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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