Tattoo Styles

Local Toronto Tattoo Artist – Tattoo Styles Briefly Explained


There are many sources out there defining various tattoo styles. They range from in-depth explanation of the style to a quick glossary definition of each. To be brutally honest, many tattoo parlors, Toronto tattoo shops such as ours being no exception, hire a company, force their apprentice or just write-up a guide as it’s considered important for various reasons ranging from informing potential clients like you, or having search engines out there rank your website slightly higher as you’re adding good content explaining key search terms.

Worrying about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) was one of the reasons I started writing this article, but in my usual nature, I refuse to have it be a standard write-up you can find elsewhere.

Seriously, it takes less than 5 seconds to find a decent write-up of tattoos styles offered out there. And I will define them in this article briefly as I assume that’s why you came here, but before getting there, to continue this now longer intro:

  • This is my definition of the styles (as I understand it based on talking to various tattoos artists and good old research)
  • It really is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things other than servicing the purpose of history collection and I’ll expand on that briefly
  • When choosing what tattoo style to go with, figure out you first (what you love, drives you, why you want to get permanent ink on your body) and choosing the style is really secondary

So with that stated, we have and will happily continue to service most of these styles of tattoos between our artists. We do only custom designs, so if you come in with an idea and want to take it towards a tattoos design, or even better want one of our artists to come up with a concept for you, talk to us. I just want to be clear that mixing tattoos styles is perfectly acceptable, what we can’t compromise in is doing the best possible tattoo, be it in traditional, black and grey, realism, or whatever you require.

Black and Grey / Geometric / Blackwork Tattoo Style

As the name indicates, Black and Grey tattoo style utilizes black ink and water. Heavier in shading, it differs from traditional tattoos as the lines may be more defined. Putting colors on a black and grey tattoo might take away the black and grey style definition, but really, it’s less about the style then it is the love of tattoos.

Black and grey are often connected to realism (amazing portrait tattoos are created in this style), and now days, some artists (we do on occasion as well depending on the tattoo), might use gray washes or grey ink along with white for highlights. For stunning work of black and grey, check our Mikhail’s profile.

Alongside Black and Grey tattoos, I should mention Blackwork style. While it’s an umbrella term for so many styles, Blackwork tattoos as the name suggests are tattoos done in black ink only.

While we’re talking about Black and Grey and Blackwork, we should mention geometric tattoos, not only as Mikhail specializes in them as well, but as they have been increasing in popularity with the relatively recent explosion of smart phones and tablets. Geometric tattoos, as with geometry, have existed for a while. Now with the ability to create stunning designs using straight and circular lines in mere hours of what would previously take days to deliver by hand, geometric tattoos require an expert hand that can transpose that line perfection on skin and we’re proud to have one of the best Toronto Tattoo Artists that does that repeatedly without fail.

Traditional or American Traditional and Neo-Traditional Tattoo Style

The Traditional style originated well back in the seventeen hundreds and was born out of sailors encountering native communities with tattoos. As with any style, it was practiced and further perfected for years. You might have heard of the deliciously strong rum – well, the rum was originally the name of someone referred to as father of old-school tattoos “Sailor Jerry”. Tattoos might consist of primary colors and traditional imagery is of roses, knives and skulls.

Another similar style, similar being a relative word, is Traditional Japanese which was made famous by the Yukuza (yes, the Japanese underworld). Similarities are in black outlines which are usually bold and minimal shading, with, of course, depictions of Japanese art.

Traditional is not a swear word. Many artists embrace the style and appreciate it for a true staple that made tattoos as popular as they are with today’s millennial and future generations.

I hate it when someone states that Neo Traditional is an evolution of traditional style, but as it’s been adopted as the common phrasing by prominent sites out there, I’ll just say that it takes traditional style of tattooing and adds more realism, color, shading and details. This doesn’t mean that traditional tattoo style is out in favor of Neo Traditional, just that it’s another style coming down to the preference of the artist and the client. For a solid Neo Traditional artist, look no further than Brooke, our apprentice soon to be a full artist that loves perfecting her own Neo Traditional style.

Realism and Portraits Tattoo Style

Often linked to black and grey (realistic tattoos and portraits are delivered with or without color of course), the tattoo style has come to more prominence in the recent decades. Linked to tattoo artists pushing the boundaries of what can be done on living canvases, realism as you can imagine strives to recreate images as they would appear in real life. Realism as such may not have the bold outlines you would see in traditional style tattoos and instead utilizing shading and color contrasts to show the image.

Portraits are therefore typically done in realism style as a portrait of someone recreated as a tattoo and can be in color or black and grey. As many tattoo styles, this especially is quite unforgiving – ability to not only trace a good picture but be able to recreate it on human canvas requires an expert tattoo artist. Don’t sacrifice the price or convenience, ensure you find an expert tattoo artist like one of ours or select few others in Toronto and greater area that have in the past done stunning realistic portraits.

Watercolor Tattoo Style

One of the most popular tattoo styles in recent years, watercolor tattoos as the name indicates scrap the use of traditional outlines where possible to create watercolor paintings on human canvass. It may sound simple, but to create they require a trained eye and artist to deliver masterfully (I’ve tried water color paintings on regular canvas, and while I think I’m relatively ok, seeing them depicted as tattoos requires some serious talent). Our head artist Asia specializes in watercolor tattoos, to find out more check out her profile.

Tribal Tattoo Style

You know what tribal tattoos are, and if you don’t, I guess I would define them as the oldest tattoo style known linked to indigenous body art. Tribes in Peru, Africa and other regions still practice this style on their tribes and tattoo artists have been utilizing it for a long time. There are a lot of different kinds of tribal tattoos (we should mention Polyneasian tattoo style here), what’s common about them is that they’re typically done in black ink and that they contain elaborate patterns. One of our artists, Kristina, specializes in tribal tattooing and has perfected the art during long research and studying from some of the best artists in South East Asia.

Hand Poke (or Stick and Poke) along with Dotwork Tattoo Style

When covering tribal, we have to touch on hand poke tattoos. Delivered by needle dipped in ink, this tattoo style has seen resurgence as many tattoo lovers look to get back to more traditional origins. Finally, linked to Hand Poke, we have to touch on Dotwork tattoos which can be portraits, patterns or designs that are entirely done through dots.

We’re blessed to have one of the best hand poke and dotwork tattoo artists around, to read more about this style of tattoos check out Kristina’s profile or our page on Hand Poke tattoo style.

In Closing

There are many other tattoo styles out there which I won’t cover, including biomechanical or biomech (typically freehanded tattoos based on your body’s flow with designs that are meant to be mechanical looking), bio-organic with patterns that may be closer to organic things, horror tattoos (in color or black and grey), lettering (at the Toronto Tattoo Convention last year, we had a booth beside a lettering artist that charged $500 per tattoo irrespective of number of letters tattooed), New School tattoos (think comic / cartoonish designs typically with color), Surrealism (inspired by Salvador Dali, a mashup of styles depicting imaginary images), Trash Polka (tattoos entirely of black and red color schemes, I’m proud to say my wife gave me one of my favorite tattoos in Trash Polka style depicting a stunning raven in blackwork with red contrast), and other tattoo styles.

In closing, I’ll repeat what I wrote at the beginning, it’s less about the style of tattoo, as styles emerge, morph, blend and reinvent themselves, what’s more important is your and our love of beautiful tattoos, whichever way they’re delivered.

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