Classic tattoo sleeve

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American Traditional Tattoos

Old school is the easiest tattoo style to identify.

Visually, each artist will put their own stamp on an American Traditional piece.

But there are some important guidelines to follow.

Traditional Tattoo Sleeve

Modern tattoo styles are distinct in their own way but open to interpretation.

Fluidity suits some creative types, and they tend to work with modern styles.

Old school tattoo artists love to find their creativity within an established aesthetic.

It is a challenge, and it ties the artist back to the original taste-makers in American tattoo.

The Old School Tattoo Style Guide

Old School tattoos look good on any skin tone because they are highly saturated.

The designs are so simple.

Rather than using several shades to create dimension, a Traditional tattoo is 2D.

There may be some shading on certain details, but it is minimal.

The art of an American Traditional design is to make it look like a drawing.

Bold black outlines are complemented by large blocks of saturated reds, blues, and yellows.

These colors are generously filled under the skin, and some say Old School tattoos age better as a result.

Aged Traditional Tattoo

It just takes a lot longer for all that ink to break down.

In tattoos with a lot of color variance, some parts will fade faster than others.

3 years healed traditional tattoo

Though bold black lines and simple blocks of color look easy, they are anything but.

It takes a skilled artist to pull off these precise designs.

Other styles may be up for interpretation, but an Old School tattoo has to be clean and instantly recognizable.

In more flowing designs, a botched line can be disguised with shading and fine details.

Healed American Traditional Tattoo

But bold designs look off if they aren’t clean around the edges.

So make sure you find an artist who is as enthusiastic as you are about American Traditional tattoos!

Old Meets New

There are some common themes in Old School Tattoo art, and they each have their own symbolism.

If you like the look of Old School tattoos but not the images, there are some really neat options available.

Some designs take modern characters and references and make them look Old School.

This can be a fun way to bridge the gap between mainstream modern tattoos and the boldness of yesterday’s ink.

The History of American Traditional Tattoos

Tattoos are an ancient art form, but they took longer to take off in America.

Maud Wagner

Maude Wagner, one of the OG names in the game, was the first recorded female tattoo artist in America.

She met Gus Wagner in 1904, and this was the beginning of her tattoo journey.

Maude was working as a circus performer at the time and Gus was a heavily tattooed tattoo artist.

He began teaching Maude his skills and the two became a famous tattoo artist couple.

Even their daughter would one day join the family business.

During the late 1800’s and early 1900s, tattoos were common among people like the Wagners.

They lived on the fringes of society, and in some ways, their tattoos communicated that.

Tattooed people who weren’t vaudeville or circus performers were generally seamen.

Circus Lady tattooed

Sailors and pirates traveled to islands, so they were privy to tribal tattoos.

British explorer Captain Cook and his gang are credited for popularizing tattoos in the Western world. 

Though other explorers had written about the art, Captain Cook coined the phrase “tattoo.”

This comes from the Polynesian term ‘tatau‘.

For a long time, American tattoo artistry remained on the outskirts, with people who dedicated their lives to not fitting in.

It was during the ’40s that tattoo artistry really took off.

World War 2 Soldier Tattooed

Soldiers would tattoo each other with patriotic symbols.

Sailor Jerry, a prominent name in the American Traditional style, had a shop on a popular strip in Honolulu.

This was often where sailors would go on shore leave, and they’d literally stumble upon Sailor Jerry’s shop.

Sailor Jerry tattooing on a client

It was during this time that the symbols in American Traditional tattoos were popularized and refined.

Traditional Flash for Old School Tattoos

When a tattoo artist talks about “flash” designs, they’re referring to a wall of available artwork.

Modern tattoos are more about customization, and to copy a special piece is a big no-no in the world of tattoos.

Flash art is cool because you can reach back in time and get the very same tattoo as one of your relatives.

They tie you to the history of tattoos in America.

For the longest time, standard Old School flash art didn’t have a name.

It was just the only option. You would walk into a tattoo shop, pick a design, and then go on your merry way with a new piece of ink.

What’s more, you likely only paid $3 for the whole experience.

Once tattooing grew beyond those first shops, different styles began to emerge.

As this happened, it was necessary to have terms like “Old School” and “flash.”

Some modern artists will create their own flash panels for special events.

At these events, people can get inexpensive tattoos if they are willing to have the same design as someone else.

It is a fun way to promote a tattoo shop, get to know a community, or sometimes raise money for charity.

Main Themes & Symbols in Old School Tattoos

The original flash designs may have varied from artist to artist, but there were some common themes:

Pin-Up Tattoos

For those sailors who liked the company of a woman, it was difficult to go for months without seeing one.

Traditional Pin-Up Tattoo

Sailing was a male-dominated field.

Traditional Pin-Up Tattoo

As pin-up magazines gained popularity in America, sailors would pay tribute to these idealized women.

Traditional Pin-Up Tattoo

Pin-up tattoos are still one of the more popular styles available.

Pin-Up Tattoo

Traditional Diving Girl Tattoos

You have likely seen this retro tattoo design before.

A woman in a red bathing suit dives down the length of someone’s body, usually their limb or leg.

Diving Girl Tattoo

This is a popular image for American traditional sleeves because of the long, thin design.

It can fill in negative-space and add personality to any tattoo collection.

But where does the diving girl come from?

Before the 17th century, it was quite common for people to indulge in public bathing.

American Traditional Diving Girl Tattoo

It wasn’t until the end of the Middle Ages that the idea of modesty entered the picture.

Swimwear, especially for women, was usually large and somewhat formless.

The water would fill a woman’s garments, causing her figure to be obscured.

This can’t have been very comfortable, but the idea was to lounge and bathe in the water, not swim.

In the 1920s, the Jantzen Swimwear Company changed everything.

American Traditional Diving Girl Tattoo

They decided to make an active suit, something women could actually swim in.

They very deliberately called their suits “swimsuits” instead of “bathing suits” so they could stand out from larger, more cumbersome suits meant for lounging only.

