35 Best American Traditional Tattoos For Men – Top Designs in 2024

American Traditional Tattoo

It can all pretty much be traced back to the American traditional tattoo when it comes to modern tattooing. Stemming from the nautical lives of sailors, the style was born out of shore leave visits to tattoo parlors in the far east that brought the art back to the States, where it continues to thrive.

Whether on the classic placements like the forearm, upper shoulder, and chest, or more daring locations like the neck and hands, the bold lines, fully saturated colors, and simplified designs ensure that American traditional tattoos will look good for years to come. 

Bold and bright, the collection of ink we have amassed here will give you plenty to think about when it comes to choosing your next piece of permanent body art. 

1. American Traditional Tattoo Flash

Seen hanging in the windows of tattoo shops around the world, American traditional tattoo flash is vital to those who sport the designs and the historical significance. Full of classic designs and new interpretations, this is where many classic tattoos got their start.

American Traditional Flash Tattoo
@saintloser / Instagram

2. Simple American Traditional Tattoo

While it has undoubtedly become more complex in the past decades, simple American traditional tattoos continue to be a hallmark of the style, and for a good reason. The bold lines, limited palette, and simplified designs make American traditional excellent for straightforward tattoos.

Simple American Traditional Tattoo
@brandoche_tattoos / Instagram

3. American Traditional Eagle Tattoo

With talons forward and a fierce gaze, it’s unsurprising that many sailors and soldiers chose to get bald eagles inked back in the early days of tattooing. One of the original designs that continue to hold weight, American traditional eagle tattoos look as fearsome and compelling today as they did 60 years ago. 

American Traditional Eagle Tattoo
@derickmontez / Instagram

4. American Traditional Snake Tattoo

Another fierce creature that remains a popular design subject, the layered scales and threatening fangs of American traditional snake tattoos give the artist plenty of opportunities to show off their skill and attention to detail.

American Traditional Snake Tattoo
@nikotattooartist / Instagram

5. American Traditional Rose Tattoo

Whether for a family member, lover, or friend, the most recognizable flowers are the perfect way to commemorate a meaningful relationship. American traditional rose tattoos are hard to beat when executed in bold lines and fully saturated colors that characterize the style. 

American Traditional Rose Tattoo
@12ozstudios / Instagram

6. American Traditional Dragon Tattoo

Inspired by the Japanese tattoo legacy where the sailors and soldiers first encountered permanent body art, American traditional dragon tattoos are bold and dynamic examples of what is possible with this old-school approach. The dragon continues to signify protection, power, and wisdom. 

American Traditional Dragon Tattoo
@heatherdelbene / Instagram

7. American Traditional Skull Tattoo

There is no mistaking the meaning behind the most potent symbol of death and mortality. Long a popular subject for ink, American traditional skull tattoos are particularly appealing thanks to the bold lines and straightforward approach the style is known for.

American Trtaditional Skull Tattoo
@rama_fisson / Instagram

8. American Traditional Wolf Tattoo

While it has been adopted into the style more recently than other animals, American traditional wolf tattoos have become a common design in recent decades. It isn’t surprising that wolves are so popular when depicted in bold lines and vibrant colors, representing power, dedication, and fierce loyalty.

American Traditional Wolf Tattoo
@thetattoomovement / Instagram

9. American Traditional Bear Tattoo

In recent years another animal that has become a popular subject for old school work, American traditional bear tattoos, are ideally suited for the style. Symbols of wisdom and power, the fierce countenance, and unmistakable features make these creatures an excellent choice for a bold new tattoo.

American Traditional Bear Tattoo
@travstattoos / Instagram

10. American Traditional Cat Tattoo

One animal that has been featured in American traditional work for decades is the cat. Originally limited to a hissing black cat, often accompanied by a lucky ’13’, today, American traditional cat tattoos can be as unique and varied as the people who wear them.

American Traditional Cat Tattoo
@marcoerre_ / Instagram

11. American Traditional Tiger Tattoo

The tiger has been a prominent subject in Japanese tattooing for centuries, which explains the origins of American traditional tiger tattoos. Sailor Jerry himself contributed a fierce and snarling tiger face that people continue to get inked on their skin, representing power and the fighting spirit. 

