Explore Popular Tattoo Styles, from Hearts to Hand-Poked Art

It’s tough to decide on something you can never take off—no pressure! When choosing a tattoo style, the first thing to consider is what you want to appear permanently on your skin. But, it never hurts to consider the most popular tattoo styles, and that’s where we come in. Below, we’ve rounded up 22 of the top tattoo styles, according to pros we trust. From hearts to flowers and hand-poked designs, the tattoos below represent the hottest styles of the moment—and ones that generally don’t have recipients reaching for full-coverage body makeup, stat.

  • Astrid Elisabeth is the co-founder of Somewhere Tattoo in Queens, NY.
  • Britta Christiansen is a bicoastal tattoo artist.
  • Dana Shasho is a Tel Aviv-based tattoo artist at Gida Tattoo.
  • Tyler Nealeigh is a tattoo artist at Black Lotus Tattooers in Gilbert, AZ
  • Sydney Smith is an Arizona-based tattoo artist, owner of SYZYGY Precision Tattooing, and Mad Rabbit pro tattoo artist whose style focuses on intricate detail, fine lines, and florals.
01of 22

Sticker Sleeves

@INKED.BYDANI

Forget what you know about tattoo sleeves. Sticker sleeves, as shown here, are a lighter and daintier take on the dark swatches of yore. Basically, a “sticker sleeve” is what you call a cluster of small tattoos that appear anywhere on your body, from your wrist to your ankle or leg.

02of 22

Hearts

Heart tattoo
@LITTLE.TATTOOS

How could hearts possibly go out of style? The enduring symbols of love are a popular choice for tattoos of any size and placement — though we’re particularly likely to squeal over the teeny, dainty symbol you see above. Long live (and love!) the heart tattoo.

03of 22

Minimalist Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Minimalist
@UMITATTOO

Minimalist tattoos don’t necessarily have to be small; designs of this style are more driven by simple, clean lines and the heavy use of negative space. The idea behind minimalism is that “less is more,” and minimalist tattoos follow this same concept by featuring graphic designs and varying delicacies of linework.

Because minimalist tattoos tend to break designs down to basics, it works best with designs that can be visualized with a small number of lines or without a lot of complexity. Any color goes for minimalist tattoos as well, although black ink tends to be more common to keep the design as simple as possible.

04of 22

Negative Space Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Negative Space
@MILKY.PDF

Negative space tattoos are created by using skin as part of the image and inking pigments to contour areas to create a visual. Rather than using an outline to create the tattoo’s image, negative space tattoos use the skin as the outline and the pigment as the normally “blank” parts of a design.

Any design can be made into a negative space tattoo, but it may require more planning than just knowing what you want. Make sure you plan out negative space designs with an experienced tattoo artist to ensure that the proportions are right and the correct areas are filled in versus what is left bare.

05of 22

Hand-Poked Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Hand-Poked
@STICKPOKERS

Hand-poked tattoos— also known as stick-and-pokes or machine-free tattoos— are designs that are created manually. Rather than the tattoo artist using a rotary or coil machine to insert the ink into the skin, hand-poking is done by attaching a needle (professionals use tattoo-grade needles) to a rod-shaped element, like a pencil, to create an analog tattoo machine.

While hand-poking is a return to the origins of tattooing, the designs aren’t necessarily minimal or basic themselves. It’s best to find an artist whose portfolio you like first to ensure your stick-and-poke looks exactly how you want it.

06of 22

Lotus Flower Tattoos

Lotus flower tattoos
@HUMBLEBEETATTOO

We already noted that floral tattoos have a, ahem, permanent appeal. However, Lotus flower tattoos are in a league of their own. The elegant symbols are steeped in history. The style shown here, for example, is inspired by the Sacred Blue Lotus of the Nile, which played into the rituals of ancient Egyptian royalty. What’s more, Lotus flowers are thought to have healing powers for anxiety and insomnia.

07of 22

Words and Phrases

Arm Tattoo Art Styles Word
@BLACKNINKED

Word and phrase tattoos, which are sometimes called “script” when referring to cursive designs, are popular because there are no real rules or structure to them—other than that they have to contain letters. You can take a word or phrase and add an image to it as well, essentially mixing different styles of tattoos into one. Of course, no matter what you want your word or phrase tattoo to look like, whether it’s large and dark or small and bright, it’s still a good idea to get it done by a tattoo artist experienced in words and phrases to make sure the spelling is accurate and the design looks good.

