When it comes to body art, American traditional tattoos are a popular choice for those who want unique designs and cool styling that will stand out. An American traditional style tattoo features bold black outlines, distinct shading and vibrant colors such as blue, red, green, black and yellow, creating an old-school look that makes a statement. Often based on vintage flash designs, these traditional tattoos are generally inspired by specific themes like animals, nautical elements and beautiful women.
Whether you like ink with meaning or just want an awesome piece of artwork, there are many American traditional tattoo ideas to consider. Some men will want a fierce lion or wolf tattoo to symbolize their strength, leadership and personality, while some women may prefer a bee or butterfly to represent transformation, beauty and loyalty to family.
With so many different styles and meaningful designs, it can be a challenge choosing the right tattoo to get. To inspire you with ideas, we’ve compiled this guide on the best American traditional tattoos. From classic Americana to modern artwork, explore these traditional style tattoo designs to find cool ideas you’ll love!
- 1 American Traditional Style Tattoo Designs
- 1.1 Compass Tattoo
- 1.2 Simple Tattoo
- 1.3 Small Tattoo
- 1.4 Black Tattoo
- 1.5 Animal Tattoo
- 1.6 Anchor Tattoo
- 1.7 Ship Tattoo
- 1.8 Eagle Tattoo
- 1.9 Snake Tattoo
- 1.10 Deer Tattoo
- 1.11 Wolf Tattoo
- 1.12 Swallow Tattoo
- 1.13 Cat Tattoo
- 1.14 Tiger Tattoo
- 1.15 Bear Tattoo
- 1.16 Bee Tattoo
- 1.17 Lion Tattoo
- 1.18 Octopus Tattoo
- 1.19 Butterfly Tattoo
- 1.20 Portrait Tattoo
- 1.21 Pin-Up Tattoo
- 1.22 Lettering Tattoo
- 1.23 Diving Girl Tattoo
- 1.24 Gypsy Girl Tattoo
- 1.25 Religious Tattoo
- 1.26 Circus Tattoo
- 1.27 Cactus Tattoo
- 1.28 Flower Tattoo
- 1.29 Arrow Tattoo
- 1.30 Heart Tattoo
- 1.31 Skull Tattoo
- 1.32 Sun and Palm Tree Tattoo
- 1.33 Hot Air Balloon Tattoo
- 1.34 Hourglass Tattoo
- 1.35 Sleeve Tattoo
- 1.36 Arm Tattoo
- 1.37 Forearm Tattoo
- 1.38 Back Tattoo
- 1.39 Leg Tattoo
- 2 American Traditional Tattoo Flash
American Traditional Style Tattoo Designs
A compass tattoo is one of the most popular and meaningful traditional American style designs to get, offering bold and vibrant artwork. The compass is an important navigational tool for sailors and explorers, and can represent the desire to find your way in life, go on adventures and persevere through hardship. Your piece will likely incorporate cool colors and can feature flowers, rope and other nautical images.
A simple tattoo can be an easy way to get inked for the first time and still enjoy the aesthetically-pleasing style of an American traditional design. Minimalist tattoos work well with this styling since most simple designs focus on black ink or limited colors and basic lines. To create cool artwork with meaning, think about symbols that represent something special to you.
A small tattoo continues to be a fashionable choice for those who want American traditional designs that can be hidden or visible at their discretion. Whether you’re a business professional who needs to cover up their artwork or just wants to get meaningful artwork tattooed without being loud about it, many amazing small traditional tattoos are worth your consideration. While skulls, birds, roses, hearts and arrows will always be favorites, the best ideas are unique to you, your life philosophy and experiences. Talented artists can apply old-school styling to your creative design, resulting in the classic Americana tattoo you want.
A black tattoo can help create a badass look with an American traditional style design. With heavy shading and black outlining, a traditional tattoo can be beautiful and intense when done in black and grey. For best results, make the lines as bold as possible and take advantage of the technique’s unique styling. This should give you an effective finish without relying on color to create contrast.
