30 Old School American Traditional Tattoo Ideas

Do you want body art that makes a statement and gets attention from people? The American Traditional body ink is a technique that has been popular for decades and is known for its bold appearance. The design relies on a limited color palette of green, red, blue, yellow, and heavy black outlines. These tattoos have a unique appearance and are inspired by different themes, including animal and nautical designs. If you want to celebrate the female creation, you can choose a diving or pin-up girl inking or allow your experience at sea to show with a swallow artwork. You can also proudly display your patriotism with this unique process. 

Keep reading below to find the perfect American Traditional tattoo suited for you.

1. Eagle Tattoo

It is another bird primarily associated with spirituality, freedom, and power. It is a symbol of American patriotism for centuries. An eagle is a subject that is striking with the old school tattoo style and can be inked to show pride. The design can be used by both men and women who believe in excelling in their American dream and want to honor their beloved country and those willing to fight for it.

2. Tiger Tattoo

The tiger tattoo is a good choice if you want a design that symbolizes strength and power. This big cat is a skilled hunter and top predator, instilling fear and respect. The tiger is a meaningful choice for a tattoo and can be very noticeable because of its bold lines and rich colors. Tiger tattoos are usually shown with sharp teeth, giving it a scary and compelling appearance.

3. Snake Tattoo

Snakes are another popular tattoo option because of the meaning attached to them. To some, it represents evil and leads down a path of destruction, but to others, the snake is an image of rebirth, transformation, and knowledge. This design is often portrayed in the traditional American style coupled with a flower or dagger. It makes an intimidating but exciting appearance. The snake tattoo may show that you are the kind of person to be wary of and serves as a reminder of the good and evil in everyone. 

4. Lion Tattoo

The lion is known to be a fearsome and mighty beast. It is a creature of beauty that is feared and respected. It is a popular tattoo option for men and women and is rich with symbolism. The lion represents nobility, courage, and power. The traditional American style often features the magnificent cat with its mouth open, providing an intimidating and ferocious appeal.

5. Octopus Tattoo

The octopus image is an attractive design, but it is also a feared subject of many tales of the sea. If you try to get a tattoo of an octopus, it is associated with intelligence, deception, and even mystery. This design can take several meanings, depending on the added image you include in it, like a ship. You can consider the Kraken design, a huge mythical sea monster squid that terrorizes sailors, which symbolizes strength and instills fears in others. You can choose this tattoo to show that they should not mess with you.

6. Cat Tattoo

A cat is a well-known image to choose for a tattoo in the traditional American style. It is usually depicted as a black cat. To some, this image design is thought to be a bad omen or bad luck. But, in the traditional American beliefs, it is said to be created to ward off evils and offer protection. The cat is often linked with mystery, good luck, intelligence, and grace. There are many variations to pick from, and you could even make your image of your beloved pet cat to make it more unique and meaningful. 

7. Wolf Tattoo

Some animals represent close bonds and unity with family or loved ones, and that’s what the wolf does. It is a popular choice to get tattooed to emphasize the vital role of your loved ones in your life. It also represents the leadership and struggle you’ve been through to give a comfortable life to people you love. The traditional American style does not opt for the animal’s realistic portrayal, but shows a more cartoonish way where the teeth are bared. This design often has yellow or red eyes, a tongue sticking out, eliciting fear in others and serves as a warning for people to back off.

8. Swallow Tattoo

A swallow is known to be a bird associated with sailors. It is tattooed when someone has completed a long journey. Some have it inked after every 5000 nautical miles, which chronicles how far they have traveled. This bird can represent the return to home and will bring good fortune during your voyage. To some, it has a darker meaning and associates it with someone lost at sea. The bird is believed to bring the spirit to the afterlife. The popular area to put this tattoo is in the hand, neck, and chest. If you desire more meaning, you can add the initials of the person you’re referring to or a banner quote that holds importance to you.

9. Bear Tattoo

The bear is a vital animal to several cultures, including Native Americans. They view it as a symbol of wisdom, healing, and strength. Additionally, it holds spiritual importance in some cultures. The bear tattoo symbolizes courage, protection, and endurance. The traditional American style is often created with its bare teeth and mouth open. The pose is a reminder of danger and power of this magnificent creature.

10. Deer Tattoo

If you want a tattoo design representing gentleness and kindness, a deer tattoo is an excellent choice. Compared to other animals that symbolize power or danger, the deer is associated with fertility, serenity, and motherhood. This specific technique makes it more striking. The boldness of this tattoo design is an exciting contrast with different meanings associated with animals. You can design your ink as a standalone image or pick something you can include in it, like a flower or lettering. 

