160 American Traditional Tattoo Designs to Tickle Your Curious Side

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American traditional tattoo designs are a great way to help you decide on your next tattoo. This is because an old school tattoo be a way for you to stand out even more. In addition, they all come with a history. More specifically, the technique itself was practiced and perfected around a century ago. However, the symbols you will find in these tattoo ideas hold both ancient and new meanings.

Unless you already have a favorite tattooing technique, you should check out the following well-picked American traditional tattoo designs. They are full of color, but don’t get too much into detail. They consist of symbols that make a common drawing mean much more than it shows. Further, you will also find a few tattoo designs containing Native American symbols. However, these are inked using more modern techniques.

1. When land and sea meet and man is involved

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

2. With every blink you have less time

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

3. Hold on to that legacy and those feelings

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

4. Identical American Traditional Tattoo Designs on thighs 

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

5. Beauty, peace, protection and motherhood expressed by a swallow

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

American Traditional Tattoo Designs or Old School Tattoo Designs

Popular since the 1800, old school tattoos are mostly about the nautical theme. More specifically, they are characterized by colored images, which are simple and not contain too many details. Moreover, they have well-defined outlines done with blue or black ink.

Sailors are known for getting portrait tattoos because they used to spend a lot of time away from hone. A sailor who had the portrait of his girlfriend or wife with him did not take the separation that hard. Further, since sailors were also very superstitious, they also got tattoos that were supposed to combat the seas’ caprices.

Colors and Symbols Characteristic to the Old School Style

The person who invented the old school tattooing style is Sailor Jerry (born Norman Keith Collins). He was a tattoo artist and a sailor all his life. To sum up, among the symbols the used in his tattoo designs are mermaids, anchors, representations of the pin-up style, swallows, lacing, lighthouses, compasses, roses, other flowers, daggers, bloody daggers and so on.

When it comes to colors, the ones used by him and his predecessors are intense and relatively limited when it comes to number. We are talking about primary colors, namely red, yellow, green and blue. These colors are used in their lighter versions to create shadows if necessary. However, shadows might not be necessary in every case.

Among the more modern American traditional tattoo designs you will find symbols such as skulls, muffins, hearts, eagles and so on. There’s is virtually no element that cannot be reinterpreted in the old school style. So, you can opt for a tattoo that only looks traditional, but it actually contains modern world’s symbols only.

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6. Luck or God’s protection with one simple gesture

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

7. A new start in life versus temptation, sin and evil

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

8. Live a thousand lives with an old school books tattoo

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

9. Traditional flower tattoo placed on one’s forearm

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

10. Native American woman represented with traditional elements

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

Neo Traditional American Tattoo Designs

Old school American tattoo designs have suffered certain changes throughout time, resulting in neo traditional tattoos. They are characterized by new elements that were added to the classic model. More specifically, they are an adaptation of old images done in a more modern style.

Neo Traditional American tattoo designs first appeared in the 1980s. A neo traditional tattoo refers to a tattooing style that is nicely outlined and bright. The themes approached are contemporary life or fantasy.

The neo traditional style is different from the traditional style in various ways. For example, a neo traditional tattoo contains more elaborate shadowing and a color palette that is much wider.

In this article you will find both traditional and neo traditional American tattoo designs and it will be easy to differentiate them from one another if you take the specifications above into account.

11. Black butterfly outline filled with lovely red roses

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

12. Barn swallows are meant to carry the soul to heaven

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

13. A large arm tattoo full of positive meanings inked the traditional way

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

14. Forearm inked with defined traditional flowers and bright colors

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

15. Showing love for music with an old-school megaphone

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

Nautical Symbols Often Met in Traditional Tattoo Designs from the US

Nautical symbols are those referring to everything about the sea and the sailors who spend a lot of time offshore. Among them we can count swallow, compass, anchor, nautical star, ships, shellback turtle and so on. They all hold various meanings and some of them were believed to keep back luck away.

The reasons why sailors started to get tattoos are numerous too. Some of them just wanted to mark a certain important moment that happened to them while sailing. Others saw these tattoos as symbols of patriotism. Moreover, some sailors wore tattoos that were supposed to ward off back luck.

A less rich category of sailors got inked just because they wanted to immortalize a certain moment or place where they went or conquered.

16. Nautical tattoo comprises three important elements: swallow, compass, flower

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

17. The stag has powerful meanings, among which are fertility and power

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

18. Sailor Jerry favored a specific type of snake when it came to tattooing

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

19. Native American woman portrayed in an arm tattoo with battle makeup on

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

20. Realistic tattoo of a Native American man and a mighty eagle

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

Nautical Symbols Hold Great Meaning

  • Swallow – Swallows, just like sparrows or blue birds, always had a special meaning for sailors. This is because these birds were usually the first sign of shore discovery. Of course, this has happened before the technological progress. Sailors see swallows like a hope to get home safe. Moreover sparrows also symbolize going back home after a fight, survival and winning.
  • Compass – This nautical symbol is usually a star compass that helped sailors orient themselves when they were at sea. It is based on the North Star and it is all about finding the right way both at sea and in life.
  • Anchor – During storms at sea, the anchor is sailor’s refuge and the same thing that gives them hope. An anchor symbolizes loyalty, dedication, honor, stability, safety, hope, protection, salvation, enlightening and luck.
  • Nautical Star – Before compasses appeared, sailors used to find their way through the sea with the help of the North Star. In fact, a nautical star is a safety symbol. Moreover, it means protection, guidance and the will to create a road for yourself.
  • Ship – For sailors and fishermen, the ship they are on at sea is their home for a good part of the year. It represents their way of living their life. For example, if the ship’s flag is up, this means that it is not ready to surrender.

