So you’re ready to get a tattoo. Maybe it’s your first, or you’ve already gotten a few and are ready for another. You may have a subject matter in mind, but aren’t exactly sure what kind of guidance to give your tattoo artist to make sure it’s executed to perfection.
We’ve created the ultimate tattoo guide on the top 10 most popular styles to help inspire your next piece of body art, as well as some ideas on the perfect placement. We’ll help you break down the difference between traditional and neo-traditional, and even highlight some of the new trends in popular design (like watercolor and dotwork). This guide is a must-read before you head into the tattoo shop.
From the most personal and intimate tattoo ideas to pieces that happen on a whim – the style of your ink can say just as much about you as the subject matter and meaning.
For nearly any tattoo you can think of (or might be thinking about getting), traditional is one of the most popular styles around. While possibly considered old-school by today’s standards, it’s the quintessential American tattoo style and has more history than other styles. With bold black outlines and simple colors, #traditionaltattoo has over 2.3 million tags on Instagram and has been used for everything from Darth Vader and army tattoos to wild tigers and floral designs.
Old-school trends have evolved into new-school transitions that are still popular since coming onto the scene in the ’70s. These tats keep with the thick, bold lines of old-school tattoos but expand with brighter and more vibrant hues. Neo-traditional tattoos take the evolution of classic tattoos a step further by expanding the range of subject matter and colorful execution.
The colorful expression of new-school tattoos has evolved into tattoo designs that emphasize color to give traditional designs (like a compass or portrait) a custom tattoo feeling. Surrealist designs – inspired by the surrealist master himself, Dalí – can stand out anywhere on the body, from small tattoos on the arm or wrist to large full-sleeve tattoos that cover whole areas of the skin.
Just as popular today, watercolor tattoos create a colorful, dreamlike aesthetic for men’s and women’s ink designs. For a fresh take on old classics like flower, skull, or even bird tattoos, watercolor helps create new meaning by adding unique colors to borderless color design and the impression of freehand strokes. Because of the nature of its design, a watercolor style can even be great for cover-up tattoos.
Other popular tattoo styles that have emerged over time are dotwork and geometric designs. Dotwork is unique because the tattoo artist will use nothing but individual dots to comprise the image they’ve created. Usually black-and-gray pieces dotwork creates depth and shadow and can be especially great for mandalas to help illuminate the beauty of their complexity.
Geometric tattoos, which can sometimes be done as dotwork, create either a full image or portions of it out of geometric shapes. Geometric tattoos create a sense of symmetry and balance that helps draw the eye to the subject of the art. These can be done in black and gray, or with sporadic color to create even more depth.
Not every great tattoo style has to be new or different, though. More classic designs like Japanese and tribal tattoos also remain popular. With over 155,000 tattoo tags for #tribaltattoo and 40,000 for #asiantattoo on Instagram, these somewhat classic designs have stood the test of time. Tribal tattoo designs have even evolved from what you might have originally thought of into more elaborate, full-sleeve pieces you can’t help but stop and stare at – in a good way.
Realism or realistic tattoo designs are also popular and utilize black and gray colors to create extremely true-to-life representations of portraits, animals, and nature. These tattoos can be extremely complicated and should be done by an experienced tattoo artist to ensure long-lasting quality.
Once you know what you want and which style fits best, how do you decide where to put it?
"When choosing your first tattoo, pick something timeless, meaningful, and that is going to age well." @takeshikamioka
Your rib cage or side are certainly more private locations for your next tattoo. While the rib cage can be one of the most painful places to get inked, it’s likely to be less exposed to the elements or other people. Quote tattoos on the rib cage are also very popular, and there are over 115,000 posts on Instagram tagged with #ribtattoo.
While legs and calves, in particular, have always been popular spots for tattoos, upper thighs are becoming one of the trendiest places for tattoo expression. From flowers to quote tattoos – with over 300,000 #thightattoo tags on Instagram – the thigh has turned into a popular tattoo destination for men and women alike.
The back can be one of the biggest canvases for a complete tattoo. Whether you want to cover your entire back or just certain areas, there’s no other part of the body that will give you more room to work with. With almost 230,000 Instagram posts tagged with #backtattoo, it’s also one of the most popular places to get inked.
Some classic spots never go out of style, and the hips and inner arms remain among the most popular places to get tattoos. Like other body parts mentioned, you can use these areas to create bold statements or simple, subtle designs. When considering any of these placements, keep in mind if you want your tattoo to be more or less visible. Your hip might be a good option if you want something less visible, whereas your inner arm might be on display more often.
Regardless of the tattoo you’re considering, there are more styles and places to put them than you might think. Popular placements for tattoos include classic locations like your arm and leg, but also include the thigh and forearm. Of course, the wrist and finger are also hot spots for new ink. Consider the style you want and how much space you might need to give it as much detail as possible, as well as other considerations like sun exposure and visibility. And once you’ve settled on what to get and where, use our buyer's guide to get it done at the best tattoo parlor in your area.