Free Delivery over £100*
Same Day Dispatch before 4pm*
Price Match Guarantee

Popular tattoo styles: A quick guide for first-timers


Choosing your first tattoo can be daunting, given the vast range of styles available, from the bold simplicity of Traditional tattoos to the vibrant detail of Watercolor tattoos. Many first-timers struggle to pick a style that truly reflects their personal taste and find a skilled artist to bring their vision to life.

So, we will simplify that process, providing a straightforward overview of popular tattoo styles to help ensure your first tattoo perfectly matches your personal style.


a woman with shoulder tattoo


1. Traditional (American) Tattoos

Traditional American tattoos are known for their bold lines, vivid ink colours, and iconic symbols like eagles, hearts, and skulls. This style often includes banners with phrases and uses a limited but striking colour palette. It dates back to the early 20th century, drawing heavily on maritime and wartime motifs. These tattoos are timeless and are often a homage to the history of tattooing in America.

2. Realism Tattoo Style

Realistic tattoos attempt to replicate the exact appearance of images and subjects, making them look lifelike on the skin. This style can cover many themes, from portraits of people and animals to landscapes and everyday objects. Artists specialising in realism pay close attention to detail, shading, and perspective to create tattoos that resemble photographs or high-definition artwork.

3. Watercolour Tattoo Style

Watercolour tattoos mimic the characteristics of a watercolour painting, including subtle colour gradients and a paintbrush stroke appearance. This style is known for its vibrant colours, lack of black outlines, and soft, blended colour transition. Watercolour tattoos can depict various imagery but are particularly popular for floral designs, abstract art, and whimsical themes.

4. Minimalist Tattoos

Minimalist tattoos are defined by simplicity and minimal detailing and colour. These tattoos often utilise black ink, clean lines, and negative space to create a subtle yet impactful design. Common themes include geometric shapes, simplistic representations of nature, and understated abstract forms. This style is perfect for those who prefer a subtle and elegant tattoo.

5. New School Tattoo Style

New School is a tattoo style that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It features highly animated, cartoon-like designs with vibrant colours and exaggerated dimensions. This style often incorporates graffiti, pop culture, and caricature elements, offering a modern twist with bold lines and a fun, whimsical approach. New School tattoos are great for those who want to express their playful, vibrant personalities.

6. Tribal Tattoo Design


shoulder tattoo on a woman holding a cup


Tribal tattoos are among the oldest and most traditional forms, rooted in the ancient traditions of indigenous and tribal cultures worldwide. These tattoos are characterised by black lines and geometric patterns that swirl and flow across the skin, often representing strength, courage, and status. The artwork is deeply symbolic, with each design element having specific meanings tied to the cultural heritage from which they originate.

7. Japanese Tattoo Style (Irezumi)

Japanese tattoos, or Irezumi, are known for their full-body styling, vivid colours, and highly detailed depictions of scenes and characters from Japanese mythology and folklore, such as dragons, koi fish, and cherry blossoms. This style follows a strict set of artistic rules for positioning and motifs, ensuring that the imagery is balanced and harmonious. Japanese tattoos are not just beautiful but are also imbued with deep meanings and cultural significance.

8. Neo Traditional Tattoo Style

Neo Traditional tattoos build on the foundation of the American Traditional style by incorporating more detailed and varied colour palettes and a broader range of motifs and imagery. This style retains the bold lines and vibrant colours. Still, it introduces more complexity and often a slightly more realistic portrayal of themes, including flora, fauna, and portraits. It's a modern evolution that maintains an old-school heart.

9. Illustrative Tattoo Style

The Illustrative tattoo style is versatile, combining elements of many tattooing techniques, including line work, dot work, and shading. This style can mimic the look of a drawing or an engraving, with some designs leaning towards realism and others towards a more abstract or expressionist aesthetic. It's particularly appealing for those who want a tattoo that looks like a piece of hand-drawn art.

