Traditional Tattoos

Bold, vibrant, and patriotic– who doesn’t love a classic tattoo reminiscent of 1930s sailors, servicemen, circus performers, and people across the vast spectrum of American counterculture.

What are Traditional Style Tattoos?

Traditional tattoos also known as Western Traditional or Old School style tattoos, are classic, simple, and iconic. This style is known for its saturated colors (typically red, yellow, or blue) that hold up beautifully on any skin tone, its bold black lines, minimal shading, and simple American iconography. Some cool designs you’d probably see done by early American Traditional tattooers like Gus and Maude Wagner or Sailor Jerry include things like mermaid, tiger heads, cowboys, nautical designs, skulls and crossbones, daggers, swallows, pinup girls, anchors, dragons, and other fierce designs. Today, you can still get custom tattoo designs reminiscent of these subjects in the Western Traditional style or select time-honored designs from flash sheets.

The Rules of American Traditional Tattoos

When it comes to most tattoos, the “rules” are mostly just guidelines. However, when it comes to old-school tattoos, there are some pretty rigid rules that determine if your tattoo makes the cut. Traditional tattoos are incredibly profound for a lot of people, and you’ll want to honor its history as a rejection of mainstream societal standards and a way to proclaim your identity.

Highly Saturated Colors

If you’re looking for a tattoo in more subdued tones or non-primary colors, this style probably isn’t quite the right fit for you. If you’d like to get a bit more experimental, you may prefer neo-traditional tattoos. However, old-school tattoos typically use the most saturated hues of red, yellow, green, black, purple, or blue, so there’s no reason you’d have to sacrifice color altogether.  

Simple Designs

You won’t find any realism here. Western Traditional tattoos are simple and two-dimensional. A good traditional tattoo won’t have much depth and will use minimal shading. You’ll also see tattoo artists render the same subjects time and time again. Nautical themes, beautiful women, and patriotic subjects abound in this classic style. Of course, you don’t have to choose one of these. Nearly and concept can be rendered in the American traditional style.

Blood Lines

If you’re a part of the fine line, dainty tattoo-loving community, that’s great– but these tattoos aren’t for you. While both men and women rock this incredible style, most people perceive it to be more masculine, and this classic tattoo style can’t really be called traditional without a bold line. 


A lot of people get tattoos just because they like how they look, and that’s totally fine. However, others prefer to have a deep, underlying meaning associated with their skin art. If that’s you, the good news is that this art style could be the perfect fit for you. American traditional tattoos have a storied history and a lot of the recurring icons you’ll see already have meaning.