The IYNK ultimate style guide
Written by IYNK
September 23rd, 2020
You know what tattoo you want, you can picture it in your head… but can’t find the words to describe to Google? We have all been there. That is why we have made you this in-depth, thorough list of every tattoo style we can think of.
In Alphebetical order:
When a drawing technique is used to create the illusion that of three dimensions. This style is often used in the depiction of shapes, optical illusions, and geometric figures.
A type of indigenous tattoo art that originated with the Australian Aborigines. It is inspired in the paintings of aboriginal tradition of the Dreamtime, the term used to describe the components of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and existence, that everything was created by the spirits that now habit the land, the rocks, the river, and the dreams. This style includes colorful, almost psychedelic, natural elements, and animals.
Americana / Old School / Traditional
It derives from the sailors’ tattooing tradition. Traditional tattoos, also known as American, Western, or Old School are characterized by its clean black outlines, vivid colors, and minimal shading. These are fundamental to traditional style and make it one of the most bold and iconic tattoo styles there is
Anime / Cartoon
This style gives life to characters and memories from manga, cartoons, video games, and animations. They are usually tattooed by fans of the genre who want to materialize their love for certain characters and shows. They preserve nostalgic feelings, childhood memories, or impactful moments from the shows such as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, Death Note or Pokemon to name a few. Although Anime tattoos can depict Japanese characters, this style should not be confused with the traditional Japanese tattooing style.
Any part of the body where the biomechanical tattoo is drawn is transformed to look like a part of a machine instead of the part of a body. For example, when a biomechanical tattoo is inked on the leg or arm, it makes the leg or arm to look like a mechanical part.
Black & Grey
Black-and-gray (also black-and-grey, black and grey/gray) is a style of tattooing that uses only black ink in varying shades. This tattooing style is thought to have originated from prisons in the 1970s and 1980s and was later popularized in tattoo parlors. Although often confused and used interchangeably with blackwork, they are different styles.
A blackwork tattoo is a bold work of body art rendered in solid planes of black ink. Usually, these tattoos are composed of abstract patterns and geometric shapes, though some feature figurative forms and recognizable scenes and subjects
A type of tattoo style that originated in the British Isles. It refers to the ancient tattoos found in Celts and Picts. They mostly depict knots, braids, spirals, and crosses.
Initially an insult, the term started becoming popular in the ’60s as a way to describe Mexicans born in the USA. This style describes the type of tattoos Hispanics chose to mark their identity and gang belonging (in a way, similar to Yakuza tattoos). Religious chicano tattoos feature Jesus, virgin Mary, crosses, praying hands and the Pachuco cross. ... The three dots mean mi vida loca (my crazy life) and the cross is a symbol of god. Today, you don’t have to belong to a gang to boast one of these, but you have to be committed to several hours of inking in order to rock one.
Comics / Manga
Tattoos that imitate traditional comic books and manga. Colored or back and white, the pictures are generally divided into frames (most often squares) that give a sensation of motion and action told like a comic book.
This refers to all the tattoos used to mark the lifelong commitment to an organized criminal group. These tattoos signify status, family, and loyalty to the group and are often more intense (in size and in visible areas) according to the level of commitment and seniority.
Dotwork is a tattooing technique where the artist tattoos several dots for a striking visual effect. These dots create either the entire image or just the shading. Dotwork used for shading is known as stippling. This technique uses black ink, grey ink, or sometimes red ink. Focusing solely on the use of black and grey ink, this style became popular during the ’90s and was inspired by post-impressionist techniques such as Pointillism.
Fine line tattooing consists of distinct straight or curved thin lines, without gradations in shade or color to represent 2D or 3D objects, emphasizing form and outline over color, shading, and texture. These tattoos can have incredible levels of detail built in, without being 'loud' about it. They are often used to depict flowers or gentle animals and scenarios.
Also known as botanic or flower style, it’s the style of detailing flora elements, such as flowers, petals, fruits, or any other botanical element. Due to its wide popularity, you can find many artists dedicated solely to this style, especially the Rose.
Not a style per se, but a consequence of mixing (fusing) different styles into the same tattoo.
A geometric tattoo deals with several lines or geometric shapes that come together to form an even bigger shape. Generally speaking, geometric tattoos tend to draw from shapes and patterns in the natural world. Some symbols, like the gordian knot, are associated with deeper religious and cultural backgrounds.