11. Skull Tattoo

The human skull is recognized as a symbol of bad omen or death, which can have quite an intimidating appeal but makes an interesting one. It could be tattooed by a warrior or a person interested in the concept of mortality. It can also be chosen to show that death does not fear you. A Skull tattoo will serve as a reminder that you have to live your life to the fullest because death is inevitable. Popular images to ink alongside the skill is a dagger, flower, or banner with lettering. 

12. Hourglass Tattoo

As you see the grains of sand inside the hourglass run out, you are also reminded of the importance of time and how little you have left. It is one of the most beautiful symbols to get inked if you want to emphasize life and its significance. It’s a way to honor a loved one and how you should live each day to the fullest.

13. Arrow Tattoo

If you desire a tattoo with a purpose or a reminder of the right path in your life, the arrow tattoo is what you need. It symbolizes power since it’s a thing used for hunting or a weapon in native American tribes. Today, it is one of the popular body art designs. You can get it tattooed, so it looks like pierces on your skin. You can also include animals like a wolf or bear in your ink for added symbolism.

14. Anchor Tattoo

An anchor is connected with stability, resilience, and strength, as it symbolizes being grounded and weathering any storm. In traditional American tattoos, the style is a popular image that most sailors have chosen for decades. It is usually tattooed after returning from a long voyage, or it brings them good fortunes when embarking on their travels. Most of the time, this design includes a banner with their loved one’s name on it, reminding them that someone is waiting for them to come home. It can also include the ship’s name and motto. It brings them comfort while on their journey. The anchor tattoo is a design that suits well with other nautical images like a ship or a swallow.

15. Heart Tattoo

A heart is a universal sign of compassion and love, and in tattoo form, it’s one of the easiest ways to show what gives importance to your life. The old school style was a sailor’s way to let their loved ones know that they are remembered no matter how far they are with each other. The image is so simple, but you can attach lettering to it to provide a deep meaning. It can feature the name of your spouse, your children, or any of your family members.

16. Compass Tattoo

This design symbolizes protection and safety. It is said to be a simple guide to travelers and keep them safe and not get lost. The meaning associated with the navigational tool makes it a trendy choice for a tattoo. It can show a desire to remain on a righteous path, to be determined and strong during challenges and hard times. The traditional American compass tattoo’s appearance is bright and bold. Roses or other nautical symbols often accompany it to enhance its meaning. 

17. Ship Tattoo

Spending an extended period at sea on a ship makes the ship tattoo incredibly vital to a sailor. It symbolizes not only home but a way of life or proper direction. The meaning behind this tattoo varies but is associated with a journey. If you are fond of traveling, want to honor a loved one who was a sailor, or wish to have a symbol that tells how you easily navigate the ocean of life, then this is a perfect choice for you. You can add to this tattoo a swallow or an anchor to give it a more profound meaning.

18. Butterfly Tattoo

Butterflies are the most popular option to get tattooed for men and women. It is often associated with freedom and better transformations. Some choose this ink to show change and represent a period of new beginnings. Although there are different kinds of butterflies to get inked, the traditional American design is limited to a small range of colors that uses heavy black outlines. The design is bright and bold, which can be noticed easily. You can choose any size butterflies that can cover the desired area of your skin. 

19. Bee Tattoo

The bee is a unique tattoo to get but also one that has much symbolism. It is often linked with loyalty, hard work, and a sense of community. The honeybees work for the good of their hives, which can be interpreted as being selfless and committed to family. It will serve as a reminder to work hard and put effort into anything you want to achieve in life. A bee tattoo honors the relationship with loved ones and their support and inspiration. 

20. Flower Tattoo

In choosing a traditional American design for a tattoo, you will realize that a flower accompanies many designs. The plants are simple, but with heavy lines and bright colors, something beautiful is not noticed. They have a significant effect when there are multiple blossoms designs. Generally, the flower is a symbol of growth, life, and beauty. It makes an excellent choice for men and women as a filler or standalone piece.

21. Portrait Tattoo

The traditional American technique for portrait tattoos is exciting, relying heavily on limited colors, darks shades, and heavy lines. It is a body art that makes a good statement and mostly requires a placement in the thigh or arm, for a large portrait to stand out. The beauty of portrait ink is that it can be anything, whether a loved one or a celebrity, but traditionally, it honors a deceased or a romantic partner. This tattoo design features a woman’s face and can show femininity and fertility celebration. 

