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A Complete Guide to American Traditional Tattoos

Few other tattoo styles are quite as iconic across the USA as the American Traditional genre of ink. Following a centuries-long tradition of sailors receiving tattoos of their journeys across the globe, American Navy men in World War II yearned for ink to commemorate battles they fought and brothers they lost along the way. The style evolved over the years but stood on a few characteristics including a limited color palette, bold outlines, and common, often patriotic, imagery.

Come check out some popular examples of American Traditional tattoos including a variety of subject matters, placements, and design choices. Then, we can answer some frequently asked questions relating to American Traditional tattoos. Explore this patriotic, traditional, and iconic tattoo style. 

American Traditional Imagery

Born out of a patriotic culture of sailing, many American Traditional tattoo subjects revolve around the USA and maritime imagery. These images can then be worked by the artist to fit in dark outlines, using a color palette that only includes greens, reds, yellows, and a lot of well-saturated black. Here are some classic starting places for an American Traditional tattoo. 


Relatively uncomplicated, iconic, and meaningful, an anchor can make for a great American Traditional tattoo. No matter what your connection to boats is, whether you served on a boat, or boat recreationally, anchors are extremely versatile and recognizable making for great tattoos.

American Flags

Flags also make for iconic, classic tattoo subjects when designing in the American Traditional style. The American flag stems back to the roots of this style and captures the essence that created the style to begin with. 


Roses are one of the most popular subjects across tattoo styles for good reason; these flowers are stunning. American Traditional imposes its own particular restrictions on a rose design to make for an iconic piece.


A blade of any sort looks great in the American Traditional framework making for a recognizable, sometimes intimidating look to your ink. Dagger tattoos can encapsulate a variety of meanings which makes for a great tattoo.

Frequently Asked Questions About American Traditional Tattoos

Do American Traditional tattoos fade quickly?

No! In fact, just the opposite. Due to their thick outlines and heavy use of black, American Traditional tattoos is one of the longest-lasting tattoo styles available. 

Who created the American Traditional tattoo?

The style stems from traditional sailor tattoos often inked across Asia in Japan, China, and many surrounding islands. During World War II, Navy men built off the traditional foundation to create a style all their own. Iconic artists along the way include Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Herbert Hoffman, Amund Dietzel, Bert Grimm, and Bob Shaw.

Can I use color in my American Traditional tattoo?

You can, but to stay true to the style, your color options will be extremely limited. Black is by far the most common color in the style but you can use certain shades of red, green, and yellow as well. 

Get Booked for an American Traditional Tattoo with First Class Tattoos Today!

For a premier American traditional tattoo experience in New York City, contact our shop at First Class Tattoo to get in touch with our team of expert artists. With a diverse team of talent, there exists the perfect artist for you in our studio who has perfected the style of your choice and can work with you to create a truly unique, personalized design that you’ll be ecstatic about. Don’t wait! Contact First Class Tattoo today to get started.

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