Color tattoos - What you need to know

Color tattoos - What you need to know

Over the last few decades, tattoos have gone through immense changes in both style. They’ve gone from just something that sailors and soldiers used to get, to a beautiful modern art form full of incredible creatives and artists. There are countless different styles too, ranging all the way from dainty dot work to magical Sak Yant tattoos.

What about color tattoos, though? All tattoos have some form of pigment in them, and the majority of tattoos will have color in them. The type of color, shades and meaning behind the color will vary from style to style, and from person to person. Almost every different style and sub-genre of tattooing uses color in some fashion, and that’s what we will be looking at today.

In this article, we will be taking a look at color tattoos in more depth. We will be considering the history behind color tattoos, the key styles that use colors and other questions about this important part of tattoo history.

History of color tattoos

Firstly, where did colour tattoos come from? The first tattoos ever produced were simply in black ink, as they were made from ash and soot being placed under the skin. The first colour tattoos didn’t actually come around until after the ancient Egyptians were tattooing.

The ancient Inuit people were believed to have colors in their tattoos, specifically including a dark yellow color. Other ancient cultures like ancient Rome were also said to have had colored ink at their disposal, based on the artefacts and trinkets that have been recovered from those time periods.

A notable point in history where color was being used more frequently in tattooing is Japanese tattoos, in the 17th century. This is after they stopped being used as punishments and started to become much a more celebrated art form. As you have probably seen, Japanese tattoos are incredibly beautiful and can often be seen packed full of bright, vibrant colors. They often feature stunning natural themes like flowers and animals, and icons like mythological creatures and legendary heroes. Dragons are popular, as are characters like samurai warriors and geisha girls.

Another key point in tattoo history for color tattooing is the tail end of the 19th century- specifically, 1950 and onward in America and England. Both of these countries saw great development with their color tattooing in the 50s, which you can see from the beautiful old school artwork that dates back to then. They still didn’t have the full range of tattoo inks that we do nowadays, but the creativity and innovation seen in that time period was astonishing.

Nowadays, we have a huge range of colorful inks available. If you can think of a color, chances are that there will be at least 10 inks to suit that shade. In general, the development in inks has been incredible over the last few decades. Not only are they now more beautiful, safer and easier to work with, there are now options that are cruelty-free and vegan too. Additionally, there has been innovation in areas such as UV-reactive tattoo ink, which is an incredibly futuristic concept.

The key styles that use color work

Now that we’ve had a look at the history and depth behind coloured ink in tattooing, let’s take a look at all the different types of tattoo that use colour. Obviously, this won’t be an exhaustive list but it’s a collection of the most notable and eye-catching ones, from the perspective of a tattoo fanatic.

Old school

The first key style to look at when it comes to colourful tattoos is old school, or American traditional tattoos. These tattoos defined the use of colour in modern tattooing, and proved that you can create jaw dropping pieces with a minimal amount of inks or detail. This style of tattooing has lasted the tests of time, and is still very popular with the modern tattoo world.

In terms of how they look, old school tattoos use thick black lines and solid areas of colour to create an impactful design. They aren’t usually packed full of immense detail as the designs are on the simpler side, but they are still beautiful nonetheless. Common designs for old school tattoos include pinups, hearts, swallows, anchors, daggers, roses and skulls. They’re in the style of old sailor or military tattoos, and are worth looking into if you want a tattoo with a rich history and background.

Neo traditional

Following on from the last point, neo traditional tattoos are simply an expansion on the traditional, old school style of tattoo- and they are famed for their intense colours. These tattoos are hugely popular, and with good reason. The style has taken the classic imagery and boldness of traditional tattoos, and added in a wider palette and higher level of detail.

There isn’t really a limit on colour when it comes to neo traditional work. If you’re looking for a way to decorate your body with as many hues and shades as possible, this could be the style for you. In terms of subject matter and content, a lot of neo traditional work follows the same subject matter as old school tattoos. They also use a lot more natural subjects, including animals, portraits, flowers, herbs and crystals. It’s a very social media friendly style of tattooing, so if you are looking for inspiration then I’d suggest checking out Instagram, Pinterest or Tumblr.


