Traditional Tattoos have been around for a long time, and for good reason! We gathered the greatest classic tattoos and designs of all-time. Enjoy!Brace yourselves because you’re about to find out who invented traditional tattoos. If you are an American or a person who studied history at some point in his or her life, then you must know about Pearl Harbor. What happened back then is not the point, but the location itself is. That’s where a former navy man named Norman Collins learned various tattooing techniques directly from the Japanese tattoo masters.
Norman Collins, also called Sailor Jerry, developed a new kind of tattoo that was the result of combining Japanese techniques with his own American vision. The colors he used were vivid and his choice in iconography was bold. He didn’t just innovate style, but also technique by building tattoo machines and trying to bring more color into his works.
Back then, soldiers used to get tattooed without caring how people would think about them. The harsh truth was that they didn’t know if they were going to make it out alive, so they indulged into permanent marking. Later on, only sailors, homeless people and circus freaks got tattooed. They didn’t care about social constraints, so their actions were seen are rebellions.
Fortunately, society doesn’t look at tattooed people the way it used to. What didn’t change are the traditional tattoos. They are considered classics that will outlive us all. Some of the most common tattoo designs can be done in a pretty badass way as traditional tattoos. The color palette available these days definitely helps, but the complexity of Sailor Jerry’s technique cannot be overcome.
According to multiple sources, the most popular traditional tattoo designs are depictions of Native American symbols, pin-up girls and boys, mermaids, the swallow and sparrow combination, various types of hearts, anchors, eagles, as well as navy and other armed forces symbols; daggers and roses too. Anything can be adapted to the traditional style, so you can find a tattoo artist who is a good drawer and an enthusiast if you want one.
60. Vibrant flowers and a love letter
Love letters are a thing of the past in the traditional way. However, traditional tattoos depicting love letters are timeless. Precisely styled flowers and subtle shading make this tattoo jewelry. The message it sends is positive and it could give anyone a warm feeling. That’s how a tattoo is supposed to speak to someone else: with visual attractiveness and emotional fuzziness. If flowers are what you like in particular, you can find more flower tattoos here.
59. Underboob horseshoe traditional tattoos
We believe that horseshoes bring luck and they have a role of protection for centuries now, but do you know the story behind it? Simply put, a blacksmith removed the horseshoes nailed to the devil’s feet only after the devil promised him that he will not enter any household that had a horseshoe inside. In addition, the horseshoe keeps witches away. Regardless of what you choose to believe, the truth is that the color saturation and the lining from this tattoo are amazing! The location is a big plus too!
58. Sipping Pina Colada anytime, anywhere
Am I too much of a cocktail connoisseur or are you also thinking of Pina Colada? This tattoo is so well done that I’m imagining myself on a beach, sipping from a pineapple-flavored drink. Compliments to the tattoo artist, Kim Nguyen, who inked this beauty in the Netherlands! He did a great job at sharply expressing the lines and the colors in the old school way. You know what they say, don’t choose the tattoo, choose the tattoo artist!
57. The horseshoe and the rose
Sailors thought that the horseshoe ensured their safe arrival to the destination, so why not wear one on your skin and benefit from protection at any given moment? This particular horseshoe is nicely decorated and colored with vivid hues. The combination between a horseshoe and a rose is classic. Delicate and feminine, this design is empowering at the same time. It includes thick lines, but also very soft curves.
56. Half-moon hope and living
This is among the traditional tattoos that aren’t all about symbols, but about technique. While the half moon is not a popular design inked in this technique, it looks enticing enough to become one! When I look at it, it makes me think of hope and of life thanks to the flowers additions. The colors are nice and vibrant!
55. Sipping from a cocktail on a real beach
Black and red is a killer color combination representative for traditional tattoos. If we were previously thinking of beaches and Pina Colada, now we can indulge in this perfect view. The design itself is simplistic. However, that sunset is most certainly triggering the endorphin-releasing areas of your brain! A well-inked tattoo like this one can have the same effect on its wearer!