American Traditional Tiger Tattoo
@tattoosnob / Instagram

12. American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoo

Many of the subjects and designs of this old-school style originated in the nautical world, where many original tattoo enthusiasts existed (here’s looking at you, popeye). Few symbols are as powerful as a lighthouse. A beacon in the dark, American traditional lighthouse tattoos reassures the wearer that they will always find their way home. 

American Traditional Lighthouse Tattoo
@thomashearntattoos / Instagram

13. American Traditional Owl Tattoo

Owls are common subjects in art going back thousands of years and are found as subjects of inquiry in many cultures. American traditional owl tattoos prove that these mysterious creatures exceed any specific art style. 

American Traditional Owl Tattoo
@hh_tattoo / Instagram

14. American Traditional Tattoo Black and Grey

American traditional tattoos are most commonly associated with vibrant colors. However, blackwork tattoos demonstrate that the simple designs and bold lines work just as well in a monochromatic palette. From snakes and daggers to eagles and script, you don’t need color to turn heads with this old-school approach to design. 

American Traditional Tattoo Black and Grey
@kucci_tattooer / Instagram

15. American Traditional Pinup Tattoo

The pinup girl, one of the true classic American tattoos. American traditional pinup tattoos remain as popular today as 60 years ago. A pillar of the style, men have been getting interpretations of the women they love inked on their bodies for decades. 

American Traditional Pinup Tattoo
@adrenalinemontreal / Instagram

16. American Traditional Mermaid Tattoo

These seductive creatures have been the subject of sailors’ tales for millennia. It is unsurprising that they made their way into tattoo culture. American traditional mermaid tattoos are symbols of the dangerous and fickle nature of the sea, originating on the ships and wharves of maritime life.

American Traditional Mermaid Tattoo
@adri_olala / Instagram

17. American Traditional Dog Tattoo

While not originally common elements of old-school flash sheets, it makes sense that man’s best friend is a popular subject for permanent body art. When applied with bold lines and vibrant style colors, American traditional dog tattoos are particularly appealing.

American Traditional Dog Tattoo
@needles_tattooing / Instagram

18. American Traditional Bird Tattoo

The traditional bird tattoo represented a sailor’s 5000th mile at sea. It was also believed that swallows would carry a sailor’s soul to heaven if he died at sea. While swallows are don’t often carry this significance nowadays, they still make stunning ink choices. 

American Traditional Bird Tattoo
@looming_moon / Instagram

19. American Traditional Compass Tattoo

Another design that got its start as a part of life at sea, American traditional compass tattoos continue to be popular subjects for the bold and vibrant colors of the style. Giving the wearer a permanent handle of their bearings, these navigational tools can be as simple or complex as those that wear them.

American Traditional Compass Tattoo
@vincepolizzitattoos / Instagram

20. American Traditional Panther Tattoo

One of the original subjects of American ink, the fact that millions of folks have a panther tattoo, takes away none of the power of these powerful designs. Whether climbing up to retire in the mountains or prowling down for a hunt, these fierce animals make for eye-catching timeless pieces. For the ultimate tough-guy spot, try placing this tattoo in the middle of the upper arm. 

American Traditional Panther Tattoo
@stefanpauli / Instagram

21. American Traditional Ship Tattoo

Given that the style started in the maritime world, it makes sense that American traditional ship tattoos remain an essential part of contemporary tattoo culture. While seafaring vessels equally represent the adventure and longing for home that shaped life at sea, a fully-rigged ship traditionally symbolized a sailor’s successful trip around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Let this tattoo bring you good luck to all your adventures, whether on land or at sea. 

American Traditional Ship Tattoo
@alexduquettetattoos / Instagram

22. American Traditional Dagger Tattoo

While tattoos have come a long way from the dangerous world of 24-hour shore leaves and underground gambling dens, there are still holdovers in design that pay tribute to these origins. American traditional dagger tattoos, whether with other designs or standalone pieces, exemplify this aesthetic and make for some head-turning pieces.

American Traditional Dagger Tattoo
@brandon.holdtrue / Instagram

23. American Traditional Cross Tattoo

For many people, their faith is a guiding light in their lives, providing a foundation that brings them joy and solace during life’s most trying of times. American traditional cross tattoos are the perfect commemoration of unwavering faith using bold lines and fully saturated colors that define the style.

American Traditional Cross Tattoo
@ziziktattoos / Instagram

24. American Traditional Cowboy Tattoo

Whether it’s a tribute to life on the range, an outlaw emblem, or simply a symbol of the freedom of the Wild West, the cowboy tattoo has seen a resurgence in recent years. This tattoo can be translated into many different styles and postures. 

