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Tattoo Styles: Our Favorites - Explained!

Need some new tattoo inspiration? You've come to the right place. With tons of trending types of tattoos, you could spend hours scrolling through Instagram looking for the right one for your new ink. This overview of some popular tattoo styles will help you save time and narrow down your choices. Below, we discuss the history behind each style, share its distinctive features, and provide examples of what it looks like in real life.

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American Traditional

First up is the style that made tattoos in America mainstream. Also known as "old-school" or "traditional," this style is what the general, un-tattooed public thinks of when they hear the word "tattoo." This style evokes images of sailors in the 1950s getting inked to commemorate milestones at sea, like crossing the equator (earning you a Neptune tattoo), sailing for 5,000 nautical miles (a sparrow), or missing home ("mom" written over a heart). Sailor Jerry, a Hawaiian tattoo artist in the 50s, made this style gain popularity. Today, artists like Ed Hardy keep the spirit alive. Tattoos in this style can fit any area of your body. They age well and make a statement anywhere.

Distinctive Features:

  • Thick and bold lines

  • Bright colors

  • Depictions of plants, animals, symbols, and other objects


  • Pin-up girls

  • Roses

  • Anchors

  • Hearts

  • Skulls

  • Patriotic symbols

American Traditional tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram

New School

Born out of the creativity of tattoo artists and clients who wanted to customize the traditional style, New School tattoos have a comic-book and cartoonish feel. This tattoo style is relatively new, gaining traction in the 80s and 90s with the rise of cartoon pop culture, pop art, and graffiti art. These tattoos feature caricatures of cartoon characters, comic book heroes, and much more. These are instant conversation starters, so you'll want to place them in prominent places to show them off.

Distinctive Features:

  • Vivid colors

  • 2D cartoon style

  • Graffiti-like images


  • Cartoon characters

  • Video game characters

  • Graffiti-style writing

  • Pop culture references

New School tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram


These types of tattoos feature scenes and symbols from Japanese folklore. Also called Irezumi, this Japanese word for tattoo refers to a specific style of tattooing—a time-consuming process utilizing traditional tools. Today, body artists use modern techniques and instruments to achieve the same look. However, the high level of detail and color still takes a decent amount of time to complete. This is not the style to get if you only have an hour to devote to getting your new ink. The result is well worth the effort, though! Japanese tattoos treat the body like a painted canvas, leaving little unfilled space in the tattooed area. Designs usually include a central image with deep meaning and motifs like swirls of smoke, waves, and flowers intertwining it.

Distinctive Features:

  • Depictions of stories from Japanese folklore

  • Pops of color with cartoonish outlines

  • Designs featuring water, clouds, and smoke

  • Symbolic animals, flowers, and mythical creatures


  • Dragon—a symbol of wisdom and strength

  • Samurai soldiers

  • Flowers

  • Koi fish—a symbol of persistence

Award-winning Japanese-style tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram


If you want a tattoo that connects you with the ancient world, the Chinese style is for you. These tattoos are seeped in history, with roots dating back 1,000 years. Chinese tattoos are distinctive from Japanese tattoos as they are heavily influenced by symbols and their meanings. Chinese tattoo styles can be a bit more delicate and flowy than Japanese tattoos, which tend to use thick, black outlines around the central figures. The sheer number of symbols available—from words written in Mandarin to symbolic flowers—make this style a great first tattoo option if you want something with profound meaning. These designs can be placed pretty much anywhere.

Distinctive Features:

  • Words in Mandarin script

  • Animals, plants, and objects with symbolic meanings

  • Characters from Chinese culture


  • Chinese symbols for love, prosperity, or hope

  • Lotus flowers

  • Yin-yang symbols

  • Dragons

Asian-style tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram

Realism Tattoos

This tattoo style developed within the last 50 years as tattooing techniques and equipment improved. The result is photo-like quality tattoos that strive to accurately depict portraits of people, animals, or places. Creating a realistic tattoo takes a lot of artistic chops from a skilled tattoo artist to pull it off successfully. Realism tattoos can be in black and gray or fully colored for a look that will make people stop and pay attention. Realism tattoos are a great option to memorialize a pet, loved one, or significant moment in your life with ultra-realistic body art. Due to the high level of detail, it's best to choose a place where your body artist will have plenty of space to work, like your arms, legs, back, or chest.

Distinctive Features:

  • Photo-like quality

  • 3D designs

  • Lots of detail


  • Portraits of parents, grandparents, partners, kids, or pets

  • Celebrities and artists

  • Characters from live-action movies and TV shows

Realism tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram


The primary goal of watercolor tattoos is to make it look like the tattoo was created using brush strokes and pastel paints, not a tattoo machine. The result is a delicate and flowy design with blotches of pastels. This style can be used to create unique, custom designs or replicas of famous masterpieces from your favorite artist. Watercolor designs work best in stand-alone places where the detail can shine, such as on your inner arm or calf.

Distinctive Features:

  • Brushstrokes and paint splatters

  • Pastel colors

  • Flowy, delicate designs


  • Replicas of favorite paintings

  • Images with splashes of paint behind them

Watercolor tattoo style by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram


This tattoo style developed from the minimalist art movement, which values simplicity over complexity. It features black outlines of simple geometric shapes and objects. Minimalism tattoos are dainty and delicate, perfect for first-timers and those wanting a feminine design. These simplistic silhouettes are versatile and can be put in unique places, like behind your ears, on your collarbone, or between your fingers.

Distinctive Features:

  • Simple outlines in black ink

  • Basic elements of more complex designs

  • Dainty geometric shapes


  • Lines and arrows

  • Delicate leaves or feathers

  • Animal or object outlines

  • Sun, moon, or star symbols

Minimalism tattoo by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram


Lettering is any tattoo that features words or numbers as a central part of the design. Lettering can stand alone or be combined with other tattoo styles, like American Traditional and New School. Phrases and quotes can be incorporated into many languages, like English, Spanish, Latin, or Mandarin. Just make sure you understand the phrase's meaning if it's not a language you speak! There are endless possibilities for choosing words and typography, too. Where you should put a lettering tattoo will depend on the type of lettering you desire. As you may guess, lengthy quotes from your favorite book will need more space than one that signifies an important date in your life.

Distinctive Features:

  • Words are the central design

  • Creative fonts, from calligraphy to modern sans serif

  • Words, numbers, and letters with symbolic significance


  • Years your children were born

  • Book, movie, and other quotes

  • Longitude and latitude coordinates

Lettering by Fine Ink Studios: View on Instagram

Fine Ink Studios: Body Artists for All Tattoo Styles

The best way to get the tattoo style you desire is to find a talented body artist who's experienced in creating body art in that same style. As Orlando's best tattoo and piercing studio, we've gathered the best artists in the biz, all with unique specialties. Book a consultation with us, and we'll match you with an artist who will help you achieve the perfect look. Plus, with locations throughout Central Florida, you're always near a place to get fine inked!

For more tips about tattooing and piercing, check out our blog. Want to stay in the know with everything Fine Ink Studios offers? Sign up for our email list. We'll let you know about new offerings, locations, and deals!

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