If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking about getting a tattoo or already have quite a few. What you probably don’t have is a solid background on the history and styles of tattoo art. Well, you’re in luck, because I’m about to give you a quick rundown on what’s what and how each style differs from each other. After you’re finished reading this entry, you’ll have a better idea of which style you like best. This will better prepare you to make a decision about which one works best for you.

Traditional – This style is characterized by designs like roses, anchors, and gorgeous lady heads. Just think of famous tattoo artists like Sailor Jerry and Don Ed Hardy and you’ll know exactly what I mean. If those two names say nothing to you about the tattoo style they represent, just know that they were inspired by the inked bodies of the natives, sailors began to get tattoos as souvenirs of their visits to exotic, distant lands. Traditional is defined by bold lines and bright colors.

Realism – A classic style of Fine Art that surfaced in body art around the 1950s and has become popular since. Originally distinguished by black and grey portraits, but also in color as quality inks became more accessible in the market; fine details that replicate an image, a person, landscapes, and anything you can think of.

Water color – This relatively new style surfaced with the most recent generation of tattoo fans. The art is usually of playful or romantic pieces done it what looks like watery pastels – which is difficult to accomplish on the human body.

Tribal – Also called “Indigenous.” This style goes back thousands of years and it’s almost always done in black with elaborate patterns. Its modern origins are from the indigenous Pacific islanders, and cultures like the Maori’s of Australia.

Japanese – The beginnings of this style come from woodblock prints that were popular with the merchant class during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). It’s also known as “Irezumi” and its characterized by dramatic scenes or heroes from Japan’s mythology like colorful geishas, masks, and dragons that appear as in a wave, making this style visually powerful.

Neo Traditional – Think of this style as an evolution of the Traditional style. Distinguished by rich, vibrant colors and prominent linework like its predecessor, but with more texture and an illustrative quality that is not as cartoonish.

New School – This style, which is not so new, became popular in the 80’s and 90’s and is a child of its time. The style is notable for wacky illustrations, caricatures, and popular entertainment icons from the period. If you’re the kind of person who wants an Angry Bird tattooed on their skin, this is the style for you.

Black Work – Like the name implies, this style is defined by body art created using only black ink. It is a style that includes everything from ancient symbolism to extremely detailed illustrations. The shading, light, and different hues of black seen in some of the work being produced today, is just downright mind blowing.