Tattoo designs and their meanings


Tribal. These designs are black silhouettes. Most are based on ancient tribal designs. A popular modern mutation of this style is to modify a traditional design to make it appear tribal. Many of the most popular styles are modeled after the ancient styles of the South Pacific Islands. These tattoos are usually abstract artistic renderings consisting of a combination of discrete design elements, such as swirling spikes and thorns. Tribal tattoos are often designed to fit or accentuate a specific part of the body. For example, a tribal tattoo could meander along the outline of the lower back.

Realistic. These designs are usually portraits or landscapes that mimic the fine detail of a photograph. They are mostly done in black and white, since a master tattoo artist is needed to emulate color images. Sometimes this style is also called photorealism.

Oriental. Usually, the oriental style of tattooing involves using the whole body as a canvas instead of adding a single image here and there. The imagery is used to weave a story or myth over an entire armor across the back. Typically this is very imaginative, bold yet detailed color work. Large murals of dragons, flowers, fish and other animals are the most common oriental tattoos. A dominant image, such as a dragon, might be surrounded by “fill work” consisting of artistic, flowing swirls of color. Oriental tattooing often follows the rules of Japanese perspective painting which is concerned with symmetry and balance. Also, the symbols in a Japanese tattoo often have deeper meanings. For example, a carp tattoo represents wealth and prosperity.

Celtic. These silhouette-style tattoos feature bold, thick black lines and sharp angles. A Viking branch of the Celtic style includes mythological creatures such as griffins. They are completed primarily in black ink only. Because they are difficult to do, Celtic tattoos are often best created by an artist who specializes in the Celtic style of tattoos.

Biomechanics. These tattoos often depict machinery intertwined with human flesh. A typical biomechanical tattoo work might depict a human hand, arm, or chest entangled with machinery parts such as bolts, wheels, or pulleys. The result is an image of a creature that appears to be half robot, half human. This type of tattoo is inspired by movies like “Alien”.

Traditional. This style of tattoo refers to work that features bold black outlines and pitch-black shadows that are contrasted with very bright colors. The style is believed to have its origins in the military bases of the 1930s and 1940s.

Thin line. These delicate tattoos are highly detailed and are usually associated with black and gray work. The fine line is also often used to express a realistic representation of an image. Fine line images can’t be too complicated, as sometimes, over time, the image can degenerate into a smear or shadow.

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