54. The swallow that carries flowers
Swallows have lots of symbolic meanings. This tattoo could be a metaphorical interpretation of an old superstition that says swallows carry the souls of dead sailors straight to heaven. In this case, the souls of the sailors could be represented by flowers. This swallow is definitely carrying them, so this analogy might be correct. Other than that, swallows mean freedom, hope, love, care and affection. The execution and the placement of this tattoo are remarkable!
53. Contrasting black heart and flowers
Strikingly-sweet, this black heart doesn’t send a very positive message. More of a melodramatic heart, it is saved by the happy colored flowers that are superposed on it. Since it is part of the traditional tattoos category, I don’t think it has anything to do with the black at heart expression. The tattoo artist has perfectly filled the heart with black, without leaving any blank spots or filling lines. That’s something only a professional tattoo artists with a professional tattooing machine can do.
Traditional tattoos are fitted for any part of the human body. This girl chose to get a neckband inked that’s full of traditionally drawn designs. First, there’s the portrait of a beautiful woman, next to an amazing rose and other symbols. As you can see, the tattoo that looks like a necklace is not done using the same technique, but both match and merge in a great way.
51. Young and traditional Johnny Depp
When you look at this tattoo, please keep in mind that this is not a realistic portrait. Even if the tattooed Johnny looks very much like the real Johnny, his features might seem poorly made. I can assure you they are not. This is an interpretation of Depp’s appearance and personality in the old school technique. Nothing less and nothing more! Well, the tear and the little hearts are extra!
50. The butterfly moth and the skull
A combination of a butterfly and a moth, this tattoo is decorated with a skull. The colors are so vibrant that they send a very powerful visual message. They speak of intensity, personality and the balance between life and death. The skull isn’t colorful, so it is clearly meant to be that way since death isn’t the most cheerful thing. The lines are precise and the shading is subtle. This design is fitted for women more than for men.
49. The camel and the cactus
Sometimes a very detailed tattoo looks way better than other more graphic ones. This is a case when few details are enough to properly draw a decorated camel and a cactus behind it. The camel doesn’t look happy maybe because she’s wearing Christmas decorations in the desert and that’s exactly the point. A talented artist can send various messages just by using curved lines correctly. I like how the flowers act as frame in this desert-themed tattoo.
48. Sailor woman who blushes
A sailor woman or a pin up girl in a sailor costume fits perfectly on this woman’s foot. She looks like she is blushing and that might be just an attempt to accentuate her innocence and femininity. Not depicted as a sex symbol, this beauty compliments this woman’s foot by attracting attention to the middle of her ankle, creating a thinner effect. Tattoos can do that for anybody if they are placed properly.
47. Anchor and a lost message
MCMX is a roman numeral that means 1910 in Arabic numbers. While that year might not tell you anything, it is definitely representative for this person. I’m not sure if people used the roman numerals a lot, but they do seem old school, so they fit in this image. As you may know, the anchor symbolizes hope and steadfastness. Moving further, the bottle seems to hold an invitation to the beach. People used to actually send messages in this way, so why not ask someone on a date like this? Nice touch with every dark shade!
46. Make believe the story and the role-play for Traditional Tattoos
Cute and witchy, this girl is hanging out with the moon and a cat. Each character has strong personality traits that are nicely drawn in the traditional way. There’s no background or too much shading. Even so, I can’t help but notice that the moon is shedding a tear. Every story has some drama in it. What’s important is how it ends. The story of inking this design was definitely successful!
45. Beauty lies in details
A mirror, a lipstick and some flowers are a great combination for a feminine traditional tattoo. What I especially appreciate about this tattoo is the contrast between cold and warm colors. Red, golden and yellow are warm colors, while blue and turquoise are cold colors. By mixing the two types, the artist created a balanced composition that looks amazing on skin! The design of the lipstick and the mirror are old school.
