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A Guide to Tattoo Styles: Part 1

A Guide to Tattoo Styles: Part 1

Fine line, biomechanical, old school, new school, Asian, lettering — in the world of tattoos, the options are endless. And with more and more people going under the needle, the push for custom art is a must.

Thinking about getting inked? Perhaps you want to add to an existing piece, or you're a clean-skinned newbie looking for that perfect first design. Either way, where do you start?

READ: Guidelines for a Tattoo Virgin

We talked to two of the top tattoo artists in the industry — John Rizzi of Unique Ink in Connecticut and Diego Mannino of Daredevil Tattoo in New York City — for their take on the most common styles on the market.

Check out our first installment of our tattoo style guide below.

(First row, l to r: Gerard Feliciano, East Side Ink (ESI); Jessica Mascitti, ESI. Second row: Mascitti, ESI; Lara Scatton, ESI. Third row: Lara Scatton, ESI; Jon Clue, ESI (skull); John Rizzi, Unique Ink (woman); John Rizzi, UI (car); Lara Scatton, ESI )
Fine-Line Black and Gray, aka 'Gray Wash'

As the name implies, a black and gray tattoo is just that, working within the grayscale color palette and using various needle sizes to achieve a highly detailed tattoo. "You are using a black and gray tone, similar to a photograph, to achieve contrasting colors and show casted shadows," explains John Rizzi.  "A lot of the time, the 'gray wash' style is used for a portrait. It has a very smooth appearance and a lot of grace. It applies a tone of antiquity.”

(Top left: Reuters; bottom right: John Rizzi, Unique Ink)
Ancient / Tribal

One of the most common designs on the market, the true tribal dates back thousands of years and features very distinct and intricate line work and connected patterns. "Usually done only in black, and very flat and graphic. Sometimes, 'pointillism' is used to create the same type of designs. It's called tribal because the designs stem back to pre-colonial times. Cultures from around the world — i.e. African, Polynesian, Maori, Incan, Egyptian, etc. — can all be within this realm," says artist Diego Mannino.

(Clockwise from top left: Jon Clue, ESI; Jon Clue, ESI; Jon Clue, ESI; Needles, ESI)
Biomechanical

A truly unique style, biomechanical tattoos feature robotic parts, working gears and 3D skin illusions. "Biomechanical combines the attributes of a human and machine, incorporating it together," says Rizzi. "When we think of life, we think of nourishment distribution, blood flow. When you're talking biomechanical, we’re taking mechanics and applying it to the skin: tubing or hose-work connected to arteries, connected to  hydraulics or engines — racks and pins and gears," he explains. 

(Clockwise from top left: Cheo Park, ESI; Needles, ESI; Cheo Park, ESI; Needles, ESI; Cheo Park, ESI; Cheo Park, ESI)
Japanese / Asian

Koi fish. Cherry Blossoms. Dragons. This is a rich tattoo style with a deep history, and it's in popular demand. "This style originates from the Ukiyo 'floating world' woodblocks of the Edo period (1603-1868). The designs are very flat — two-dimensional, almost like a textile. [They] can be done in full color or black and gray,” explains Mannino.

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