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The Best Colors for American Traditional Tattoos

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Conclusion American Traditional Tattoos are one of the most iconic tattoo styles in existence. With the style comes a rich history of tradition and patriotism that has molded the style into what we know today. Generally speaking, for an authentic American Traditional tattoo, there are a few rules that need to be followed to remain true to the genre. 

First things first, bold outlines are a staple feature of American Traditional. The bold black outlines help create a shape that pops. Second, comes the common imagery, which tends towards patriotic images like an American flag or a Bald Eagle. Third comes the limited color palette that revolves around reds, yellows, greens, and lots of black to have an image that pops off the skin. 

If you’re in the market for an American Traditional tattoo, you’re in the right spot! Read on as we explore the limited palette of the American Traditional tattoo color scheme and how you can incorporate the traditions of the style into your dream design to create a unique, iconic tattoo all your own. 

Understanding Color Theory 

The theory of how colors work together to affect emotion and perception is crucial in all forms of art, especially tattoos. Color choice alone can completely change the feeling of an image from warm and fuzzy to something more melancholy. Generally speaking, there are two main boxes that you can categorize colors into: warm colors and cool colors. Let’s explore each of these and provide color examples.


Warm Colors 

Warm colors often elicit a positive or comforting feeling due to the imagery associated with this color palette such as the glow of a candle. Warm colors include pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, and other similar colors that are often found in beautiful sunsets. However, some warm colors like red can evoke a sense of danger or harshness. The context in which the color is utilized is also important when thinking about the color scheme for your next tattoo. Within American Traditionalism with its limited color palette, reds and yellows will be your most available warm colors. 

Cool Colors 

The other side of the color coin has cool colors that can often give feelings of reclusion and caution. However, cool tones can also be calming. Whereas warm colors align with a warm sunset, cool colors are more akin to a cold ocean or the winter season. Colors often classified as cool include blues, purples, greens, and violets. The limited American Traditional palette loves its blues and greens when working with cool colors. 

Cultural Significance 

The entire style of American Traditional tattoos has a rich culture based on American history. Sailors worldwide have long enjoyed tattoos as a way to represent their adventures; a

lot of these tattoos were etched in Asia on islands like Japan. This was until World War II when American artists realized that it was time to branch into a new style unique to America. As the style evolved and took shape, some key features stood out. These tattoos had bold outlines to shape American images of flags, eagles, anchors, women, and much more. The limited color palette provides an iconic, eye-popping look that can stand the test of time even in the face of too much sun exposure. Over time, the palette has slightly expanded to include more shades of colors. But still, the heart of American Traditional tattoos lives on. 

Choosing Color for Your American Traditional Tattoo 

When finding the color for your American Traditional tattoo, consider what subject you want to depict and what vibe you want to instill into it. With the bold outlines and saturated color, all colors in the limited palette will pop, which makes selection a little easier. 

For a warmer feel, stick to primarily reds and yellows. For that cooler feel, stick to blues and greens. Of course, you can mix warm and cold colors as well. This can give even more depth to the feeling of your piece. Use the proportions of the warm versus cold colors to get an idea of how a tattoo will feel looking at the design once it’s on the skin. 

Your artist can help you with choosing the colors but if there is a specific color or vibe you are going for, make sure to discuss this with your artist! The iconic imagery found with American Traditional usually adhere to a traditional color palette, however, switching up the colors can yield a unique look tailored to your aesthetics. 

Maintaining Colorful American Traditional Tattoos 

A huge advantage to American Traditional tattoos is that they are usually deeply saturated with color, which means fading will occur very slowly. Still, to properly maintain your tattoo, there are some common practices to follow. 

Firstly, immediate aftercare of your tattoo is essential. This includes keeping the area moist, but not over moisturized and wet. At this time, also avoid tight clothing that will constantly rub against your ink. Anytime after having the tattoo, try to avoid long exposure to the UV rays from the sun as they will break down the ink causing premature fading so always wear sunscreen if you are going to be out in the sun! 


The American Traditional is an iconic tattoo style founded in American history and culture. While the style has evolved slightly with time, the core of this distinctive look being bold colorful designs that can withstand the test of time. The images can vary greatly but often provide an instantly recognizable subject for all to marvel at. The color, while limited, can provide tremendous depth of feeling to a piece to make it that much more special. Now’s the perfect time to get in contact with an artist and get an American Traditional tattoo all your own.

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