Tattoo artists have been using their imagination for centuries as a source of inspiration now. Some more than others and new school artists? That’s all they can rely on.

Those who want to bring more color onto their body art often do so with the new school style. These type of tattoos jump right out at you these days. They’re known for their experimental style centered on vibrant color palettes and bold linework. For those who want to attract attention with their ink or simply make a statement, new school is the stuff for it.

Perhaps, this style is more suited for the daring? Let’s just say that a free spirit is required for a new school tattoo. We’ll take you briefly through new school in our tattooland.

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How can we recognize the new-school style?

Although the new school tattoo style can be recognized from afar, there are some misconceptions about what defines this style. We’re here to make it clear and debunk those mix-ups.

Main features

A new-school style tattoo can be recognized from afar by its intense colors, round shapes and cartoonish style, just a bit more graphic than photorealism. These tattoos come to life, so to speak, through specific – not so simple – techniques.

In the past, the techniques and mediums tattoo artists used were a close-guarded secret. Artists shared that information only among themselves and dedicated apprentices, keeping it within the specific style.

Once new school tattoos started becoming a thing, it changed those ‘rules’. It even took away the definition of (tattoo) art. Thanks to the desire to think outside the lines, tattoo artists have not only invented a whole new tattoo style, but they were now more inclusive. Inclusive with each other.

Artists stemming from different tattoo genres were now sharing their own techniques and other secrets. The goal of becoming the best version of themselves as a tattoo artist was now mutual and they helped each other.

This relatively new style can be recognized by 3 main charecteristics.

Bold outlines

Even though, other tattoo styles such as old school, neo traditional, japanese traditional, also incorporate bold lines – there’s a big difference.

While old school tattoos and neo traditional tattoos usually only use black lines, new school takes it even further. A lot of the times, you can spot the difference in the colors of the bold outlines. New school artists will often minimize the usage of black, or get rid of it completely, and replace it with a compatible color.

What a lot of them also do is then outline the outlines with a lighter color, giving it a glow effect.

Warped perspectives

If we take a look at any other tattoo style, usually the perspective isn’t all that ‘interesting’. That doesn’t mean they’re boring, but just less interesting.

This new age of tattoos challenges that. Instead of drawing e.g. a car from its side-view, the artist will go for a different POV and experiment with the different perspectives.

You are way more likely to see a car from a bird’s eye perspective in new school tattoos than any other styles.

A new school tattoo artist isn’t afraid to try out things that haven’t been tried before!

Eye catching color scheme

Yes, this isn’t the first tattoo style that has bright colors, but still… There’s a difference between regular color tattoos and the bright colors you’ll find in new school tattoos.

The vivid color palettes these tattoos use are perhaps the most influential feature! Combined with the other features, it’s what makes the unique new school tattoo style, unique.

New-school origins

Due to the influx of changes in the industry and its general closed nature, we can’t exactly pinpoint when the style really originated. That information is lost in time.

We can however tell you, that new school is hugely inspired by our pop culture. It’s all about cartoon characters, anime characters, disney characters, game-related stuff, etc…

Going back to the 80’s, the Taz, Bugs Bunny-like cartoon characters were everywhere. People got them tattooed in the more traditional style, but, they’re cartoons after all!

With the grafitti scene being as big as it was back then, people got inspired from it aswell. The style got its jumpstart from there and over the years, developped into what it is now.

Influential new-school artists

As with any genre, new-school has its own pioneers. Since it is a style that changes non-stop, the history is hard to track back. We’ve managed however to find out a bit about the most influential new school tattoo artists!

Tony Ciavarro

Do you have your sunglasses on? No? U better go get them, because Tony Ciavarro’s vivid colors might strain your eyes!

Tony is one of the new-school (tattoo) artists that helped build the new-school tattooing to what it is today. He never even intended this to happen. Ciavarro has always been an artist first, drawing daily.

One time, he tagged along with friends that were getting his designs tattooed on them. At the shop, he asked who drew their flash. That particular tattoo artist went on to explain what they are, what they’re used for and why they’re being sold, etc…

Because Tony was struggling with finances, he saw a new opportunity to make some money. A week later he showed up at that same shop with a set of flash designs and the owners bought them! Not only that, but a few other tattoo shops did aswell.

His art career in the tattoo industry kickstarted from there. After making flyers and sending them to every shop he could find, he got a call from one in Conneticut. They wanted to buy everything he drew!

