Chapter One Tattoo

Best Traditional Tattoos & Tattoo Artists in San Diego

Interested in traditional style tattoos? Not exactly sure what we mean by traditional? You’ve come to the right place. Chapter One Tattoo is home to some of the foremost tattoo artists in San Diego that specialize in traditional style tattoos. Whether you’re looking for a single piece or a full sleeve, our expert artists are here to help you make your ideas a reality.


What Are Traditional Style Tattoos?

Traditional style tattoos are extremely popular and odds are you’ve seen one before. Traditional tattoos, also referred to as American Traditional, American, Western, or Old School, are bold and iconic. They are characterized by their clean black outlines, vivid colors, and minimal shading. Traditional style tattoos most commonly depict women, roses, ships, daggers, skulls, and animals. They were pioneered by Norman Collins, better known by his moniker Sailor Jerry, in the 1930’s during WWII.

Sailor Jerry, a former Navy man with an interest in tattooing, set up shop in Honolulu after finding inspiration during his time spent at sea in Southeast Asia. Jerry had learned the art of tattooing in his younger days around Northern California and decided to pursue a career in the field after retiring from the Navy and developing his own style of tattooing. Historically, sailors and other individuals on the fringe of society were the only people to adorn themselves with body ink. With the introduction of WWII, Honolulu became one of the major ports that young, recently drafted men passed through. Many of these enlisted men found themselves in Sailor Jerry’s shop before deployment, thus popularizing the style of tattooing that Jerry had crafted over the years.

From there, the rest is history. Artists that specialize in traditional style tattoos are found in just about every tattoo shop across the country. Apart from looking cool, these types of tattoos pay homage to Sailor Jerry and the popularization of tattoos in America. They are easily identifiable and represent the beginning of western society’s shift towards the widespread acceptance of body ink. Traditional tattoos are the original American style.

Common Traditional Style Tattoos

American Traditional tattoos are one of the most easily recognizable styles of tattoo. They are bright, bold, and in your face. The designs are generally done large enough and with a simple aesthetic so they can be seen from far away and it will still be known exactly what the tattoo is. The first American Traditional tattoos were mostly done on members of the military, but are now for everyone and have only gained in popularity. Almost anything can be done in American Traditional, but some of the most common images done in this style are palm tree tattoos, swallows, panthers, and eagles, and of course there are plenty more. Some designs actually have a special name that many may not have known about before. Even some artists may not know the names of every design even if they’ve tattooed it before!

American Traditional Tattoo Names & Examples

Eye of the storm tattoo by Casey Sullivan
Eye of the storm tattoo by Casey Sullivan

Eye of the Storm Tattoo – The name makes perfect sense once you know it, but many people (some of us included) do not know this tattoo has a specific name. This tattoo, as the name states, is an eye in the clouds with lightning.

Battle Royale tattoo by Casey Sullivan
Battle Royale tattoo by Casey Sullivan

Battle Royale Tattoo – Another common American Traditional tattoo. This is generally done on a larger scale (as a chest piece, full torso or back tattoo, or thigh tattoo) and includes a snake, eagle, and dragon all fighting.

Image of three horses running with manes blowing in the wind
Pharaoh’s horses tattoo by Darigo Bonatto

Pharaoh’s Horses Tattoo – An iconic tattoo, Pharaoh’s horses is the name of the tattoo with three horse heads generally depicted as in motion and usually with some form of border. The image itself has religious connotations in reference to the biblical story of Moses parting the Red Sea and subsequently drowning the Egyptian army, including their horses.

Rose of no man's land tattoo by Casey Sullivan
Rose of no man’s land tattoo by Casey Sullivan

Rose of No Mans Land Tattoo – This is a tattoo depicting a woman wearing old school nursing garb. Usually with a white cap or draped sheet with a red cross emblazoned on it. There is usually a background of either a rose or another red cross. This tattoo is symbolic of healthcare, but like most tattoos, many people get it regardless due to it being such a classic tattoo design.

Tattooed depiction of Mary hanging onto a large stone cross
Rock of ages tattoo by Darigo Bonatto

Rock of Ages Tattoo – This is another tattoo with a religious context. It depicts a woman in a storm clutching onto a large cross. It is meant to symbolize keeping your faith through the storms of life and tough times.

Man’s Ruin Tattoo – This tattoo plays on the common vices of man. There are different versions of this, but it generally includes a pinup style woman lounging in a martini class. Another take on this is the “Sailor Beware” tattoo which often incorporates the same imagery.

Duel in the sun tattoo by Yvonne Byers
Duel in the sun tattoo by Yvonne Byers

Duel in the Sun Tattoo – This is a tattoo of two eagles fighting in front of a large red sun. As with all art, many variations exist, including the one above with roosters.

The Burning Question Tattoo – This is a tattoo of fire in the shape of a question mark and usually has an image of some sort under the curve, skulls are common there.

Stairway to Nowhere Tattoo – This tattoo can be done on its own or be included as part of another design. This tattoo is an image of a staircase spiraling into the unknown.

Bentback tattoo by Gary Dunn
Bent-back tattoo by Gary Dunn

Bent-Back Tattoo – These tattoos are always unique, and are of (generally) women whose bodies are contorted and “bent back” the wrong way and usually used to morph into another design (commonly a face/skull).

