From the earliest days of self-expression, man has inked his flesh with permanent markings.
Tribal symbols and protective totems, military and combat rankings, the names of loved ones, and a number of other sacred images intended to tell the wearer’s moving story, as well as transform the body itself into a work of art.
Our passion for tattoos certainly hasn’t waned; if anything, the trend has become a minted way of life well into the 21st century. Around the world, men and women continue to honor the ancient art of tattooing, some in ritual tradition, others for the sake of aesthetic pleasure. For many, receiving a tattoo is a rite of passage, and few stop at just one.
It would be impossible to list the sheer plentitude of tattoo options and inspiration, as truly a tattoo design is as unique as the individual who selects it. One thing is certain: a tattoo is a lifelong commitment, and what we wear under the skin will no doubt accompany us to the end.
The question therefore remains: what is sacred to you? What emblem speaks of your own struggles and triumphs, as well as your humor and penchant for living life to its fullest? Do you live–and ink–boldly, large and out loud, or conversely prefer the smaller, subtler mysteries that linger seductively on the peripheral?
Clothes may not make the man, but the ink he commits to certainly does. And where tattoo art is concerned, the only rule is to stay true to the man you are and are no doubt striving to become. With that said, go ahead and explore these top 50 best different tattoo styles featuring the most popular types and kinds throughout the course of history.
It’s “in your face” ink. If you want body art that stands out and grabs attention, then this is it. While the skin might be flat/curved, artists today can bring virtually any tattoo idea you have in mind to life. Three-dimensional tattoos take modern ink styles to an entirely new level. From city skylines to cartoon characters, geometric shapes, and beyond, if you want a tattoo to truly “pop,” 3D is the way to go.
Do you lean more toward the creative/artistic side? Consider going with an abstract tattoo style. While abstract tattoos are fun to look at, their best feature can be found in their hidden meaning.
Let’s face it, a human portrait with four eyes, geometric cubes, colorful lines, and two paint drops doesn’t exactly send a crystal clear meaning or message. However, it most certainly does to the beholder of the design. If you want a piece of ink that’s truly unique or perhaps a design that has a hidden meaning, abstract tattoo styles make for an excellent choice.
Read it this way or read it that way. Ambigram tattoos feature words with unique lettering designs that allow them to be read the same way from different viewpoints. While this tattoo style used to be extremely popular years ago, today, it has more or less died down in favor of more modern styles.
Of course, that’s not to say the style hasn’t evolved. In reality, ambigram tattoos have become more ornate and elegant, with artists putting their own spin on script and lettering styles.
From muscles to bones to hearts and beyond, if you love human body parts, anatomical tattoo styles might just be for you. Anatomical tattoos are as realistic to human anatomy as it gets, though you don’t have to be a doctor or dentist to appreciate them.
In fact, a lot of people get anatomical tattoos to remember broken bones from athletic injuries, mountain biking, car accidents, and beyond. They can hold a whole host of meanings. Even an anatomical pair of lungs can serve as a symbol of being a lung cancer survivor.
If you like gears or just the Terminator movie franchise, then you’ll love the biomechanical tattoo style. Often rendered in 3D style, biomechanical tattoos feature gears, wires, metal pieces, and much more, all connected below the skin’s surface.
Perhaps you have always wanted an electronic robot arm or leg but simply couldn’t afford one. Here’s your chance to get one.
6. Black And Gray
When you want your artwork to do all the speaking, black and grey tattoo styles are a fine choice. Heavily shaded body art, while not colorful, can still make a significant impression. Just take note of the design below; even without a single drop of color, this piece is absolutely jaw-dropping.
7. Blackwork / Blackout
Traditional tribal tattoos aren’t your style? Then consider post-modern patterns found in blackwork and blackout designs. While it is one form of tattoo style, blackwork tattoos combine elements from other styles including geometric, line, negative space, dotwork, and beyond.
In reality, a blackwork tattoo can be as unique as you want to make it. Even traditional tribal ink can be enhanced by surrounding it with solid black ink for a bolder and more modern look.
8. Blast Over
Have a fading colorful tattoo? Throw a bird, skull, or any other design you want over it in black ink and you’ve just discovered the blast over style. Let’s face it, tattoos are forever but your perception of the world is always changing.
