How To Tell If A Neo-Traditional Tattoo May Be The Perfect Style For You

Tattoos are big business. In 2022, the global tattoo market was $1.89 billion and 32% of Americans had at least one tattoo, according to a 2023 study by the Pew Research Center. With tattoos more mainstream than ever, people are discovering there's no one type of tattoo. There's a whole gamut and something for everyone.

One of the popular tattoo styles is neo-traditional. This style emerged in New York City in the 1970s when tattooists began experimenting with thick lines and bold colors that paid homage to Irezumi, a traditional Japanese tattoo style, and also incorporated American pop culture into the pieces, per Certified Tattoos Studio. Although the style was born in the 1970s, the interest in such imagery dates back to the mid-1800s when the Western world was first introduced to Japanese artwork and culture. While this time in history has the biggest influence on contemporary neo-traditional tattooing, art nouveau and art deco of the early 20th century have also been woven in, creating a gorgeous combination of bygone eras that come to life on the skin, via Tattoodo.

There's no denying that this type of tattooing is beautiful, but it's also not for the faint of heart. The lines are thick, the images are loud and even aggressive, and although all black ink is an option, most include a lot of colors — all reasons why tattoo artists love to do neo-traditional tattoos. If you've been eyeing this type of tattoo style and think you may want to go this route, there are a couple of things you should know first.

You want a (bold) tattoo that's important to you

Not all tattoos have a deep meaning. Flash tattoos, for example, are quick, fun tattoos that usually don't have a storied meaning to the person who has them. Neo-traditional tattoos, on the other hand, are steeped in meaning. No one rolls into a tattoo studio requesting a large back piece of this particular style without doing their research in terms of historical or personal meaning.

"Clients spend months, and even years, thinking of exactly what design they want and may bring references of other tattoos or fine art that they want to be rendered on to [their] skin," New York tattoo artist Bang Bang told Vogue UK. But as Bang Bang also pointed out, just because you've done extensive research on what you want, it doesn't mean it will necessarily work on someone's skin based on color, size of the piece, and placement, among other factors. That's why finding a tattoo artist who's excellent at what they do and schooled in the style you want is essential, so you can work together to create something that's 100% you and 100% neo-traditional. "I like it when clients give me a subject matter and their body. It gives me a lot of freedom to make something truly one of a kind," he said.

It's important to realize that tattoo artists know best when it comes to this type of body art. The only way you're going to walk out of a tattoo studio with a neo-traditional piece you're ecstatic about and love is if you communicate effectively with the artist.

You're committed to the long-term

Although neo-traditional tattoos can be equally dramatic with or without color, the one thing that they all have is big, bold black lines throughout. These lines are eye-catching on purpose so as to bring attention to the piece — and they do. While every tattoo should be considered a life-long commitment, neo-traditional tattoos should be considered triply so because of all that work that's put into them. No one wants to drop hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a tattoo just to turn around 15 or 20 years later and pay even more to get it removed. Tattoo removal isn't a one-and-done process. While an extensive tattoo could take a couple of sessions that are a few hours each, removal is likely to involve 10 or more sessions and you still might not be able to completely erase it, according to the National Health Service of UK.

Neo-traditional tattoos are perfect for the person who loves history, art, symbolism, and the combination of different cultures all wrapped up in vibrant, striking colors. In fact, there's no better tattoo style for someone who can check off all those things as being of interest to them. But tattoos are a big commitment, something that people tend to forget when they see celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande getting tattoos on a whim. This is something that should weigh just as heavily on your mind as what your tattoo will be, no matter the style.