Popular Tattoo Styles

Popular Tattoo Styles

Tattoos can be as original as each tattoo artist or tattoo client’s personality. However, when it comes to tattooing, most artists will specialize in just one or two distinct styles. Knowing exactly what style of tattoo you are looking for can help you narrow down the list of artists to those skilled in that particular style. This blog will help you figure out exactly what type of tattoo you are looking for so you can  start the search for a skilled artist. 

What is a traditional tattoo?

American traditional tattoos, also known as old-school tattoos, feature bold black outlines and a color palette consisting of a few select bold colors. Often seen in flash designs, these tattoos have familiar designs, like nautical themes, military themes, skulls, swallows, hearts, panthers, lucky symbols, and pinup girls. Sailor Jerry put it best when he said “Bold simplicity is the keynote to good design.” Traditional tattooing has a  rich history and is still very popular today.

How is a neotraditional tattoo different from a traditional tattoo?

Neotraditional tattoos still have some of the same basic elements as traditional tattoos like black outlines and a few select colors. However, this modern take on a classic has somewhat thinner lines and a richer color palette. These tattoos also have additional shading to provide more dimension than old-school tattoos without having a completely 3-dimensional look. Neotraditional tattoos also have a broader range of subject matter and often incorporate Art Deco or Art Nouveau elements.

What are tribal tattoos?

The tribal tattoo style is one of the oldest tattoo styles, dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. This blanket term is used to describe the traditional tattoos of many cultures including tattoos from Africa, India, Asia, and the South Pacific. Tribal tattoos generally consist of abstract patterns created from bold black lines. Today, many artists create neotribal tattoo designs in order to honor the traditions of the past in ways that are not culturally appropriative. These designs include the same bold black lines with new and unique geometric patterns of modern design.

Is blackwork the same as a tribal tattoo?

Blackwork is a term used to describe tattoos that are done entirely using black tattoo ink without the use of any color tattoo ink. Tribal and neotribal tattoos are great examples of blackwork. However, blackwork tattooing can go beyond simple geometric shapes and sometimes includes other real-life subjects.

How is black and gray tattooing different from blackwork?

While blackwork uses only black tattoo ink and negative space, black and gray tattooing also incorporates shades of gray created from gray washing. Gray washing is the process of creating shades of gray by diluting black tattoo ink in another fluid like our  Holy Water Mixing Solution.  This allows for much more depth and dimension than black alone. Almost any tattoo style can also be done in black and gray with black and gray realism being very popular.


What does realism mean when it comes to tattooing?

Realism tattooing is basically what it sounds like. Tattooing that results in images that are true to life. Realism tattooing can either be done in color or in black and gray. Tattoos in this style can depict almost anything from the real world from portraits and landscapes to individual objects and works of art. Realism and photorealism tattoos can be extremely detailed and are always realistic. Quantum Pro Team member  Noa Yanni is a great example of expert realism tattooing. In fact, Quantum has collaborated with Yanni on an artist series of tattoo inks perfect for realism. For black and gray realism, choose Dark Matter. If you want to add a touch of color, opt for Golden Wisdom.

What is the surrealist style of tattooing?


This can describe anything from a colorful dreamlike Salvador Dali-inspired tattoo to a black and gray horror tattoo that includes the subject of your worst nightmares. These tattoos are can be highly detailed like a realism tattoo but include subjects that are not real to life. Surrealism often includes collage-like images or images that are a mash-up of different themes or styles. This style can be either black and gray or color.

What style of tattooing is Trash Polka?

Trash polka, created by Simone Plaff and Volko Merchky, can be described as a collage of several different styles including realism, surrealism, lettering, and abstract. This style includes both bold and thin black lines, shading, and a splash of color (usually red). These tattoos often include bold inky colors and smudges and streaks that give them the feeling of freshly printed ink like on newspapers.

Are there any styles of tattooing that don’t involve bold colors and black lines?


While watercolor tattoos can sometimes include thin black lines, they are often just made up of gradients of softer colors that appear to fade out. Similar to the paintings that they are named for, the colors blend togehter creating a more splotchy, unique, and often feminine look. The watercolor technique can be used either on its own or as a background to your black tattoo.


Whatever style you choose, using the highest quality inks will ensure that you achieve the desired results and the tattoo looks great for years to come. Check out our selection of black and color tattoo inks for lasting results and follow us on Instagram for inspiration on these and other styles!