If there’s one tattoo style that’s used more than any other, Illustrative could be it. It’s almost impossible to design any tattoo without using Illustrative elements – they are illustrations, after a...

How To Design Illustrative Tattoos

If there’s one tattoo style that’s used more than any other, Illustrative could be it. It’s almost impossible to design any tattoo without using Illustrative elements – they are illustrations, after all. Some designs use the Illustrative style exclusively, while others use it in combination with other tattoo styles. We looked into this style of tattooing to find out what Illustrative is, what elements make a design ‘Illustrative’, and things you should consider if you’re looking to get an Illustrative tattoo. Read on to find out more about the creative wonderland that is the Illustrative style.

What is the Illustrative tattoo style?

Illustrative tattoos might be one of the broadest tattoo styles that exist, and the one that the majority of people are most familiar with, whether or not they realize it. Tattoos can be done using Illustrative as a standalone style, or in collaboration with another style of tattooing to create the final piece. To some, the Illustrative style is considered a mix of American Traditional and Realism, with some influence from Traditional Japanese, though this is far from the only definition of the style. The use of bold linework and gradient shading is prominent in Illustrative tattooing, which is where the influences of the Old School styles are seen.

Illustrative designs, more often than not, include a ton of color in the tattoo, but they can also be done using a black and grey color scheme. There are no rules when it comes to Illustrative tattoos, so it’s one style that gives both the client and artist a huge amount of creative leeway when coming up with a design. There are a lot of similarities between Illustrative and New School tattoos, but each style has some identifying elements that are unique, though these styles are often used together in tattoo designs.

Key Elements of an Illustrative Design

Watercolor Ballet Dancer Tattoo

Illustrative tattoos are generally recognizable, but this style is often combined with other styles to create a unique piece of art. As a rule of thumb, if the tattoo you’re looking at looks like a detailed illustration that you might find on paper, in a book, or in an art gallery, there’s a good chance it’s an Illustrative design; Illustrative tattoos frequently look like they’ve been painted using the skin as a canvas.

New School tattoos are frequently designed using Illustrative elements, so if you aren’t sure if you’re looking at a New School or Illustrative tattoo, odds are, it’s both. New School tattoos have a ton of depth, and usually rock a 3D effect. They’re largely exaggerated images, done using Illustration, so again, it can be tough to separate to two styles, as they work so well together.

Where to Start with Your Idea

The first step to coming up with any tattoo design idea is to choose the placement of your new ink, so you and your artist know the physical boundaries you’re working within. From there, look online for inspiration, and save any photos that you come across that convey what you want in your tattoo. Show these photos to your artist so they know exactly what you want in your design. Illustrative tattoos include a huge amount of detail, so it’s crucial to be clear on exactly what you want when you’re talking to your artist about your idea.

If you don’t know exactly what you want for a tattoo design, but have a rough idea of something that you’d like, take that to an artist and let them run wild. Illustrative tattoos require a lot of imagination, so if you trust your artist, give them a basic idea of what you’re looking for, and let them come up with a completely unique work of art for your new ink. Whether you have a specific idea in mind, or just a basic sense of what you want, Illustrative tattoos can be made to work with anything, provided there’s room for creativity on the part of the artist.

Things to Consider with New Illustrative Designs

Deer in a Balloon Carrying a House Illustrative Tattoo

There are a couple of things you want to keep in mind when you’re going into the Illustrative tattoo design process. Because of the scope of many Illustrative designs, and the attention to detail that’s required, it could take a bit longer to be designed that some other styles. You don’t want to rush quality work, so patience and communication with your artist is key.

Illustrative tattoos are, for the most part, best suited as larger pieces, so that more detail and color can be added to the design. That’s not to say that this style doesn’t work with smaller scale tattoos, quite the contrary, but if you want a piece that’s intricate and full of color you’re better off going with a bigger piece that allows for more space to tell that story than squishing everything into a micro tattoo.

Popular Illustrative Designs

The Illustrative style can be added to just about any kind of tattoo, so choosing just one type of design that’s more popular than others is difficult, if not impossible, to do. Imagination is the key to great Illustrative designs, and because of that, every tattoo in this style is different and unique. In terms of general themes that are popularly done in the Illustrative style, flora and fauna, fantasy, horror, and aviary themes are commonly seen using this tattoo style.

Illustrative tattoos are one of the most popular styles out there, and are commonly used in combination with other tattoos styles. There’s a large amount of detail involved in these kinds of tattoos, which is achieved using a mix of shading, gradient coloring, and intricate linework. For this reason, Illustrative tattoos can take a little bit longer to design than some other styles, but if you choose the right artist, it’s always worth the wait.

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