08of 22

Floral Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Floral
@HNNHTATTOO

Floral tattoos have a range of meanings depending on the type of blossom you get (a lily, for example, represents both devotion and purity). On the other hand, floral tattoos could also be purely aesthetic, as flowers are a common love and tend to feel dainty in tattoo form. There are dozens of different options for what flowers you can get tattooed, so it can be as complex or simple as you want, with any design elements from vivid colors to heavy black outlines. Some common floral tattoos include roses, lavender, lotuses, and laurels, but there is no real limit to what florals you can get inked— as long as you find an experienced tattoo artist with the ability to create it.

09of 22

Line Art Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Line Art
@BLACKNINKED

“I noticed line art tattoos begin to blow up around 2015 on Instagram,” says Astrid Elisabeth, co-founder of Somewhere Tattoo in Queens, NY. “I actually taught myself to tattoo because I couldn’t find anyone embracing this style. Since then, they seem to have exploded in popularity.”

Line art tattoos look as though the design is one continuous line that wraps around and even overlaps. Almost any design can be done in a line art style as long as it’s the right size, says Elisabeth.

“Make sure your design is legible, has room to breathe, and isn’t too complex for the size,” notes Elisabeth. “No matter what, just make sure you love the design and trust your artist.”

10of 22

Watercolor Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Watercolor
@BRITTACHRISTIANSEN

Watercolor tattoos are designs done in a way that mimics the look and fluidity of a watercolor painting with pigment. From ink with bold lines and abstract patterns to tattoos with a soft look and pastel color palette, any image looks good in a watercolor style; they can even work as cover-up tattoos because of their fluid look and the need to fill up space.

The watercolor effect is achieved by using the same general techniques as any other tattoo style, says tattoo artist Britta Christiansen. A common misconception is that less ink is used than in traditional designs, but the opposite is the case. The same needles and depth are used, notes Christiansen, but the design employs a wider range of ink colors to create a fading gradient effect.

“If a particular watercolor tattoo would include the color red, I will typically use at least five different red tones, from dark red to light red, in order to create a watercolor effect,” says Christiansen.

Although a large color gradient is one element of a successful watercolor tattoo, Christiansen says that the real way to create a good-looking and lasting watercolor tattoo is the contrast, not the color choice. The style can be achieved with black and shades of grey just as well as it can be with pastel or vivid colors– the key is to have a thorough understanding of the underlying skin tone and how the colors mix together.

11of 22

Abstract Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Abstract
@ESPIRRO_

Abstract art is based on the idea of representing concepts through art that don’t necessarily represent the reality around us but instead focus on the shapes, colors, and textures that make up that reality. Abstract tattoos follow the same principles by using more aesthetic imagery, like random shapes, blobs of color, and different line styles. These designs tend to focus more on how they look rather than what they mean, and artists often develop their own styles based on their experiences and likes.

Because abstract tattoos stick to such specific concepts, the tattoo itself becomes a work of art and tends to represent the artist like a signature on a painting. It’s important to find an experienced tattoo artist whose work you like when looking at abstract tattoos to be sure it fits your aesthetic and what you want for your ink.

12of 22

White Tattoos

tattoo styles - white tattoos
@BANGBANGNYC

These are exactly what they sound like, tattoos that use white ink. On pale skin, this can create a nearly invisible effect, which is perfect for those who want a subtle tattoo. However, on melanated skin white tattoos create stunning artwork with contrast.

13of 22

UV Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles UV
@ARTCORRECT

UV tattoos, or glow-in-the-dark tattoos, use vivid, fluorescent pigments that are difficult to view in daylight. However, under ultraviolet (UV) lights, these designs seem to glow thanks to the specific wave of light they omit. While glow-in-the-dark tattoos sound like they’d light up anywhere, the truth is that the effect only happens when viewing them under UV lights.

This style of tattoo became popular in the 1990s thanks to the neon trend and is still being experimented with (professionally and safely) in today’s tattoo scene. When the process was developed, artists used ink containing a carcinogen called phosphorous; now, traditional— albeit extremely bright— pigments are used to create the effect rather than dangerous chemicals.