American Traditional Diving Girl Tattoo

These suits gave women the freedom to move and started the trend toward smaller and smaller swimwear.

People must have liked the change, because Jantzen’s diving girl, or variations on their logo design, became a popular retro tattoo.

Diving Girl Tattoo

While to some it may just be a simple pin-up tattoo, it can also stand for something more significant.

The diving girl gave women the freedom to move and show their bodies without shame.

Definitely a moment worth immortalizing!

American Traditional Lettering Tattoos

In American traditional tattoos, some elements are crucial for that old school look.

If you and your artist choose to skip these details, your tattoo may fall into a new category.

American Traditional Lettering Tattoo

One of these distinct features is the American traditional lettering tattoo.

In these traditional tattoos, the lettering is clean and straight up and down.

American Traditional Lettering Tattoo

There are serifs on the letters’ edges, drawn with plain lines or in a “block” style.

Some artists choose to shade the bottom half of the block letters for a stylish look in the latter case.

It’s not that there isn’t room to have some fun with American traditional lettering tattoos.

American Traditional Lettering Tattoo

It’s just that you have to stick to a particular set of rules.

Traditional Nautical Tattoos

Due to their inextricable connection with adventure on the high seas, many American Traditional tattoo designs have a nautical theme.

Many of these symbols have lived on in the present day.

Nautical tattoos act as an homage to the OG wearers of the designs and, of course, the imagery’s symbolism.

  • American Traditional Anchor Tattoos

Sailors would often get anchor tattoos after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

More than that, an American traditional anchor tattoo has a symbolic meaning that is pretty easy to define.

American Traditional Anchor Tattoo

Anchors serve to ground a vessel in turbulent waters.

The same can be said for a sailor’s loved ones.

American Traditional Anchor Tattoo

It is common for anchor tattoos to have a name underneath them as a tribute.

  • American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoos

Lighthouses are benevolent figures.

They exist only to cast light, and to guide people.

There is no way of taxing a lighthouse or paying for its use.

A lighthouse was a hopeful sight to any sailor who’d been on a dark sea for too long.

American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoo

Lighthouses mean land, and land means fresh food and new company.

It may even mean you’re home.

An American traditional lighthouse tattoo for a sailor meant guidance and comfort.

A lighthouse tattoo is a reminder that, at some point, you’re going to reach dry land.

These days, with all the attention of mental health, it can mean the same thing.

American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoo

It can’t be windy seas forever.

American traditional lighthouse tattoos may be great for mentors and teachers as well.

If you go through life with the noble intention of inspiring others, you’re likely something of a lighthouse figure yourself.

A lighthouse tattoo may be a reminder to stick to your mission, providing guidance and comfort to those who need it.

This tattoo design is also a nice, nostalgic way to pay homage to a coastal town.

If you grew up near the water, you probably have some charming memories of the shoreline.

American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoo

Many lighthouses have their own distinct look and become beacons of pride for anyone who lives near them.

Why not immortalize your favorite lighthouse with a nostalgic design?

  • American Traditional Ship Tattoos

A lot of romantic things have been said about ships.

It makes sense that this nautical image reigns supreme in the world of American traditional tattoos.

After all, the people who popularized tattoos in mainstream America were often sailors returning home from their adventures.

American Traditional Lighthouse and Ship Tattoo

Sailing a ship is often used as a metaphor for moving through life.

At times waters may be turbulent, and sunshine may be scarce, but you need to learn to navigate through it all with grace and courage.

American Traditional Ship Tattoo

This is how old school ship tattoos went from representing a way of life to symbolizing a philosophy on it.

There’s a lot of fun to be had with an old-school ship tattoo design, and you can choose something that matches your approach to life.

American Traditional Ship Tattoo

Are you a grand, showy ship with lots of billowing sails?

Or maybe you’d like something a little ooky and spooky- a Lovecraftian vessel with tentacles creeping up the sides.

American Traditional Ship Tattoo

Your choice of ship may say a lot about your choice of lifestyle, but it can also be a yearning for adventure.

Life at sea is unconventional and requires a lot of mental fortitude.

American Traditional Ship Tattoo

Are you seeking an experience that will challenge you and make you feel alive?

Your adventurous spirit may be well represented by an American traditional ship tattoo.

  • American Traditional Shark Tattoos

Sharks are a mainstay in tattoo culture, especially in the old school style.

There is no one specific way to draw a shark tattoo, so they depend largely on the artist.

Sharks are sometimes drawn in full, while other times they are rising up from the water, with only their eyes and great toothy mouths visible.

American Traditional Shark Tattoo

The nautical ties between sharks and sailors are pretty obvious.

A sailor with an American traditional shark tattoo is may adhere to the “hair of the dog” philosophy.

In this tradition, people get tattoos of the things they revere in order to protect themselves.

And it’s easy to assume why a sailor may revere sharks!

American Traditional Shark Tattoo

A sailor who was averse to sharks may have faced his frailty by getting a shark tattoo.

It may also have been their way of saying they are unafraid.

Another reason to make acquaintances with this toothy beast is its admirable qualities.

American Traditional Shark Tattoo

Some people get tattoos of animals they wish to emulate.

A shark is constantly on the move, which represents determination.

American Traditional Shark Tattoo

Sharks have no natural predators in the wild, so they can stand for superiority and braveness.

  • American Traditional Octopus Tattoos

Working as a sailor, the mysteries of the sea would have an undeniable allure.

One of the greatest aquatic mysteries is the octopus.

American Traditional Octopus Tattoo

Can you imagine seeing an octopus without having any prior knowledge of the creature?

It would be an otherworldly experience, so it’s no wonder, so many sailors chose to immortalize these eight-legged wonders.

American Traditional Octopus Tattoo

American traditional octopus tattoos can represent mysteriousness.

But they can also speak to adaptability and creative problem-solving.

American Traditional Octopus Tattoo

The octopus is a rather tenacious creature despite its jelly-like exterior, so that alone speaks volumes.

  • American Traditional Compass Tattoos

There’s something so exciting about compass tattoos, isn’t there?

