The good news is you don’t need to know what a tattoo style is called to know what you like: A skilled artist can work off of your verbal descriptions and reference photos to figure out what aesthetic best suits your vision. But having a working familiarity with some of the more prominent or popular styles of tattooing can help you to refine your idea before you go to the shop—and most importantly, it can help you choose an artist who is experienced in the aesthetic you’re interested in.
(Tattoo by Tan Vo)
Neo-Traditional: As the name implies, neo-traditional tattoos evolved from the traditional style. Like their predecessors, these tattoos typically feature vibrant colors and bold lines. But neo-traditional uses a wider range of both colors and line weights, which gives tattoos more depth, detail, and realism. Popular subjects include traditional imagery with a unique spin as well as animals and scenes from nature.
(Tattoo by Chelsea Jane)
Illustrative: Illustrative tattoos are also rooted in the traditional aesthetic, and they have a lot of similarities to neo-traditional tattoos in that they feature an expanded color palette, variety of line weights, and more realistic shading. But whereas neo-traditional tattoos typically still have the look and feel of American traditional tattoos, illustrative pieces resemble an actual illustration. For some artists this includes linework that looks like pencil or brush strokes, whereas others let the depth of shading and range of color gradations lend a tattoo that particular quality. The sky is the limit as far as subject matter goes. (Don’t worry if you can’t tell if a tattoo is neo-traditional or illustrative: It can often be a subtle difference, and sometimes the answer would depend on who you asked.)
(Tattoo by Justin Tauch)
Watercolor: Becoming increasingly more popular with every social media post you see, watercolor or painterly tattoos often look more like something you’d see on your wall than on a human canvas. These tattoos imitate brushstrokes to varying degrees: Some may have bold strokes or paint “splatters,” whereas others have a softer, more blended look. They tend to feature a softer color palette, often incorporating pastels or subtle color variations. Watercolor tattoos can have zero black lines for an almost ethereal look, but there is some concern that a lack of darker linework might cause such tattoos to lose shape over the years, so some artists prefer to incorporate a base or framework to hold the colors in place. As with illustrative tattoos, the watercolor style is used for a variety of images, with some of the more popular choices including fish and flowers.
(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)
Blackwork: On the opposite end of the spectrum from watercolor is blackwork. Whereas black-and-grey tattoos feature shades of both black and grey (using either watered-down black ink or prefabricated grey ink), blackwork tattoos have zero shading. Sacred geometry, bold patterns, and large swaths of solid black typically characterize blackwork pieces, but this style can also include extremely detailed subjects that have an illustrative quality to them.
(Tattoo by Joy Shannon)
Dotwork: As you might have guessed, dotwork tattoos consist solely of dots—lots and lots of dots, depending on the piece! Dotwork tattoos require the artist to precisely place tens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of dots into a pattern to achieve the desired image, whether that’s a sacred symbol or a portrait of an animal. These tattoos typically are done in shades of black or red, and the end product can be a simple design or have an almost three-dimensional look to it. Dotwork can be incorporated into other tattoo styles such as blackwork to give a piece depth without resorting to color variation.
(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)
Realism: Like watercolor tattoos, realism is extremely popular in the current era, whether you’re interested in black-and-grey or full color. Realistic tattoos implement expert linework and shading to create a style that is extremely true to life—almost like looking at a photograph, which is why you might hear it called photorealism. Meticulous planning and attention to detail can make a photorealistic rose look like you could actually pick it off of someone’s arm or a butterfly look like it might fly away at any second. Unfortunately, a lack of expertise can make realistic tattoos some of the biggest disasters in the industry, as evidenced by the many examples of horrific portrait tattoos. We always encourage you to scrutinize any artist’s portfolio, but that goes double for realistic pieces!
(Tattoo by Adrian Franco)
Irezumi: Irezumi is the proper term for traditional Japanese tattoos. Originating in Japan in the 1600s, this style still focuses on classic themes from folklore, legend, and history: Dragons, samurai, phoenixes, geishas, cherry blossoms, koi fish, kitsunes, kappas, and other subjects both mythical and mundane serve as common subject matter. Although you can get an Irezumi-style tattoo anywhere you choose to, the traditional bodysuit covers the arms, back, upper legs, and chest (leaving an untouched channel down the center of the body).
(Tattoo by Mikey Vigilante)
New School: Originating in the 1970s, new school tattooing evolved from the traditional (or old school) style. You can see new school’s old school roots in the bold lines and heavily saturated colors. But new school incorporates exaggerated or cartoonish elements not typically found in traditional tattoos. Bobble-headed characters from your favorite Disney movie or outlandishly dressed animals in unlikely situations are some of the common images associated with this style.