A type of indigenous tattoo art that originated with the Polynesian and went on to become sacred to the Hawaiian people. The tattoos were seen as a sign of bravery and power, as the first tattoos were created by cutting the design in the skin and filling it with a mixture of ash and soot which dried to a deep black. This ancient form a tattooing, called kakau, was painful and reserved mostly for men.
Dark and shocking tattoos.. Anything dark goes in this style for as long as it shocks the viewer. You can expect to see depictions of clowns, serial killers and movie villains/killers. When it comes to horror tattoos, the more the better - a walking dead sleeve or Norman peaking out the Bates hotel will send chills down anyones spine.
Your first thought when you hear about the "ignorant tattoo" style might be that the art is rude or in poor taste, but thankfully this trend is much more about dry humour than insensitivity. The style is characterized by humourous, cartoon-like or graffiti-inspired images without colour.
Immediately recognizable due to the line quality and style, Illustrative tattoos could easily be mistaken as mere drawings on skin. With an origin deep in the antiquity of man, from primitivism to modernism. More often than not the images are a lloyal reproduction of an original drawing (from TV, books, fantasy) or are an artwork shaped by the artist’s own style and imagination.
Irezumi is the Japanese word for tattoo and is the most popular style deriving from Japanese culture. It was born as a way to erase markings on the body of criminals that would make them easily recognizable. Originally these tattoos were made by hand, using wooden handles and metal needles attached via silk thread. This style took off in Japan in 1827 when paintings and woodblock prints from Utagawa Kunioshy, known as the precursor of the manga, became vastly popular. Very large back pieces are a common type of Irezumi.
Refers to the writing content of any tattoo. Whether using Latin letters, Arabic alphabet, Cyrillic, or Kanji, this style is characterized by the communication of written meaning. You will see all kinds of numbers, words, and symbols made with all types of fonts and weights.
Mandala is the Sanskrit word for “circle.” Mandala tattoos are comprised of many different overlapping circles and shapes. This unique design represents balance, eternity, and perfection. These are common designs, though no two mandala tattoos like exactly alike.
A type of indigenous tattoo art that originated with the Maori people native from New Zealand. The symbols in the body demarcated the man or woman’s social position in the tribe and engraved life achievements. In this tradition, the face is the most important canvas when it comes to tattooing, and therefore the more face tattoos a Maori had, the higher their social standing in the clan was. Today, an aesthetic imitation of this style is reproduced in tattoo parlours throughout the world even though the original techniques, images and meanings may not be preserved.
Generally single pieces, these tattoos are the philosophy of simplification. It is most common that only black ink will be present and fine lines will make up most of the image. Empty space is used to accentuate the design.
Perhaps the most extravagant aesthetic in the tattoo community, Neo-traditional tattoos have a broad color palette and range of motifs. Pieces done in this style are known for their lush, decorative details as well as the use of natural imagery such as florals and animals. Although visually different from Americana, Neo Traditional still uses the same base of techniques to complete the tattoos such as outlining in dark black ink.
New school is a tattooing style originating as early as the 1970s and influenced by some features of old school tattooing in the USA. The style is often characterized by the use of heavy outlines, vivid colors, and exaggerated depictions of the subject. New school also represents a transition towards openness in the sharing of techniques in tattooing. New school tattoos are not realistic in that they exaggerate details in the subject; they are sometimes compared to styles seen in cartooning, graffiti and themes seen in hip hop culture, such as jagged edges and bubble letters
Ornamental Art has it's origins in the Roman Empire and consisted of decorative patterned Art motiffs that can be found in a vast number of different areas. Ornamental Art is timeless in essence and can incorporate singular art images amongst intricate free flowing tattoo design patterns. Resembling geometric tattoos, this style is more common among women and the placement follows the shapes of the body, generally being found under the breasts, the upper back and neck or arms.
Pin-up tattoos are an expression of the beauty of females. Pin-up tattoos are traditional tattoos that do not always have one specific meaning. Born in the 40’s and especially popular among sailors, they depict voluptuous females in sensual poses. Since pinups are usually shown in full length, you may wish to place your pinup girl tattoo on an elongated part of your body.
Generally created in a realistic manner, these are generally reproductions of photos of a loved one, a celebrity, a historical figure, or a pet.