American Traditional Cowboy Tattoo
@hectorlopeztattoo / Instagram

25. Native American Traditional Tattoo

Most commonly using simplified depictions characteristic of the style, Native American traditional tattoos can make for some eye-catching designs if approached with skill and respect.

Native American Traditional Tattoo
@moccagatta_ / Instagram

26. American Traditional Lion Tattoo

While panthers and tigers are more common, American traditional lion tattoos can be just as appealing. With a fierce gaze and that glorious and unmistakable mane, it makes sense that so many people choose the King of the Jungle for their latest ink.

American Traditional Lion Tattoo
@stoyjunx / Instagram

27. American Traditional Sun Tattoo

Taking the bold lines and bright colors that characterize the style and applying them to our most important celestial body make American traditional sun tattoos compelling and unique designs that are a bit out of the ordinary.

American Traditional Sun Tattoo
@cllhn_tattoo / Instagram

28. American Traditional Frog Tattoo

Most often representing transformation and wisdom, American traditional frog tattoos can also be fun pieces of art with which the wearer feels a special connection. Whether a frog is your inner beast or you just like these hoppy little dudes, these amphibians look great in bold lines and vibrant colors.

American Traditional Frog Tattoo
@cheweymolina / Instagram

29. American Traditional Star Wars Tattoo

One of the best parts about art is taking different ideas and concepts and reimagining them in new and different ways. While we doubt Sailor Jerry would approve, something is satisfying about seeing your favorite sci-fi saga represented in American traditional Star Wars tattoos.

American Traditional Star Wars Tattoo
@bentowers_tattoo / Instagram

Best Placement for American Traditional Tattoos 

30. American Traditional Tattoo Sleeve

While other styles are often chosen to create large, complex designs covering the entire arm, American traditional tattoo sleeves are best completed by assembling dozens of small and medium-size pieces. Making American Traditional easy to build up over time or great to plan out with your tattoo artist. 

American Traditional Tattoo Sleeve
@mayaantinarella / Instagram

31. American Traditional Chest Tattoo

One of the biggest canvases on the body, the chest is perfect for large designs; this classic style is no exception. Whether a fully rigged clipper ship or a prowling tiger in vibrant orange and black, the chest is the perfect placement for exciting designs that speak best to you. 

American Traditional Chest Tattoo
@alexdeetattoos / Instagram

32. American Traditional Hand Tattoo

Suppose you’re bold enough to get your hand blasted. In that case, the aggressive lines of American traditional hand tattoos might be the perfect choice for you. These tattoos used to be called “job killers,” but nowadays, a bit of ink below the cuff is less likely to land you in the unemployment line than a couple of decades ago.

American Traditional Hand Tattoo
@daniel__strauss / Instagram

33. American Traditional Back Tattoo

It doesn’t get much bigger than the back when it comes to big and bold. Whatever design you choose, be ready for multiple sessions on your stomach before your American traditional back tattoo is completed.

American Traditional Back Tattoo
@tattoosnob / Instagram

34. American Traditional Shoulder Tattoo

It is a favorite placement, thanks to the ability to cover or show it off at your discretion. American traditional shoulder tattoos are as popular today as back in Sailor Jerry’s day.

American Traditional Tattoo
@gordoncombs / Instagram

35. American Traditional Knee Tattoo

One canvas that has gotten a lot of attention lately is the knee. Sure to catch the eye, American traditional knee tattoos can make for some exciting pieces in the hands of an experienced and skilled artist.

American Traditional Knee Tattoo
@tonytrustworthy / Instagram

American Traditional Tattoo FAQ:

What is an American traditional tattoo?

American traditional tattoos were born from the ports and ships of maritime life and have become an essential part of tattoo culture. Known for bold lines and fully saturated colors, the strict rules that once shaped the style have been relaxed. Just about any subject can be tailored to your liking in the American traditional style.

What is an American traditional tattoo flash?

American traditional tattoo flash is a collection of an artist’s designs applied on paper or cardboard and displayed in the windows and on the walls of a shop. These flash sheets give customers an idea of the artist’s style and skill.

What makes a tattoo American traditional?

American traditional tattoos are characterized by clean, bold outlines, vibrant and fully saturated colors, simplified designs, and a slight shading. 

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