Ben Barnhart

Ben Barnhart

July 27, 2021
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July 27, 2021
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Tattoo art has been around for thousands of years but has often been considered a controversial art form depending on the time period and culture. 

Many religions and cultures have banned or rejected tattoos throughout history. Like anything else, these bans have created an increased interest in tattoos.

Despite the controversy, many talented artists have flocked to the art of tattoo design. Tattoo artists work with skin instead of canvas, making their artwork incredibly complex and diverse. 

And their work is permanently etched into someone’s skin for the rest of their life. That’s a lot of pressure!

There are countless styles of tattoos. In this article, we’ll talk about the most popular and influential styles throughout history.

Image Source: Akram Huseyn

A Brief History Of Tattoos

Humans have been expressing themselves through a wide range of tattoo art for thousands of years. Various forms of body modification, including tattoos and piercings, have been a popular motif throughout different cultures. 

“The oldest discovered proof of tattooing dates back to 3250 BC”
Tattoodo

There is evidence that people in ancient Egypt had tattoos. Interestingly, tattoos seemed to be an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt. 

But it wasn’t just ancient Egyptians who were known to get tattoos. ​​Tattooing practices have been recorded on human remains in Alaska, Mongolia, Egypt, China, Russia, and the Philippines, to name a few.

In the 1800s, it became a popular roadside or circus attraction for people to cover themselves with a new ornamental design. Famous tattooed performers included John O’Reilly and Emma de Burgh.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of tattoos were still found on circus performers or sailors. At this time in American history, it wasn’t common for the average person to have a tattoo, and they were still considered taboo.  

In the 1950s, it was a popular choice for “bad boys” to get tattoos as a way to buck societal expectations. Tattoos were not widely socially acceptable until the mid 20th century. 

The 1970s and 1980s saw the first significant rise of tattoos in recent history, bringing mainstream popularity of tattoos, as well as new, modern styles.

Today, 36% of the population between 18-19 has at least one tattoo.
History of Tattoos

That might not seem like a lot, but it’s a considerable increase from previous generations. 

There is a strong connection between art history and tattoos. The common tattoo style or the overall social acceptance of tattoos reflects popular art and the cultural motifs of the time.  

Let’s talk about why tattoo styles matter. 

Why Tattoo Styles Matter

Tattoo Drawings

Tattoo Drawings designed by Vincent Conti. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

There is a rich history of tattoo art that goes back thousands of years.

Art of any kind says a lot about culture and history. It can tell us what daily life was like, how people entertained themselves, and what mattered in society. 

The historical styles of tattooing are one of the best ways to interpret how ancient communities functioned. And the tattoo art we see today will play a part in the legacy we leave behind.

It’s essential for designers and artists of any kind, not just within the tattoo industry, to know about the history of tattooing and learn the current trends and design elements, their influences, and inspirations. 

The contemporary tattoo scene is full of extraordinary artists. The work that tattoo artists do and the permanency of their art is incredibly interesting. Tattoo communities and tattoos, in general, were previously seen as taboo but have recently become more popular and well-respected.

We’re excited to talk about this form of art and give you some background on each popular tattoo style. 

Tattoo Styles

Whether you’re looking to create your own tattoo design or just looking for your next tattoo idea, we’ve got you covered. 

We did some research and gathered this list of the most popular tattoo design styles. These styles range from classic and minimalist to eccentric and modern. 

Let’s get into it.

Classic Americana Tattoos

American tattoos are classics for a reason. They’re the basis of contemporary tattoo design, and they’re likely what the average person pictures when they think about tattoos.

Also known as traditional style, this classic tattoo style is an old-school style that has stuck around and remained popular.

This style features bold lines, bold colors, and bold imagery. Examples of common themes include pinup figures, animals, roses, daggers, and other similar motifs.

Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins popularized these traditional tattoos in the 1930s. 

New School Tattoos

New School tattoos have a similar style to Traditional Americana but with a more modern flair.

Vivid colors, eye-catching characters, rounded shapes, and cartoonish concepts make up the style of New School tattoos.

We still see a lot of bold black lines and similar color patterns to the Classic Americana style, but the New School designs are much more influenced by pop culture. Many draw inspiration from comic books, tv shows, and anime.

Common themes for New School tattoos are animals in vivid color, superheroes, and fictional worlds. 

Stick And Poke Tattoos

Stick and poke (AKA Stick-n-poke) is one of the oldest and most traditional tattoo styles. With Stick and poke, a single needle is used to create simple designs.

Stick and poke has fluctuated in and out of popularity but has reemerged recently with the DIY movement. Stick and poke is unique because nearly anyone with a needle and some ink can recreate this tattoo style. 

But it’s not just an amateur style; with an experienced tattoo artist, stick and poke designs can be incredibly impressive.

Stick and poke designs feature thick and bold lines and are typically small and monochromatic. 

Surrealist Tattoos

Surrealist tattoos are a form of tattoo styles that are full of bright colors and bizarre designs. 

Surrealism was a movement that developed in Europe after World War I and was influenced by Dada art. Famous surrealist artists include Salvadore Dali and Pablo Picasso. 

The movement is meant to activate the unconscious mind through imagery.

Similar to abstract tattoos, surreal tattoos juxtapose realist tattoos by creating out-of-this-world designs. 

A surrealist tattoo paints the picture of a bizarre fantasy world. It unnerves and intrigues those who see it. 

Minimalist Tattoos

Minimalism has taken off lately in interior design, graphic design, and tattoo design. 

Typically, minimalist tattoos are linework tattoos with simple techniques that make a big impact. 

Minimalistic tattoos can be anything but are often small and simple objects. These designs use fine lines and negative space to create an image. 

Realistic Tattoos

Realism has been prevalent in sculpture and paintings since the Renaissance, so it’s not a surprise that is trendy for tattoo design.

Common themes of realistic tattoos are scenery, animals, and people (portraiture).

With portraiture, tattoo artists replicate an image of an individual with startling accuracy. 

These designs can be colorful or done with just black ink. But creating a realistic tattoo on the skin using ink requires a skilled tattoo artist. 

Japanese Tattoos

Japanese style tattoos use themes from Japanese culture and Japanese folklore to create beautiful and distinct designs. Cherry blossoms and mythical creatures are common themes that you’ll see in the Japanese tattoo style.

The Japanese tattoo style Irezumi has been popular for thousands of years. It began in the Edo period of Japanese history, around 1603-1868, and is still popular today.

Tattoo artists employ this style in the traditional sense and also create intriguing new spins on the original style. 

Often, this style of tattoo involves large images that cover big patches of skin like the back or stomach. 

Geometric Tattoos 

Geometric tattoos are super trendy right now, and we are totally here for it. 

This genre of tattooing is often done with black ink and involves sharp edges and unique shapes. These sharp edges and creative designs stand out on the skin and are incredibly eye-catching. 

Sacred geometry is a common theme of geometric tattoos. We’ve also seen some fantastic combinations of geometric and organic elements done in this style. 

Blackwork Tattoos

Blackwork tattoo is an incredibly broad category - technically, any black ink tattoo could be considered blackwork. 

This genre took its influence from tribal tattoos and was inspired by the thick black lines and shapes used in that genre. 

There are also strong connections between blackwork tattoos and geometric tattoos. 

Watercolor Tattoos

The Watercolor tattoo style is trendy right now, but this unique style is not an easy one for tattoo artists to recreate.

Watercolor tattoo is perhaps one of the most recent and trendiest styles on this list. And sure, this modern tattoo style looks whimsical, but it requires experience and patience. 

Recreating the style of watercolor paints using ink is not an easy task. But when done correctly, it can be stunning. 

Common watercolor tattoo designs have floral or natural themes.

Tribal Tattoos

Also known as indigenous body art, tribal tattoos are the oldest tattoo styles in the world. This style (or rather, these styles) are thousands of years old. 

Tribal tattoo, like tribal culture, isn’t one homogeneous style; there are multiple styles and different traditions that have been popular throughout history. 

Common examples of tribal tattoos include Polynesian body art, Marquesan, and Maori. 

Chicano Tattoos 

Chicano tattoos have a rich history and are steeped in the Chicano culture. Moments in history like the Mexican Revolution and Pachuco culture can be seen in the elements of Chicano tattoo design.

This is a style that is prevalent in prison tattoos and was initially inspired by Pachuco gang culture in California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Often, Chicano tattoos are done with fine lines and black and grey color schemes. 

How To Create A Tattoo Design With Vectornator

Now that we’ve covered the popular tattoo design styles, hopefully, you’re inspired to create your own. Whether you’re a skilled tattoo artist or an apprentice learning the ropes, we’ve got you covered with some essential tips and tricks.

With Vectornator, designing your own tattoo stencil is simple. Our design software is easy to learn for beginners. 

Here’s how you can use Vectornator to create your own tattoo design:

  • Find inspiration: If you’re creating a design from scratch, you’ll need some inspiration. Use the list of styles above for inspiration, but be sure to create something unique. Pinterest is an excellent tool for finding inspiration for tattoo design. 
  • Draft your design: Now that you have an idea, you can create a draft in Vectornator software using our Pen tool. Our Pen Tool makes Bézier curves that allow you to draw shapes and designs quickly.
  • Get constructive feedback: You’re going to want to get a second opinion on your design before you permanently etch it into skin. Ask your coworkers, friends, or the client you’ll be creating the tattoo for some input. 
  • Finalize your design: Once you have some feedback, it’s time to make some final tweaks to your design. You can use our fonts, Auto Trace function, and Gesture Controls to finalize your initial draft. 
  • Download the digital files: When your design is complete, you’ll need to save it. With Vectornator, it's easy to save and print your digital files.
  • Create your stencil: Now that you’ve finished and saved your final design, use either a ​​Themofax to print your design onto a stencil or hand draw it onto tracing paper. 

And that’s it! You’re ready to start designing, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with. 

If you create a tattoo design using Vectornator, post it on socials and tag us. We might even repost the image to our social media accounts.

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