If you’ve got a wonky piece of ink from the past but want to hold onto it due to a significant meaning, a blast over tattoo is the perfect solution. Sure, the old design won’t be one-hundred percent visible but it will still poke on through.
While technically a cover-up tattoo style, the true invention of blast over ink comes from those who have too much body art but simply want ink. When space is limited, blast over tattoos are a great way to add another layer of artwork over an already full canvas of skin.
9. Broken Glass
While not super popular outside of the gangster and pocket watch realm, the broken glass tattoo technique is catching on. This type of 3D effect can be placed over virtually any design you want, adding more visual interest to your body art.
10. Paint Brush Stroke
The paintbrush stroke tattoo style offers a serious level of uniqueness. Unlike a traditional tattoo, this style can be nearly impossible to replicate thanks to its different variations in watercolor and gradient design.
Most commonly, you’ll find the paintbrush stroke style being used for things like the Enso symbol or OM symbol. More modern artists are pushing the limits of this style by doing more than just symbols and instead opting for designs like rose flowers, sailing ships, and beyond.
Cool knots and complex curves are what you’ll find when it comes to Celtic tattoo styles. While you can’t travel back to the Iron Age to tour badges of honor found on warriors from Celtic tribal societies, you can, however, do something else.
For inspiration, just seek out The Irish Book of Kells and you’ll find plenty of interwoven and interlocking knotwork. In terms of popularity, the Celtic cross is by far one of the most popular designs. Bears, dragons, owls, and wolves are commonly used as tattoo art as well.
Perhaps one of my favorite types of tattoo styles, Chicano body art is truly breathtaking. If you’ve ever seen this style applied to designs with statues of Greek gods, you’ll know just how captivating it is to look at.
Known for their cornucopia of Hispanic themes, Chicano tattoos feature everything from the Day of the Dead sugar skulls to The Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and beyond. Of course, you’ll also find everything from guns and gangsters to money roses and clocks, all themed with the iconic Chicano style in today’s day and age.
Dotwork tattoos beg for closer inspection, which is where the artistry shines! From simple to complex, the dotwork tattootechnique showcases one level of talent from afar, and another up close. Images, cuffs, or sleeves look great at first glance but, on closer inspection, reveal surprising details. Each dotwork tattoo design is created solely with a multitude of dots, rather than bold lines or fill.
Based on the most basic of shapes, geometric tattoos are anything but! Geometric shapes like squares, circles, triangles, and polygons come together in abstract images, mandalas, or low-poly models. There is no limit to the possibilities.
These geometric tattoos are ideal for those who want to show a love of beauty while recognizing the set rules of nature which surround us.
Glitch tattoos remind us to question our reality. Like an old VHS tape with tracking issues, glitch tattoos are flawed or glitched in some way. Zig-zagging or offset lines obscure parts of the image and suggest that, despite our outward appearances, we are all flawed in our own ways.
16. Glow In The Dark / UV Ink
Take your tattoo to new levels with glow-in-the-dark ink. Ultraviolet (UV) ink absorbs light during the day and glows when darkness falls. Use it to highlight your existing ink or to add artwork that is only visible at night.
A reminder that all is not what it seems and that our daytime self often changes when the lights go out.
A gentle flow from one color to the next, gradient tattoos do away with hard lines in favor of a natural flow. Light to dark, blue to green, day to night; where does one end and the other begin? Rarely is the answer simple.
Adding a gradient to your tattoo as the background or as the primary color scheme adds a degree of softness not easily achieved with solid borders.
Lover of graffiti art? Showcase your own tags with a graffiti tattoo.
Use your body as a graffiti artist would use a wall and express yourself without the fear of your work being painted over. From personal tags to full murals, you’re only limited by your imagination, and not by how much spray paint you can carry.
19. Hyper Realistic
Is that a tattoo, or is it a photo? With hyper realistic tattoos, it can be difficult to tell. This style requires an expertly skilled artist and a lot of time, but the results are breathtaking.
Often leaving us questioning our perceptions, a hyper realistic tattoo has the depth, shading, and flow of reality. Expect lots of looks, and some touching, with this style.
Flip from the positive to the negative with an inverted tattoo. Taking the traditional black on a white tattoo and changing it up to white on black, an inverted design is the reverse of the standard image.
Reminiscent of a film negative, with an image of whites, grays, and blues on a black background, you have this style of tattoo.
