What Is A Neo-Traditional Tattoo?

If you have a knack for a style of tattooing that commands attention, go neo-traditional!

Written by , MA (Mass Communication & Journalism) Joyce Joyson MA (Mass Communication & Journalism)
Edited by , MA (English) Subhrojyoti Mukherjee MA (English) Experience: 4 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English Literature) Aparna Harry MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 3 years
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Getting a tattoo is all fun and games until you realize that the mark is going to be etched permanently on your skin. That is why one cannot go wrong and must turn towards creative body art styles such as neo-traditional tattoo designs. While the popularity of the neo-traditional style of tattooing tends to ebb and flow, it is commonly associated with the American traditional tattooing form as it draws inspiration from a lot of American traditional designs that make use of motifs such as military, snakes, roses, swallows, dice, etc. It is a captivating blend of an old-school style of ink with modern themes. Keep reading to learn more about neo-traditional tattoos and how it is different from other traditional tattoo designs.

What Is A Neo-Traditional Tattoo?

The simplest way to explain the neo-traditional style of tattoo is that it is contemporary in spirit and traditional at heart.

Neo-traditional tattoo designs typically contain bold and clean lines and feature a vibrant color palette that consists of a range of colors, including red, yellow, and blue. They are greatly influenced by the art movements such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco that had their roots in the 1910s and are usually a mix of different art forms and styles including but not limited to geometric shapes, Eastern artworks, African influences, and other abstract elements. Neo-traditional tattoos tend to have a photorealistic feel to them.

protip_icon Pro Tip
After getting a tattoo, avoid using 100 percent petroleum products during the initial phase of healing. These products have thicker consistency which can trap moisture and restrict the airflow to the new ink, which is crucial for healing.

Given their versatility, it is no surprise that neo-traditional shapes and designs are all over social media. But to learn how they came to be, we must turn the pages of history and go back in time. The next section takes you through it.

History Of Neo-Traditional Tattooing

Neo-traditional tattoo styles heavily derive from a mix of art forms and styles from the early 20th century, namely the Art Deco and Art Nouveau art movements. These artistic movements inspire the use of flowing lines and themes of nature in neo-traditional tattoos, including symbols of flowers, animals, birds, and insects which are often inked in great detail.

Neo-traditional artworks surfaced in the latter half of the 20th century when a group of artists in New York decided to add a modern flair to traditional designs. It is a result of experimentation with new tattoo styles and techniques influenced by Japanese tattoo styles, American folk art, and pop culture. These designs saw a larger use of saturated colors and bold lines to create one-of-a-kind tattoos.

Neo-traditional tattoos indeed have a rich history. But are there different types of them? Let us find out in the next section.

Types Of Neo-Traditional Tattoos

A man flaunts a type of neo-traditional tattoo on his forearms
Image: Shutterstock

The neo-traditional style includes diverse subjects with detailed patterns and clean lines. The tattoo designs are often adorned with beads, lines, flowers, vines, pearls, etc. Another prominent feature of this tattoo style is that it involves images of animals such as eagles, wolves, bears, and snakes and can even include graphic imagery of women.

From the coast of California to the busy streets of El Paso, these neo-traditional tattoos are popular everywhere. However, artists around the globe are reimagining it in various ways and myriad artistic styles, which is making way for the emergence of new tattoo styles with endless possibilities.

As mentioned earlier, neo-traditional tattoos and traditional tattoos share a sense of commonality yet are different. The former has more complex designs, use of vibrant colors, and decorative motifs than the latter. However, neo-traditional tattoo largely includes traditional tattoo motifs and hence is often confused with traditional tattoos, which are slightly different from them.

There are subtle differences between the different styles of tattoos that have made way for the neo-traditional style. Let us find out what they are in the next section.

Neo-Traditional Vs. Traditional Tattoos

A close-up of a tattoo artist inking a neo-traditional tattoo
Image: Shutterstock

Neo-traditional tattoos and traditional tattoos have a thin line of difference. Traditional tattoos have a lot of bold and black lines and fuse simple yet bold primary colors into the design. They include images with classic symbols such as rose, anchor, flags, etc., that are typically associated with mid-20th century tattooing styles. On the other hand, neo-traditional tattoos have a broader color palette and visible variation in line weight. The neo-traditional tattoo style also strives to explore a wider range of subjects, such as animals, plant life, people, pop culture references, etc.

In the same context, neo-Japanese tattoos and traditional Japanese tattoo designs are also considered similar. Neo-Japanese is basically a modern take on traditional Japanese tattoos. Both these tattoo styles involve intricate detailed designs, bold outlines, and symbolic elements such as dragon, waves, cherry blossoms, etc. However, the two are different when it comes to the approach of tattooing. The neo-Japanese tattoo style has a more modern approach and includes contemporary elements and techniques such as dramatic highlights, modern colors, increased details, and varied line weight and size as compared to traditional tattoos, which have iconic symbols with limited color palettes. Besides that, traditional Japanese tattoos are rooted in Japanese culture while neo-Japanese tattoos have a much broader scope.

We have covered the broad differences between neo-traditional and traditional tattoos. But what are the differences between neo-traditional and American traditional tattoos specifically? Let us compare them in a chart in the next section.

