37 Striking American Traditional Tattoo Ideas to Inspire You
American Traditional or “Old School” tattoos are one of the easiest styles to identify because of the specific criteria one needs to follow in order for it to be considered an American Traditional piece. The Old School style originates from the 1900s when sailors adorned their bodies with crudely done tattoos that often represented defiance or rebellion. Today, they make for a beautiful addition and often is a style that people marry themselves to.
But before you go and get your own American Traditional tattoo, let us help guide you in choosing the perfect piece of ink. Below we’ll show you the coolest, most impressive, and greatest-looking American Traditional tattoo ideas of 2022. You’ll surely be inspired with the perfect idea of which tattoo style to get, as well as where to get tattooed on your body.
With that said, let’s begin.
Adorable American Traditional Girl On the Triceps
American Traditional tattoos are often characterized by their thick and bold lines and minimal color palette. Here we can see the artist kept with the minimal color palette but decided to use thinner lines. In situations like this, it doesn’t make it less of an Old School tattoo, especially since this is a style that artists can adapt in their own way as long as other techniques are followed.
American Traditional Eagle Head Tattoo
The most amazing thing about getting a head tattoo is that you will always have the option to hide it unless you’re naturally bald, of course. Here we can see that a part of the tattoo extends onto the client’s forehead, which looks really cool when your hair grows back because people assume that’s the only part of the tattoo until you shave your hair. I love the linework, it’s crisp and bold like it should be. A great tattoo all-round.
Feminine Old School Swallow Elbow Tattoo
Is this not one of the prettiest Old School tattoos you’ve seen? The elbow is a common placement for this style, you’ll often find people placing spider webs or flowers in this area, which is why this is such a unique piece. I love the solid black packing; it’s smooth and consistent, something you should always look for in a good American Traditional tattoo, if the black isn’t packed properly, it will end up patchy. Go check out Dave Ryo Lau’s work on IG, his work is phenomenal.
Black and Gray American Traditional Woman’s Head Tattoo
There’s something melancholic about this tattoo. What I like is that even though it’s the same woman’s face three times, each one has something slightly different about it, but not so much so that you immediately recognize it. There are a few line inconsistencies, but it doesn’t take away from the overall beauty of the tattoo. Great job by ashcat.art.
Beautiful Old School Flower Child Tattoo
This tattoo reminds me of an artist’s rendition of what a 70’s flower child would represent. The colors are packed well, and the way the artist did the gradients is lovely, the choice of color palette is also stunning and ties in with the idea of a 70s style. Regarding placement, the forearm was ideal for this tattoo, the shape of the design fits perfectly onto the area, and credit to the artist for doing such a great job.
Old School Nature Goddess Tattoo
Some would argue that this is more of a Neo Traditional tattoo, that may be because the artist is a Neo Trad artist. Either way, this protector of the forest is such a stunning addition to this client’s thigh. The colors are extremely vivid, almost luminescent. I absolutely adore the little mushrooms adorning her body like a frame, if you’re looking for more like this, davidbruehl has plenty on offer to inspire you!
Egyptian-Inspired American Traditional Forearm Tattoo
There’s nothing better than when a tattoo artist incorporates ancient civilizations into a tattoo. I’m not sure if this is meant to be Cleopatra or just an Egyptian queen, a little-known fact about female rulers in ancient Egypt, they were not titled “queen” but shared the same title with their male counterparts, pharaoh. Regardless of the title, the artist packed the red and black solidly, there is not a single inconsistent line or patch in this piece. Even better are the little shadow effects that give this tattoo a 3D feel, even though American Traditional tattoos are often very two-dimensional.
Amazing Old School Wolf Head Tattoo
A popular subject when tattooing Old School tattoos is the wolf head, often, it will be depicted as almost possessed or diseased but always aggressive. I love the little spit droplets coming out of the wolf’s mouth. The placement is absolutely perfect, the wolf head flows with the shape of the forearm, and it’s in a visible enough place that everyone gets to admire it.