14of 22

Patchwork Tattoos

tattoo styles
JOSEPH OKPAKO/WIREIMAGE

Alternatively to the other tattoo styles on this list, patchwork tattoos don’t describe a single style. Instead, it refers to the combination of tattoos, their different styles, and how they’re place, which earns them a name that reflects patchwork you’d typically see on a quilt or collage.

Patchwork tattoos offer the people who wear them the opportunity to express themselves freely without worrying how to blend them together and create the perfect fade. It’s likely why it’s become such a big trend amongst celebrities, such as Halsey (pictured above), Miley Cyrus, and Pete Davidson.

15of 22

Geometric Tattoos

Geometric Tattoos Sleeve
@BLACKARTISTRY101/@DILLONFORTE

Geometric tattoos are inspired by tribal tattoos of many cultures, including Maori, Polynesian, and Thai. In modern geometric tattoos, however, aesthetics play a major part, as they help to make sure the design doesn’t just end up looking clunky or unbalanced. Any design can be done in a geometric style, says Dana Shasho of Gida Tattoo in Tel Aviv, Israel— as long as you consider its composition.

“When I choose a geometric design, I try to understand what kind of shapes will suit the person and the body part,” Shasho says. “I ask … what shapes they like more—sharp, flow, organic, mechanical— so the person will have a connection to the tattoo as well.”

It’s also important to consider the size of the tattoo, adds Shasho, as something small tends to be less complex to keep it from looking messy and a larger design tends to be more intricate. According to Shasho, what really makes a good geometric tattoo, though, is how it will flow with the body.

“A good tattoo will be placed correctly on the body, will have the right proportions, and will flatter the body shape,” adds Shasho.

16of 22

Portrait Tattoos

tattoo styles - portraiture
@BANGBANGNYC

Keep the ones you love close by tattooing their portraits onto your body. These permanent homages feel extra special to the people who wear them, and those who are honored via ink. Just make sure to find a tattoo artist who specializes in detailed portraiture to make sure you get an accurate image of your loved one tattooed on your skin.

17of 22

Blackwork Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles Blackwork
@ASOULTOBARE

Blackwork tattoos are done with heavy amounts of black ink. Elements of this style of tattoo include thick outlines, intense shading, and large, filled-in, black areas. While blackwork tattoos may sound heavy, they can actually create boldly delicate moments, as well. There are a variety of styles within the realm of blackwork tattoos— some artists prefer heavy gray shading while others prefer crisp, all-black designs— so it’s best to find an artist whose portfolio you like and book your appointment with them. This is especially important with blackwork tattoos, as the slightest over-reach in design, such as a line that’s too thick or an area that’s too filled-in, can completely change the feel of the tattoo.

18of 22

American Traditional Tattoos

Tattoo Art Styles American Traditional
@_ANDREA_HIDALGO

American traditional tattoos first started appearing on soldiers in the 1700s who got inked as a memento of travels to different countries and cultures. The style was made popular by Norman Collins, a.k.a. Sailor Jerry, a tattoo artist who worked from the 1940s to the 1970s and was heavily influenced by hand-poked tattoos and his deployment in the U.S Navy.

The style is also called old school, Americana, or Western style, and is composed of simple, clean designs with heavily saturated colors and images such as animal heads, roses, pin-ups, ships, and other military-related designs, says Tyler Nealeigh of Black Lotus Tattooers in Gilbert, AZ. These tattoos also tend to have bold black outlines and heavy ,but minimal black shading, and Nealeigh says it’s such a common style because of its timeless designs.

“This style has been going on for so long that it will never die,” notes Nealeigh. “It’s always good to look at a well-done traditional tattoo and know that it will last the tests of time.”

19of 22

Finger Tattoos

Celestial finger tattoos
@SYDSMITHHH / INSTAGRAM

Finger tattoos aren’t going anywhere. Sydney Smith, an Arizona-based tattoo artist tells us finger tattoos are increasingly popular among Gen Z—and it’s easy to say why. They’re dainty, subtle, and prominently placed.

20of 22

Lower Back Tattoos

Lower back tattoo that reads: "unforgettable"
@SYDSMITHHH / INSTAGRAM

Lower back tattoos are rising in popularity again—but now, they’re subtler than ever. “They’re everywhere now, but with a fresh take,” Smith tells Byrdie. “They’re a small word or phrase, or the design is more simplistic.”

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