An animal tattoo is a popular design and will always look great in the American traditional style. Most classic animal tattoos symbolize strength, intelligence and courage, making this type of artwork meaningful and inspirational. Whether you choose to ink a dog on your forearm, a bear on your chest or a spider on your hand, the bold appearance created by heavy outlines and powerful colors will result in an impressive piece.
Anchor tattoos look incredible when designed in the American traditional style as they work well with bold lines and minimal shading. Anchors symbolize stability, strength and determination, giving this tattoo a meaningful concept worth considering. In the 1930s, sailors would get inked to mark the end of a long journey or the prospect of a difficult voyage ahead. While variations can include roses, ropes, swallows and ships, classic designs tend to feature the names of loved ones as reminders of home.
The ship tattoo continues to be a stylish American traditional design with deep meaning. Ships symbolized adventure, direction and a way of life for sailors. Some wished to travel the world in search of riches while others navigated the waters to protect their country and loved ones. This piece is perfect for anyone who is embarking on an important new chapter or who wants to pay homage to a nautical relative. You can build on your artwork by adding clouds, birds, anchors and sea creatures.
When you want a striking design that packs a punch, an American eagle tattoo is a great option. Whether you want to express your patriotism or let the world know that you believe in freedom, this majestic bird is sure to impress. Consider large outstretched wings and a fierce expression for your ink to let those around you know that you’re not to be messed with.
A snake tattoo just looks amazing on the skin and the colors associated with American traditional designs can take your piece to the next level. For some, snakes are symbols of rebirth and transformation, while others believe they represent evil. These reptiles are rarely seen slithering and look best inked in a coiled position ready to attack. Snakes with fangs look particularly scary and can offer an edgy style.
Deer tattoos can be bold and striking designs that represent kindness, patience, fragility and strength. These powerful connotations make the deer a favorite for some mothers who want to immortalize a strong family bond. For men, a deer tattoo can showcase a strong personality since stags are known for their masculinity and protective natures. Whatever artwork you choose, an American traditional look will feature strong colors and bold lines that can take the piece to the next level.
Intriguing and mystical, a wolf tattoo is a powerful and edgy design that will turn heads, making it a badass piece worth exploring. Wolves are natural pack animals and it’s common to see this fierce animal inked among family members to represent unity and strength. Many animal tattoos are extremely realistic, but you can use heavy linework to make your design more animated. For beautiful and rugged styling, use dark and contrasting colors. A wolf’s eyes and tongue are striking features that can be made more prominent with red or yellow ink. Bared teeth also give the idea a fearsome touch.
Swallow tattoos are aesthetically pleasing and are symbolic pieces that can inspire you on a daily basis. These birds were often inked on sailors who had sailed over five thousand nautical miles. As a result, this tattoo was a rite of passage for many. For others, they symbolized a romantic partner and their ink acted as a promise to return home after a voyage. Due to their romantic associations, swallows are often seen carrying flowers, messages or initials to represent love letters being sent between couples. These delicate designs look beautiful all over the body but are particularly eye-catching on the chest, wrist and neck.
Both adorable and fierce, a cat tattoo always looks good. Superstitious folks may dislike cats, but these tattoos are said to offer protection and frighten away bad spirits. Cats are intelligent and independent animals, making them an excellent choice for anyone heading into a new phase of life. Black cats are most popular, but you can make this tattoo your own by adding your pet’s features into the mix.
A tiger tattoo can be a powerful design if you want to show the world your strength and adaptability. Tigers are apex predators that command respect and this type of American traditional tattoo is a popular choice for men and women who want to showcase their wild side. Although realistic artwork can be amazing, this style can stand out with bold coloring and impactful details.
A bear tattoo can be a unique and edgy design that will command respect. An eternally popular piece, American traditional bear tattoos represent strength, protection and spirituality. Old-school artwork is rarely subtle and you can take advantage of this by sketching out a bear with its mouth open accompanied by tribal arrows, vibrant red flowers and other fierce additions. A traditional style design will look excellent anywhere on the body. Ideally, you’ll want a large canvas for an elaborate piece that will do this magnificent creature justice.
