New School and Neo-Traditional tattoo styles can be tough to tell apart, but they really are very different genres of tattooing. They may look similar at first glance, so the terms are often used inte...

New School or Neo-Traditional? How to Tell the Difference

New School and Neo-Traditional tattoo styles can be tough to tell apart, but they really are very different genres of tattooing. They may look similar at first glance, so the terms are often used interchangeably, which is why we wanted to delve into each tattoo style to see what the actual differences are between the two. We looked into each respective style, and determined what the unique elements of each are, so that you know how to tell them apart. Read on to find out what makes a tattoo Neo-Traditional, and what makes it New School.

Tattoo Style Talk: Neo-Traditional

The Neo-Traditional tattoo style, as the name implies, is a modern evolution of the classic American Traditional style, aka ‘New Traditional’. In the 1970s, some tattoo artists began using more exaggerated imagery and brighter color pigments, combined with advances in tattooing that allowed for such colors and techniques, thus beginning the Neo-Traditional style.

Some of the key elements of the Traditional style, like bold linework and colors, are included in Neo-Traditional designs, but there’s more texture and illustration in Neo-Traditional work, as opposed to the classic Traditional one-dimension appearance. Many Neo-Traditional designs employ typical Traditional designs, like anchors, daggers, or pin-ups, but with more depth, and a brighter color scheme than American Traditional tattoos.

Tattoo Style Talk: New School

New School tattoos, which first gained popularity in the 80s and 90s, are very bright, and have an over-the-top style. More often than not, tattoos in this style have a graffiti-esque look to them, and incorporate notable pop culture elements into the design.

New School artists employ linework techniques that add more depth to the image, creating a 3D effect, which is a tell-tale sign that you’re looking at a piece of New School artwork. Toronto tattoo artist CT says of the style, “A new school design is anything you can image and drawing it in an exaggerated perspective”.

The New School tattoo movement also marks the time when tattoo artists became more open with their techniques, whereas in the past, due to fear of losing business to competitors, artists would remain hush-hush on how they did what they did, and how they achieved certain looks. With New School, this mindset began changing, and artists would more openly share and collaborate on ideas and techniques.

Identifying Elements of Each Style

There are some visual giveaways for each individual style, but sometimes they do overlap, which can make it tougher to identify which style you’re looking at. With the knowledge we’re about bestow, however, you’ll have a better understanding of what to look for in each tattoo style.

Neo-Traditional tattoos employ brighter colors than Traditional styles, but they’re still largely within the primary color spectrum. Pinks and ultra vibrant shades aren’t as commonly used in the Neo-Traditional style. The designs themselves, for Neo-Traditional tattoos, have a flatter appearance; they’re two-dimensional, and don’t pop off of the canvas (in this case, skin). Basically any design can be made Neo-Traditional, but the most common options tend to be within the realm of Traditional classics – daggers, pin-up girls, roses, devils, anchors, and the kinds of designs you would typically see in tattoos historically, just with more modern coloring (oranges, yellows).

New School Squirrel Tattoo Sleeve

The New School tattoo style knows no bounds. There are no limits in terms of color and content, making it one of the more broad tattoo styles out there. It can be easy to identify a tattoo as New School once you know what you’re looking for, though. New School tattoos use much more vibrant colors, and often have a distinctly cartoon-ish or graffiti-esque look. There’s a huge amount of detail in New School tattoos, which creates a 3D appearance, making it look like the design is coming off of the skin. In terms of content, the majority of New School tattoos employ pop culture references, but that’s not always the case. New School designs can be totally abstract and make no sense, but the use of vibrant colors, graffiti-style techniques, and visual depth are key indicators that you’re looking at a New School tattoo.

While Neo-Traditional and New School tattoo styles may look similar at first glance, they are really very different. New School tattoos have a distinct graffiti or cartoonish element, vibrant colors, and often include a pop culture reference. This style stems from Neo-Traditional, which tends to have more Traditional inspiration in terms of content, but with brighter colors than Traditional style would incorporate.

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