Trash Polka: Created at Buena Vista Tattoo Club by Simone Plaff and Volko Merschky in Würaburg, Germany, Trash Polka has a collage-like quality that incorporates both realistic and abstract imagery in a fine-art style. Random bits of lettering, detailed silhouettes, geometric patterns, and smudges of ink characterize Trash Polka tattoos, which are done exclusively in back and/or red ink. Trash Polka is full of chaos and movement, with an extremely unique aesthetic that is not for everyone. It’s interesting to note that “true” Trash Polka tattoos must be done at Buena Vista Tattoo Club—but if you’re interested in this style and can’t make it to Germany, you can find artists in the US who are proficient at this emerging style.
At Paper Crane Studio, our artists excel in a number of styles, and we each have our own unique specialties. We pride ourselves on our professional integrity, so we are always up front about what we feel most comfortable tattooing—and an artist will happily refer you to another artist if a project isn’t a perfect fit.
And remember: We love to think outside of the box and tackle new challenges! We’d be thrilled to bring your wildest vision to vivid life, whether that means working within an established aesthetic or creating something totally unique.
Please feel free to email us at email@example.com with any questions on style. If you’re still unsure of how to choose the most suitable artist at our shop, we’re happy to guide you to the right match!
If you’re in that first group, then you’ll love today’s blog: We’re breaking down some of the different types of needles your artist might use to tattoo you, so next time you get inked you’ll have a better understanding of the tools of the trade. And if you’re squeamish about the process, it’s our hope that a little knowledge will take some of the fear out of your next session!
As for those single-needle tattoos, you can get hand-poked or machine-tattooed with these by an artist with a steady hand. The end results can be super fine and elegant, with ethereal strokes that look almost hand-drawn. Some artists use them for tiny tattoos, whereas others appreciate the single-needle aesthetic and incorporate it into their work regardless of size.
Round Needles: Soldered together around a central shaft, round needles look exactly like their name implies. They can be used as liners, in which case they are called round liners, or as shaders, in which case they’re called—you guessed it!—round shaders. You can commonly find round needles with anywhere from three to eighteen needles. Depending on how loosely or tightly the needles are grouped and the desired result, your artist can use round needles for basic shading, small details, or bold outlines.
Flat Needles: As you might have figured, flat needles are soldered together in a straight line. This configuration is often used for textural effects, like doing fine strands of hair or giving a tattoo a “brushed” look. Similar to round needles, the actual number of needles varies greatly, but between six and ten is standard.
Magnum Needles: When it comes to shading or filling in large areas of color, magnum needles get the job done. Why is that? Magnums are by design flat configurations with every other needle woven and slightly separated from the adjacent needle. This extra space between the individual needles means magnum needles deliver a lot of ink in one go, which in turn means your artist doesn’t have to pass over your already-tender skin as many times as with other needles. Magnums come in an ever-growing variety, including single stack (one row of needles), weaved (two loosely-grouped rows of needles), and soft edged (which are slightly rounded on the end and used for smooth gradients or black-and-grey). If you’re wondering what separates a single stack magnum from a flat needle or a round magnum from a regular round liner, it’s largely the way the needles are grouped and configured. Some artists feel magnum varieties are more flexible, cause less damage, and/or deliver smoother ink flow. You can easily find magnums with anywhere from five to forty-nine needles. And if that second number sounds intimidating, here’s an interesting observation: The more needles you’re being tattooed with, the less pain you tend to feel! That’s why a little round liner can feel like you’re getting nicked with a razor, whereas a larger magnum grouping creates more of a dull burn.
A reputable artist will have the right tools for the job, which includes the proper gear for his/her individual needs. For example, if your artist uses a machine that requires needle cartridges as opposed to a standard setup, s/he’ll have that all ready to go. Or if your artist is using bugpins (a type of magnum made with extremely thin needles), s/he’ll have the smaller tubes needed for this setup.
Most importantly, though, regardless of what needles or devices your artist implements, a professional artist will have a totally sterile setup. That means disposable, single-use needles so as to avoid the transmission of blood-borne pathogens between clients; autoclaves to sterilize any non-disposable equipment; ink cups that artists fill with ink from larger bottles and throw away after each session; and a number of behind-the-scenes protocols that ensure your comfort and safety.
Remember, if you’re ever in doubt or just want to put your mind at ease, you can always ask your artist to explain their setup. Whether you want to know more about the kinds of needles being used or the safety precautions in place, a reliable artist will have no problem giving you detailed information.
If you’ve got questions in the meantime, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Today we’re taking a look at hand, neck, and face tattoos to get an idea of why they carry certain negative connotations, how they’ve evolved over the years, and whether one of these taboo tattoos is right for you.
“Pacific Islanders are very enthusiastic about tattoos,” Mikey observes, and it’s an enthusiasm that continues to thrive: The Maori moko is arguably the most famous example of facial tattoos, both traditionally and today. Maori men and women alike to this day receive “Ta moko” as a rite of passage into adulthood. Carved rather than inked with a needle, the moko can be found on both the body and face—but the fearsome warrior with a heavily inked face is typically what we think of when we hear the word “moko.” Far from being a stigma, the moko was traditionally a marker of a high social status, and it is now a way of proudly expressing cultural heritage.
