Getting Inked? Check Out Our Beginner Tattoo Style Guide

Whether you're the illustrated (wo)man or a newbie to the game, there is a tattoo out there for everyone.

A close up of a person getting a tattoo of a skull on their arm

The sheer breadth of styles available can be overwhelming, so unless you want to end up walking out of the tattoo parlour with something regrettably impulsive – like say, a photo-realistic portrait of Bishop Brennan kicking Donald Trump up the arse – check out our handy beginner’s tattoo guide!



Bold black outlines and vivid colours are the hallmark of this style and Sailor Jerry its most famous American proponent. Sailor Jerry-style tattoos are immediately recognisable and in their less original classic incarnations rely heavily on miliary (specifically US naval) imagery and messaging.



Neo American Traditional

Stylistically similar but tonally different from its progenitor. Lines are bolder, and images have more of a playful, yet classical, vibe. Designs tend to incorporate classical elements (bold lines, bright colours) often with minimal shading, rendered as portraiture and with tongue-in-cheek modern take.


Neo trad
Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a ‘pinky swear’ tattoo and archetypal neo-trad tattooed hand-holders


Script or Lettering

Now, you always want to be certain that the artist doing your tattoo is trustworthy, but when it comes to lettering or script you want to be super certain that they can spell correctly too. Some artists won’t even touch script because it’s such a pain.

Some pointers: be conscious of the legibility of the script, always double check the spelling and if you’re getting a piece in a different language, have it checked by a native speaker  – DON’T rely on Google translate, or god forbid, Yahoo Answers. You definitely don’t want to find out six months down the line that the dainty Chinese character on your shoulder actually means ‘Beancurd’.

Two RuPaul’s Drag Race quotes and Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria sporting her iconic ‘Butch’ tattoo


Xmas Qcard MPU



Next to text, Portrait tatts have the greatest possibility for disaster. In the hands of an unskilled artist your heartfelt memorial portrait of your adorable niece could come out looking like Freddy Krueger. So, again it seems obvious, but spend some time researching your chosen artist: does their portfolio contain lots of portraiture? Do they have examples of their finished work? If they don’t, go to an artist who does.





Watercolour tattoos have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Also popular are hybrid tattoo with watercolour elements incorporated into geometric designs. There’s been some discussion about the longevity of watercolour designs – will the natural ink ‘spreading’ that occurs after several years render the images indiscernible?

Another point to take on-board is the skill factor: not every tattooist has the skill to capably create such designs. Social media portals like Instagram are great for discovering the master-artists out there. Remember to do your research – see a portfolio, check their online work and the reputation of their studio before committing to anything.



Geometric tattoos usually consist of repetition of geometric shapes  – circles, triangles etc – to create satisfyingly symmetrical images. The most arresting geometric designs are often minimal, almost sparse, but intricate nonetheless. This is also a type of tattoo that can be incorporated into other styles (like the half portrait, half minimalist geometric dog below.)

For more examples of this style done right, check out the works of Dr Woo from LA’s Shamrock Social Club, one of the most skilled minimalist geometric tattooists around at the moment).

A detailed geometric Marilyn Monroe, a hybrid portrait/minimalist geometric pooch and a circular geometric bear by Dr Woo



Bold outlines or barely visible lines, anything goes stylistically as long as it’s minimal. That means no shading or depth, just an outline usually, expressing your desired image. This style works best for small pieces (for obvious reasons) and is great for ‘fan’ tattoos (see below) as it combines the nerdy and the aesthetic nicely.

Equality by Eterno 8 (at AKA Berlin), a Harry Potter glasses/scar combo and regrettable Bernie Sanders.


Dublin is a veritable hub of tattoo action with studios like The Ink Factory, IMG & INK, Colourworks and Snakebite all do excellent work. For more information visit the all-knowing Google.

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