Neo traditional tattooing is not just one of the most popular tattoo styles, it’s also a way of blending the “old school” tattoo style while also leaning into what’s new and fresh.
As a tattoo artist, you will need to understand what neo traditional tattoos are and how to do them so that you can be prepared for clients who ask for this style.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What are Neo Traditional Tattoos?
Many tattoo artists love the neo traditional tattoo style because it is a more modern take on the American traditional tattoo style. They follow a lot of the same rules and techniques as traditional tattoos including bold, black outlines, but allow for extra line weights and more intricate work.
As opposed to the “flatter” look of an American traditional tattoo with their classic color palette, neo traditional tattoos tend to go for a more multi-dimensional look with a broader color palette. The neo traditional style takes many of the elements of traditional tattoos like snakes, ships, faces, flowers, and more…but it adds new detail to find a nice balance between a classic look and a modern feel.
The designs are usually larger than traditional tattoos and have more colors.
History and Influences of the Neo Traditional Style
Neo traditional tattoo artists borrow ideas from art movements like art deco and art nouveau, which grew from European interest in Japanese art. These two artistic movements relied on the flowing lines and organic shapes of nature, as well as a detailed, eye-catching style.
Neo traditional tattoos started popping up around the 1970s when tattoo artists became interested in combining American folk art with the style of Japanese artwork. The neo traditional style quickly gained steam, spreading around the United States and into Europe and Asia as tattoo artists and clients saw the appeal of the fresh take on a classic style.
Common Imagery in Neo Traditional Tattoos
Neo traditional tattoos usually have diverse imagery, incredible detail, and bold outlines that make them pop. Some of the common subject matter seen in neo traditional designs are portraits of a beloved pet, lifelike heads and torsos, pictures of nature, and playful takes on commonly tattooed animals.In addition to the stylized natural imagery you see in a lot of neo traditional designs, elements of the traditional style are also common. Things like anchors, birds, roses, and pinups are often seen in neo traditional tattoos with an added pop of color and dimension.
Neo traditional and new school tattoos have many similarities including the bold, multi-dimensional style and the preference for vivid colors.The main difference between these two tattoo styles is that, where new school tattoos look toward pop culture and media references for their subject matter, neo traditional designs are rooted in American tradition.
What’s the Difference Between Neo Traditional and American Traditional Tattoos?
American Traditional Tattoo
Neo traditional tattoos often pay homage to American tattoo flash while breaking many of the traditional rules and incorporating photo-realism and a more vibrant color palette. Many neo traditional tattoos have a sense of humor to them in addition to the intense beauty and detail the style is known for.While American traditional tattoos are known for their limited color palette, black shading, and consistent line weights, neo traditional tattoos add a level of intricacy and modernism. In the neo traditional style, a common design like an anchor is likely to have an added sense of movement, color, and artistry. You can also expect neo traditional tattoo designs to incorporate gray wash as opposed to only using black ink for shading.
Neo Traditional Tattoo by Tattooing 101 Instructor Brandon Over
Neo traditional tattoos are well-known for their muted color palettes.Where traditional tattoos use a smaller selection of colors, it’s common for neo traditional designs to include modern colors like purples and blues, as well as lots of color blends in darker hues.
While the American traditional tattoo is known for its crisp lines and geometric shapes, neo traditional tattoos are more likely to include flowing designs that seem to move with the body.Neo traditional tattoos will have the same clean line work as a traditional tattoo, but they are often much bigger. This means they must follow the shape of the muscles to make sure they look like they belong on the body.
With the American traditional tattoo style, line weight is usually very consistent.Neo traditional tattoo designs still generally use a black ink outline, but several line weights will be used create a multi-dimensional look.
How To Do Neo Traditional Tattoos
You know that neo traditional uses a muted color palette, multiple line weights, and flows with the body…but how do you do that as a new tattoo artist? Here are some tips for how to do your own neo trad tattoos:
For a muted color palette, you’ll want to draw from colors often seen in American traditional tattooing like red, gold, green, and black and then expand outward with more earthy tones.
When we say earthy, we mean to go for a mustard yellow as opposed to bright yellow or olive green instead of lime green.
A lot of tattoo retailers offer tattoo ink sets specifically made for neo traditional tattoos. Check out our favorites:
Price: $57.75 for 5 1oz bottles
Price: $133 for 12 1ox bottles
Neo traditional tattoos are known for using multiple line weights. The heaviest line weight will be for major elements and outlines while details should be done in thinner weights.
For tattoos in this style, you’ll want 2-3 line weights in a design, which would mean using 2-3 round liners.
Having multiple line weights makes the image more detailed without hurting the readability of the design.
One of the most important parts of the neo traditional style is the design working with the flow of the body. A tattoo that flows well looks like it belongs on the body, while a tattoo that doesn’t looks awkward and makes any mistakes even more visible.
To work with the flow of the body correctly, you need to follow the natural S-shapes the body makes. For example, the tattoo design will follow the curve of the tricep and how the muscle wraps around the upper arm.
If you’re drawing digitally, you can pull up a picture of the body part you’ll be tattooing. You can do this digitally with a stock photo, but it helps a lot if you can use the client’s actual picture, especially if they already have tattoos around the area you’ll be tattooing. (You can also print out an image if you are using pencil and paper.)
Try drawing the S-shapes of the muscles on the arm and use them as guidelines that help you plan out how the tattoo should flow.
Neo Traditional Tattoo Ideas
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