44. The fascination of Ouija
The Ouija board was created in 1894. It is not a popular traditional tattoos design, but it is not an adaptation of something new in an old school style. Not many individuals believe in its efficacy and powers, so it might never become more popular than it is today. Nevertheless, it is not fully drawn in this tattoo, but represented as the third eye. The feminine hand that refers to witches brings a few other helpful elements in the occult, such as diamonds and an emerald ring.
43. Love bites literally and figuratively
A 2D spider accompanied by a funny message that’s inked in the traditional technique makes a great tattoo idea. Literally and figuratively, this person was obviously affected by a deception in love and he or she probably likes spiders. Not often someone picks an animal he or she has a phobia for as a tattoo. This leaves us with the first option. To complete the image, the body of the spider has a tiny, red heart on it. Superb choice in colors and font too!
42. Decadence in the traditional style
Back in the days, the subject depicted in this tattoo was taboo. The simplest way to refer to any decadent or intimate subject was to suggest it more than really show it. Whoever had the idea of this tattoo was definitely inspired. His mustache is the key element from this nicely-done tattoo. Only a daring person would choose this design. How naughty are you?
41. The shark is a Mexican dolphin
In this tattoo you’ll find one of the most varied color palettes in traditional tattoos. Not long ago, colors used to be pretty straightforward. However, the variety available these days makes inking more fun and it doesn’t break any rule. This shark that’s actually part of a Mexican dolphin (since it has a sombrero on) could pass as a creature of the sea, so this tattoo could be nautical-themed. While that assumption could seem a bit far-fetched, the visual impact is the one that really matters. Here are more Mexican Day of the Dead tattoos.
40. The magic of an optical illusion
The fascination for women and magic are nicely captured by this design. A gorgeous woman is defying the laws of physics by performing a magic trick. She is supposedly holding the middle of her body in the box above her head. However, according to the way this trick is really done, there are two women in this tattoo. There’s no better color to express passion and rapidly pumping blood than red! The simple, bold lines make this tattoo to die for!
39. Gramophone embellished with flowers
Gramophones are old and out-dated music players that look spectacular and could mean an affinity for music. This gramophone is extra special because it is inked the old school way. Tattoos like this one aren’t cliches, they are simply classics. The whole image is eye-catching and emanates positivity, as well as a lot of joy visually and acoustically.
38. Perfume in an expensive bottle
Tasteful things can look expensive, but they aren’t necessarily that way. This beautifully decorated bottle of perfume captures the elegance of the old days. Golden is not an easy color to obtain for a tattoo, but the artist who did this definitely pulled it off. The perfume dispenser and the little pump are nice details, as well as the roses from the bottle. Can you imagine a person smelling like raw roses? That’s how traditional smells like.
37. Sun-associated yellow rose
Roses look cool, but there are also hidden meanings behind the color of roses. For example, yellow roses are associated with friendship and optimism. The color itself is a mark of power, wisdom and sometimes joy. This girl chose an oversized yellow rose to decorate her arm. She added dark green leaves that spread on her forearm. Traditional style looks better in this situation than the realistic one.
36. The serpent on the cross
There are two meanings of the serpent on the cross, namely the one related to Moses and the one in alchemy. The first one is about Moses protecting people from the plague by erecting a snake. The second one refers to making the elixir of mercury that’s supposed to be curative. None of the symbols look exactly like this one, but probably the truth is somewhere in between. What’s certain is that traditional tattoos like this one are mysterious and good-looking.
35. Alice in Wonderland goes traditional
The rabbit from Alice in Wonderland looks awfully serious in this design. Its features are a little too detailed for the old school style, which makes me think this is actually part of the neo-traditional tattoos category. However, the other elements are in place. Iconography is one of the strong sides of this tattooing style and this rabbit isn’t one of the classics.
34. Old school elbow decoration
The elbow is one of the most painful places you can get tattooed on. However, once the tattoo is done, you’ll be able to enjoy a lifetime of perfection! I’d say that’s what this tattoo is; pure perfection! If you are a fan of such drawing style, you’ll have to endure a little pain from lining and shading, but the result will be awesome! This person played it safe with traditional decorative flower patterns.
