Tattoo Guru: A Guide to the Different Tattoo Techniques

tattoo techniques
Honing in on your craft and perfecting your style is key for tattoo artists. Learn about the different tattoo techniques to find your niche.

More than 145 million Americans have tattoos. That’s almost half the population. Tattoos are a form of art, and many people are getting them as a way to express their beliefs, culture, and even emotions.

As a tattoo artist, you help them bring their artistic expression to life. This is why you need to know different tattoo techniques and styles. Learning these fundamentals helps you figure out what your clients want to get, and you can advise clients on what tattooing styles look good on them.

What’s more, it can influence how you define your tattooing style. Read on for a guide on different types of tattoos and tattoo techniques to help you find your niche.

Traditional Tattoo

This type of tattoo is known for its bold lines and bright colors. It also features iconic designs like anchors, snakes, roses, skulls, women’s faces, and more. They are gorgeous to get particularly on the upper arm, forearm, and thigh.

When drawing American traditional tattoos, use thick, bold lines and stick to the limited old-school color palette—red, yellow, green, and black.

Realistic Tattoo

The images in realistic tattoos look just like they would in real life. As a tattoo artist, you will be recreating realistic depictions of nature and other life images on your client’s skin. Common imagery in realist tattoos includes faces/portraits, statues, animals, plants, or skulls.

When you recreate tattoos embedded in realism, don’t use hard outlines. If you’re doing a portrait tattoo, it’s recommended to use curved mags. This way, you can get smoother shades while causing less trauma to your client’s skin.

Watercolor Tattoo

Watercolor tattoos are beautiful and graceful plays of color that use the skin as a canvas. While they are aesthetically pleasing, they are quite hard to create.

To create the watercolor tattoo style, you need to practice softer lines and shading. You can use other techniques like:

  • Gradients
  • Bleeding
  • Splattering
  • Scumbling
  • Layering

These techniques can help you elevate the appearance of your tattoo and give it a light and fluid look.

Tribal Tattoo

Tribal tattoos were used to mark a person as part of a specific clan or family. Modern tribal designs pull on that past inspiration. They’re more characterized by large areas of black and sweeping lines that tend to flow with your body’s muscles.

The common imagery usually involves triangle designs, shaded triangles, sea turtles, lizards, and more. When recreating tribal tattoos, ensure you change the design to better fit your client’s needs so you aren’t stealing someone’s work or identity.

Also, use the biggest mags you can. It’ll help you pack a lot of black ink into the skin faster. You won’t have to go back over your client’s skin as much and cause lots of trauma.

New School Tattoo

The new school tattoo style features a highly animated aesthetic that takes after popular entertainment in the late ’80s and early ’90s. With exaggerated facial features that create a cartoonish look, this tattoo tends to push the limits of believability.

Go for a 3-D “graffiti” effect and use bright colors when recreating a new school tattoo for your client. In case you’re working on a design with a face, make the eyes bigger.

Neo Traditional Tattoo

Neo-traditional tattoos are considered a more modern version of traditional tattoos. They are usually influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco aesthetics. While this tattoo style is still technical and 2-D, it uses more subtle gradients, different line weights, more intricate details, and additional colors.

As you draw neo-traditional tattoos, focus on clean linework and your imagery should have some propositions of realism. Also, keep colors to a more muted palette and ensure your blends are smooth during the tattooing process.

Script/Lettering Tattoos

One of the most common tattoo artist styles is script tattoos. They allow you to turn words into works of art. Some script tattooing tips include:

  • Use long-tapered needles for script tattoos to make sure your lines are clean
  • Choose an appropriate font
  • Ensure the letters are well-spaced so that they’re clearer
  • Triple check the spelling, especially if the script is in a foreign language
  • Use the “floating the needle” technique for more accuracy

Other Tattoo Artist Techniques You Need to Know

Want to learn how to draw a tattoo? Mastering a tattoo technique is the best way to perfect your craft. Here are other techniques you can learn to perfect.


Whether you are lining or outlining, the linework is the foundation of creating a border or boundaries inside or around a tattoo design. It helps define a design, making a tattoo more legible. There are two ways you can run lines using a tattoo machine: running off the tube and running off the needle.

Color Packing

Packing color in a tattoo means the dense, well-saturated insertion of color into the skin when tattooing. Color packing techniques include:

  • Small Circles: Involves filling color into the tattoo using small concentric circles
  • The Push: Shoving the pigment into the skin in a single, fluid line with back and forth movements
  • The Pull: You’ll pull the tattoo machine away from the tube tip to allow for a reduced amount of color into the skin

Layering Colors

Layering involves mixing colors in the skin to achieve a gradation effect. During layering, you will need to place a decreased saturation of colors into the skin, one at a time, and ensure they overlap each other. This will help create a smooth texture that is easy to look at.


Tattoo Shading is what draws eyes to a tattoo while making a design seem more profound and realistic. When you are good at shading, you can create images with depth that are fascinating to look at.

Some shading techniques include:

  • Whip shading
  • Trail shading
  • Drag shading
  • Opaque gray shading

Learn Innovative Tattoo Techniques at the Best Tattoo Academy in Florida

Are you thinking about how to become a tattoo artist? Look no further than Florida Tattoo Academy. We teach a wide range of creative tattoo techniques to help you perfect your craft, so contact us to get started.