Tattoo Styles and Types of Tattoos

Water color

This colorful style stays away from black outlines and heavy lines. There is no distraction from the softness this style creates in a piece. Water color is still considered a new style. It has been around for the past about ten years. To do a truly perfect water color piece you need to have some black ink within the base of the tattoo so that the piece holds over time. When completed this work looks like a painting.

Trash Polka

This bold style stands out on it’s own; with much of the work done in black and grey.  The artist then uses red accents to really make a statement with this piece. Although some artists will use other colors, red is the true color of a Trash Polka style.
The style was introduced in  Würzburg, Germany. The style resembles fine art collages; it combines realistic images with smears, smudges, sometimes words, and kinetic designs that generate a chaotic look to the piece. Trash Polka pieces are only done in red or black ink.


A Polygon style is any 2-dimensional shape formed with straight lines. Triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, rectangles, and hexagons are all examples of polygons. It’s also very close to an abstract style.

Fine line work

Fine line work is something that is been popping up more often. We consider fine-line work to be a more delicate style, almost feminine, with no room for error.  It’s a beautifully simplistic style, great for those who want a tattoo but may not want to commit to a larger piece.

Sketch style

This style of art has a fresh from the drawing board feel. Using sketch lines to create your tattoo. Nothing is perfect, sometimes lines do not touch or close.


This style represents a radical contemporary art style, it mimics the street style art you see all around you. You see it as letters, numbers or incredible works of art on sidewalks, walls, vehicles, etc.. Now you see it as a style for the skin.

Lettering & Ambigrams

The use of lettering and fonts has always been a popular ink choice among clients. With so many different options out there, finding that perfect font is key.  Some are hard to read when written out, so keep that in mind when choosing a font. Use a site that allows you to see your word or quote in the chosen font style to see if it’s easily read and clear to the eye.
Also popular are Ambigrams. This is when you can incorporate two words together — a composite in one tattoo.  When read upright it will be 1 word, then when flipped upside down it will read another. Not all words can work with this process.

White Ink Tattoos

White ink leaves you with a tattoo that looks more like  a scar or skin discoloration.  Over time it can turn pink, yellow or beige.  It may also completely fade away within the healing phase or months after.  Many tattoo artists will advise their clients to add a pale blue, pale yellow or pale purple to add another pigment to which the white can grab hold.
White ink is great when used in small areas, like edging out a flower, highlight as an accent to the tattoo or to use for  reflection points on tattoos; meant to show a representation of reflections.   When used in larger areas, they tend to not hold up well and tend to fade out completely within a year or less depending on how much the tattoo is exposed to sun light.

Polynesian, Samoan, Maori, & Tahitian

Each Polynesian island has it’s own styles of tattooing making it a truly unique experience. Modern or traditional styles make up this style, using flowers, faces, figures, animals, and abstract shapes. Depending on style it may be bold, black abstract and figurative designs or fine line high detail , single needle outlines, designs that concentrates more on symbolism or overall design. Usually done with a tattoo machine or by wooden sticks, which is a traditional hand tapped tattoo. This style is used to express identity, personality, one’s society status, hierarchy, and sexual maturity. Polynesian tribe tattoo styles symbolized traditions, legends and religious beliefs.
Maori art is  from The indigenous people of New Zealand, known for their use of extensive body markings to represent cultural identity and status.
Samoan art is generally made up of the geometric patterns that are based on ancient designs, and often denote rank and status. The Samoan warrior’s tattoo began at the waist and extended to just below the knee .

Stippling or Dot-work

Stippling is creation of a pattern with varying solidity or shading using small dots or specks,
rather than using lines or solid areas.

Surrealist / Horror

This style covers everything from Salvador Dali to Fantasy monsters and incoherent nightmares. Full of symbolic scenes, strange dream-like scenarios, humor (sometimes the humor is gleeful, impish or sometimes it can have a sarcastic or cruel twist). Using bizarre creatures and people to create continuity between the images, some are single images used to shock or catch your attention. It can also be known as “Lowbrow art” or “Pop Surrealism.”

Cover Up or Re-working Tattoo

Using color and technique to hide an old tattoo with a new tattoo or just having someone re line and Re color and old tattoo so that it looks as it should.  Many make the mistake of using the wrong cover design or wrong colors to cover – causing the old piece to resurface through the new one.  Make sure you have an experienced artist do this for you.

Neo Traditional  or Modern Traditional

Neo Traditional  – which mean traditional with newer element added to the design) tattoo style began in the 1980’s and refers to a tattoo style that is bold and bright, has two-dimensional imagery and lower  intricacy. Contemporary  fantastical designs, combining multiple styles of tattooing into one piece. It’s distinct from the old school style in that it contains more elaborate blending and shading gradations with a more extensive color palette.
With new school, it’s all about free-styling. New school steers away from traditionalism; it’s all unique patterns and custom ideas. It’s almost a combination of hip-hop and graffiti styles: jagged edges and bubbly lettering. With new techniques on the rise, modern equipment, and advances in the industry, the new school style is becoming more and more influential.