Travel-Inspired American Traditional Forearm Tattoo
Here we have the perfect example of what an American Traditional tattoo should look like. The line work is very thick, possibly done with a round shader and the color palette is very simple, brown, blue, yellow, green, and red, which are the main colors used for this style. I like that this is a travel-themed tattoo, it has all the elements, a swallow, a globe, a north star, and an island, I could see myself chilling on that sand with a margarita in hand.
Gorgeous Matching Old School Swallow Chest Tattoos
The symmetry of this tattoo is astounding. Most human bodies are asymmetrical, making it difficult to get the designs perfectly lined up, but here, the artist did an amazing job. I love the muted colors and leaves in the swallows’ beaks. Nothing shouts “bold move” like a chest piece, it’s an area that is often exposed, which can be a blessing and a curse if you decide to get something in a similar position, make sure you take care of your ink with sunscreen because this area is susceptible to burning which could ruin the color of your new tattoo.
Awesome American Traditional Cowgirl Calf Tattoo
I adore this cowgirl tattoo so much. She may look bored, but I bet she’s got a good eye and could definitely do some damage with that gun of hers. Again, the artist here decided to leave the thick lines you’d usually find in an Old School tattoo and swapped them out for thinner lines while keeping to the color palette and general simplicity of the American Traditional style. Really neatly done and definitely one for the books.
American Traditional Eye of the Storm Forearm Tattoo
I love that artists can take a concept and turn it into something as cool as this. This tattoo is literally a play on the eye of the storm, something seen naturally in nature when a massive storm is brewing. The only issue I can comment on is the linework, there are quite a few wobbles, but that could also be due to the placement of the design, the arm has a natural curve near the elbow and ditch, which can be uncomfortable for an artist to tattoo. Either way, the colors are very out there and contrast well with the solid black outlines and raindrops.
Masculine Old School Swallow and Rose Neck Tattoo
A neck tattoo is a bold statement, getting an American Traditional neck tattoo is straight up a badass move. It’s in your face, the linework is smooth, the colors are packed consistently, and the design works well for the neck, what else could I say about this gorgeous piece? Just keep in mind that while we are progressing to a more inclusive and accepting point in society, not everyone is happy to employ someone with a neck tattoo, so always make sure it’s not going to jeopardize your chances of getting a job.
Exceptional Old School Knight in Shining Armor Tattoo
Here we have an old knight in armor tattoo, which reminds me of something from an old fairytale storybook. The shading is nicely done, but there are a few lines that could do with some work. I love the muted color palette mixed with the bright yellow, it creates a lovely contrast between light and dark which really helps this piece pop. Kudos to the artist for creating such a cool tattoo.
Feminine American Traditional Gypsy Woman Arm Tattoo
Another common design you’ll find when looking for Old School tattoo inspiration is a gypsy woman adorned by large earrings, a Diklo, and wavy hair peeking out from underneath the Diklo. It is by far one of my favorite designs because there is so much an artist can add to the tattoo to make it unique. I love her rosy cheeks and womanly face, this is a gorgeous tattoo, and placing it on the arm was a great decision because now the client can show it off to the whole world.
Colorful Bird on a Branch American Traditional Tattoo
Another perfect example of what an Old School tattoo should look like. The lines are nice and thick, the colors are basic and well-packed and blended, and the subject is a bird, which is also often found in designs of this style. Does it not look like this guy is staring right into your soul with that glare? I really like this piece, it’s simple yet works so well for the style it’s in.
Beautiful Old School Woman Wrapped in a Rose Tattoo
This vintage babe is to die for. The realistic flow of her body and the way it’s wrapped in the flower is absolute perfection. I love that the artist added a shadow to her body to give it some depth, and because of the sheer size of the tattoo, I’m glad they placed it on the forearm, the client has the right amount of space for it. If you’re looking for more American Traditional babes, give veronica_petrilli’s IG page a visit, she’s got what you’re looking for.
Treasure Island American Traditional Tattoo
The best thing is when an Old School tattoo looks amazing without any color necessary. Here we can see the artist created a treasure island piece. The happy boy on the island sitting under a palm tree mixed with the map gives this childlike enthusiasm. I love the placement, the forearm has plenty of space for you to go large. Great linework and amazing shading that stays true to the American Traditional style.