Prisoner of Love Tattoo – Another tattoo that has various twists to it, but the original version of this is a hand that is handcuffed/chained to a heart on the other end.

Sacred Heart tattoo by Casey Sullivan
Sacred Heart tattoo by Casey Sullivan

Immaculate Heart / Sacred Heart Tattoo – Two more tattoos with a general religious context. The sacred heart is symbolic of Jesus’s suffering, sacrifice, and love whereas the immaculate heart is to honor Mary and it differs by being wrapped in white roses symbolic of her purity and the miraculous conception.


Traditional Tattoos in San Diego

Nowadays, tattoos are everywhere. You’d be hard pressed to walk down any street in San Diego CA without seeing at least one tattoo. With San Diego CA having a large Navy presence and the general popularity of this style, it makes sense that traditional tattoos are very common around these parts. Now that tattoos are much more widely accepted in society, many people get full sleeves or cover large portions of their body with tattoos done in this style.

The most popular designs are still based on tattoos drawn up by Sailor Jerry, such as clipper ships, roses, daggers, animals (flying panther, snake, tiger, pin-up girls, and skulls). Chapter One Tattoo has multiple artists that specialize in traditional tattoos and is definitely the go-to place if you’re looking for a quality traditional piece that will look good for years to come.

Best Traditional Tattoo Artists in San Diego

There’s a reason that Chapter One Tattoo has been voted the best tattoo shop in San Diego. We are nationally recognized for our high quality custom tattoos and exceptional customer service because we believe in providing our clients with the experience and tattoos they deserve.

We have multiple artists that specialize in traditional style tattoos, you can browse their portfolios for inspiration or visit in person to see some of the amazing designs they’ve created. If you’re looking for something personal, our artists will gladly consult with you to draw up a custom design that you’re sure to be happy with.

Traditional Tattoos Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much does a traditional tattoo cost at Chapter One Tattoo? Is there a consultation fee?

A: We have a shop minimum of $200. From there, prices vary depending on artist, size, detail, and placement. There’s no fee for a quote or consultation, so feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. 

Q: Are traditional tattoos still popular?

A: Yes! Traditional tattoos are still one of the most popular styles of tattoos seen today. With their bold line work and vibrant colors, traditional pieces are widely considered the original American style of tattooing. What’s more, American traditional tattoos done in black and grey work have risen in popularity, so if color isn’t your thing you can still get a piece done in a traditional style.

Q: Does getting a traditional tattoo hurt?

A: Sometimes. Certain parts of the body are more sensitive than others, and larger pieces will likely cause some amount of discomfort. Everyone has a different tolerance for pain, so the answer to this question varies from person to person. If you truly want a tattoo, the bottom line is that it is a bearable process. You’ll be happy with your piece in the long run, so don’t sweat the initial discomfort. 

Q: What are traditional tattoos called?

A: Traditional tattoos have a few different names. They are also known as American traditional tattoos, western tattoos, or old school tattoos. No matter how they’re referred to, traditional tattoos are characterized by bold line work, vivid colors, and minimal shading.

The Traditional Tattoo Process at Chapter One Tattoo

The process for getting a traditional tattoo at Chapter One Tattoo starts with you choosing which artist best fits your desires. You can browse portfolios online, or visit the shop to see their designs in person. 

Once you’ve settled on an artist, the consultation process can begin. If you are choosing a design from a flash sheet, this will likely be a quick process, as they will only need to discuss size and placement with you. If you’re looking to have a custom design drawn up, the consultation process may take longer as the artist will need some time to work on your design. Our artists’ main goal is to give you exactly what you want, so if you’re not happy with your design be sure to discuss what you would like to change about it before settling on anything final. Keep in mind, however, that our artists are experts at their craft, so take any feedback with an open mind and understand that they are also trying to provide you with a tattoo that will reflect Chapter One Tattoo’s high standard of professionalism. They may have realistic limitations with regards to size and placement. 

Once you and your artist have consulted and decided on a final design, the tattooing process will begin. If your design is on the smaller side, it is possible to have a finished tattoo after one sitting. With larger pieces, this process may span several sessions, so be prepared to make multiple visits before your traditional piece is complete. 

After the tattooing process comes aftercare and healing. Your tattoo is an investment, so be sure to take proper care of it and listen to the tatoo-aftercare tips provided by your artist. Tattoos generally take 4-6 weeks to heal, so you’ll want to be vigilant in your aftercare so that it heals properly and looks good for years to come. If necessary, free touch ups are offered for three months after your initial tattoo appointment.

Book Your Traditional Tattoo Appointment at Chapter One Tattoo Today!

Traditional tattoos are the quintessential American style of tattooing. With bold lines, vivid colors, and minimal shading, these tattoos practically pop off your skin. If you’re looking for a tattoo that will stand out in the crowd, a traditional piece may be the perfect choice for you. Harkening back to the designs created by Sailor Jerry, traditional tattoos will forever be a mainstay in tattoo culture. With multiple artists that specialize in this style, Chapter One Tattoo is your go to location for traditional tattoos San Diego. Book an appointment online today or stop by the shop anytime to talk with one of our many talented artists. There’s no better time than now to get the traditional tattoo you’ve always wanted.