Due to the lack of proper equipment and often lack of skill from the artists, these tattoos have a distinctive look. Each criminal organization has its own imagery depending on where you are in the world - orthodox churches are often seen in Russian bratva , handguns and prayer signs in Mexican cartels, stars in the Silician mafia, mythological creatures in yakuza, eagles in the Polish mobs and Teardrops in North American and UK gangs. The tattoos usually represent respect amongst the prisoners peers.
The patterns and figures are strongly associated with hallucongenic imagery and can be a product of either the artist’s or the client’s imagination or experiences.They can feature anything from fractals to aliens, the third eye and anything your mind can conjure.
Realistic tattoos are meant to look as convincing as possible, often featuring natural landscapes, animals or portraits. Unlike the new-school style, realism focuses primarily on transferring a real image onto the skin as accurately as possible, and is less concerned with novelty in the design. To work this style artists have to use fine lines, contrast, shading. Incorporating 3D is a essential for a realistic piece. Often, needles of different sizes will be used interchangeably and if the tattoo is colored, a wide range of tones are used going - all the way to white ink.
This is popular style of tattoos amoung devotees or travellers. The designs are typically a favourite passage, image or spiritual element. Inspiration can come from paintings, scriptures and symbols of faith. Many religious and spiritual traditions forbid the use of religious imagery as a tattoo.
Sailor tattoos refer to a type of tattoo traditionally favored by sailors and the traditions that accompany these tattoos. Old School tattoos were common among sailors, depicting images like swallows on either side of the chest, girls in sailor hats, and pairs of dice. Sailor Jerrys work typified this style of tattooing during the early-mid twentieth century. After falling out of style for several decades, these stylized tattoos are regaining popularity again among young people, both sailors and non-sailors.
The word Tattoo actually comes from the Samoan word tatau. A type of indigenous tattoo art that originated in Polynesia and became widespread in Samoa. It was widely popular before the arrival of European settlers and missionaries, who tried to eradicate the tradition claiming it was barbaric and unchristian. The Samoan tradition is rich and knows many forms, from the Pe'a, a male tattoo that covers from waist to knees, to the Malu, a female tattoo that covers the legs (just below the knee) to the upper thighs (just below the buttock). It is still used today in many different ways and artists are keeping it alive both with modern and with ancient tattooing techniques.
The idea of a sketch tattoo is for the design to appear hand drawn. The artist will overlap lines, using different weights, incomplete strokes and rough edges.. Due to complexity of the drawing, the result is a completely unique, emotional design.
Surrealism is undoubtably one of the most impressive and fascinating forms of art, often used to depict dreams, the subconscious and the illusion of time and space. It challenges logic and order and prioritizes creativity and awe. Inspired by famous artist such as Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo or Max Ernst, the artist will atrtempt to bring to life a client fantasy by mixing several elements in an incoherent process.
Trash Polka is a tattoo style created by tattoo artists Simone Pfaff and Volker Merschky in Würzburg, Germany. The characteristics of Trash Polka tattoos can be a combination of naturalistic, surrealistic, photorealistic motifs with graphic, lettering and calligraphic elements in mainly black & red. Abstract designs that are combined with realistic motifs is a key point of the tattoo style. It is common for lettering to be included in the tattoos with distinctive varieties of fonts. The majority of original Trash Polka tattoos are done as large scale pieces in order to suite the motifs and elements.
Tribal tattoos encompasses several indigenous and primitive traditions. Tribes would use symbols as a way to immortalize the passing of rituals, to mark social status, to signal group belonging, wartime achievement, and for spiritual and ceremonial reasons. The term is also used to refer to the modern tribal tattoos that mimic ancient traditions.
A watercolor tattoo is a bright, vivid marking made up of a number of subtle color gradients and techniques that create a more gradual color fade-out. This effect is intended to mimic the characteristics of a classic watercolor painting, which is where the style gets its name. The goal of the artist is the make the tattoo appear to have been created with a paint brush, not a gun. It is a fine balance between gentle shading, colur contrast and the overlapping of the sharp lines that achieve this effect. The lack of black line has caused some concern for the aging of watercolor tattoos, so many tattooists are using fine black lines to solve this problem.
Yakuza tattoos are a source of fascination for many tattoo lovers. The high level of secrecy surrounding the tattoos, combined with the painful method of “hand-poking” the designs and the association with the Japanese underworld gives yakuza tattoo art a mysterious appeal. The Yakuza tattoos evolved first as a way to erase penal tattoos and later on as a way to signal belonging to criminal groups. These tattoos are still in use today as rites of initiation and signs of commitment to the group.