33. Every path leads home
The saying Every path leads home sounds a lot like an European saying that goes like Every path leads to Paris. In other words, no matter how you put it, this design emphasizes the importance of travelling, as well as the importance of getting back home. What way to best represent travelling than by adding an Earth globe and some suitcases? Clean writing and perfect shaping!
32. Stabbing right in the heart
Literally or not, heart-stabbing is visually appealing in this tattoo design! A nice, four-sided dagger with a detailed handle goes right through a bloody-red heart. Maybe a little violent for some, traditional tattoos like this one are meant to express the ugly part of life, not only the positive one. I wonder how this person will choose to merge all her arm tattoos into a sleeve.
31. Portraits of two lovers
Less daring and more symbolic, these portraits unite two lovers in a golden heart. Since love is beautiful and always blooming, the flower additions make total sense. Purple was first used by Sailor Jerry and it is now experiencing a total comeback. Situated at the border between girly and manly, purple fits well with other complementary colors, such as yellow, white, grey and pink.
30. Home is where the heart is. Always.
A nice house, a positive message and a rope shaped like the infinity sign are part of this traditional tattoo. The presence of the house is self-explanatory, but do you know what the symbolism of rope is? Rope actually represents knowledge. It could be about the conclusion this person drew or about the fact that we never stop learning something new. Regardless of the real reason, this is a great tattoo inked using the old school ways.
29. The portrait of a blushing beauty
Did you notice that in all traditional tattoos women are blushing? I believe it’s about showing their innocence and naivety. Inked with strongly pigmented colors, this design looks pretty and it fits on this person’s abs. There is little to no shading involved, as well as precise contouring. I wish my eyelashes were as long as in this tattoo! Shaun Bailey is the name of the tattoo artist who did this. He is from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
28. Inner fight and a typewriter
Tony Talbert has outdone himself with this tattoo! He deviated a bit from the old school style when he inked these flowers, but other than that he pretty much followed the rules. This typewriter could refer to one’s life story or to a specific person who is a writer. Among those who fight, especially with themselves are the writers. A never ending fight and a permanent tattoo are a good match!
27. Horseshoe pairs up with a rose
Myke Chambers was successful in inking this traditional horseshoe and rose design on a woman’s foot. He didn’t improvise much when it comes to shape and curved lines, but he did add personal style with his choice in colors. The symbol of love and beauty, this rose is red, which is actually a pleonasm in many languages. A red rose means love and romance and it is never old-fashion.
26. Rose’s thorns piercing the moon
This metaphorical tattoo was inked in Leeds, UK by Joe Ellis. He has nicely combined black shades with brown shades, carefully maintaining an acceptable ratio between fantasy and reality. The moon is literally pierced by the thorns of a rose and it looks sad! I’m not sure what the meaning of this design is, but it does look deep and insightful. This is more of a neo-traditional tattoo, than a classic traditional one.
25. Skulls, kitty and flowers
Another neo-traditional tattoo, this one spreads on a woman’s back and buttocks. It is not typical from any point of view, but it contains classical elements, such as flowers, skulls, ribbons and poorly detailed designs. The lack of details is not a flaw, but a characteristic of traditional tattoos. The colors are bright and very varied fact which I personally appreciate. Are you more of a colored tattoo fan or a black & white tattoo fan?
24. The look of a proud fox
Foxes are supposed to look proud since they are considered tricksters. However, depending on which culture we take into account, foxes are also noble and wise messengers; they are adaptable, clever and think fast. The Japanese people think foxes symbolize longevity and protection from evil. Celts on the other hand, believe foxes are guides. As a tattoo, this image represents a success of Ibi Rothe, a tattoo artist from Leipzig.
23. UFO abducting a cow
Isn’t this tattoo funny? Do you believe extraterrestrial life exists? We can’t know for sure if the person who got this tattoo is a believer or not, but he sure chose a very original design! Jenny Boulger liked the idea and inked it on his skin. Boulger pulled it off with the old school technique and an excellent color palette. This design is simple, but very suggestive.