The Green Man Studio’s owner (the one in Conneticut) later on asked Tony if he’d be interested in learning how to tattoo himself. He was content with the flashwork job and never gave being a tattoo artist a thought, but he gave it a try.

So, at 23 he became an apprentice and the rest is history. In an interview with Neil Photography, Tony mentioned he was inspired from comic books’ artists, amongst others.

”Clean, colorful, cartoony stuff with a sense of humor.” – Tony on his own style

Jesse Smith

Jesse Smith was also an artist first before anything else. His art has been absorbing the workings of the urban culture ever since he was 12 years old! As a result of his dad grounding him, he’d start copying Grabage Pail kids stickers and skateboard designs.

Continuing it in 1993 onto his grafitti art, it shaped his tattoo style into what it is today. After he moved to Germany, there was no way he wouldn’t be exposed to the culture and we know about the huge grafitti culture in Germany, no surprise there. Him being intrigued by the grafitti culture’s bent perspectives, twisted angles and explosive colors, not only made him one of the best new school tattoos creators – it also shaped the new school tattooing style.

Moving a few years forward, his tattooing journey started in 1998. During that time he was actually in the military. He got a job at the theme park Busch Gardens as a caricature artist. There, he ended up meeting a guy, Carlos, who tattooed from his home. From hanging out with him, one thing came from another and he ended up teaching Jesse how to make a tattoo gun.

Before he knew it, he started tattooing out of his own home and his clients? Well, let’s say his tattoo machine wasn’t the only thing that was ghetto.

Out of fear he might end up hurt by his (I quote Jesse’s words) gangster clients someday, he decided to call it quits and look for a decent job in an actual tattoo shop. It all, luckily, took on from there and he’s now the professional tattoo artist we admire.

Today, Jesse’s new-school ink subject matter consists of ‘cartoon’ characters custom to their clients. Around 2009 he started giving them backstories and giving them a deeper meaning.


A tattoo with a new-school design has no beginning and no end. Now, don’t be thinking your artist will keep you forever on their table if you go in for a new-school tattoo. No, we just want to disclose that the possibilities of subjects and designs know no bounds.

Just a shout-out to pop and hip-hop culture please. Don’t forget video games, comic books, anime and manga characters, grafitti, folk art … These are all elements we find in new-school designs.

This is the nice thing about new-school tattoos. The tattooing style covers all subjects that e.g. old school tattooing doesn’t. So really, anything goes! If you want a tribute to a nostalgic pop culture icon, a childhood cartoon character or a hero, a movie character,… this is the style for you. Now that we’ve said that, we hope you can understand as to why we can’t actually guide you as to what to get in this style.

It’s all personal and custom to the new-school ink wearer! You can even go as far as giving the Japanese culture a tribute and get a koi fish in this style.

New-school tattoo ideas

Perhaps a bit contradictory, but here are some common ideas.

  • Anime or manga characters (e.g. sailor moon)

  • Your favorite animal (e.g. elephant’s head)

  • ‘Bubble’ letters

  • Movie characters

  • Random real life object, turned into exaggerated subject matter

  • Fantastical subjects (e.g. bird like man)

New-school tattoo placement

To be fair, since the new school tattoo style is so adaptable, you can get them anywhere. However, go big or go home, right?

The thighs and calfs are a great placement for large tattoos.


Definitely! 100 percent sure! Since new school tattoos are often large pieces, it is therefore smart to sacrifice a large part of your body as well. Sacrificing may sound a bit crude, let’s say: lending to the physical art. Sounds a little better already.

Arms, legs, back, chest … they are ideal places to tattoo in new school style.

To make it even more fun: those are the easiest places to work freehand.  A lot of new-school tattoo artists don’t work with stencils. They’d freehand the tattoo design right on your skin with markers and then get on with the actual tattooing.

Talk about a wow effect!


New-school tattoos are easily recognized by heavy outlines, saturated colors and out of the box subject matters.

Such tattoos often depict its subject matter from a twisted perspective or angle.

Literally anything! The most popular subject people tend to go for is anything inspired from pop culture.

Think of movie and cartoon characters, comic books, grafitti,…

You can get inspired from daily objects. Or, nostalgic memories.

Whatever you want your tattoo to symbolise, just communicate that to your tattoo artist. They will make up a tattoo design for you.


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