A bee tattoo is a wonderful idea for an American traditional style design that represents loyalty, hard work and community. Honey bees are naturally selfless and committed to the hive, working tirelessly for the benefit of their family. If you’ve ever heard the term “worker bee”, you’ll know that these insects are unmatched when it comes to focusing on the task at hand, making the bee a meaningful tattoo. Take your artwork to the next level by featuring a rose, honeycomb or floral decorations.
The lion tattoo is a statement piece that looks stunning and fierce when inked in the American traditional style. As Kings of the Jungle, lions are ferocious apex predators that represent strength, power, nobility and courage. Traditional lion tattoos can act as reminders to follow your heart, stand up for yourself and persevere through challenging times.
An octopus tattoo is an amazing nautical design that works on any body part. The ocean is a mysterious place and many sailors felt this animal’s reputation for craftiness and intelligence was worth immortalizing. They often feared that the mythical squid-like Kraken would pull them to their doom and this tattoo was a sign of respect for the creatures of the deep. Due to its strength and power, this sea monster is sure to prove an interesting conversation starter.
Butterfly tattoos represent transformation and are rapidly gaining traction with both men and women. These insects are naturally beautiful and you can add strong reds and blues to the wings and spine of your tattoo for an epic, stained-glass finish. To make this a true statement piece, consider expanding your artwork with flowers and vines.
Portrait tattoos are an acquired taste, but when designed well they’re sure to stand the test of time. Taking a less realistic approach, the Americana style uses dark shading and lines to create bold artwork that looks amazing on larger body parts. You can choose a design based on yourself, your significant other, an impactful historical person or any meaningful individual.
A pin-up tattoo that features a beautiful girl can be a fun design that is equal parts edgy and flirtatious. Your artwork can be demure and feminine or totally raunchy, depending on your taste. Pin-ups were once used to remind sailors and soldiers of what was waiting for them at home, which explains this tattoo’s often hyper-sexual appearance. Single men can use a celebrity to inspire their artwork, whereas those happily settled down can take inspiration from their partner.
Word and lettering tattoos are simple ideas that can add meaning to your design. The American method uses very stark lines, which makes any quote look crystal-clear. You can either ink an entire phrase on your body and crowd it with interesting imagery or keep things basic with a banner containing your letters.
Diving Girl Tattoo
A diving girl tattoo is a beautiful choice for your next piece of ink. In addition to representing femininity and fearlessness, this design symbolizes a leap into the unknown or an exciting new chapter. To keep your artwork authentic, depict your diving girl in a classic retro swimsuit and surround her with flowers or water droplets.
Gypsy Girl Tattoo
Known as the original wanderers who sought freedom and fortune, a gypsy girl tattoo is sure to bring you good luck. The gypsy girl design typically features a beautiful dark-haired woman wearing a headscarf, large jewelry and flowers in her hair. Great on the chest, forearm and thigh, this stylish ink can be a cool and meaningful piece for the right person.
Religious tattoos show that you wear your faith with pride. An ornate Jesus or cross tattoo can boldly show your devoutness. If you’d rather avoid religious figures, consider a meaningful symbol of Christianity that is special and unique to your relationship with God.
Back in the day, tattoos were reserved for outcasts and circus professionals. These bold designs are now loved by many, making a vibrant circus tattoo a great choice for anyone wanting to stand out from the crowd. To make your artwork pop, ink a knife thrower, strong man or circus animal on your body. These designs are creative and pair perfectly with old-fashion linework and color palettes.
Spiky and able to survive the harshest conditions imaginable, a badass cactus tattoo is sure to impress. The cactus itself is a simple shape but you can make your artwork more complex by incorporating dots, linework and color. A sign of great endurance, this plant is a unique tattoo design that encourages you to stand strong against adversity.
A flower tattoo can be a great design piece if you want artwork that symbolizes beauty, life and change. While many tattoos feature flowers, a dedicated floral piece may be worth considering. Splashes of red look striking and you can ink multiple blossoms in one area for a large cluster design that you can build upon later.