It conjures up images of far off places and treasure maps.

American Traditional Compass Tattoo

Like many nautical references, the image of a compass has deep connotations beyond the literal.

A compass is a navigational device on the surface.

It was a necessary tool for many people for a long time.

American Traditional Compass Tattoo

But the idea of having a “true north” is also a philosophical one.

What are your morals, what guides you through life?

A compass can be an ode to those things.

If you have been a bit of a wanderer, this can be a fitting tattoo when you reach a stable place in life.

American Traditional Compass Tattoo

Or it can be a reminder that “not all who wander are lost.”

  • American Traditional Bottle Tattoos

American traditional bottle designs are not considered canon in the old-school universe.

That is, it may not be an actual traditional design.

That said, it’s a fun way to incorporate many themes and symbols in one tattoo.

American Traditional Bottle Tattoo

The bottle tattoo design idea comes from the concept of a “message in a bottle.”

The oldest known message in a bottle washed up in 2018 on Australia’s shores.

American Traditional Bottle Tattoo

This was one of many bottles put into the sea by marine scientists from 1886.

The aim was to study the ocean’s currents by asking bottle finders to write with their location.

American Traditional Bottle Tattoo

Of course, the more popular version of a message in the bottle is usually a story of lost love.

People would hurl their most profound emotions into the water, hoping it would make them feel less alone.

Thus, many people design American traditional bottle tattoos as an homage to treasured memories, people, or emotions.

American Traditional Bottle Tattoo

It’s a unique way to put your spin on a traditional design while keeping the nautical aesthetic.

American Traditional Zoomorphic Tattoos

Humans have often drawn inspiration from the animal kingdom.

An animal tattoo can show the world who you consider yourself to be and the traits you value in yourself.

In the old school tattoo world, it’s no different.

American traditional zoomorphic tattoos often depicted predatory animals as a way for the wearer to boast about their strength and virility.

In the modern-day, some unconventional animals join the mix for a greater sense of variety.

  • American Traditional Bear Tattoos

Bear tattoos are a striking choice.

Similar to the wolf, the bear has a lot of folklore dedicated to it.

In more realistic portraits, a bear can look gentle and wise.

American Traditional Bear Tattoo

In old school tattoo designs, the bear is usually snarling.

The old school bear tattoo looks very similar to wolf tattoo designs, though it’s a little wilder.

In the wolf design, the animal looks playfully wild.

In the bear tattoo design, it looks like it’s ready to strike.

American Traditional Bear Tattoo

Old school bears are often drawn with dark black or brown fur and great red mouths, with yellowed teeth.

Bears are revered in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore.

Bear mythology has had a recent upsurge since the popularity of Midsommar, the movie from Ari Aster.

The film was made in 2019 and will likely be talked about among movie fans for years to come.

But what does a bear tattoo symbolize, anyway?

American Traditional Bear Tattoo

In Norse mythology, the bear is admired because of its similarity to humans.

Bears have personalities, and they live in hierarchical societies.

They are highly intelligent and adaptable.

American Traditional Bear Tattoo

They are often associated with Thor and Odin, two of the most powerful Norse gods.

There are many shape-shifting myths around bears, and for someone to be represented by this animal means they have a strong sense of integrity.

American Traditional Bear Tattoo

An American traditional bear tattoo could be a sign of your potential to be wild, your mental fortitude, or both.

  • American Traditional Wolf Tattoos

Wolves are a highly documented creature in pop culture.

They have a dual nature.

To some, a wolf is a bold predator.

American Traditional Wolf Tattoo

To others, a wolf is a skilled hunter.

Both are true, it just depends on what side of the equation you’re on.

For many people who operate under the “hunt or be hunted” principle, it is better to be a wolf than to be roughed up by one.

So a wolf tattoo may be a way of trying to invoke those survival characteristics.

Traditional Wolf Tattoo

Back in the day, the term “wolf” was often used for a love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

Some people wear their heart-breaker status as a badge of honor.

This is likely how the American traditional wolf tattoo became popular.

Wolf tattoos in more realistic styles look more mystical and symbolic.

But the old school wolf often has his mouth open with his tongue out.

Traditional Wolf Tattoo

This image is evocative of many of the original black and white cartoons.

These were not always for children, and often featured pleasure-seeking wolves.

The American traditional wolf is usually black with yellow eyes and a wavy red tongue.

American Traditional Wolf Tattoo

This is a cartoonish representation of the wolf’s base desires.

Someone who considers himself a wolf may have trouble resisting temptation.

These cartoonish wolves are a fun, expressive way to explore your naughty side.

American Traditional Wolf Head Tattoo and Traditional Dagger Tattoo

Or maybe to remind yourself what you do not wish to be seen as!

  • American Traditional Snake Tattoos

Snakes are incredibly symbolic and have been since we started telling stories.

Look at the story of Adam and Eve, for example, who were tempted by a snake in the Garden of Eden.

An old school snake tattoo can represent a lot of things.

American Traditional Snake Tattoo

With sailing being a male-dominated profession, it has its obvious phallic symbolism.

A snake tattoo may be a symbol of your virility as a strong young man.

They don’t call the penis the “one-eyed snake” for nothing, and no doubt there was a lot of bawdy humor out at sea.

Snakes can take down prey much larger than themselves, so a person who chooses a snake as their familiar may feel they can take on any obstacle life throws at them.

American Traditional Snake Tattoo

Snakes also shed their skin, so they can be a symbol of transformation.

Maybe you’re dedicating yourself to a new life or just had some hard work pay off in a big way.

A traditional snake tattoo can be a nice celebration of that milestone.

American Traditional Snake Tattoo

There’s also the idea of the venomous snake, who won’t set on you unless provoked.

Sometimes an old school design of a coiled-up snake meant “tread lightly,” and would be worn by people with a tough exterior.

American Traditional Snake Head Tattoo
  • American Traditional Butterfly Tattoos

Butterflies get a reputation for being cliched in the tattoo world, but they’re a classic design.

