Statistics show anywhere from 14 to 20% of Australians have at least one tattoo, with numbers rising every year. However, like every trend, some people have a tendency to rush into a decision they may regret in the future—a tattoo being a very permanent one.
So, how do you decide, “What tattoo should I get?” It’s all about the placement, your pain tolerance, how long you’d like it to last before needing a touch-up and what style you like. This guide will take you through everything you need to know before making a life-changing decision.
1. Select a Tattoo Style You Love
There are two types of people in this world—those who have a deep connection to their tattoo and those who just thought it looked good. Either way, you’ll want to find a tattoo style you love to help you decide what tattoo you should get.
Once you know what style or design you want, you’ll want to ensure the person who does your tattoo is experienced in that area. For example, some tattoo artists specialise in watercolour while others prefer to only do large full-day jobs.
23 Most Popular Tattoo Styles
1. Traditional Tattoos
“I want one of those sailor tattoos.” Chances are, you mean you want a traditional-style tattoo, recognised by the clean, bold lines and vivid colours. They’re commonly designed with daggers, roses, women, skulls, ships and other freedom-seeking symbols.
Traditional tattoos can be found in texts from around the mid-eighteenth century but are said to be pioneered by Norman Collins (Sailor Jerry) in Hawaii during World War II. They can also be known as American, Western or Old School tattoos.
The bold lines are said to hold in the colour and help prevent the ink from ‘bleeding’ AKA leaving a smudged look.
2. New School Tattoos
A new school tattoo pulls inspiration from pop culture and is a more cartoonish style. They carry similar black outlines and vivid colours as traditional tattoos; however, Japanese style can also be noted amongst the designs.
Again, the black lines are a popular technique for keeping colour looking crisp and with clean edges. It’s also worth noting that some vibrant colours, such as yellow, green and pink are known to fade quite quickly.
3. Neo Traditional Tattoos
Anyone who is familiar with Art Nouveau will recognise its influence in neo traditional tattoos. This style takes a similar method to a traditional tattoo, keeping with the black outline, but in place of vivid colours, are more muted, autumn-inspired tones.
Animals and portraits are some of the most popular features of neo traditional tattoos, normally adorned by frames, jewels, flowers and leaves.
4. Realism Tattoos
Instead of your body being the canvas, realism tattoos make your body a photo album. Most realistic tattoos will be a portrait of a person, an animal or floral design, however it can be of pretty much anything you want to be accurately depicted on your body.
A fine line tattoo is a thin, delicate line tattoo and will generally be monochrome with no shading. As they are so fine and normally one continuous line, they can bleed, so it’s best to book in with a tattoo artist experienced in fine line designs.
6. Blackout Tattoos
Once you have a tattoo, changing your mind means either having it removed or covered up. A blackout tattoo is becoming a popular way to cover up an unwanted piece as the black ink covers the entire section, with the negative space or white ink used to detail.
However, blackout tattoos make it harder for skin cancer checks to be performed, so take it into consideration before getting one.
7. Watercolour Tattoos
Like the name suggests, a watercolour tattoo mimics the style of a watercolour painting. They can either contain a black base of linework or be freeform without lines. It’s believed black foundation lines help prevent the tattoo from fading as fast and will age better but speak to your tattoo artist if this is a concern for you.
8. Micro Tattoos
Imagine a large, highly detailed tattoo—now shrink it to the size of a coin or thumbprint. This is a micro tattoo.
If a micro tattoo answers the question, “What tattoo should I get?” Then ensure you go to someone who has a portfolio of them to show you, as they’re extremely easy to get wrong and many tattoo artists won’t even do them.
9. Japanese Tattoos
Japanese tattoos come in two methods—traditional and modern. A traditional Japanese tattoo is done by hand without non-electrical tools, using a pencil-like tool to deposit ink into the skin. A modern Japanese tattoo is done using a tattoo machine.
As for the designs behind Japanese tattoos, they come from Japanese culture, commonly depicting koi fish, geishas, dragons, samurai, cherry blossoms and other easily recognised figures.
10. Tribal Tattoos
While the most easily recognised tribal tattoo are Polynesian tattoo designs, they’re engrained in ancient traditions around the world, dating as far back as the Bronze Age. They were often used to mark accomplishments, affiliation and geographic location.
Tribal tattoo artists nowadays are trained in the styles to ensure they are being properly designed without being culturally insensitive.
11. Chicano Tattoos
A Chicano tattoo often contains a lot of meaning to the beholder and tattoo artist. The Chicano style is heavily influenced by socio-political artworks from the early 1940s and societal impacts of the Mexican-American culture.
Religious symbols, lettering, lowrider vehicles, eyes and faces with tears, masks, praying hands and other iconology are frequently used in Chicano tattoo designs. Again, it’s best to have a Chicano-inspired tattoo designed by an artist familiar with the symbolism as they are deeply imbedded with meaning to a culture.
12. 3D Tattoos
A 3D tattoo will definitely make any passer-by look twice. The style has evolved from photorealism and is designed to trick your depth perception, making the tattoo appear as if it is sinking into the skin or jumping off of it.
13. Ambigram Tattoos
If you can’t decide what word to get tattooed, an ambigram tattoo may be for you. These tattoos take two words and incorporate them into one design, so when read one way, it reads the first word, and when flipped, reads the other.