Old School Heart and Dagger Forearm Tattoo
A common thing you’ll notice in American Traditional tattoos is the heart and dagger. Sometimes the heart will be broken, other times, it will be whole like this one, but the dagger will go through it. The way this piece sticks out is amazing, everything about it is so bold and in your face! Don’t you just love the blood drops splashing off the dagger? Great work!
Masculine Old School Gravestone Tattoo
Here, we can see another example of a great Old School piece that has been done with solid black ink. I like that the client is married to the style, as it creates a nice even theme. I wonder if the dice have any significant numerical meaning to them? All in all, this is a really well-done tattoo and will definitely withstand the test of time because bold will hold.
Bright American Traditional Horseshoe Calf Tattoo
Look at how bright those colors are! The way the artist did this one ties in with the original pieces in terms of color palette and vividity of the design. It’s clear this piece is meant to represent luck, and clearly, it’s already working because the client got lucky with the fantastic tattoo their artist did on them. I love the flames, the horseshoe and the clover, cool concept!
Stunning Feminine Old School Nurse and Rose Tattoo
Nurses are an important part of the medical staff no matter what anyone thinks, which is why I love that the artist decided to honor nurses with this awesome American Traditional tattoo. Women are often a subject portrayed as sexy pinups in this style, but here we have a simple and beautiful smiling nurse with a gorgeous rose. I love the concept and the execution, even more, great work!
Old School Love and Lie Card Deck Tattoo
This could be quite a meaningful tattoo, and I wonder if the client got it for a specific reason. Whatever the meaning behind it, the way this piece has been designed, placed and tattooed is exceptional. I love the colors but most importantly, the linework is something to behold. Adding white highlights gives the tattoo an illusion of the shine you’d find on a card in real life. I really like this tattoo, go give ari_tattooer a follow.
American Traditional Woman of the Apocolypse
This rendition of the woman of the apocalypse figure is absolutely stunning. If you’re unfamiliar with the figure, it’s traditionally believed to be the Virgin Mary. The color is nicely packed, I like how the red and black in the sun are done in a way that accentuates the roundness of the sun, giving it a rounded three-dimensional appearance. Truly a work of art, and the placement is equally as gorgeous.
Masculine American Traditional Deer and Flames Tattoo
The Korean artist behind this awesome tattoo is a professional in the American Traditional style. What’s really cool about this piece is the fact that it has a mystical feeling to it. There are flames in the background, its eyes are red, and it looks like there’s blood on its antlers. A common thing you’ll find in the Old School style is rough, grainy shading that often gives the design texture. The color packing and linework are well done, and the placement is perfect, all criteria for a great tattoo.
Old School “the Hand That Bites” Tattoo
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, is what I think when I look at this tattoo. The design is common for this style and usually represents friendships or relationships with people that take and take and take rather than give back. This design comes in many different styles, and artists like to create their own interpretation of it, but this one is truly well done and something I would get. The colors are lovely and packed to perfection.
Scorpion and Coffin Nails American Traditional Forearm Tattoo
Scorpions and coffin nails are also popular elements for this style. I love how clean the linework is and that the artist packed the black solidly without any error, the shade off is also very well done, I love the blood splatters, which is another common element you’ll find in this style.
Old School Dagger and Rose Shin Tattoo
The dagger and rose is something you’ll often find in this style, and it symbolizes the duality of life. Placement for this piece is absolute magic, especially when it’s a design that’s elongated. The leg is a nice space that can fit elongated designs with ease. Great placement, great design, and even better tattooing skills.
American Traditional Harry Potter Gryffindor House Forearm Tattoo
Any Harry Potter fans out there? Here’s one for all the Gryffindors, the addition of red to the tattoo really makes it pop because it contrasts pleasingly with the black ink. If you look closely, you’ll see that there is a spot in the griffin’s head feathers that has been left open, this is because the client has a mole and a strict rule when tattooing is to avoid irritating skin tags or moles, which is why the artist avoided tattooing that area. Ensure your artist is also aware of this when getting your next piece.