Sailor Jerry had several flash pieces of butterflies, each bold and beautiful in its own way.

People often get unnecessarily gender-specific with butterflies.

Traditional Butterfly Tattoo

Traditional butterfly tattoos are a design that can look amazing on any gender, and their opulent wings make them highly customizable.

American traditional butterfly tattoos tend to have almost a stained glass look on their wings.

Highly saturated reds, blues, and yellows contrast each other on beautiful panels.

Sometimes, the butterfly’s body is replaced by a beautiful woman’s face.

Butterfly tattoos represent hope, transformation, and renewal.

Traditional Butterfly Tattoo on the Neck

They are a nice tattoo to have when you are entering a new phase of life or leaving something behind.

Many people view butterfly tattoos as feminine.

Despite this, these tattoos aren’t gender-specific.

Anyone can choose to display butterflies on their body.

Traditional Butterfly Tattoo

Traditional butterfly tattoos capture a distinct style within intricate and soft designs.

In sailor lore, there was a superstition that seeing a butterfly before embarking on your mission meant you would meet your end at sea.

A butterfly tattoo in this case could mean bravely facing your mortality.

Traditional Butterfly Tattoo

Further to that point, some old-school tattoos feature a butterfly with a skull’s face on it.

In modern times this may represent the movie Silence of the Lambs, but it has its own meaning beyond pop culture.

With butterflies symbolizing new life and skull tattoos symbolizing impermanency, a butterfly tattoo with a skull can be a reminder of one’s mortality.

American Traditional Butterfly Skull Tattoo

Again, this would symbolize bravely facing the end, at least intellectually.

While butterflies are dainty, the Old School tattoo style depicts them boldly and full of life.

  • American Traditional Panther Tattoos

The American traditional panther tattoo is a classic in the Sailor Jerry universe.

American Traditional Panther Tattoo

The panther is an untamed animal with rippling muscles, impressive hunting abilities, and sharp imposing teeth.

A panther tattoo serves as a badge of masculinity.

American Traditional Panther Tattoo

The panther is often paired with a coiling snake- doubling down on the sensual prowess implied.

  • American Traditional Tiger Tattoos

Tigers are solitary animals and often the top predators in the areas they inhabit.

American Traditional Tiger Tattoo

American traditional tiger tattoos often celebrate that sense of wildness and independence.

American Traditional Tiger Tattoo

A tiger tattoo design may be well suited to someone who considers themself a leader or pioneer.

American Traditional Tiger Tattoo
  • American Traditional Cat Tattoos

Though the black cat can often symbolize bad luck, the meaning is reversed in an American traditional cat tattoo.

American Traditional Cat Tattoo

This is similar to wearing a demon’s image (popular in Japanese tattoo art) to ward off.

If you stare down your lousy luck, maybe you’ll be able to avoid it.

American Traditional Cat Tattoo

The black cat tattoo also ties into the individuality nature of the ink.

If everyone says black cats are bad luck, it’s a cheeky act to have one tattooed on your body.

At times, an American traditional style pairs with a more personalized cat tattoo design.

American Traditional Cat Tattoo

This is usually to pay homage to a particular feline.

  • American Traditional Dragon Tattoos

Dragon tattoo designs are associated with many qualities that make old school tattoos sing: Strength, protection, and masculinity.

The American traditional dragon has Asian elements in the design.

American Traditional Dragon Tattoo

This is due to Sailor Jerry’s fascination with Asian art and, more specifically, Japanese tattoo designs.

According to the official Sailor Jerry website, Jerry corresponded with Japanese tattoo masters and wanted to out-do them in the ink department.

American Traditional Dragon Tattoo

These designs have their own distinct, Americanized flair!

  • American Traditional Lion Tattoos

Lions are often associated with bravery.

A lion asserts itself socially, giving off a kind of mystical confidence.

American Traditional Lion Tattoo

Many people choose lion tattoos to take a piece of that self-assuredness for themselves.

Similar to tigers, they symbolize strength.

But a lion hunts both alone and with their pride, so an American traditional lion tattoo may represent being part of a formidable team.

American Traditional Lion Tattoo
  • American Traditional Fox Tattoos

Have you ever been out-foxed, or are you the trickster in your group?

The fox is a cunning and intelligent creature.

American Traditional Fox Tattoo

It knows what it wants and will use brains, not brawn, to get it.

A person who wears an American traditional fox tattoo is innovative and adaptable.

American Traditional Fox Tattoo

Or at least, they’d like people to think they are.

They may be an essential member of their team, or they may stick to themselves, only joining the crowd to stir up a little trouble.

American Traditional Fox Tattoo
  • American Traditional Elephant Tattoos

Our friend elephant has mystical symbolism across the world.

The adorned elephants in these American traditional designs are, like the dragons above, inspired by the Eastern world.

In India, elephants are divine creatures.

American Traditional Elephant Tattoo

These decorations and adornments serve to celebrate that divine nature.

In American traditional tattoos, elephants symbolize good luck, great memories, and prosperity.

American Traditional Elephant Tattoo

The elephant balancing on a ball has a unique interpretation.

It represents the idea of finding balance and agility, even when you have a lot going on.

  • American Traditional Horse Tattoos

Horses are strong, wild, and free.

American Traditional Horse Tattoo

It takes some effort to tame a horse, but you have a partner for life when you succeed.

American Traditional Horse Tattoo

An American traditional horse tattoo may represent a free-spirited nature or the desire for one.

American Traditional Horse Tattoo

It may also symbolize a person’s sense of superiority and dominion over the animal kingdom.

American Traditional Horse Tattoo
  • American Traditional Deer Tattoos

Similar to horse tattoos, an American traditional deer tattoo can symbolize dominion over the animal kingdom.

Deer are often a badge of honor for skilled hunters, and they may choose to immortalize that with some ink.

A deer itself represents a quiet strength, serenity, and maternal instincts.

The stag (a male deer) represents competition, virility, and masculinity.