21. A portrait of a Native American Woman inked on hand

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

22. The Phoenix bird represented in a geometrical traditional style

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

23. Artistic tattoo portrays a Native American woman in a sensual, reflecting way

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

24. The symbols fall into the American Traditional Tattoo Designs category, but not the technique

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

25. Realistic arm tattoo contains old school symbols that were often used

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

Native American Symbols Inked in Different Techniques

As you will see in this article, those tattoos containing Native American symbols don’t all stay in the lines of traditional or neo traditional tattooing. Among them we can count butterfly, eagle, owl, bee, wolf, portraits, feathers and so on.

  • Wolf – The wolf holds great meaning among Native Americans. This is because it is a family oriented animal and a fierce hunter. The wolf and its lifestyle is very much similar to those people who live in tribes. They have to hunt and take care of their own, which is exactly what the wolf does. Moreover, fear, indecision and confusion can be easily shattered because wolves bring direction and purpose in life. Among a wolf’s other meanings are loyalty, good communication, education, understanding and intelligence.
  • Butterfly – Besides looking awesome as a tattoo, regardless of the technique used, the butterfly is a Native American symbol. Ravens were often accompanied by butterflies in their journey to find food or find certain creatures that didn’t want to be found.
  • Bee – Bees represent honesty. They are willing to serve the community above all. In addition, bee masks are really popular among Native Americans because they are worn during various artistic moments.
  • Bear – A bear is free in spirit and it is known as unpredictable. Since the bear is considered a warrior, it was always both feared and appreciated for its qualities. Among the bear’s other symbolic meanings are protection, motherhood, discernment and resourcefulness.

26. Abs and belly tattoo portrays a woman’s face in an animal’s mouth

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

27. Endowed with supernatural power or some divine strength

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

28. Yin and Yang reinterpreted with Native American symbols

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

29. Colorful forearm tattoo holds more meaning than you think

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

30. Swallows and roses for one or more simple American Traditional Tattoo Designs

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

American Traditional Tattoo Designs – The Right Choice for You?

Now that you know exactly what to expect from a traditional tattoo you should be able to say whether or not you’d like one. The symbolism behind these tattoos is pretty strong, but it’s not mandatory in your case. More specifically, you could get a traditional tattoo because you just like the technique. Girls are crazy about butterfly tattoos!

Since the design of a traditional tattoo doesn’t require too many details, you can choose any body part for such a tattoo. However, if you’re planning to opt for a neo traditional tattoo, then think of a large body part such as forearm, arm, back, thigh.

Most American traditional tattoo designs contain color, but you will find Native American tattoos that are only black and white in case that what you want.

31. Determination, attraction, psychic abilities, and faith, all in two Moth traditional tattoos

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

32. A complex, old school flower inked on a guy’s leg

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

33. The bloody dagger speaks about death and sacrifice

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

34. An open book with covers decorated in the old school style

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

35. A Koi fish inked in such way it looks dynamic

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

36. Traditional flower inked on a girl’s elbow and embellished with pointillism 

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

37. A diamond-faceted spider with nine eyes tattoo

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

38. Power, pride, authority and influence expressed with a gun

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

39. Large lighthouse tattoo inked in a traditional manner

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

40. A tattoo composition that comprises three meaningful elements

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

41. Neck tattoo consists of flowers, butterfly and snowflakes maybe

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

42. Detailed neck moth with decorated fore-wings and hind-wings 

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

43. A compass in a flower is hiding an angry lion

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

44. Masterfully done old school design with fine lines and bright colors

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

45. The bloody animal skull-covered face of a Native American man

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

46. A mermaid trapped in a bottle cannot harm sailors

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

47. Impeccable American Traditional Tattoo Designs inked with precision

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

48. Dancing temptress tattoo intertwined with old school elements

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

49. Fantasy tattoo done in a unique manner when it comes to the contained elements

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

50. Neo-traditional tattoo based on multiple meanings

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

51. Naive tattoo holds the traditional meaning, but not the style as well

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

52. Colored seahorse with an embellished belly 

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

53. Nautical symbols are predominant in this traditional tattoo design

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

54. Half body inked with traditional symbols only arranged like a composition

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

55. Earth’s globe shows the seas and adorned by flowers done in old school style

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

56. A very cute bug with the third eye as head and flowers as body

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

57. A moth’s body replaced by a woman’s face with a moth on her forehead

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

58. Hourglass tattoo speaks about valuing time more than anything else

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

59. The king of the forest watching quietly behind blossomed roses

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

60. The portrait of a sailor’s sweetheart framed in a mirror

American Traditional Tattoo Designs

In conclusion, getting a traditional tattoo comes with a legacy. If it’s the sailor’s world that interests you or the Native American’s, then identify those symbols. This is the first step you can take in creating a design that suits you. In addition, look for tattoo artists who are specialized in inking using this technique. Not everyone can do it or knows how to do it in such way that the end result is nothing but phenomenal, which is what we all deserve.

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