An arrow tattoo can be an amazing design symbolizing dedication, strength and purpose, always motivating you to fight for your dreams and achieve your goals. Whether inspired by a passion for hunting or a need to find direction in your life, American traditional style artwork can look great as a small and simple piece or an elaborate concept that adds feathers, stone arrowheads and rope.
A heart tattoo represents love and devotion, making it a universally popular choice. The shape itself is simple, meaning you can keep your traditional classic American tattoo smaller if you’d like. To show the world what matters most to you, consider inking someone’s name across a banner in the center of your heart. If you want something bolder, fill your design with flowers for a result that won’t go unnoticed.
If you want to be rebellious, a skull tattoo can be an awesome and threatening design. Due to its shape, this tattoo works well on narrow body parts but can be expanded to cover your thigh or chest for more impact. Skulls typically represent death or danger and this design may help to convey a sense of fearlessness to those around you. To up the ante, pair your skull with a menacing dagger to warn others not to get on your bad side.
Sun and Palm Tree Tattoo
A striking sun and palm tree tattoo will transport you right back to the glory days of summer. With plenty of color, this design will make you feel happy, optimistic and relaxed. If you find yourself stressed out, simply glance at your ink to remind you that your next vacation isn’t far away. This beachy image can also remind you to celebrate the simple things in life.
Hot Air Balloon Tattoo
If you’ve ever dreamt of soaring high into the sky, then consider getting a hot air balloon tattoo for your next piece. Not only is this design aesthetically-pleasing, but it represents travel, adventure and an innate desire to explore. It’s best to ink a hot air balloon on a larger body part to draw attention to this majestic aircraft’s interesting shape.
A beautiful hourglass tattoo can remind you that life is short and to truly appreciate your limited time on Earth, enjoying everything the journey has to offer. An American-style design with cool artwork and vibrant colors can symbolize time running out. Eye-catching and meaningful, this piece of artwork will inspire you to live your life to the fullest.
American traditional designs are naturally colorful and edgy, making the style the perfect choice for a cool sleeve tattoo. Whether you want to stick with a theme or mesh a series of images together, sleeve tattoos are a great way to express yourself with badass ink. The beauty of a sleeve is that you can add to it at any time, so don’t be afraid to leave some space for future artwork. While costly and time-consuming, traditional style tattoo sleeves are well-worth the investment if you want unique and awesome ink.
An American traditional tattoo on your arm makes a great feature piece that you can conceal and reveal when the occasion calls for it. While this space is limited, long statement pieces that wrap around the arm are popular, allowing you to expand on the design to create a half or full sleeve. Arm tattoos are also great if you want elaborate artwork that combines multiple designs with a coherent theme.
Forearm tattoos are one of the most versatile and popular placements for ink, making the arm the perfect spot for a cool American traditional style design. You can get a collage on your lower arm for a half sleeve tattoo or stick to a single piece for a simple approach. If you’re a business professional, it’s worth noting that even the boldest designs on your forearm can be covered up with the right clothing.
A mind-blowing back tattoo can be the right option if you want to take an American traditional design to the next level. By using the ample space on your back, you can build a masterpiece and allow your artist to fully develop a traditional style tattoo. Popular back tattoo designs include fierce animals like lions, bears and tigers, but don’t be afraid to incorporate several smaller images to create a complete collage that reflects your life story.
A leg tattoo can be made to stand out or easily hidden at your discretion, making the placement a favorite for men and women who want American traditional style ink. Whether you want some artwork on your inner thigh, upper thigh or calf, the leg offers an amazing canvas for a sprawling traditional tattoo. Legs are a large body part and designs in this area have amazing flow. For bold and beautiful pieces, talk to your artist about large nautical scenes and wild animals that can’t be ignored.
American Traditional Tattoo Flash
American traditional tattoo flash are designs inspired from sheets of famous artists such as Bert Grimm, Sailor Jerry, Charlie Wagner and Owen Jensen. A flash tattoo is a pre-made design that is printed or drawn for quick and easy artwork. American traditional flash can offer inspiration and fresh ideas, making these vintage designs worth looking at.