American Traditional Deer Tattoo
American Traditional Deer Tattoo
  • American Traditional Bat Tattoos

Bats can “see” in the dark with their unique sonar abilities.

American Traditional Bat Tattoo

They’re nocturnal creatures, often representing the more shadowy side of life.

An American traditional bat tattoo may represent triumph over obstacles.

This tattoo design may also express a love for all things ooky and spooky.

American Traditional Bat Tattoo
  • American Traditional Bee Tattoos

A bee may not have been part of the original old school universe, but it’s become a famous muse in the world of ink.

American traditional bee tattoos represent all the things a good bee is about: Teamwork, a dedication to the good of the whole, and putting in a little elbow grease.

American Traditional Bee Tattoo

These days, the bee may also be a calling card for environmentalists.

With many bee populations on a mysterious decline, earth-lovers everywhere call for people to protect their local pollinators.

American Traditional Bird Tattoos

Birds are especially symbolic for people who spend a lot of time at sea.

Two or more birds usually indicate that land is nearby, which can be a hopeful sign to a weary sailor.

American Traditional Bird Tattoo

Many birds have made their way into the American traditional style.

  • American Traditional Eagle Tattoos

It just isn’t America without eagles.

The bald eagle is the official animal for the United States of America, so it is a very patriotic choice.

Eagles stand for freedom and power.

Traditional eagle tattoos capture the essence of these fascinating creatures. 

The majestic, stunning wingspan of the eagle is a spectacle worthy of being inked, especially on a larger scale.

Traditional Eagle Tattoo

Norman Collins, the artist behind the now-famous Sailor Jerry monicker, had a famously ideal concept of America.

He was patriotic but had many issues with the USA, issues he was very vocal about.

Many Americans were feeling disillusioned by the American Dream during Collins time.

Traditional Eagle Tattoo

The eagle represented the version of America they were sold, and searching for.

In modern times, some have been vocally anti-Sailor Jerry.

While he admired Asian art styles, he also had bigoted views toward Asian people.

Traditional Eagle Tattoo

He hosted a radio show where he was frank about some opinions that would be considered outdated today.

What is your ideal America?

Traditional eagle tattoo designs are plentiful.

From the large-scale spectacle of the eagle in action to the petite version which pays respect to the animal’s nature, you will find a tattoo design that feeds into meanings that are most important to you. 

Traditional eagle tattoos bring a true level of depth and meaning to their design, demonstrating that even work rooted in tradition can be personal and varied.

As a creature with many admirable qualities, there is no doubt that the traditional eagle tattoo will continue to be a firm favorite choice.

If you choose to get an Old School eagle tattoo, it may come up in conversation!

The bald eagle is the national symbol of America and is considered an extremely noble creature.

For many people, this proud and powerful bird represents their ideal version of America.

A bald eagle tattoo is a patriotic symbol and is often accompanied by an American flag.

Traditional Eagle Tattoo

Having an American traditional eagle tattoo may mean the wearer is nostalgic for a time before their own.

Eagles are revered because of their amazing eyesight.

They can spot prey from great distances, and move at impressive speeds to hunt.

It is said that eagles can look directly into the sun.

So, if a baby eagle turns its eyes from the bright rays, it is cast out of the nest.

American Traditional Eagle Tattoo and Traditional Snake Tattoo

It is partially because of an Eagle’s eyes that it can reach soaring heights, higher than any other bird.

Eagles also have associations with the sun god in ancient Egyptian texts.

In this belief system, eagles are associated with strength and leadership.

Similarly, in Native American belief systems, the Eagle is considered the messenger of the gods.

A traditional eagle tattoo may mean a person has got a good perspective on life, and can see things from many angles.

American Traditional Eagle Tattoo

They aren’t hesitant to face obstacles.

They see themselves as a leader, someone who can tackle problems for the good of the group.

They may even be a symbolic guide in the community.

American Traditional Eagle Tattoo
  • American Traditional Owl Tattoos

As most people are aware, owls represent wisdom.

But the symbolism goes deeper than that.

In many cultures, owls represent a kind of mystical knowledge- the ability to see the unseen.

In some traditions, an owl is a supernatural creature with shape-shifting abilities.

In American traditional tattoos, owls represent wisdom, mystical knowledge, and the afterlife.

American Traditional Owl Tattoo
American Traditional Owl Tattoo
  • American Traditional Swallow Tattoos

Have you noticed that most diving swallow tattoos come in pairs?

There are, appropriately, two reasons for this.

A swallow is the traditional symbol for having sailed 5000 miles.

A sailor would often get a swallow tattoo on his way out to sea, and then another upon his safe return.

American Traditional Swallow Tattoo

Swallows can be a romantic notion because they act as a promise to return home.

Alternatively, if a sailor met his end at sea, sometimes loyal friends would get memorial swallow tattoos.

In legends, the swallow can escort the fallen sailor to heaven.

Even if you aren’t very familiar with old school tattoos, you’ve likely seen a swallow tattoo.

Swallows are typically drawn as if they’re swooping downward.

They may be holding something in their mouths in some cases, a message for example.

This is usually a love letter.

The swallows in American traditional tattoos are usually colored in a specific way with blue bodies, red and yellow accents.

American Traditional Swallow Tattoo

This design is based on the barn swallow, the most common species of swallow in the world.

Swallows have always had many meanings in the world of ink.

A sailor would often get a swallow tattoo once he had traveled 5000 miles.

Swallows are often a sign of faithfulness and a promise to return home, and there is a reason for that.

Amazingly, swarms of swallows return to the same place every year in March. It is in their DNA.

Swallows make their winter home in San Juan Capistrano California, then fly off to Argentina in October.

American Traditional Swallow Tattoo

Sounds like a nice life!

Swallow tattoos are a de ode to old school and sailor tattoo culture.

Some people get them for their pure visual appeal, usually in pairs.

But they can also be symbolic for someone who likes to travel.

Or, someone who wants to pledge their faithfulness to a loved one.