22. The dangerous dagger and the rose
The generally accepted meaning of this tattoo is life or immortality. The dagger appears by itself or near various other representations in tattoos and it means something different every time. The rose is known to signify love and life. The details and the colors are characteristic to the traditional style. This piece is feminine and it enhances this girl’s look. There’s no better match than a lean body and a cool tattoo like this one that was inked by Hamish Clarke.
21. Decorated hand mirror
If the meaning of a mirror is physical and spiritual reflection, then what is the meaning of a mirror frame without the actual mirror inside? Beautifully decorated and placed near two lovely yellow roses, this mirror frame is definitely part of a philosophical theory. Everything is relative, not to mention philosophy, so we should just focus on symmetry and uniform colors for this one.
20. Colored nautical butterfly
The ship and the light tower are elements of nautical tattoos. If you remember, sailors were among the first ones to benefit from traditional tattoos. So, the nautical category is very important when it comes to the old style of tattooing. This person combined a girlie and newer design with two of the most common nautical symbols. Every detail fits in place and overall, this tattoo is excellent!
19. The pearl from the depths
Including this tattoo in the nautical tattoos category could be a little far-fetched, but the sea is actually a component. Pearls are the sea’s natural jewelry that take a long time to form and that are not affected by troubled waters. Simple and quite spectacular traditional tattoos like this one are rare. People usually settle for well-known symbols, such as ships, light towers, sparrows, flags and anchors.
18. The cat with pink collar
Adorned by multiple cultures along the years, the cat is not just a pet, but also the guardian of the Otherworld. This particular cat looks friendly, but it also has a certain pride in her posture. The cats affiliation with flowers is only caused by the classical recipe of a traditional tattoo. Two beautiful things are always great together, so I can call this a success! Are you a cat or a dog person?
17. Baphomet in traditional American vision
Equally impressive with a realistic design of Baphomet, this one seems creepier. In case you aren’t familiar with who Baphomet is, you must know that it is also called the Sabbatic Goat. It is a pagan idol that was quickly associated with satanism. It is also used in witchcraft and it is a symbol of duality. This is the first time I see a representation of Baphomet in the traditional style and I think it looks more scary than the usual!
16. A dove for grandma
Tattoos done in the memory of our lost ones are emotional and not rare at all. Honoring a dead, dear person can easily be done with a tattoo. For example, this tattoo consists of a dove, knitting utensils and books. Probably this person’s grandma was reading and knitting a lot. The dove is a symbol for peace, love and hope. Maybe grandma couldn’t outlive the traditional style, but at least she got a tribute tattoo.
15. Home is wherever I’m with you
Traditional tattoos are fitted to express love too. This is just one example of tattoo that is dedicated to this person’s lover. She chose to incorporate a compass and lots of roses in order to show her feelings. Since she only feels home whenever and wherever she is with her loved one, the idea of compass makes total sense. As already said, roses, especially red roses, are meant to send messages of love and romance.
14. Vibrant flowers in a bouquet
Flowers are feminine and wild flowers represent a wild and nonconformist person. Pair all these characteristic up and you’ll have the perfect traditional tattoo with flowers! The petals and the leaves are very graphic and the colors are vibrant. This is what I mostly like about traditional tattoos; the colors are not diluted or looking faded. I’m not too fond of the stem’s look, but I guess the emphasis should be on the flowers.
13. The swallow and the compass
The swallow and the compass are two of the most common traditional tattoos designs. They were ingeniously combined in this arm tattoo that’s full of positivity and color. Slightly bigger than a regular tattoo, this one is more detailed due to space. In case you are a novice, you should know that small tattoos aren’t too detailed because of the lack of space. Generally, old school elements don’t require too many details and they are 2D.
12. Meatball is a furry ball
This adorable kitty named Meatball has a crown made of flowers and a lovely smile when she shows her fangs. Pet images can easily be adapted to this tattooing style. However, not many people opt for non-realistic tattoos these days. Realistic tattoos are indeed spectacular, but it’s like printing a photo on skin. I would like both types of tattoos. Would you opt for modern or classic?
