Neo-Traditional tattoos: All you need to know

What defines neo-traditional tattoos?


In the wide world of tattoo styles, there are, as you have probably already noticed, the most diverse genres and trends. In our article 11 Most Popular Tattoo Styles you can find and discover most of those existing genres.

But in this article, we will take a closer look at one of these tattoo styles, the Neo-Traditional style and will show you some examples of neo-traditional tattoos.

What are neo-traditional tattoos?

Neo Traditional Tattoo is a style of tattooing that is a modern and successful mix of other tattoo styles. Neo-Traditional is a kind of Realistic with clear influences from the Old- and Newschool.

To give you an idea of what this new tattoo style entails, we will briefly introduce the other three styles that make up the Neo-Traditional tattoo.

Old School Tattoo style

Sailor Jerry Tattoo Flash Designs

The Oldschool tattoo style, also known as Traditional, is one of the ten main styles that includes the seafaring tattoo motifs that were fashionable between 1920 and 1960. The typical motifs are anchors, sailing ships, cannons and seafarers.

Among the seafarers, Maori and tribal motifs were very fashionable, brought back from sea voyages in Asian countries. The motifs, initially influenced by the crossing of the equator, lighthouse and the sailing ships, became more and more oriented towards the wishes and desires of the sailors.

Motifs such as Palm Island, a heart with a flame or dagger, or a cross were added and enriched the style. The motifs swallow with a love letter, roses, hands, tiger and panther head, as well as the pin-up girls are also from this period.

All these motifs are rather minimalistic in simple structures. The Oldschool Tatoo style is characterised by thick, striking black borderlines and strong filler colours such as blue, red or green. Coarse colour transitions are also characteristic of the traditional style.

The New School style

Source: Lilian Raya; @lilianraya

The Newschool style is a continuation of Oldschool and is seen as modern Oldschool. The difference between the two tattoo styles is the way the tattoo motifs are depicted. They appear modern, more detailed and expressive.

This style uses the same tattooing method as old-school tattoos. The images are made even more colourful and new colour gradients and shades are introduced.

Realistic tattoos

Source: Robert Hernandez; @roberthernandeztattoos

Among all styles, Realistic is certainly the supreme discipline. Realistic tattoos look confusingly similar to reality and impress with their richness of detail. Portraits, nature motifs and many other subjects are often tattooed in this style. The images can be either monochrome in black and grey or presented as lifelike and colourful images.

Our realistic tattooing seminar is designed solely to improve your next realistic tattoo.

By interweaving these tattoo directions, the Neo-Traditional Tattoo is a modern adaptation of the classic and timeless style. The single imagery means that virtually any motif can be used, and 'traditional' can be presented in a modern way.

The Neo-Traditional Tattoo is constantly evolving as new tattoo styles continue to influence the tattoo art scene. Even if the motifs remain the same, they will look differently interpreted due to the evolving ways of depiction.

The motifs

As far as the symbolism of the images is concerned, it is no longer so important to necessarily know the meaning of the motif. The symbolic meaning, of course, usually remains more essential to its wearer, but the emphasis these days is on what colours and patterns are used to execute it.

You can do any image and symbol as a Neo-Traditional tattoo, you just need to be comfortable with the striking outline and detailed imagery achieved through colour and space.

The tattoos in this style have a strong distinctive texture and shading. The images are anything but blurry and the message they convey is clear.

Most of you are probably familiar with some of the neo-traditional classics that you often see on Instagram, Pinterest and other platforms. These are usually animal motifs such as large deer, detailed lions or very popular wolves in all kinds of poses.

But other designs can also be found in the Neo-Traditional style. If you look at the motifs that are often used in Neo-Traditional, you quickly notice that there are some parallelisms with other above-mentioned styles.

The Portrait

Source: Emily Rose Murray; @emily_rose_murray

In Neo-Traditional culture, the portrait is the latest trend. Portrait tattoos are difficult to do and are certainly one of the most difficult tattoos to get.

For this reason, clients choose qualified and truly talented artists to ensure that they get flawless results.

Have a look at our Step-by-step Tattoo: Realistic Woman Portrait course if you want to improve your portrait tattooing skills.

The compass

Source: Tania; @green.vesper

One of the most famous motifs in the Neo-Traditional tattoo is the compass. Originally, this tattoo motif is a classic old school tattoo that can be expanded in various ways and qualify as Neo-Traditional.

One way to do this is to depict a detailed and colourful flower in the background. The compass tattoo symbolises purposeful action and the right path, or direction. On the other hand, the compass can stand for hope and protection. The compass should always remind its wearer where he comes from and where his path leads.

The Mermaid

Source: Hannah Flowers; @hannaflowers_tattoos

Mermaids have always been fascinated with their whole being. They are a great tattoo motif, which looks very beautiful when drawn by artists' hands. If you want to give the mermaid Neo Traditional Touch, you should make the mythical creature look like a modern woman and use a lot of colour in the tattoo.

The mermaid tattoo is a vintage mermaid symbol that was originally considered a man's tattoo. Over time, it also represents femininity and can be seen more in women. The mermaid is often combined with other symbols. This motif symbolises emotion, intuition, freedom and independence.

Indian symbols

Source: Toni Donaire; @tdonaire

The Indian symbol is an important part of the culture. The Indian motif is popularly used in the Traditional Tattoo and made into a fabulous Neo symbol by adding more details. To show off the many details of an Indian tattoo, the tattoo should not undercut a certain size.

As a motif, Indians symbolise the urge for freedom, inner strength, bravery and closeness to nature.

Various flowers

Source: Kike Esteras; @kike.esteras

Although people are increasingly decorating their bodies with flower motifs, a single colourful rose is a popular Neo-Traditional tattoo. It simply stands out among the countless types of flowers and is depicted in this style in a much larger, more detailed and colourful way.

The rose is the most stitched tattoo flower motif and is timeless and full of meaning, which is no stranger to anyone. As a sign of love, affection and adoration, the rose is a recurring motif of lovers. The beautiful flower not only stands for love and beauty, but the thorns of the rose also symbolise the dark side of life.

The hourglass

Source: Charly Chou; @charlytattoo

Another popular motif in neo-traditional tattoos is the hourglass. It has a deeply symbolic value and its meaning can vary depending on the personality and the bearer of the perception.

In general, the hourglass represents balance, time and the transience of life. This motif can be a source of inspiration so that we get the best out of each day and learn to appreciate the time.

Other elements

A great side effect of the Neo-Traditional is that it is very flexible to combine with other styles in the tattoo world.

In the end, it always comes down to balance and general harmony, under which Neo Traditional can be wonderfully "crossed" with the most diverse genres.


Like every tattoo style, Neo-Traditional is also fluid in its development and therefore there are now also Asian, but also futuristic implementations.

As always, there are no limits to your imagination, and whatever message your client would like to have implemented in his tattoo. Have an open ear for new ideas!