| May 3, 2013

Thinking of inking? In part one of our tattoo style guide, we broke down the difference between black and grey, biomechancial, tribal, and the popular Japanese styles. But what's the difference between old and new-school tattoos? And what the heck is a “flash” tattoo?

READ: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Celebrity Tattoos

Luckily, we had a chance to chat with artists John Rizzi of Unique Ink and Diego Mannino of Daredevil Tattoo. These two experts explained the differences between five more of the most popular styles at the shop.

Read on to see which style suits you!

Top row: Diego Manino, Daredevil Tattoo. Second, third and fourth rows: Gerard Feliciano, East Side Ink (ESI)
Old School / Traditional

When talking tattoos, a "Sailor Jerry" reference may get tossed around a few times. This classic style, also called "old school" or "traditional," is a throwback to the art form’s golden age. "It’s been around for only 150 years, give or take," explains Manino. "Very Western in design, typically done in three parts; one part black, one part color and one part skin. Thick lines are always used, and the motifs are typically nautical and military in theme. Eagles, anchors, swallows, hearts and banners, etc."

Top row: Jon Clue, ESI. Second row: Cheo Park, ESI. Third row: Jon Clue, ESI; Needles, ESI; Todd Woodz, Magic Cobra Tattoo Society
New School

We've got old school down, but what about new school? "When you do old school, you are using traditionalism — where tattooing originated two-dimensional imagery or low intricacy. With new school, it’s all about freestyling," says Rizzi. "New school veers away from traditionalism; it’s all unique patterns [and] custom ideas that haven’t been used before. It almost references a hip-hop and graffiti style: jagged edges, bubble lettering." With new techniques, modern equipment, and fresh ideas, the new school style is becoming more and more prevalent.

Clockwise from top left:Jessica Mascitti, East Side Ink (ESI); John Rizzi, Unique Ink (UI); Diego Mannino, Daredevil Tattoo; John Rizzi, UI; Gerard Feliciano, ESI; Lara Scatton, ESI

Seems like an obvious style, but with so many different variations and shades, there’s a lot to consider before getting a color tattoo. "The pigments of people's skin plays a huge role when coloring. On someone who is pasty white, the color will show. If you have more melanin, I may suggest going with a grey wash tattoo," Rizzi notes. But if you're dead-set on color ink, there’s a wide spectrum of options. "There is an endless amount of colors you can create. from earthy tones to even smoother watercolor touches without any hard outlines. There’s even UV light ink, where the tattoo only shows up when you shine a blacklight," explains Rizzi. But, as with any tattoo, color ink is prone to fading with time.  "Tattoo aftercare can help prevent fading. The way you heal it is the way you're going to remain. A tattoo is a living, breathing thing; if you scrape or cut your tattoo, ink will come out," Rizzi warns.

John Rizzi, Unique Ink

The use of lettering and fonts has always been a popular ink choice. With so many different options out there, finding that perfect font is key. "There are numerous different fonts you can use," says Rizzi, listing old English, constitutional type, handwritten lettering, paint splatters, etching, and even fonts that give the effect of incisions in the skin. "One of the biggest things, when getting a lettering piece done, is the cleanliness of the word, and of every letter. You can tell [the difference between] an artist who cares and someone who doesn’t," notes Rizzi. Also popular are ambigrams. "This is when you can incorporate two words together — a composite in one tattoo. If you flip the tattoo, or look from a different angle, you can see the two different words."


Flash is NOT a tattoo style, but more of a term. "[Tattoo shops] have billboards hanging on the wall — or booklets — that have images [of designs] that were used in the past," explains Rizzi. "This is 'flash art' that has been generated to be mass produced," notes Rizzi. "There no passion in taking a template out of a drawer and transferring it to someone’s body. [I'd rather] go to sleep at night knowing I helped someone derive a beautiful, custom image."  

So what'll it be? Did any of the above styles pique your interest?