10. Chicano Tattoo Design

Originating from the Chicano communities in the U.S., this style reflects Mexican-American populations' cultural, political, and artistic influences. Common motifs include portraits, religious symbols, and phrases, as well as depictions of figures from the Pachuco (zoot suit) culture. The artwork often features fine line details and soft shading, and it is sometimes done entirely in black and grey.

11. Blackwork Tattoo Style

Blackwork is a bold style that uses thick black ink to create abstract, geometric, or tribal designs. This grey tattoo style can cover large areas of the body, resulting in striking high-contrast patterns that can be purely decorative or deeply symbolic. Blackwork is often used to cover up old tattoos and can range from intricate mandalas to solid black sleeves or back pieces.

12. Geometric Tattoo Style

Geometric tattoos utilise shapes, lines, and patterns to create designs that can be simple or extremely complex. This style often incorporates symmetry and repetition and can include elements of nature, abstract shapes, or even spiritual symbols like mandalas.

Geometric tattoos are suited for those who value precision and design, which can represent personal beliefs or the beauty of mathematics and structure in nature.

How to choose the right style for you


an artist tattooing his clients


Choosing the right tattoo style is an important decision that combines personal expression with artistic appreciation. You can consider these factors and steps to take when deciding on the right style for your tattoo:

Personal meaning

Think about what you want your tattoo to represent. Each tattoo style can convey different meanings and emotions. For example, a tribal tattoo might connect you to cultural heritage. In contrast, a minimalist tattoo could reflect a preference for simplicity and subtle design. Choose a style that resonates with your personal story or values.


Consider the visual impact of the style. Different styles can dramatically alter the appearance of a design. For instance, a watercolour tattoo might appeal if you prefer soft, flowing colours, whereas a blackwork tattoo could be more suitable if you are drawn to bold, graphic patterns. Think about where on your body you want the tattoo, as some styles may work better in certain areas than others due to size and detail considerations.

Artist's expertise

Not all tattoo artists excel in every style. Some might specialise in realism, while others might be renowned for their traditional designs. When researching artists, look for those whose expertise aligns with the style you are interested in.

Consulting with a tattoo artist

  • Communication is key: Once you have a style, consult with potential tattoo artists. Explain your vision, discuss any images or themes you have in mind, and listen to their suggestions. Experienced artists can provide insights into what designs might work best for your chosen style and body placement.
  • Be open to advice: Artists might suggest modifications to your initial idea to better suit the chosen style or the placement on your body. Their expertise can ensure the tattoo looks good from all angles and ages well over time.

Importance of reviewing a portfolio

  • Match your desired style: Always review the artist's portfolio to ensure their previous works align with your desired style. A portfolio shows you the quality of the artist's work and their proficiency in a particular style.
  • Look for consistency: Check for consistency in quality across different works. A good portfolio should showcase various designs demonstrating the artist's versatility within your desired style.
  • Ask for specific examples: If possible, see examples of healed tattoos. This will give you a better idea of how their work holds up over time.

Additional considerations

  • Hygiene and safety: Make sure the studio is clean, and the artist uses sterile equipment. Proper hygiene practices are crucial in preventing infections.
  • Aftercare: Discuss aftercare procedures with the artist. Proper tattoo aftercare products is crucial for the healing process of your tattoo and can affect the final appearance of your tattoo.

As you start to choose the perfect tattoo, consider the quality of the ink as much as the design. High-quality tattoo ink is crucial for ensuring the longevity and vibrancy of your tattoo. You can visit our shop to see our selection of premium tattoo inks, ensuring that your first—or next—tattoo is as striking in a decade as it is today. Shop high-quality tattoo ink now.

Final thoughts

Choosing a tattoo style is a big decision, and this guide has introduced you to several popular styles to help you find the one that best suits your personality and preferences. Whether it's the classic look of Traditional tattoos, the lifelike detail of Realistic tattoos, or the bold colours of New School tattoos, there's a style for everyone.

Remember to pick a reliable artist and a clean studio, and make sure you know how to take care of your tattoo afterwards. With the right planning and choice, your first tattoo can be a meaningful and exciting expression of yourself.


Previous Post Next Post

  • Mark Joshua Luz