Stick and Poke
An old-school and freestyle way of tattooing, it is done using a single needle that is dipped in ink and then manually poked through the skin repeatedly to create a simple design.
Additionally, the following varieties often come up in search engine results, however, we reckon these are more subjects of basic styles than styles on their own:
The simple trick is the tattoo must have some white ink. Up to recently white was an understated ink colour but no doubt it will grow more in popularity as it’s a perfect choice for subtle yet artistic designs.
In Haida, 3 colours are allowed: black, red and blue. The lines are thick, bold and reminiscent of tribal style. The traditional designs are focused on animals and plants. Haida style is rich with cultural symbolism. Different animals or plants provide different meanings.
Negative Space / Blackout
You will need patience and litres of black ink to welcome this style! Essentially it is a reversed image of the original design and skin tone is adapted as the main subject. The key is to use skin colour for the lightest part of the design.
Very masculine style when one pretends that their body is made of wood and the tattoo is just a carving in it. It’s a cool looking effect but will require an artist with wonderful technique in realism.
Glow in the Dark
Perfect for fans of clubbing where UV light dominates the scene. Getting a tattoo that glows in the dark with UV ink is the exact same process as getting a normal tattoo. But it glows.