Japanese culture has permeated art throughout the world. Showcase your appreciation with your Japanese style tattoo. Creatures from legend, lotus flowers, and Japanese lettering come together to create the ultimate tribute to Eastern culture. These images are perfect for everything from small, one-off designs to sleeves and full body tattoos.
Get your message across with a tattoo showcasing custom lettering. Use a favorite font, or create your own! Combine your lettered design with any other style to create a tattoo that is uniquely yours. Block, script, or gothic, if it can be written, it can be transferred to your skin.
Get back to basics with a simple line tattoo. Sometimes simple is better. A line drawing is made using a simple line. While shading or coloring can be added for effect, the premise remains the same.
Sometimes the simple messages are the most important, and elaborate is not always “better.”
24. Mambo / Destrutturato
While not as well-known as other styles out there, the “Mambo” as I like to call it or “Destrutturato”, is an entirely new style that’s gaining in popularity. The simple black ink design features colorful backgrounds that resemble the flat and bright colors often found in traditional Japanese tattoos.
It’s different, unique and comes straight out of Milano, Italy thanks to a gentleman named Mattia Mambo.
A mandala is a product of patience, love, and mindfulness and can remind us of those qualities when carried with us. Starting in the center and working your way out, round by round, pattern by pattern, Mandalas have been created for centuries as a form of meditation as well as art.
Generally round in shape, these are well suited for forearm, chest, or back tattoos.
The Mayans existed for nearly 3500 years, now their artwork lives on. The Mayans were known for their art, which features intricate designs honoring their myths and culture.
A lot can be learned by studying the Mayans and a tattoo honoring them is a great way to spiritually connect with this strong, ancient civilization.
Simple. Short and sweet. Understated. A minimalist tattoo is all of these. Minimalist tattoos forego the elaborate designs of other styles in exchange for a simple word or small image.
Often symbolic to the wearer, the meaning is not always clear to onlookers. This is a great way to express yourself without drawing too much attention.
28. Negative Space
Easy to confuse with an inverted tattoo, a negative space piece draws your attention to what is not there. Instead of drawing a tree, a negative space tattoo artist will draw the space between the branches and let the tree come together from there. This is a subtle tattoo technique but can have a powerful effect on the finished piece.
Classic American themes are the focus of neo traditional tattoos. Native American images, art deco, and cartoons are common themes in this style, often accented by thick, strong borders and bright colors. Getting inked with a neo-traditional tattoo is a great way to honor the imagery of times past while adding a modern touch.
30. New School
Take old-school images and mash them up with graffiti stylization, and you are left with new school tattoos. The finished product of this technique is similar to the neo-traditional style, with bright, colorful images and heavy, black borders, but there are subtle differences. Image content tends to have a more modern flair with an older feel to it.
Big. Bold. Strong. These describe not only Vikings but also Norse themed tattoos . The Vikings were tough. Nobody is going to argue with that. Norse tattoos are based on ancient Viking designs and provide a sense of strength, power, and control. Intricate designs are frequently presented in full sleeves or torso tattoos, serving as a testament to the artist’s devotion to the craft.
32. American Traditional
Classic images from America’s past are at the forefront in American traditional tattoos. From the tales of crossing the sea to reach America, to stories of gunslingers from the Wild West, American traditional tattoos feature images inspired by American history. Often accentuated with modern features, these tattoos show a reverence for the past while staying rooted in the present.
33. Optical Illusion
People will have to look twice at an optical illusion tattoo to fully appreciate its complexity. Tattoo artists can create illusions so realistic that one might think there actually IS a hole in your hand.
Is your arm really carved out of wood? These tattoos make people stop and think about what they are seeing.
Simple and understated, an outline tattoo is a great entry into body art. Having an outline of your tattoo image is the perfect way to see how it looks before committing to hours of filling and coloring.
Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though. A simple outline can make just as strong a statement as a full color image.
Pinstripe tattoos contain incredible detail but are not overwhelming. Think line drawing meets Spirograph, and you have the basic idea behind a pinstripe tattoo. These tattoos feature amazingly intricate designs, all created with simple, thin lines.
Variations in color, thickness, and angle all come together for a limitless amount of design possibilities.
