Just like in the art world, where pictures, photographs and paintings are expressed in styles, the same goes for the art of neo-traditional tattoos and other styles of ink on someone’s body. No image, sketch or design made to get inked is the same as the other. 

In this article, we will explore the difference between neo-traditional tattoos and traditional tattoos. Knowing the difference in style may help you with your own tattoo inspiration or even help you understand the language of your tattoo artist to collaborate on something great together.

What are Neo Traditional Tattoos?

Like its name implies, a neo-traditional tattoo is an evolved version of traditional tattoos. Think bold colours, dramatic black outlines and lavish, natural details. It is known as one of the most lush and indulgent styles of tattoo out there. This particular approach blends traditional American tattooing with a rich history of the arts. Neo-traditional artists are greatly influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco aesthetics. 

Neo-traditional tattooing keeps many technical rules of traditional tattooing and is inspired by Japanese art mixing in with European influences. Art Nouveau was popularized during the 1890’s and still continues to inspire artists today. The art nouveau style was greatly influenced by Eastern art exhibiting at the time, and the obsession with Japanese aesthetic was clear. Not only did it affect art, it also translated into architecture, interior design and more. 

Then, the Art Deco movement emerged which replaced Art Nouveau. It has a slicker, more modernized and less romanticized style of lining. Still, with themes exotic in nature, it was a more refined version of art nouveau. Egyptian and Egyptian influences started to hit the scene, because of the explosion of the Jazz Age which lifted up younger generations recovering from the depression of World War I. while art deco has not had nearly as much influence on Neo Traditional as art nouveau it still has to be credited for the passion, flair and fire found within the style. 

What are Traditional Tattoos?

Like Neo Traditional tattoos, Traditional tattoos utilize bold black ink lines. Some images that might come to mind include roses, anchors, or eagles. Traditional tattoos emerged as part movement, and part social phenomena, wherein the United States birthed a style of tattooing that was all its own, making it an important facet in American culture. 

Some believe that traditional tattooing originated from sailors, but tattoo historians say that the practice has been around longer than that. Like a majority of other styles of tattooing, traditional tattooing has a foundation and history in many cultures all over the world. So why did traditional flourish in America in particular? 

It’s a fact that sailors and soldiers were some of the main groups of people who participated in tattooing, it was easy for them to have cross-cultural experiences with new styles and ideas. America has been involved in a few major wars since the American Revolution in 1775. Part of the customs of getting tattoos were to carry symbols of protection, reminders of loved ones and to also mark their bodies for identification in case they were lost in the war. 

With the invention of the tattooing machine, traditional tattooing became even more accessible. It helped spread the images and specific images associated with traditional tattoos across America and before long there was a single aesthetic related to Traditional Americana. 

Traditional tattoo symbols typically include animals, landscapes, military insignia and shapes such as hearts and stars, each with specific meanings attached to them. For example, a swallow could symbolize the distance a sailor has traveled, or the idea of returning home as these birds always migrate back to where they came from. Sharks, panthers and snakes have ideas centred around strength, but it can also embody the wearer’s personality. There are thousands of different images that correspond with the traditional tattoo style, and each represents a meaningful symbol. You can find many of them collected within studios, art books and artists around the world. 

The visual style of traditional tattooing is quite rational. The bold black ink lines were used to give a design clarity, and black carbon ink is known to age very well. It is a technique thought to be taken from tribal tattooists. The vivid tones used in traditional tattoos were also confined to primary colours at the time, as none were more available. 

Significant Differences Between the Two

The main differences between traditional and neo-traditional tattoos are that neo-traditional tattoos usually have a broader colour palette and a wider range of motifs. Traditional tattoos represent a more old school approach to tattooing, whereas neo trad takes that style and gives it a new school twist. 

Traditional tattoo designs usually have a limited colour palette, using just reds, greens, blues and yellows. And its content is usually simplistic, sticking with banners, knives, hearts, skulls and pin up girls, to name a few. In addition, when looking at a sleeve of traditional style tattoos, they will form a patchwork style of how they are placed next to each other. 

As for neo-traditional styles, the designs are often drawn in a more realistic fashion with the use of much more colour and they can feature more modern subjects. A neo traditional sleeve can form one seamless, single design. 

The Value of Adding Coloured Ink to These Styles

Many tattoo first-timers think that getting a coloured tattoo will only lead to constant retouch ups, faded designs and regret. While choosing the design of the tattoo can be hard enough, you will also have to decide between having full colour or all black ink. A coloured tattoo can be a great way to add a great piece of art to your skin that you can show off wherever you go. 

Both traditional and neo traditional tattoo styles will look great with the addition of colour. To get the best results with your colour tattoo, make sure that you go with an artist who specializes in coloured ink tattoos. Be sure to check out the portfolios of your potential tattoo artists. 

With colour comes a lot more range of choices and flexibility in artistry. It is best for pieces that are more complicated and extensive. By using different colours, it will be easier to tell different parts of a larger tattoo apart. 

Why Working With the Right Artist is Important, No Matter What Style

Can a beginner tattoo artist measure up to one with experience? It really depends. A new tattoo artist who possesses incredible skill, artistic talent and charisma can perform just as well as a tenured artist. Though they won’t have the portfolio to prove it. 

There are definitely some major benefits to working with a tattoo artist who has the experience necessary to execute your tattoo. Especially if they have a portfolio that reflects the type of tattoo you are looking to get. You’ll also see that certain tattoo artists will specialize in specific kinds of ink (coloured, black or white). In addition to that, an experienced tattoo artist will also be able to complete your tattoo faster than one who isn’t, while of course remaining safe and precise. This can be great if you need a better peace of mind while getting inked.

As for a newer tattoo artist, everyone needs to start somewhere and just because an artist doesn’t have a huge portfolio does not mean that they aren’t skilled. Nearly all new tattoo artists will have an apprenticeship under their belt, and a commitment to their industry and craft. A benefit with a newer tattoo artist can be their flexibility. The main advantage is that they can provide their services at a lower cost. If you’ve got a small tattoo idea or a simple one, then it can be a win-win situation for you and your tattoo artists as they can also use the piece to build their portfolio. 

Want to Learn More About Tattoos and Piercings?

Visit Sage Tattoo and Art Gallery in Ottawa where we have some of the best tattoo artists in the city. If you’ve got any questions about finding the right tattoo artist or tattoo shop, don’t wait to contact us. We would be happy to answer any of your inquiries.