Neo-Traditional Vs. American Traditional Tattoos

man with American traditional tattoos inked on both the hands
Image: Shutterstock

American traditional tattoos are closely associated with nautical themes as it was made famous by sailors in the 1930s. These designs involve the usage of a range of solid colors, such as blue, green, red, and yellow. While both neo-traditional tattoos and American traditional tattoos incorporate bold lines and vivid colors, there are certain differences. Let us take a look at them below.

CharacteristicsAmerican Traditional TattoosNeo-Traditional Tattoos
Line WeightThey have a consistent line weight across the design.They have varying line weights.
SubjectThey are more inclined towards masculine subjects such as tattoos with dagger symbols, women, and snarling animals.They have a classic theme and include elements such as plants, humans, animals, and flowers.

These tattoo designs can also include images and symbols relating to pop culture icons, family members, hobbies, and interests.

ColorThey primarily use basic colors such as yellow, green, red, and black.They have a wider color palette and even use gradients for artistic expression.
DimensionsThey use two-dimensional traditional tattooing techniques.They have a subtle pop-out effect due to additional shading.
ShadingThey look flat as if drawn on a piece of paper, and do not have any illusion of depth.They include black shading along with white highlights, which helps create the illusion of physical depth and make them look more realistic.
protip_icon Trivia
Actor Dwayne Johnson has a neo-traditional tattoo of an American eagle on his right arm which symbolizes love for his country.

After learning about the differences between these tattoo styles, let us move on to the next section to learn how to choose a neo-traditional tattoo design that is ideal for you.

How To Choose A Neo-Traditional Tattoo Design

A tattoo artist at a desk starting to make a neo-traditional tattoo design on a notepad
Image: Shutterstock

There are a few things to keep in mind before choosing a neo-traditional tattoo design. Some of them are mentioned below.

  1. Purpose Of The Tattoo

Ask yourself why you want a tattoo in the first place. Is it because you want to commemorate the memory of a loved one or a significant event in your life? Or do you want to get a tattoo for aesthetic reasons? Understanding the reason behind getting a neo-traditional tattoo can help give you a general idea about what tattoo design to pick.

  1. Color Scheme

It is key in neo-traditional tattoos. This tattoo style is characterized by vibrant, bold colors such as jewel tones and color gradients. Remember selecting the right set of colors not only makes the tattoo look aesthetically pleasing but also helps create a sense of balance and flow within the design.

  1. Popular Neo-Traditional Designs And Motifs

Neo-traditional style artists often draw inspiration from traditional forms of tattooing and try to fuse it with contemporary elements. It may include owls, lions, roses, mermaids, anchors, ships, compasses, portraits of individuals, mythical creatures, etc. These motifs add to the style of the tattoo and convey symbolic meaning. For instance, animals such as lions can symbolize strength, while flowers such as roses represent beauty and growth. Hence, choose a design that resonates with you the most.

  1. Cultural Sensitivity

Always be aware of the cultural significance and values of the chosen design to prevent disrespecting others’ culture and heritage.

  1. Research

Learn about neo-traditional designs and familiarize yourself with this style of artworks. You can look for inspiration in popular tattoo magazines, art, books, museums, and everything around you to get unique tattoo ideas. You can also ask a tattoo artist for recommendations.

  1. Size And Location

Think of the size and location of the tattoo–whether you want a neo-traditional tattoo on the more visible parts of the body such as the chest, arms, and shoulders or in those hard-to-see areas such as the back and the hip. This will help you narrow down your choices. Make sure to choose a neo-traditional design that has a timeless appeal. Pick a design you will love no matter how many years go by.

Neo-traditional tattoo designs have a distinct, bold appearance, and bright colors, and make for one of the most eye-catching tattoo designs. They have been around for ages and look like they will continue to reign for the years to come. Also, they definitely make for popular old-school tattoos and can easily blend with different style aesthetics. These pieces of art have a sense of depth and dimension that makes them appear more realistic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do neo-traditional tattoos last?

Neo-traditional tattoos last like every other tattoo. However, their longevity is determined by various factors such as the size and the location of the tattoo, ink quality, skill of the tattoo artist, and aftercare tattoo measures taken by an individual.

Do neo-traditional tattoos fade faster?

Neo-traditional tattoos fade away eventually like every other tattoo. Practicing a good tattoo aftercare can help maintain its vibrancy and details for a longer time.

Are neo-traditional tattoos more expensive?

Generally, neo-traditional tattoos are larger and more intricate than normal tattoos. This can make them more expensive to get than other tattoo styles.

Key Takeaways

  • Neo-traditional tattoos are a striking blend of traditional aesthetics and contemporary themes.
  • It is closely associated with American tattoo symbols and designs, such as roses, snakes, and swallows, and the military.
  • The key elements of neo-trad designs are bold, black outlines, dramatic colors in a complex color palette, and intricate details.
  • These traditional tattoo designs are influenced by Art Deco, Art Nouveau, American folk art, Japanese tattoo styles, and folk culture.
what is neo traditional tattoo

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Neo-traditional tattoo designs heavily draw inspiration from the American traditional style of tattoos. Watch this YouTube video to learn the similarities between them and find tips on choosing the ideal tattoo style for you!

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Joyce Joyson

Joyce JoysonBeauty & Lifestyle Writer

Joyce Joyson is a beauty and lifestyle writer with over a year of experience crafting short-form content for the beauty, fashion, and lifestyle niches. She has a triple majors bachelor’s degree in History, Political Science, and Geography from IIS University and a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kristu Jayanti College. Her academic foundation has equipped her with...read full bio

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