Dead Cowboy Old School Triceps Tattoo
Howdy, cowboy! Clearly, this guy wasn’t as good with his gun as he thought. Only joking, this tattoo is fantastic, I love the various shades of colors used that all seem to work so well with each other, but what I really like is the almost ghost-like shapes in the hat, it gives this tattoo an even spookier feel. The artist stayed true to the style, apart from the color palette, which has a more Neo Traditional appearance. Either way, I think this is a really cool tattoo.
Black and Gray American Traditional Owl Calf Tattoo
Usually, you’d see an eagle in an Old School tattoo, but here we can see the artist took a traditional style and created their own piece of art. There’s a bit of everything here, but it’s not so much that the piece is overly busy. The eye in the triangle definitely gives off the idea of the Illuminati, but it’s saved by the symbolism of the owl, which often represents wisdom and a messenger from the spiritual realm. Clearly, there is a meaning behind this tattoo, or the client really liked the design. Whatever the reason for getting this, the placement on the calf is stunning, it fits in such a way that you can see the whole tattoo without any warping. Nice!
Beautiful Tiger and Dagger Old School Shin Tattoo
Even though this tattoo appears somewhat masculine (most American Traditional pieces do), there’s a very feminine energy to it. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that it’s been tattooed on a woman, oh no. The colors are very muted and soft, much softer than most trad pieces. I think the shin was the best place to home this design, it gives the client a badass look. Find more inspo like this on rocotatt’s IG.
Wizard Holding a Crystal Ball American Traditional Tattoo
In ancient folklore, a wizard is perceived as a man with magical abilities who often use them for either helping or harming others. In my opinion, this wizard doesn’t look like such a friendly guy. It’s clear he’s got some sort of agenda with that skeleton in his crystal ball, whatever his stance is on his magic abilities, the tattoo itself is quite charming. I like that the artist wasn’t conventional by giving the wizard only black or white hair but mixed it up with a splash of blue. The pop of yellow and red in the eyes really add to the evilness behind the wizard’s eyes. Personally, I would have done the fingers differently, at this angle, it looks like he only has four fingers, but perhaps he’s a four-fingered magic man from another dimension, who knows? That’s the beauty of art.
Old School Inspired Full Sleeves and Chest Tattoos
Not to make anyone blush, but this is one sexy aesthetic. The fact that this guy is married to the American Traditional style is amazing, it looks good. As you can see, he has some classic designs, which is another reason to appreciate the work. I love all of this and can’t even decide which one I like the most. What I can say is the chest piece definitely sticks out, it’s done well, it’s big, and it catches your attention immediately. A great choice for a focal point.
Chain and Butterfly American Traditional Forearm Tattoos
Chain links are also a popular design for the style, and it’s clear to see why, they may be simple shapes, but they make for an awesome addition to anyone’s American Traditional sleeve. The yellow highlights are a nice change up from the usual white ink, but once again, I love that the artist added blood splashes which are also a very common addition to any design of this technique.
Blackwork Old School Broken Heart and Dagger Tattoo
A broken heart, a dagger, and chains? Someone was definitely done dirty by an ex-lover. Only kidding, this is a classic and timeless design that has so many amazing variations. I love the lack of color, it’s staying true to the client’s original tattoos and acts as the perfect gap filler. With clean lines, solid traditional shading, and the most popular elements, could there be a more perfect American Traditional tattoo?
Masculine Blackwork American Traditional Shark Triceps Tattoo
We’ve come to the end of the list, and here we’ve got another classic, the shark. As you can see, the way water is drawn in this style is very similar to how Japanese Traditional is done, rounded and squiggly, rather than realistically like in other tattoo styles. Again, the artist used a rough and grainy shading technique which I absolutely adore.
Thanks for looking for taking the time to find your inspiration here; we hope you found exactly what you were looking for, remember, there’s a lot more where that came from. Happy tattooing!