American Traditional Swallow Tattoo
  • American Traditional Hummingbird Tattoos

The hummingbird is a beautiful, jewel-like creature that can move in any direction at impressive speeds.

American Traditional Hummingbird Tattoo

An American traditional hummingbird tattoo represents that joyful energy.

It can also be a symbol for someone who is a creative thinker with a charming personality.

American Traditional Hummingbird Tattoo

American Traditional Portrait Tattoos

Want to commemorate someone you love, but aren’t a fan of the hyper-realistic portrait look?

Old school portrait tattoos can be a really striking choice.

Giving someone the 2D aesthetics breaks them down to their simplest form.

American Traditional Portrait Tattoo

This is such a great way to zero in on someone’s best qualities.

Unlike a realistic portrait, there isn’t much risk of getting someone’s features incorrect, or casting them in an unflattering light.

We’ve all seen the results of a realistic portrait tattoo gone wrong.

American Traditional Portrait Tattoo

An American traditional portrait is typically more complex than other designs in the genre, showing a little more shading and attention to detail.

That said, American traditional portraits maintain the spirit of the aesthetic.


So, upper arm or forearm? In some cases, the answer is neither. "I like to ask someone what their plans for their elbow are early on," says Becca Genné-Bacon, a tattoo artist at Kings Avenue in New York City. "If they want something circular or symmetrical, like a ship's wheel, I recommend that we start with that."

That said, if you're planning on a patchwork sleeve — meaning a sleeve made up of separate tattoos rather than one big image with a background — those designs may very well determine the locations on your arm that get inked first. "I like to ask what three or four images are the largest, most important ones. I like to start with those, rather than filling up one particular spot on the arm first," Genné-Bacon explains. "The spaces in-between the larger pieces can then dictate what the smaller images are that bring everything together."

Filling in Smaller Spaces

If inking nearly every inch of skin is part of your sleeve goal, you face the challenge of figuring out how to fill the smaller and often oddly shaped spaces between the more prominent pieces. But it's not impossible, and your options are a lot less limited than they may seem as long as you're not expecting to get elaborately detailed art in a tiny area.

"Depending on the size of the areas you're looking to tattoo, a little fun symbol or just little trinkets can go in between big designs," Odea says, noting that flowers are a popular filler choice. "But they need to stay simple to fit in small spots."

Genné-Bacon likes to get accurate tracings and draw for exactly the spot being filled. "Things with more organic edges can be manipulated more easily to fill the spot perfectly," she says.

If you don't have something specific in mind, you may want to consider a classic filler like stars and dots. "Doesn't get better than those. They fit in any space, can be small or big, packed in tight, or spread out," Odea says. "Works like a charm."

Style and Color

There's a wide array of tattoo styles — traditional and neo-traditional, realism, and watercolor, to name just a few — not to mention that tattoos can be done in either colorful or black and gray ink. If you're drawn to several different styles or you're not sure you want to commit to full color from shoulder to wrist, you may be concerned that your sleeve will look like an erratic hodgepodge. But with the right artist (or artists) you can marry different looks to create something you love without compromising your tastes.

  1. Vintage toyota corolla
  2. Equus ark
  3. Caliber transport
  4. Grain berry

Tattoo Sleeves: What You Should Know


Nordic lore and viking culture continue to fascinate and intrigue tattoo lovers.

Viking tattoo sleeves are intricate and use lots of lines and shapes to reproduce meaningful Nordic symbols.

Popular symbols are the Vegvisir, the Helm of Awe, and Odin, which represent power and protection, normally included in a full arm tattoo sleeve, and worn as symbolic armor. 

Black & Grey 

As the name implies, black and grey tattoos use only shades of black ink. Modern ink comes in a wide range of greys to achieve the perfect shading technique.

This style uses soft shading and fine lines to create everything from realistic portraits to abstract designs.

The beauty of this style is that the different shades add depth and dimension to the tattoo sleeve.


Traditional Japanese tattoos always have, and always will be a popular choice for tattoo sleeves.

Modernized Asian designs include symbols like dragons, koi fish, ponds, cherry blossoms, geishas, and more. These symbols can be tattooed in vivid, bright colors or black ink.

One Japanese sleeve tattoo that has particular significance is koi fish swimming up a river in hopes of becoming a dragon.

This transformation is symbolic of perseverance and overcoming challenges in life.


Some tattoos look so realistic that they could leap right off your skin and come to life.

Realistic tattoo sleeves are meant to mimic portraits, animals, landscapes, and people as closely as possible.

This style is less concerned with originality, and more with making the image appear as lifelike as possible.

Realism is popular in tattoo sleeves because the arm has a large enough surface area to fit a decently sized, realistic tattoo.


The origin of blackwork tattoos overlap quite a bit with tribal tattoos simply because they both use large amounts of black ink and thick lines.

However, blackwork tattoo sleeves also encompass gothic art, engraving, calligraphy, and even geometric shapes.

Designs for blackwork tattoo sleeves typically stem from dark art symbols like tarot cards, swords, demons, and mandalas. 

New School 

Tattoo sleeves in newschool style are characterized by bright, vivid colors, exaggerated cartoonish designs, and thick, heavy linework.

This style of tattoo is influenced by comic books, tv shows, anime, graffiti, and video games. Think of it as a highly animated version of traditional tattoos. 

Old School/Traditional

When you think of a classic tattoo, this is the style you’re most likely picturing.

Popular traditional symbols include hearts, roses, anchors, pin up girls, Ed Hardy, and more.

Traditional tattoos have years of beloved history behind them, and continue to influence new styles of tattoo sleeves.

Neo Traditional

Neo traditional tattoos depict the transition of traditional tattoos into modern ones.

As a result, tattoo sleeves combine thick, traditional linework and modern, eye-catching colors.

Common neo traditional tattoos include flowers, animals, and portraits of women.

The main difference between traditional and neo traditional is the color palette; neo traditional tattoo sleeves use vibrant, sometimes shocking, colors.


Watercolor tattoos are one of the newer trends for tattoo sleeves, and have become very popular because they are aesthetically pleasing.