Watercolour tattoos are a hugely popular style for colourful ink lovers. These tattoos aim to look like they’re painted onto the skin, and they often flow beautifully along the body. This style of tattooing aims to make colour look light and ethereal, but still does require a fair amount of coloured ink to get going. This beautiful style often features subject matters like paint splashes, animals, script, portraits and flowers.

In a similar vein, brushstroke tattoos are becoming more and more popular. These particular tattoos aim to look like they’re been brushed on with paint or ink, and require dense areas of colour to look how they’re meant to. When done right, they are incredible.


Realism is a hugely popular style of tattooing; specifically photo realism. The sheer artistry required to make a tattoo look like it could leap off of somebody is immense, and using coloured inks can be a great way to make it pop. Black and grey realism is very popular too, but is normally suited to a different mood of tattoo e.g. something more sombre or intense. The emotions that you can create with coloured realism is simply incredible.

In terms of subjects, there really isn’t a limit. People tend to opt for portraits, pop culture references, scenic shots and animal tattoos quite often, but images of flowers, birds and other natural imagery is just as popular. Again, you’re only limited by your imagination here.

New school

If you’re going to talk about colour tattoos, you can’t afford to miss out new school tattoos. This particular style is famous for having sickeningly bright and vibrant tones, packed into an intense and exaggerated style. New school tattoos have a very strong link to graffiti, cartoons, comics and old school tattoos. It’s a wild style, and still remains a favourite of many tattoo fans across the world today.

One of the most common subjects for new school tattoos is animals and people. New school is famed for having amazingly exaggerated, cartoonish proportions so it’s easy to see why this is so popular. There’s a lot of pop culture tattoos here, as well. Other subject matters like flowers, food and trinkets are also frequently done.


To finish up this section, it’s worth mentioning geometric tattoos. Normally, geometric tattoos are predominantly thought of as being just black linework, but there are lots of artists nowadays experimenting with adding colour into them. The results so far have been incredibly positive, with some beautiful pieces being created.

Subject matter here is similar to standard geometric tattoos, with lots of mandalas, patterns, flowers, animals and jewels. Some artists have even been using a geometric style to create unique portraits and character tattoos, which has been intriguing to see. As with neo traditional tattoos, this is a very social media friendly tattoo style, so if you are interested in it then I would recommend having a look online.

How this style works with other styles

Now that we’ve had a look at the key styles that use color tattooing, it’s worth noting how color work can integrate with other styles of tattooing. Firstly, it can work beautifully with black and grey pieces. A key example of this would be traditional Japanese tattooing. Black and grey are often used as accent colors or background details, whilst color is predominantly used to highlight the main subject matter. When thought out and planned correctly, this can be a great way to add extra depth to a tattoo.

Another style that this could be interesting with is blackwork. It’s not seen as commonly, but combining thick, black lines with vibrant colours is a wonderful way to make a tattoo more impactful. Something worth noting here is blast over tattoos. Blast over tattoos are when somebody who’s already got a full sleeve/piece of colour tattoos gets fresh black line art applied over the top. This style creates some incredibly unique pieces.

Why you should consider getting a color tattoo

So, why should you opt for a colour tattoo? If you’re new to tattoos entirely, colour tattoos can be a great place to start as they can be less harsh than other styles like blackwork. They can be small and dainty, or large and eye catching. It’s whatever your heart desires.

If you’re not new to tattoos but still considering, one of the main reasons why you should opt for a colour tattoo is the sheer variation of designs that you can get here. The mass amount of colours, shades and hues means that you’ll never be limited for choice, and you can end up with a tattoo that’s entirely bespoke.


To sum up, colour tattoos are incredibly beautiful and have stemmed from an immensely vibrant history. They are used in a wide variety of different styles, from modern genres like biomechanical and new school tattoos, to traditional styles like Japanese and American traditional tattoos.

If you’re looking to get a stunning tattoo and you’re in the Phuket area, don’t hesitate to come down to Pitbull Tattoo Phuket. We’ve got a wonderful in-house team with a wealth of experience and creative ideas, and we would love to work with you to make something beautiful.