While video game graphics continue to improve, love for the 8-bit images of the past grows. Pixel art tattoos remind us of our first adventures in video gaming. They are also reminiscent of cross-stitch patterns and perler bead designs.
Whether it is a classic Mario image, or a newer character given a pixel treatment, these tattoos make us nostalgic for the simpler times.
Pointillism tattoos take dotwork art to the next level of detail. While dotwork tattoos take a great deal of skill to create, pointillism pieces take much more. Areas of highly dense points give the appearance of solid blocks of color and allow for unmatched levels of shading and blending. Generally done in all black, color can be added for a different effect.
38. Pop Art
Made famous by Andy Warhol, pop art can be used to create striking tattoos as well. While fine art encompasses the more traditional art seen in museums, pop art features subjects from pop culture. Pop art tattoos frequently feature comic book images or musical icons, but any subject matter that is derived from popular culture is a good choice.
Memorialize your loved ones or your idols with a portrait tattoo! Frequently done in a hyper realistic style, a portrait tattoo is a perfect way to pay tribute to someone. Whether it is a pop icon, historical hero, or a passed loved one, keep them with you with a tattoo of their portrait.
40. Quote / Word
Always have your inspiration with you with a quote tattoo. Do you have a favorite phrase or a power word? Keep it with you all the time as a tattoo. Quotes work best in a simple font, while single words look great when embellished. Many quote tattoos can be found on the forearm, upper chest, or lower back.
If a full-colored portrait or image is too much for you, consider a silhouette tattoo. The beauty of this style is in its simplicity. While color can be added for some striking results, most silhouette tattoos are done in all black. These work well on any part of the body and can range from a small icon to full torso coverage.
Take a piece of an artist’s sketchbook with you in the form of a sketch tattoo. While an image with full color and details is stunning, a sketch tattoo has a charm that is hard to match.
A work in progress, an idea, or a quick render; these are thoughts that come to mind when we see a sketch. Room to grow, but beautiful as it is.
43. Stained Glass
Let your light shine with a stained glass tattoo. Heavy black borders represent the ironwork, filled in with vibrant colors to create the illusion of an illuminated stained glass window. Use a traditional design, or take any image and have your tattoo artists turn it into a stained glass window.
Surrealism tattoos show us a world where something is not quite right. Or, perhaps, it is… Artists like Dali have made surrealist art famous, and tattoo artists can build on this by taking a common scene and working a bit of the bizarre into it. Is that face melting? Why is there an eye in his mouth? These are questions that a surrealism tattoo may make us ask.
45. Torn / Ripped Skin
A specific type of optical illusion, a torn skin tattoo, features flesh ripping away to reveal what is underneath. This technique takes time to achieve but leaves a remarkable finished image.
What do you have lurking under your skin? Bones, gears, pistons? For best effect, these tattoos are done on larger areas, such as the chest or upper arms.
46. Trash Polka
Combining realism and trash, trash polka tattoos offer a unique, bold style choice. Originating in Germany, trash polka takes traditional art and collages it with “trash” or smudges, smears, and words to create a one-of-a-kind style.
True trash polka is done in all black and red, although variations can be made to change the final effect.
47. Tribal / Polynesian / Maori / Hawaiian
One of the more popular styles, tribal tattoos pay homage to our ancestors. A tribal tattoo features bold designs based on the artwork of tribal civilizations. Many cultures can be represented, but frequently, designs are based on Maori, Indonesian, or Hawaiian motifs. These tattoos look great in any location, from a small cuff to a full body cover.
Watercolor art has a distinct softness to it that other mediums struggle to replicate. Watercolor tattoos offer the same feeling. Careful blending of colors and use of varying intensities leads to a tattoo that looks like it was painted right onto your skin. This tattoo technique works especially well as a background for a more solid, well-defined image but easily stands on its own.
49. White Ink
For a very subtle effect, a white ink tattoo may be what you’re looking for. Depending on the natural color of your skin, white ink can be almost invisible.
You know it’s there, and it can be seen if it’s being looked for, but often it goes undetected. It can also be combined with inks of other colors for some truly amazing results.
50. Wood Carving
A specific type of illusion, a woodcarving tattoo, looks like your body is made of solid wood, into which a design has been carved. This look is achieved through careful use of shading and highlighting.
Take the time to find the right tattoo artist, and this can look very realistic. This technique works especially well on the arms and legs.