As artists and individuals, we’re all about crushing stigmas and negative expectations—and we’re proud to say that we’ve got tattooed clients, family, and friends who do exactly that every day.
So what words would Mikey give to those thinking of a face, neck, or hand tattoo? “These tattoos are not for the faint of heart,” he wants you to know. “They will make getting a job more difficult. You are about to enter a world of self-reliance. People will hate and will judge. You will have to be better than them—or you will get crushed.”
Today on the blog we’re talking to Tan Vo about the intersection of two of his passions: tattooing and gardening.
We’ve talked in past blogs about the fact that a good tattoo artist will help you to choose the best size and placement for your piece, and Tan is no exception to that rule. “But I always try to accommodate your vision so long as it keeps the integrity of our work,” he adds: You can trust him to work with you to design a piece that is perfectly placed and properly sized. “After that, you can do anything with flowers.”
Whatever plant-based piece you have in mind, Tan will be happy to put both his artistic and botanical skills to use. He’s equally fond of color and black-and-grey floral pieces, and he’s adept at incorporating leafy elements into designs in both traditional and unexpected ways. Whether you’re coming in for a simple rose or your fifteenth floral tattoo, he wants you to feel totally at ease: “It’s our job to make it look good,” he explains—and at Paper Crane, that means creating an authentic piece of art that you’ll be proud of for years to come.
We always take the time to go over aftercare with you at our shop, but we know that it can be a lot to process when you’ve just finished up a tattooing session. So today we’re breaking down our approach to aftercare, to help you have a happy healing experience.
Although you should not re-bandage your tattoo after you’ve unwrapped it, it’s important to keep it protected. Wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothing—clean clothing, as you’re dealing with a fresh wound. Cotton is preferable, but be sure you’re not wearing anything abrasive that could damage your tattoo or otherwise irritate your skin.
Remember: Your new tattoo is essentially an open wound. Your skin has been pierced many, many times with a needle and injected with ink. Scabs are your body’s way of protecting you and of healing. It’s totally normal to see scabs for up to two weeks after your session, and you will be re-opening the wound and starting from step one if you pick those scabs off. Not only will you risk losing color, you’ll also be exposing yourself to potential infection (neither of which is the responsibility of your artist).
In that vein, we recommend avoiding ANY activities or environments that could harm your tattoo for the ten-day healing period, including (but not limited to) camping, gardening, tanning, working out (especially at a public gym), swimming, or any particularly strenuous activities. Don’t let people or pets rub up against a new tattoo, and while you’re at it avoid unclean surfaces, dirt, chemicals, abrasive clothing, standing water, and your own unwashed hands.
Whether you get tattooed at our studio or elsewhere, your artist will go over aftercare with you and typically provide a care sheet. Keep in mind that they might have their own unique approach that differs slightly from our guidelines (such as a preferred brand of lotion), but one thing is universal: We want you to reach out if you have any questions about your healing process.
We sat down with our very own Chelsea Jane to discuss this unique area.
With the tears come valuable lessons: “Our animal companions teach us about love,” Chelsea reflects. “I’ve always felt it easier to be vulnerable and open with animals because they don’t carry the baggage that we do as human beings–and in turn that helps me become closer and more loving to mankind. I mean, have you ever loved something so purely and as much as your own pet? Without any fear of that love not being reciprocated? To love without abandon is so brave, and it’s their greatest gift to us.”
Whether you’ll be coming to Paper Crane Studio for your tattoo or another shop, we want to help you make the most of your experience. So while you’re checking off the days on your calendar, join us for another installment of Think Before You Ink. Our professional insight can give you an inside edge when you go under the needle.
That said, if you’ve got a talented artist who is experienced with this particular trend, a 3D tattoo doesn’t have to be a disappointment. Just make sure that you either like the way it looks from multiple angles or that you can live with it if it looks wonky when you’re not specifically showing it off. We advise you to get it for more than just the special effect, though, so that you’ll still enjoy it once the novelty wears off. Photorealistic tattoos are a good alternative to straight-up 3D tattoos, as they provide a similar eye-poppingly realistic look from multiple angles. Although subtler than some of the trendy tattoos you’ll find online, photorealistic tattoos can ultimately be a lot more wearable.
Our experienced team is never heavy handed when it comes to tattooing—but if you’re prone to skin sensitivity, we recommend two sessions (with healing time in between each one) in order to minimize any potential irritation on a red-heavy piece.
Remember that an experienced artist has done a lot of tattoos, both that go with the flow of the body and that don’t (since, after all, we’re not going to force you to orient your tattoo our way!). We’ve seen people who regret not listening to professional input. So please, talk with your artist to see their perspective, then make a decision from there.