The finished product of a watercolor tattoo sleeve appears like someone painted a work of art right on your skin. The gentle strokes and fine linework looks like it was done with a brush rather than a needle.

Tattoo sleeves in the style of watercolor use very little black, and rely on bright colors blending together to create the outline.

Popular watercolor tattoos include animals, landscapes, and geometric shapes.


Abstract tattoo sleeves have become very popular, especially because they can be done with nearly any color palatte.

What makes a tattoo sleeve abstract is the lack of outline or structure.

It frees up the design and allows the tattoo sleeve to flow more freely up and around the arm, adding touches of color and lines as the artist sees fit.

Designing an abstract tattoo sleeve can be difficult because the possibilities are truly endless.


Polynesian tattoos are some of the oldest forms of tattoos, and were used to tell a story of that person’s life through geometric patterns.

Tribal tattoos are one of the most popular styles for tattoo sleeves because they can easily cover large surfaces, and the final product looks intricate and cohesive.

These type of tattoo sleeves are done in all black ink, with thick lines and symmetrical, geometric shapes.


The aesthetic and satisfying symmetry of geometric tattoo sleeves is what makes them so eye-catching.

Geometric tattoos are delicate, mathematical, meticulous, and the linework makes or breaks it. Artists combine precise shapes, fine lines, dots, and patterns to create a beautiful tattoo sleeve.

Geometric tattoo sleeves are usually done only in black ink, but some people like to add color. 


Top 59 Traditional Tattoo Sleeve Ideas – [2021 Inspiration Guide]

The seasoned magic of traditional sleeve tattoos still reigns supreme to this day. These debonair endowments are worldly symbols of undiluted machismo.

Traditional sleeve tattoos are still the unchallenged champions of ink, and guys everywhere are still witnessing majestically handsome makeovers with their help.

These designs were some of the first incarnations of body art in existence, and they remain the best even after several centuries.

American ink is perhaps the original source of cool when it comes to tattoos. These old school designs contain killer notoriety that defies modern pragmatism with their uncanny perception of craftsmanship. Other retro presentations have surfaced from around the world, but nothing holds a candle to these legendary ink eras.

Most traditional sleeve tattoos incorporate a dynamic range of imagery that is tied together only by the authoritative art style. Serious clout is garnered by meshing a ton of diverging concepts that are unified solely by presentation. Each sleeve can emphasize symmetry, or the two arms can clash as an exposé on the merits of contrast.

Daringly defiant vigor is the distinguished dominion of this intense ink. Our supreme compendium of traditional sleeve tattoos thoroughly captures the everlasting expressiveness of these extraordinarily extravagant sensations. Take a look:

1. Seaworthy Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

Anchor your traditional tattoo sleeve with seaworthy imagery as the original sailors of Captain Cook might have. Center everything around a seafaring vessel, whether on the sleeve itself or expanding off of a chest piece. Because traditional tattoos initially came from sailors, there is a great deal of oceanic imagery to pick from.

The anchor is probably the most popular and well-known visual but take your time perusing all the different options your artist may present. While traditional tattoos are most known for their bold colors, talk to your artist about grayscale, which has the added bonus of being cheaper if you’re looking to get your sleeve sooner rather than later! 

2. Star-speckled Filler Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

One of the best fillers to incorporate into your traditional tattoo sleeve is the star-speckled effect. Traditional tattoos typically have strong delineated borders, which may present a challenge when it comes to blending all the images together in a seamless manner.

One option to fill up the space is to use a mix of dotwork and speckles of stars to fill in any unblemished skin. Their simplicity allows the stars to fill up the space in accordance with the flow of the larger pieces without being disruptive. Depending on how much space you’re working with, consider whether or not you want the stars to be shapely of simple linework.  

3. Bald Eagle Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

Make your sleeve a tribute to the symbol of power and wisdom with a bald eagle traditional tattoo sleeve. The bald eagle is one of the most often seen birds in traditional tattoos, especially in the American traditional style due to its association with America.

You can even get creative with what its holding in its claws! One option is to have your eagle fighting with a snake, a tattoo that traditionally represents the conflict between passion and wisdom. Or consider making the bald eagle your centerpiece framed by traditional tattoo sleeves.  

3. Bestial Traditional Tattoo Sleeves

Go wild with a bestial traditional tattoo sleeve! Some of the most traditional animals include panthers, bears, and spiders, but you can find countless others while flipping through books on traditional tattoos. Give your traditional tattoo sleeve a darker vibe by using mainly black ink. Incorporate traditional tattoo colors with your animals of choice.

While using mainly black ink will make your piece a little cheaper, color can allow your beautiful traditional tattoo sleeve to really come to life. If you’re interested in a softer and more realistic style, consider looking at neo-traditional tattoos, which incorporate a lot of the same styles without the same severity of the linework.  

5. Traditional Tattoo Leg Sleeves 

Don’t limit yourself to forearms! Use up available space with a traditional tattoo leg sleeve. Thighs and shins offer great real estate when it comes to unblemished skin for larger and more intricate pieces. Or take advantage of all the space by getting as many smaller pieces as you can fit! Leg tattoos are also relatively painless since the area is traditionally more fleshy. But be careful one you start winding around the ankle!

6. Floral Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

No traditional tattoo would be truly complete without a floral touch but that doesn’t mean you can’t go above and beyond with a floral traditional tattoo sleeve. There are a wide variety of pattern options when it comes to traditional floral tattoos but their simplicity and blackwork are what especially makes them stand out.

Weave the flowers together or incorporate other traditional pieces as ornamentation. Look through neo-traditional designs if you’re interested in making your floral patterns a little more abstract. With the customarily bold and bright colors of traditional tattoos, your floral traditional tattoo sleeve will feel like a slice of vegetation at your side. 

7. Assorted Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

The most classic traditional tattoo sleeve is one that incorporates the myriad of traditional tattoo designs. You can spend hours combing through tattoo books to find the designs and components to create your perfect sleeve. Tie all the images around a central theme or use your flesh as a quilt for your favorite representations. Incorporate bits and pieces from the different sleeves described here if you found yourself simply unable to choose just one! Pick out ones with your friends and compile a sleeve of matching ones! Needless to say, the possibilities are simply endless with an assorted traditional tattoo sleeve.  

