Tattoo Glossary D to N

Tattoo Glossary – D to N


Dotwork — a style of tattooing entirely made up of dots of different sizes and different distances from each other. Where they are closer together, the tattoo will be denser. Where they are further apart, it will be more spacious. Sometimes it encompasses linework to create contours, sometimes not. Focusing solely on black and sometimes grey ink, common designs are mandalas, geometric patterns and stylised animals.

Mandala tattoo
Beautiful mandala dotwork by Cata from Vivid Ink Hagley Road​

 Dermis — the layer of your skin to where the needle needs to penetrate to make the tattoo permanent. Push any less, into the overlying epidermis, and the tattoo will fade. Any deeper, and it will cause a blowout, which makes the ink flow out and the tattoo itself blurry. 


Fineline — not the same as single needle, fineline tattoos, increasingly popular with the Insta-crowd, are characterised by – surprise – thin lines, but also the absence of colour. They are generally 2D and very minimalist, depicting flowers or more delicate animals or scenes.

Flash — a collection of pre-drawn images available on cards. These days, they are mostly used as decor on the walls of tattoo shops, to use as pre-designed options for events, or to teach apprentices. 

Freehand — quite self-explanatory really. Usually, the artist will stencil onto the skin before they start to tattoo. Freehand is when that step is skipped and it is like the design is just drawn on the canvas, without any direct reference point. 


Geometric — a style focusing on geometric shapes and lines rather than shading. Often uses repetitive patterns and can make for very impressive large-scale pieces or even entire bodysuits of symbols and shapes. 


Handpoking — all tattooing was originally hand-poked. The technique basically does everything that a tattoo machine does — only without mechanical support. As you can imagine, it takes longer. It may also not penetrate as deep into the skin, making designs more susceptible to fading. But, if you want to get a more traditional piece in homage to the roots of the art form, seeking out a good — and properly trained —  hand poker could definitely be worth it. It is sometimes referred to as “stick and poke” by those who engage in it on a slightly less professional basis. 

Neo Traditional Bear and Rose
Neo-traditional by Sean from Vivid Ink Birmingham


Illustrative  a style of tattooing that draws on American Traditional, but combines it with realistic shading. These pieces often look like they were drawn directly onto the skin, almost as if it was done on paper, like an illustration.


Neo — a prefix added to many things, not just in tattooing, to mark an evolution of a previously established form. Neo-traditional, Neo-Japanese and Neo-tribal, for example, are common styles of ‘neo-tattooing’ that have somehow enhanced upon their earlier namesake, for instance with more realistic shading or depth. 

New School — Inspired by graffiti, hip-hop and pop art, most new school tattoos go towards the bizarre or slightly absurd and cartoonish. Common motives are dramatic and exaggerated personifications of animals or what might be viewed as irreverent themes. 


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