11. Tall ship arm sailing
A nautical tattoo placed on a guy’s forearm is a great example of traditional skin art. The design is combined with a compass and flowers, which emphasize the style more than the nautical context. Not so vivid, the colors look a little diluted. I think this is a personal choice, not a characteristic of the traditional style. Colored ink is more dense than black ink is, so the wrong amount could look cloggy.
10. Mermaids spotted by the lighthouse
Lina and Astrid are two mesmerizing mermaids who look exposed in this chest piece. Along with the anchor and the roses, there’s no better example of a traditional composition that is not cliche, but it is full of generally accepted symbols. The colors are bright and the shading work is excellent. Chest pieces are often very painful because of the sternum and the collarbones. Pretty much any tattoo located on or near bones is more painful than others.
9. Royal elephant on leg
In contrast with the previous tattoo, this one has none of the most common designs met in traditional tattoos. However, it fits just fine in the neo-traditional tattoos category. The intensity of the colors is characteristic and the details aren’t too accentuated. I doubt this is how a happy elephant looks like, but I’m sure its owner is extra happy with the result! Overall, this is an admirable tattoo!
8. Mom, dad and the rest
A full sleeve is a great achievement for any tattoo lover. Part of it is dedicated to this guy’s mom and dad. I find that very touching and very thoughtful of him. He put together a diamond and his mom, as well as a crown and his dad. I guess that’s how he associates them. Among the other elements are roses, something that looks like the sea’s waves and some kind of bird too.
7. Purple owl proudly stands
Colored tattoos aren’t easy to do. There are some tattoo artists who don’t work with colors at all. Choosing the right shades and the right amount of ink can sometimes be tricky. This purple owl is an example of a very successful work with colors. Traditional in shape and line, this design is closely connected to the notions of night, moon, mystery, magic, darkness and ancient knowledge as well.
6. Daria and her best friend
I am a really big fan of Daria. Are you familiar with the show? Although it isn’t popular anymore and only a few people understood Daria’s sarcasm, she looks great portrayed on this girl’s leg. On the other side is Jane, Daria’s best friend. Both have different colored flowers as part of their portraits. However, I would’ve chosen different backgrounds for them. They look good, but the happy theme doesn’t really represent them.
5. The eagle and the American flag
Such traditional piece is difficult to overlook. It is a very nationalist tattoo, inked in the old school way. The eagle looks like it’s almost about to fly from this person’s sternum, so that’s a plus. Usually traditional tattoos are two-dimensional, but somehow this one doesn’t look that way. It is not meant to look 3D, but it’s so majestic that it does.
4. Frowned owl looking scary
Symbol of the night, this owl is frowned and it doesn’t look too friendly. It is fiercely holding on to a branch, trying to seem imposing. However, owls are also about wisdom and femininity, so their image is contrasting. What softens this tattoo up are the beautiful red roses found on each side. Studies show that chest pieces on women hurt a lot more than on men.
3. Tiger, skull, wolf and swallow
An animal and a tattoo lover, this guy got himself some sick tattoos. His arm is full of designs with various types of animals, surrounded by the always present flowers. He divided his arm into warm and cold colors. If you look closely, you’ll see that his forearm is mostly inked with warm colors. This is proof of dedication and good taste! For more sleeve tattoos.
2. Time is precious for sailors
This is a work of art that was conceived with the idea of traditional symbols in mind. The only object that is less popular in the traditional world of tattoos is the hourglass, but other than that, everything fits in perfectly. A nautical tattoo, this design is uplifting thanks to the eagle’s wings and delicate at the same time thanks to the red roses.
1. The battle of the eagle and the snake
Tattoo artist Tim Hendricks did this incredible back piece. He included this tattoo in the ships and sails category, but it is much more than that. Indeed, it focuses on the nautical theme and on a battle that takes place in the background. There’s an eagle fighting a snake and no one knows why, or do you? An epic tattoo nevertheless, it proves that traditional is not a style that we will outlive, but it will outlive us.