Considering a new tattoo or even your first tattoo? You need to know how to describe the tattoo style that fits your tastes to your tattoo artist. So, it’s essential to understand how to talk the talk before just strolling into a tattoo shop. Keep reading for an insider perspective on the most popular tattoo styles in the industry today. When you’re done, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a traditional tattoo from a Japanese one with a simple glance. You’ll easily identify a neo-traditional tattoo compared to a new school tattoo. And even see the differences between blackwork and tribal tattoo designs without a second thought.

Below is a brief list of the main tattoo styles within the tattoo industry today.


The Traditional Tattoo Style is also called Old School Tattoo Style, American Traditional Tattoo Style, Classic Tattoo Style, or Western Traditional Tattoo Style. This style is known for its iconic tattoo designs with bold lines and bright colors. Roses, anchors, and beautiful women are typical things you’ll see. Traditional Tattoo has a rich history with famous artists like Sailor Jerry, Don Ed Hardy, Bert Grimm, and Lyle Tuttle. This style of tattooing is the most well-known and beloved within the tattoo community for its aesthetics and timelessness. These tattoos are gorgeous, age beautifully well, and are filled with the rich history of tattooing. You can’t go wrong with a Traditional Tattoo!

Neo Traditional Tattoo, Wolf Tattoo, Rose Tattoo | DH Tattooing - Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Classic Realism has been a big part of the fine art world since at least the Renaissance era,. However,  it’s only recently found its way as a prominent style of tattooing within the latter half of the 20th century. This relatively new style of tattoo has recently become increasingly popular. Nowadays, it’s not hard to find incredibly realistic portrait tattoos of every celebrity, realistic depictions of animals, and nature. Just about anything imaginable, even the metaphysical can be found in Realism Tatttoos.

Realism Tattoo, Mermaid Tattoo, Blackwork Tattoo, Upper Arm Tattoo | DH Tattooing - Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Watercolor tattoos are trending right now. Because of this, talented artists are in high demand. These tattoos look as if they were dabbed on with a brush using watery pastels. Don’t be fooled though, while it’s easy to create this look with actual watercolors on paper, making it look true to form with ink takes incredible talent. Nevertheless, artists continue to create intriguing, whimsical, and even poetic art using this unique approach.

Watercolor Tattoo, Octopus Tattoo, Color Tattoo | DH Tattooing | Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Tribal Tattoos, or indigenous tattoos, date back thousands of years. This style incorporates many different tattoo traditions from native cultures all around the globe. These distinct and stunning styles are referred to as “Tribal Tattoos” by the untrained eye. However, take a moment to compare. If you do, you’ll soon see that Polynesian body art is unique to Maori tattoos. Likewise, the Inupiaq matriarchs’ face art is different from that found on Berber women. While all of these are unique, they are similar with their black, elaborate patterns.

Tribal Tattoo, Sleeve Tattoo, Shoulder Tattoo | DH Tattooing | Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Don’t let the name “New School” fool you. It isn’t all that new. It sprung to fame in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This style was a product of its time, but its popularity has faded. This style features highly animated, entertainment-based art from that wacky period of history. New School Tattoos are cartoonish, comical, emphasizing caricatures and other exaggerated characters. 

New School Tattoo, Dagger Tattoo, Knife Tattoo, Color Tattoo, Cartoon Tattoo | DH Tattooing | Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Neo-traditional is features the essence of the traditional tattoo style, including prominent line work and highly vibrant colors. However, it also has qualities influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Neo-traditional tattoos have a wider color palette and a broader range of themes than traditional tattoos. In addition, they are known for their rich, decorative details featuring natural floral and animal imagery.


Traditional Japanese tattoos, also known as Irezumi, originated during the Edo period (1603-1868). This culture-rich genre of body art stemmed from Japan’s age-old folklore. It features heroes and mythological creatures including dragons, kirins, and phoenixes. Japanese tattoos tell a story about Japan’s elegant history. It transcends the dramatic smoke and waves within the artwork, making Irezumi dynamic and magnificent works of art.

Japanese Tattoo, Koi Fish Tattoo, Back Tattoo | DH Tattooing | Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Blackwork is a broad term that applies to almost any tattoo and body art created using entirely black ink. However, a talented tattoo artist can accomplish amazing things with this one bold color. As you look through artist’s portfolios specializing in blackwork, you’ll find tattoo designs ranging from sacred geometry, modern abstract to highly detailed illustrative and shaded pieces. Currently, there’s a lot of experimentation occurring in the industry, and some mind-blowing work is being created.

Blackwork Tattoo, Upper Arm Tattoo, Rose Tattoo | DH Tattooing - Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


Many tattoos can be called Illustrative because various techniques and art movements have inspired them, including etching, engraving, abstract expressionism, and calligraphy. Artists who excel in the Illustrative style will blend their specific talent and aesthetic to make it a style of their own. An easy way to recognize an Illustrative tattoo piece is that they look like they could belong on a canvas hanging up in an art gallery.

Black and Grey Realism Tattoo, Lion Tattoo, Upper Arm, Cross Tattoo, Christian Tattoo | DH Tattooing - Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio


The Chicano Tattoo Style is rooted in history and the culture of the Mexican Revolution, Los Angeles low-riders, Pachuco culture, and more. This style emerged from artists in prison. They used the limited equipment, tools, and materials they had to produce beautiful works of art. You can recognize a Chicano style tattoo by its fine lines, black and grey coloring, and its ties to the Chicano culture.

Chicano Tattoo, Back Tattoo, Mother Mary Tattoo | DH Tattooing | Livermore, California's Premier Tattoo Studio

The team at DH Tattooing in Livermore, California, is a family of passionate and creative tattoo artists dedicated to the design and creation of dynamic and timeless art. Our artists specialize in a variety of tattoo styles including black and grey realism, American traditional, color, script, Japanese, and many more. Check out our portfolio for some ideas, or book a consultation with one of our artists today.