8. Gothic Traditional Tattoo Sleeves 

Give your sleeve a dark feel with a gothic traditional tattoo sleeve. Draw out the wickedness from traditional tattoos and explore their dark sides. Skulls are a popular motif in traditional tattoos and you can make one your centerpiece or incorporate his spooky style along the way to a complete sleeve.

Using heavy black ink and linework can also be used to underline a shadowy darkness in your sleeve, but don’t necessarily feel like you have to shy away from color! This is also a great option if you want to experiment with torn skin tattoos that look as though they’re breaking through the skin. An unwieldy straight razor is an especially neat design idea that fits especially well with a gothic theme.  

Traditional Tattoo FAQs 

What is a traditional tattoo?  

 A traditional tattoo is a style of tattooing, differentiated by its strong colors and linework. These tattoos often feature traditional designs such as skulls and anchors, as they were originally worn by sailors.  

What makes a tattoo American traditional? 

American traditional style is the most popular and well-known of the traditional styles. American style features a number of different traditional styles including Don Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry, which are collectively referred to as American traditional style. This style utilizes especially traditional imagery, color and shading, and linework.   


Did you enjoy these bad ass traditional tattoo ideas? Click on the links below for more galleries featuring traditional ink inspiration:


Tattoo sleeve classic

50 Traditional Tattoo Sleeve Designs You Need To See

People usually get a sleeve tattoo when they have done a tattoo or two before, or they start with one tattoo and build it up into a sleeve tattoo with time. Either way, sleeve tattoos can look like a real piece of art. So in today’s article, we are bringing you Traditional Sleeve Tattoo Designs For Guys You Need To See!

1. Beautiful Traditional Sleeve Tattoo Ideas

Another name for a traditional tattoo is an old school tattoo. The characteristics of this tattoo design are bold outlines and various colors. Your tattoo artist might find inspiration in various objects. This beautiful traditional tattoo is done as a full sleeve, and it has different elements in it, turning your body into body art. Sleeve tattoos are also great because you can always use sleeves of your shirt to cover the tattoo up for some traditional and conservative meetings.

2. Traditional School Sleeve Tattoos

Traditional tattoos are an excellent way to go in case you always wanted to get sleeve tattoos, but have always been hesitant because of the pain level and the time it takes to get it done. Since traditional tattoos look cool even when they are not fully finished, they work perfectly as a sleeve tattoo for guys. You can always start slowly and keep adding more ink as time goes by.

3. Cool Flowers Sleeve Tattoo Ideas

You can find inspiration for your traditional sleeve tattoos anywhere! Flowers, birds, cars, or all of that together, you decide. Traditional tattoos are amazing because you can combine so many different designs into one. Unlike most sleeve tattoos, these don’t have to be done instantly, and you can always add black ink to them. We are certain that you and everyone around you are going to love your traditional tattoo sleeves.

4. Old School Traditional Sleeve Tattoo

You can always turn your body into body art with traditional tattoo designs. They can be done separately because sleeve tattoos and traditional tattoos don’t have to be done as one. You can use different elements and with time, build your traditional tattoo into a sleeve tattoo. Traditional tattoo designs like this one work great for guys and can be super badass because they are done with both black ink and color.

5. Traditional Dragon Sleeve Tattoo

If you are starting with sleeve tattoos, then this traditional dragon tattoo is the way to go. It is relatively small, and when combines with other sleeve tattoos, it can be built into a full sleeve. Traditional tattoos like this one are the perfect example of true school tattoo designs because it combines black ink and other colors.

6. Half Sleeve Traditional Tattoo

In case you are not ready to do a full sleeve tattoo, you can always go for a half sleeve tattoo. They take less time to do, and you can always build them up later on. This traditional tattoo is done in bold outline, and it combines black ink with other colors. It works great as a traditional sleeve tattoo for guys because it takes a lot of space. Tattoo designs like this one are not that complicated and are amazing if you are getting into sleeves tattoo.

7. Amazing Mermaid Traditional Tattoo Designs

Sleeve tattoos and traditional tattoos work great together because they can easily turn your body into body art. The traditional tattoo always looks better and more old school when done on a larger surface, and the sleeve tattoo offers that surface. The only downside when it comes to doing sleeves is that the tattoo design is so intricate, and it will take hours, even weeks, to get it fully done.

8. All Black Ink Traditional Tattoo

It is quite common for a traditional tattoo to be done with color. But in case you like all-black tattoo designs, this is your match. This traditional tattoo has all of the elements of the traditional design, as well as the stunning details. So in case you want to go for a more simple traditional tattoo, you can always do this design.

On That Note,

Traditional tattoo ideas for guys can be super creative and fresh. You can find inspiration in so many elements, and what makes them so amazing is that they are not done in all black ink. The traditional tattoo design can be super intricate or straightforward; the choice is yours. They work great as sleeves because of the art behind them. We hope you liked our traditional sleeves, tattoo ideas, and hopefully, you found some inspiration for your next tattoo.

Need More Inspiration

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40 images added as there were not that many good pictures
40 images added as there were not that many good pictures
40 images added as there were not that many good pictures
40 images added as there were not that many good pictures

Feature image from Pinterest

40+ Traditional Tattoos \u0026 Regret / My Tattoo's / Tattoo Tag / Part 2.

Many Russian mothers, intelligent women. Found themselves in such a position, standing with cancer and pleasing ethnic rapists. This is the fault of the general difficult economic situation in the country; in his youth, no one thought that they would have to spread their legs. When I graduated. From college, I was pretty lucky to get a job as a manager at Advertis.

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Friends, but here it is again. Moving again, as already tired of it. I have not studied at any school for more than two years, now I am finishing 11th grade and. again on the road. The folder left, and my mother and I waited for the call for almost two months.

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