Your Ultimate Guide To The Most Popular Tattoo Styles

If you are thinking of getting a tattoo for the first (or second) time, you might be considering not only what design you want, but also what style of tattoo you want. To some people, tattoos and tattooing are considered an art form, so tattoo styles can feel like a very personal choice. If you plan to get more than one tattoo, you may also want to consider what style you want to stick with for a long time, or what might match future or existing tattoos.


When you are looking into tattoo styles, the style you choose should be based on what you find beautiful and appealing. You should also think about how you would like the art and designs you choose to be displayed and portrayed on your body. And while some tattoo trends may come and go, the tattoos on your actual skin are permanent, so do not forget to take that into consideration when you are choosing a tattoo style the next time you get inked. 

Traditional tattoos

The traditional tattoo style is arguably one of the most popular and common styles of tattoo across the globe. Also called old-school tattoos, traditional tattoos are characterized by the dimensional style of drawing used to create the designs. Other characteristics include the use of bold lines, equally bold colors, and shading. If you are looking for a stand-out tattoo, you may want to consider something in a traditional tattoo style. 


You may want to consider the size of the tattoo you are hoping to get when choosing this style. Traditional tattoos are not typically done on a small scale, as the types of bold lines used do not necessarily lend themselves to a smaller or miniature tattoo. If you want a smaller piece in this style, consult with your tattoo artist to discuss sizing options as well as what is doable for the design you want to get.

Delicate hand tattoos

The hand tattoo can be a point of contention within the tattoo community and beyond. Some argue that a hand tattoo can hinder your chances of securing gainful employment (some even call hand tattoos "job-stoppers"). However, there are those who think that in this modern age, tattoo placement should not determine a person's qualifications for any kind of job. Hand tattoos have evolved from large, hand-sized tattoos to smaller, more delicate designs.


In recent years, delicate, miniature hand tattoos have been popularized by celebrities like Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Hailey Bieber. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that they are widely accepted. If you do choose to get your hand or hands tattooed, you may want to consider your line of work, or even where you live, to help determine if this tattoo placement is right for you.

Fine line tattoos

Fine line tattoos are a relatively new style of tattooing in comparison to the traditional tattoo style, which has a long history. The fine line tattoo style is almost the antithesis of traditional tattoos because of their delicate nature, in comparison to the bold designs of traditional tattoos. 


Though the fine line tattoo style may not have been around for as long as some of the others, it has gained popularity over the years and even inspired other tattoo styles, like minimalist tattoos. If you are considering getting a fine-line tattoo, make sure that you do your research when choosing a tattoo artist. Though this style has gained popularity, that does not necessarily mean that every tattoo artist has specialized in the style, so you want to ensure that you are getting tattooed by someone who works in this style. 

Micro realism tattoos

This style of tattoo is another that some people in the tattoo community do not necessarily approve of. The microrealism style is one that elicits a lot of discussion. Some people question the style's longevity due to its small size and fine detail. 


If you are considering getting a tattoo in a micro realism style, you open yourself up to keeping a lot of prime real estate on your body, as each tattoo will end up being quite small. As with any style of tattoo, aftercare is a key component in healing, ensuring your tattoo's longevity, and maintaining the integrity of the design. This is even more important with microrealism tattoos. If you decide on this style, make sure that you discuss aftercare with your tattoo artist in great detail, so that you are fully informed and can work to heal your tattoo as best you can.

Neo-traditional tattoos

If you like the look of a traditional tattoo but don't know if you can commit to the style for yourself, you may want to do some research on the neo-traditional tattoo style. While the neo-traditional style of tattooing contains some elements that can be found in traditional tattoo styles, it does differ in some key ways. 


While traditional tattoo styles tend to have a two-dimensional feeling, neo-traditional tattoos tend to have more of a 3D effect, as more shading is generally used. Also, while many traditional tattoo designs embrace motifs representative of the style,neo-traditional tattoos are more inclusive of a lot of other designs, so you can expect your artist to have a broader portfolio. As always, if you want to ensure the best result possible, make sure that you're doing your research and working with an artist who specializes in the style.

Blackwork tattoos

If bold tattoo styles are your speed, you may want to think about a blackwork tattoo. Blackwork tattoos exclusively use black pigment. Much like traditional tattoos, bold lines can be found within the blackwork tattoo style. However, blackwork tattoos may also feature fine lines, as well as solid black sections. The blackwork tattoo style also uses skin as negative space to create depth and even shading. 


Some blackwork tattoo motifs include gothic visuals, including architecture and statues. You might also find creepy and spooky motifs explored with blackwork tattoos, so if this fits your vibe and aesthetic, you may want to consider this style for yourself. Of course, blackwork tattoos do not exclusively use these motifs, so if you would like a design that falls outside of these parameters, chances are, you can get it. Despite the nature of blackwork tattoos and all the black pigment used, the healing process is usually about the same as any other kind of tattoo.