For example, in Trippedlic Tattoo’s photo below, you can see the word ‘scars’ written one way, whereas it spells out ‘pain’ when flipped.
14. Biomechanical Tattoos
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be part machine, part human? Well, a biomechanical tattoo makes it look like you’ve peeled back your skin to reveal your insides of gears, pistons, and sometimes, a few blood vessels and muscles too.
15. Anatomical Tattoos
Wear your heart on your sleeve quite literally with an anatomical tattoo. These tattoo designs explore just how fascinating the human body is, either by placing an anatomically correct organ or body part elsewhere or by mirroring where it would be if you were to see beneath your own skin.
16. Dotwork Tattoos
We hope you have patience if you fall in love with a dotwork design because they take some time to do. A dotwork tattoo is almost always entirely made of small dots to make a larger picture. They’ll sometimes have some shading as a contrast or be used as part of a larger piece, like pictured below in this piece by pejczi.
17. Geometric Tattoos
While a gemetric tattoo may not look like it at first glance, they take inspiration from real life. Each design will take a number of different shapes to form a larger pattern. Individually, they seem less realistic, but as a whole, you’ll often recognise something else forming.
18. Script Tattoos
A favourite quote. An excerpt from a letter. Your favourite word. Script tattoos can be absolutely any formation of words in any type of font to express yourself.
However, before permanently marking your body with a partner’s name, remember it’s often seen as bad luck. Almost every tattoo artist who has done script will have stories of people coming back at a later date to have it covered up or altered.
19. Glow-in-the-Dark Tattoos
Remember the neon trend? Well, with it in the ‘90s came glow-in-the-dark tattoos.
Upon finding out the ingredients in glow-in-the-dark tattoo ink, people often ask is it safe? Phosphorus, one of the main ingredients of this ink, does have its safety concerns, and long-term side effects are yet to be known. There are reported higher numbers of people who experience rashes, swelling or burning from this type of tattoo.
You should also know the tattoo will most likely not be seen unless put under blacklight.
20. Norse Tattoos
Viking-inspired Norse tattoos pay powerful homage to Scandinavian heritage, touching on Nordic cultural and religious symbols. Even the popular tree of life tattoo stems from Norse mythology, referring to the mythical tree, Yggdrasil, believed to be the centre of the universe.
Other popular Norse tattoos include lettering, Viking longboats, depictions of Gods, ravens and Valknut symbols, which is the three interlocking triangle symbol.
As for favourited colours, you’ll generally see Norse tattoos sticking to dark green, blue or black with placement on the shoulder, back, chest and on the fingers.
21. Gypsy Tattoos
Like the gypsy culture, a gypsy tattoo symbolises mystery and a truly free spirit. There are a number of different styles of gypsy tattoos, however, they’ll almost always be quite simple in detail with flowers and jewels adorning the figure.
Different elements of gypsy tattoos refer to different elements of the culture. For example, selling flowers was a major income for many gypsies, so are often incorporated in the design. Or the style of dress will note if the gypsy is a European traveller or American.
22. Pop-Art Tattoos
Pop art tattoos are obviously inspired by the pop art movement, mimicking the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Yayoi Kusama. Modern pop art tattoos often feature 21st century pop icons but will also recall on the celebrities and symbols of old too. Think Marilyn Monroe versus Ron Burgundy.
Whatever is featured, pop art tattoos will include splashes of bold colour and collages of brands, words, faces and other imagery.
23. Trash Polka Tattoos
Sure, you may not have heard of Trash Polka, but you most likely will have seen one of these designs. Originating in Germany, the trash polka style is easily recognised by its grey, black and red colouring and smudges and splatters of ‘ink’. Multiple focal points will often be overlaid to create a chaotic, but stylish, complete picture.
2. Consider the Position of the Tattoo
Where is the least painful place to get a tattoo?
Everyone who has a tattoo will describe the feeling a little differently. Many say it feels like cat scratches or bee stings, while others say they barely feel it at all and drift off to sleep.
The most painful place to get a tattoo is generally anywhere the tattoo machine will be going over nerve endings or bone, such as the elbow, spine, ribs, back of the knees and the top of the feet.
Where there is more firm cushioning, you’ll probably experience the least pain, such as the forearms, calves and biceps.
Are there body parts to avoid to prevent tattoos from fading quickly?
There are parts of your body that tattoo ink doesn’t like to stick to or receive more friction. This can cause tattoos to not last as long, requiring more frequent touch ups, or in some cases, completely fade away.
Here are some of the areas tattoos are known to fade faster:
- The armpit.
- Hands and palms.
What can I use to cover my tattoo?
Some jobs, restaurants, bars, places of worship and other locations won’t allow visible tattoos. You may even want to hide it from a delicate family member. There are a number of ways to cover a tattoo, including make-up but if you’ll be doing so frequently, consider a position that can easily be covered with clothing.
3. Ensure You Completely Trust Your Tattoo Artist
Do not go to a tattoo artist simply because they are cheap. While Australia has standards tattoo artists and studios must meet, there are those that slip under the radar, like any industry.
Before booking in with a tattoo artist, ensure they:
- Hold a tattooist licence in the state they’re operating.
- The studio has a tattoo operator’s licence.
- Have a sterile work environment.
- Can recommend a thorough aftercare routine.
- Show you a portfolio of fresh and healed work in your preferred style.
You can also find reviews for tattoo artists and studios near you on Localsearch.
Feature image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash