Basic Inking Styles

Just like any art form, tattoos can be expressed as line drawings, paintings, cartoons, caricatures or even as airbrushed creations. Tattoos may be classified into distinct styles, much as painting may be classified into the styles of impressionism, realism, cubism, etc. Each style incorporates specific artistic elements which many are not familiar with. So here's a look at tattoos, not as a form of rebellion, a health hazard, or a display of "coolness," but as an art form.

The following is a summation of just a few of the most popular tattoo styles.

♦ Black and Gray work. This style originated in the prison system of America, where it was difficult to get colored ink. These tattoos have the kind of warmth and depth to them that you usually associate with a charcoal drawing.

Black And Gray Work Tattoo

An incredible example of black and grey work by Tim Hanan

Bright Cartoon Aliens Tattoo

An example of black and grey landscape By Enrique Patino Bottino

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

Out Lines Rose Tattoos

An example of a traditional rose tattoo by Tim Hanan http://www.artfultattoo.dyns.n

♦ Fineline. These delicate tattoos are very detailed and usually associated with black and gray work. Fineline is also often used to express a realistic depiction of an image. Fineline images cannot be too complicated as sometimes over time the image can degenerate into a blotch or a shadow.

Fine line work by Little Joe

Tim Hanan Tattoo

An example of fine line work by Tim Hanan

♦ 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 so that it appears to be tribal. Many of the most popular styles are modeled after the ancient styles of the South Pacific Islands. These tattoos are usually abstract, artistic representations that consists of combination of discrete design elements such as spikes swirls and spines. Tribal tattoos are often designed to fit or accentuate a specific part of the body. For example, a tribal tattoo might snake along the contours of the lower back.

Tribal Tattoo Basic

A stunning example of a tribal style tattoo courtesy of Rueben "Rue" Kayden

Sean Teuton

A tribal tattoo with a Teutonic flair By Sean Donovan

♦ Realistic. These designs are usually portraits or landscapes that mimic the fine detail of a photograph. Mostly they are done in black and white as it takes a master tattoo artist to emulate images in colors. Sometimes this style is also called photo-realism.

A baby portrait by Enrique Patino Bottino

♦ Oriental. Usually the oriental style of tattooing involves using the entire body as a canvas rather than adding a single image here and. Images are used to weave a story or a myth on an entire arm or over the entire back. Usually this is very fanciful, bold, yet detailed color work. Big 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" that consists of artistic, fluid-like swirls of color. The oriental tattoo often follows the rules of Japanese perspective in painting that is concerned with symmetry and balance. Also the symbols in a Japanese tattoo often have deeper meanings. For instance, a tattoo of a carp represents wealth and prosperity.

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

Celtic tattoos found at

♦ Biomechanical. These tattoos often depict machinery intertwined with human flesh. A typical f biomechanical tattoo work might depict a human hand, arm, or chest tangled with pieces of machinery such as screws, wheels, or and pulleys. The result is an image of a creature that looks half-robot, half-human. This type of tattoo is inspired by movies such as "Alien."

Human Robot Tattoo

An excellent example of a biomechanical tattoo. Photo reprinted courtesy of the artist Rueben "Rue" Kayden.

♦ Caricatures and cartoons. These tattoos are noted for their bold lines and often-humorous references to classic tattoos.

Getting Inked
An example of a skull and bones caricature.

Rueben "Rue" Kayden.

Skullwork Drawings

A more classical example of skull work by Tim Hanan

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Tattoo Designs and Becoming a Tattoo Artist

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  • phillipp
    How do do gray work tattoo?
    5 years ago

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