Traditional designs are using heavy black outlines with minimal color and a lot of black shades.
So, they are usually darker in appearance and the color choice is limited to simple colors such as average blue, green, red and yellow. Colors are used in blocks with very few details.
Also, they are being styled in such a standard way that everything they portray appears as a two-dimensional shape, without any three-dimensional depth.
Traditional designs usually lack a lot of complicity since they were done years ago with less advanced equipment and the tattoos were made fast at lower prices. Many traditional tattoo designs are portraying military and nautical motives and themes, as navy and army men were the primary tattoo clients. This traditional style preserved its popularity throughout the years, thanks to its historical significance, clearly readable simplicity and traditional American roots.
In order to make real traditional designs, tattoo artists have to work with a set of rules which will make their tattoos really traditional. These rules mostly apply on certain motives and themes and how these could be colored or drawn. For their basis traditional artists are using the work of respected and well known pioneers of this style, such as Sailor Jerry Collins, Don Ed Hardy and Lyle Tuttle. That is why a large number of traditional designs are being taken directly or interpreted from the sheets of tattoo designs prepared for mass replication, widely known as “flash”.
Those collectors who would like to get a real and fully “traditional” custom tattoo should be aware of the strict guidelines these tattoo designs imply. It is therefore wise that you choose a tattoo artist that is familiar with these guidelines and can give you the traditional tattoo with a twist of yourself or the artist. If they do not pay heed about this aspect of traditional tattoo designs, a person may end up with a “knock off” or “untrue” traditional tattoo, which will be discerned by all the people knowledgeable in the art of tattooing. Of course, this may not be important to you at all.
One of the newer aspects of traditional tattoo designs is the neo-traditional design, a design that has become more popular in the past few years. The neo-traditional tattoo is made by combining the rules of the traditional tattoos and some modern techniques and tools. This usually results in an original yet advanced tattoo. To give an example, a tattoo performed in a neo-traditional style, may still have simplified shapes and fat black outlines and characteristic for the traditional practice, while also introducing much broader color palette and some unusual, modern theme or motive. The neo-traditional tattoo designs are great for those people that like the traditional designs but would like something more original.