22. Diving Girl Tattoo

The traditional American technique with its thick and bright black outlines make this tattoo design a real eye-catcher. There is a powerful meaning behind a diving girl tattoo. The same thing with the pin-up girls; it is a celebration of femininity. Each piece symbolizes female power. Most of these tattoos have a retro appeal, featuring a woman wearing very modest swimming attire. 

23. Pin-Up Tattoo

There are several interpretations of the pin-up tattoo, depending on the designs. It is a celebration of femininity and beauty, while others associated it with lust and temptation. The idea comes from pinning up an image of a women’s photo on your wall to show that they are beautiful. The pin-up style of photography was very popular during World War II and was painted on planes and other military vehicles. It reached its heyday during the 1950s. Today’s pin-up tattoos are not just retro in style but also in the imagery. This tattoo brought men comfort, especially when they are away for months or years from their loved ones. Your beloved wife or any of your loved ones can be an inspiration for this body art, as a way of honoring and celebrating them.

24. Gypsy Girl Tattoo

The gypsy woman tattoo features a beautiful girl with flowers in her hair, a headscarf, and large jewelry. The design is rich in heavy outlines and color. It is a popular image to get tattooed in the traditional American technique and represent good fortune, wanderlust, freedom, prophecy, and mystery. The meaning is a little bit different for each person. You can choose an additional image that symbolizes something that you want to interpret. This tattoo is best on a large area of your skin, such as the thigh, to let enough details that would make a statement.

25. Religious Tattoo

If you want to celebrate beliefs and faith, it’s possible to do that with a religious tattoo. In the traditional American style, it is popular to get a tattoo image of Jesus Christ. It is the ultimate symbol of Christianity and is associated with compassion, sacrifice, and unconditional love. The design can also feature a halo above his head or include a heart or flower. The religious tattoo can be a way to explore your relationship with the Lord. It is a reminder to yourself to always choose the right and just.

26. Circus Tattoo

Before the old school style of tattoo gained so much popularity, there was something in there that was not part of the mainstream society, like the people in circuses. Your type for a circus tattoo will depend on which one gets your interest the most. Choices include a knife thrower, a lion tamer, and a trapeze artist. The symbols associated with each design vary, but it’s a beautiful way to celebrate being unique or show the different side of you, apart from the norm.

27. Lettering Tattoo

A great way to send a message is through lettering tattoos. Maybe you want the ink to honor a loved one; well, this is the best way to show it. It can also be a message to yourself, a quote that will remind you of significant moments in your life. A lettering artwork’s beauty is that there are several choices, including phrases, meaningful quotes, and words. The traditional American style has a very consistent and clean look, with letters in black ink. They are easy to understand and read, which features a down block and straight-up letters. Most of the time, they are written across a banner and include different other images, depending on your desire. For example, a simple ‘good luck’ word can be accompanied by a horseshoe. Or the word ‘back off’ could feature a strong wolf.

28. Hot Air Balloon Tattoo

If you’re an adventurous person, you will be drawn to the idea of having a hot air balloon tattoo. The design is bright and straightforward, associated with freedom, happiness, independence, and travel. There is something romantic and magical in this subject too. It’s a great body art design which you can put on your leg or arm. This narrow and long placement can show off your hot air balloon tattoo.

29. Cactus Tattoo

The cactus is a simple design, but it also makes a great and exciting appeal when done well—the traditional American technique for this kind of tattoo suits with basic images. The representation associated with the cactus plant is protection and endurance. For some people, it also symbolizes healing and love for nature. The meaning may differ, depending on your perception, but in the end, it tells a unique story.

30. Sun and Palm Tree Tattoo

Some designs can make you think of relaxing and happy times in a way that a palm tree and sun tattoo can. These two images are mostly tattooed together to represent your love for vacations, paradise, and warmth. It serves as a reminder of a better time of life and could inspire you to push harder on work so you can enjoy little moments after. This tattoo can be a celebration of not being caught up with stress and worries.


What are American Traditional tattoos?

Traditional American or old school tattoo uses simple, stylized images, with bold lines and a limited color palette. Typically, the color palette includes yellow, red, green and black.

What are the subjects of American Traditional tattoos?

The most common old school tattoos include the anchor, rose, heart, and names with stylized lettering. Other images also include portraits, diving girl, circus, gypsy, and ships.