Cartoon / Anime Tattoos

The style everyone remembers from the 90’s with it’s Tasmanian Devil inspired tattoos that too many people had. Now the cartoon inspired tattoo is making it’s comeback as clients look to relive their childhood.  Hello Kitty, Auto bots, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, maybe your favorite video game. Bold bright colors, fun and whimsical, can be done as a standalone piece or as part of an entire sleeve.

Portrait Tattoo

A tattoo artist has to be extremely skilled in his field to be able to convey a person’s likeness onto another person skin. Some are meant to show love, admiration, loss or birth. Portraits are often created using fine line tattoo style.


Represented by portraits or true life scenes, landscapes that showcase the fine line detail of a photograph or painting.

Stonework Style

This style of tattooing is using shades of black and grey, colors can be used as well, to produce the cracked stone like quality throughout the tattoo. These tattoos tend to be more detailed and can really give a tattoo a very old and rustic feel. Stonework is usually produced with a finer line to really show off every little crack and chip in the tattoo.

Old School (American Traditional) 

Old School (AKA. Old Skool or American Traditional) tattoos are usually images that are two-dimensional, bold colors using only a simple color palette and low intricacy. Popular in the 1800’s and are also referred to as nautical tattoos. These include mermaids, ships, anchors, pin ups, banners and sparrows.  They consisted of bold, blue-black outlines, usually filled with solid red and green with rare additions of blue, yellow, brown and purple; with little or no shading. Thicker lines are used and the inspiration is typically nautical and military in theme. Using Eagles, anchors, swallows, ships, hearts and banners.

Tribal Tattoos

This type of work was handed down from multiple cultures including Native American, Micronesia, and Polynesian. In ancient times, they would be represent one as an accessory to a certain tribe, also express puberty, a milestone in life or marriage. American Indians form of tribal tattoo was meant to represent culture, ritual beliefs, spirits or nature.  Hawaiian tribes carried tattoos as a form of identification, protection or mourning expressions. Many tribes used tattoos to show bravery. Tribal tattoos are usually black in color and are composed of solid geometric designs. Can also be done in a “stonework  effect” or in color but black is the most common.

Memorial  Tattoos

Memorial tattoos can be images representing a person’s life in some way. It may be a religious image, crosses, banners, praying hands, poems, flowers, or sometimes a portrait. Most want to incorporate items that had meaning or significance to the  deceased and or their family. Often this type of tattoo is accompanied by lettering with the person’s name and dates of their birth and their death.


Colored tattoos can be done in vivid or subtle tones, depending on the effect the tattoo artist is trying to achieve.

Religious Tattoos

The link between tattooing in religion goes back to the Egyptians. They would tattoo the dead so that they would have relative information when they passed to the other side. The Christians would tattoo a cross under the hand on the wrist to identify themselves to be devout Christian and a true believer as opposed to Roman spies.


Body modification has been practiced for centuries. Groups on the Northwest Coast; such as the Haida, were no exception. The tattoos themselves, were indicative of status, spiritual devotion and decoration.  For the Haida, body art and adornment were a means for individual expression, as well as their part of a social unit, or a lineage. Haida tattoos put a person’s identity and spiritual connection on display through the use of crest figures and/or guardian spirits


This is a machine like form of art that sometimes combines humans with machines.  If you are familiar with HR Geiger’s artwork then you’ll be familiar with bio-mechanical artwork.


These designs are made up of intricate knots. Celtic comes in many forms; knots, crosses spirals, trinity knots, tree of life, and animal forms. This style of art represents the people from Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton folklore.

Fine Line

Fine line tattooing is one of the newer styles you’ll find in tattoo shops and has been achievable because of the improvements made with tattoo machines, inks, and needles. Artists today are able to add more detail and special effects to their artwork. Fine line is often used in portrait tattoos or to achieve a delicate look.

Black and Gray

This is when shading is heavily utilized. Black and gray work is typically used to create some type of 3-D effect without using color.
Highlights are often added using white. White ink can also be used to smooth out sharp transitions between the different shades.

Irezumi /Traditional Japanese

Asian themed tattoos frequently using Koi fish, cherry blossoms, Buddha, lotus, dragon’s, war dogs, samurai’s or geisha’s.  Many of these are used in combination to tell a story as well as create a piece of timeless art. This type of tattoo is usually very detailed. This is basically a tattoo that will cover the whole body. The work is carefully planned out ahead of time before the work on any part of the body begins.  This style seems to be more  2 dimensional or flat, almost like print on fabric.

Abstract Design

This is a modern style of art; it usually doesn’t have any type of outline or any real structure. It breaks away from the traditional representation of animals, people, and the world around us.

Geometry design

Sacred geometry tattoos are spiritual in nature and have a religious significance. It has many motifs, one being the very popular, Flower of Life or another variation, Metatron’s Cube (based off the original Flower of Life). The nautilus shell, Ouroborus and Mandala, are also part of this group.
Mathematical patterns, dot-work, beading style accents, and hints of color, are also found in this incredibly detailed and delicate style.

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