Realism tattoos

Those who have or want a realism tattoo might know that while the style is quite popular, it's not easy to achieve. Realism tattoos are generally only done by tattoo artists who have specialized in this style. There aren't necessarily any motifs that are common to realism tattoos specifically, aside from portrait tattoos. 


While you should be doing research before getting any kind of tattoo, you should absolutely make sure to do research on your tattoo artist if you are planning on getting a realistic tattoo, as this style is generally thought to be quite difficult. The primary goal of the style is to create a tattoo that is close to photorealistic, which isn't easy for a lot of people, especially when skin is your canvas. If you have never gotten this style before, you may want to consider asking your tattoo artist to share any healed photos of their work, to show you how a piece you get may heal. 

Script tattoos

For someone who appreciates being straightforward and direct, rather than relying on images and symbolism, a script tattoo may be the right choice. There is virtually no limit to what you can do with a script tattoo, as you have a world of books, songs, and famous sayings to choose from, as well as sentimental words that may hold a special meaning for you personally. Once you have chosen your design, you are then free to choose among the countless types of fonts or scripts available to best illustrate the words you are getting tattooed.


Though script tattoos generally do not require a specially trained tattoo artist, you may want to double-check spelling and grammar before and perhaps even during your tattoo. If you are getting a script tattoo, especially something written in another language, make sure that you double, triple, or even quadruple-check that the spelling and grammar are correct before you get it tattooed.

Japanese tattoos

Those who live by the mantra "go big or go home" may want to consider a Japanese-style tattoo. Japanese-style tattoos, which are sometimes referred to as Irezumi, are tattoos that are based on a larger-scale design or motif. These motifs usually touch on themes of nature and Japanese mythology. There is an incredibly rich history to Japanese tattoos, as well as the original method of tattooing that was called Tabori or "hand tattooing," which was the process of using a metal needle attached to bamboo to add pigment to the skin one mark at a time. 


This is another style that would likely best be done by someone who has specialized in the art — especially if you are considering the Tabori method of tattooing, which is no longer widely used. It may be a challenge to find a tattoo artist who tattoos in this way. 

Illustrative tattoos

If you are someone who appreciates the many styles of tattoos available but can't quite choose just one, illustrative tattoos may be the style for you. By definition, illustrative tattoos "take inspiration from both traditionalism and realism," according to NYC Tattoo Shop. That means that you are getting the best of both worlds with a stylized, yet still realistic image or design. Illustrative tattoos are also done using primarily black pigment, which also lends itself to the blackwork style. When color is used, it is usually used sparingly as a pop of color that may act as a highlight.


You might also like the illustrative tattoo style if you are someone who likes the different techniques that are used within this tattoo style. For example, techniques like line work, dot work, and even crosshatching and stippling may be used to create shading and depth to the image that is being tattooed. 

Patchwork tattoos

As a style of tattoo, patchwork tattoos have a bit of a polarizing effect on the tattoo community. Some people object to the style, arguing that if you are covering a lot of skin, you should either have one large piece, or a cohesive sleeve, usually done by one artist. However, others argue that with all of the different tattoo styles out there, one should not limit themselves to just one style of tattoo, or even one large sleeve to cover a large space on your body.


Patchwork style tattoos, which are essentially a collection of smaller pieces to create something that resembles patches of different designs on your skin, can be the perfect way to get a number of different tattoos in a variety of styles, without giving up a significant amount of skin on your body. Ultimately, tattoos are a personal choice, so if you want to go the patchwork route, it is totally up to you. 

Tribal tattoos

Tribal tattoos have a deep and rich history across a number of cultures — and they can come in many different styles depending on where in the world they originate from. Whether it's Aztec, Polynesian, or Celtic, however, tribal tattoos often use bold geometric patterns with specific symbolism and meaning. 


Certain tribal tattoo styles became uncool and even faux pas in the tattoo world after they were popularized in the 1990s (think, Nick Lachey's tribal tattoo on his bicep). Despite this blip in the image of the tribal tattoo, it seems that it is again making a comeback as people embrace the tattoo style of various cultures. 

If you are thinking of getting a tribal tattoo from a culture that isn't your own, you should be mindful of where the tradition comes from. You may want to do some research on the meaning of the tribal tattoo to be respectful and truly appreciative of the culture, rather than appropriative. If you are able to, you may also want to look into finding a tattoo artist who specializes in this style, so that they can also be a resource regarding different meanings and the symbolism of the tribal tattoo.


Zodiac-inspired tattoos

Though this is not necessarily a style, but rather a motif or design, zodiac or astrological sign tattoos are quite trendy at the moment. There are many people who turn to their zodiac sign as a guide or a means to learn more about themselves, including what kind of job they should pursue, how different planetary alignments affect their life or mood, and even what other zodiac signs they are most compatible with


If you decide to go with this kind of tattoo design, you have a lot of options as to how to portray your zodiac sign. While this motif may seem limiting, there are actually quite a few ways you can interpret your astrological sign through symbols and illustrations, that you can then translate using the tattoo style you choose.