Neo-Traditional Style Tattoos: Everything You Need To Know

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Tattoos have long been part of preserving and depicting important symbolism and art around the world. In recent times, they’ve been used for self-expression and creating an identity. Neo-traditional style tattoos in particular have helped usher this into a social norm thanks to its balance of both the old and new while taking cues from people and places of different cultures.

This is evident in all the time periods where tattooing underwent changes and adapted to new lifestyles, tastes, and personalities. As such, if you’re an artist leaning toward this art style or looking to get tattooed yourself, then there are several points to be aware of explaining how they came about and how they differ from traditional ones.

Here’s everything you need to know about neo-traditional style tattoos:

History And Culture

Though tattoos have existed since early human cultures that date to ancient times, it was mostly modern-day art movements that inspired the emergence of the neo-traditional style. Its origins can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when Europe started trading and importing eastern goods from Japan.

Many of these were paintings and art styles that greatly influenced the works of notable impressionist era artists, which included tattooing. Eventually, art nouveau and art deco transformed conventional tattoos into a blend of cultural inspirations. These art forms have come to inform neo-traditional tattoo styles of creating patterns and flat drawings.

In the present day, they’ve become fashionable in places such as the US and Mexico to European shops such as Savage Tattooist in Sweden. They depict animals and women against nature and floral backdrops and the use of props and decorations around the tattoo subject are still highly sought after.


Thus, after a fascinating history that was shaped by influences, how is a neo-traditional style tattoo recognized and given its distinction? As an evolved form of the traditional tattoo, it still contains many of the same principles but they’ve expanded to consist of modern symbols and motifs.

Ink and machinery invented a few decades ago allowed neo-traditional tattoo artists to try out new colors while changing line techniques gave them a more dimensional appearance. 

Some of the more recent distinctions used to create them involve: 

  • Black ink
  • Bold outlines 
  • Refined shading 
  • Limited color palettes incorporated with black. 
  • Balancing 2D and 3D elements 
  • Tattoo subjects and symbols such as animals, insects, women, skulls surrounded by decorative florals, patterns and shapes, and embellishment ideas

Though these may be used as key features to distinguish neotraditional tattoo styles, there are no strict rules that tattooists have to follow. This is due to the constant evolution of neo-traditional where global and diverse cultural symbols, as well as popular media, continue to influence the style.

For instance, there’s been a surge in popularity in using cartoon depictions and bright colors outside of the primary color spectrum. Additionally, these colors still take on a more saturated appearance.

Traditional vs Neo-Traditional Tattoos

To fully understand how neotraditional tattoos are recognized, they should be compared and understood against traditional styles. The tattoos were flat and used black, grey, and only one or two other washed-out-looking colors. Additionally, many traditional tattoos are based on the American traditional art style and motifs that took on various meanings and symbols used within emerging sub-cultures.

For instance, sailors who commemorate their journeys would have fish, ships, lighthouses, anchors, and other nautical themes tattooed. The emergence of motorcycle culture brought about classic traditional tattoo icons such as skulls, snakes, casinos, flags, guns, hearts, daggers, eagles, and Native American symbols.

Neo-traditional changed from this by making 2D tattoos shapelier while broadening the icons to include graffiti, pop culture, brighter colors, and inclusion of more cultures. Day of the Dead Sugar skulls and other Mexican cultural symbols are the neo-traditional take on the familiar skull tattoo symbolism is a perfect example of this.

Popular Design Ideas

For both tattoo artists and avid tattoo enthusiasts alike, the neo-traditional design ideas are constantly evolving. Artists continue to experiment with colors while tattoo customers choose unique and personalized icons for themselves. This means that these days, popular designs are varied and more customized than before, involving the following: 

  • Slogans – words written in different graffiti-style fonts and shapes 
  • Vintage technology – turn tables, boom boxes, and cassette tapes of the 80s and 90s
  • Popular media – tv show characters, cartoons, comic book icons, and celebrities 
  • Animals – wolves, tigers, butterflies, cats, bees, and dragonflies
  • Lady head – Hindi woman deities, vintage women, Halloween and gothic-themed woman
  • Indigenous – Native American headdress and feathers, Polynesian tribal, Aztec and Mexican icon

These are but a few design ideas dominating popular trends in the neo-traditional scene. They’re frequently requested as the main subject of the tattoo, which is then tailored and altered into the specific details that tattoo clients want.


Neo-traditional tattoos are essentially a modernized version of traditional ones. They use similar old-school drawings and make them pop up against the skin more while using a larger variety of vibrant colors.

They also still carry the same bold outlining and heavy use of black and grey to create images. These days, neo-traditional artists and shops cater to making special designs requested by customers into this art style as it’s flexible and experimental. These are the essential elements that make this old-but-new style so appealing and perceptible.

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