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Tattoo Design Styles

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What Do I Want My Tattoo to Look like

An early step in getting a tattoo is deciding on a style or design. This piece of art will likely be on your body for the rest of your life, so it is important to make sure it is something you want. A name of a current boy or girl friend may not be the best choice, as they may not stay current.

A tattoo should be meaningful to you personally, something that speaks for years to come. Tattoos are personal expressions of beliefs and are unique for that reason.When you first enter a tattoo shop, you will probably see tattoo designs on the wall with a fixed price. These are commonly referred to as ‘flash’ or stock tattoos. Hearts, skulls, names and flowers are a few examples of this traditional Western or American style.

Images often are tattooed with thick lines and very little shading, more like an icon than apiece of art. The reason many artists have a fixed price for this style is the small amount of creative work and the short amount of time needed. These ‘Old School’ tattoo designs are making a comeback though, especially for women.

Tribal Tattoo
Tribal Tattoo


Tribal Tattoos

Tribal tattoos are a design style based on ethnographical descriptions of ancient cultures. Tribal designs are usually black with silhouetting. Each element is a self-contained unit and may be grouped with other units giving meaning to the person.

Tribal tattoo designs are ways for someone to express a magical or spiritual belief and have others recognize them. They can be symbolically powerful to the person. Almost every culture or spiritual group has a set of symbols that are available in designing a tribal tattoo. Native American, Egyptian, Pagan, Celtic and Maori are a short list of tribal style tattoos.

Celtic Tattoos
Celtic Tattoos

Celtic tattoos base their design on scroll- and knot-work from the ancient Celts. The Book of Kells is a source of many symbols. Celtic work involves complex knots and interlacing patterns of abstract and animal imagery. The popular Celtic knot symbolizes the belief in the circle of life.

Celtic tattoo designs attempt to express complex feelings. The cross symbolizing the bridge from earth to heaven. Butterflies represent rebirth or a transformation. Horses and dolphins work for prosperity and the dog was viewed as a symbol for loyalty. Triskaleons, shamrocks, pentacles and other animals all are representative of concepts and feelings. The work is typically done with black ink. Designs that are more complex may need an artist with experience in this style. There is even a new style that is blend of Tribal and Celtic designs.

oriental tattoo
Oriental Tattoos

The Oriental style of tattoos uses the whole body as a canvas. There are images from Eastern mythology incorporating swirls, flowers, fish and dragons. Many of the design methodologies follow the Japanese rules for art. The style originated from the late Edo period in a technique called tebori or ‘to carve by hand’. Another popular tattoo design from the Orient involves Kanji, which are Japanese writing characters derived from Chinese characters.The realistic style of tattoo designs involves work that is photographic in quality. Portraits and scenes from nature are popular.

A tattoo artist who has experience with transferring photographs will give the best results. All tattoo inks spread out under the skin over time and a lot of fine detail can become blotchy if care is not taken. Fineline is similar to realistic in that it involves highly detail work. It leans more towards objects and is smaller.

A newer style of tattoo designs comes from the work of H.R. Giger. He is the artist who designed the alien creatures in the movie series for Alien. It is called bio-mechanical because the style fuses flesh with machinery. There are many other smaller categories of tattoo designs, many of them regional. Do not forget custom work. Many artists will work with you to design the perfect tattoo and it may blend multiple styles. It just needs to speak to you.


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