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Realism Tattoos: The History, Techniques and Styles

Updated: Apr 26, 2023

The practice of tattooing has been around for centuries. Different cultures across the world have written their history and identities on their skin. In more recent years, realism tattoos have taken the world by storm. Whether the image is of a loved one, a religious symbol, or simply a form of personal expression, realistic tattoos have never been in greater demand—especially when they are made by the best realism tattoo artist in the industry. But how can you tell the best from the rest?

The History of Realism Tattoos

While tattoos have existed since around 500 BCE, the ability to create realism is much more recent. Realism first began in the 1850s as artists abandoned the abstract and hyperbolized styles of the time for more natural, or realistic, paintings. This wave of realism was encouraged by the invention and widespread use of the camera. As time went on, tattoo artists also began adding realism to their artwork. One of the best realism tattoo artists is Freddy Negrete. While incarcerated, Negrete was part of the shift towards realism tattoos. He helped others by creating tattoos to help them remember loved ones or elements of their religion. Later, Negrete would go on to find a job at a tattoo parlor, creating realism tattoos and increasing the demand for them. Along with the other artists of his time, Negrete helped make realism tattoos the coveted art form they are today.

Basic Techniques of the Best Realism Tattoo Artists

There are many techniques and tricks used by tattoo artists to bring their pieces to life. Many realism tattoo artists use stencils to ensure they don’t make mistakes. This could take the form of paper or projected stencils, allowing the artist to easily follow their design. For color tattoos, gradients are used to add texture. White ink is also used by some artists to highlight the main aspects of tattoos and give them a greater, three-dimensional appearance. Advances in technology and materials have created new opportunities for tattoos to have intricate detail. Many variances in needle size and length are used by all tattoo artists, and the exact combinations of these are often closely guarded by the best realism tattoo artists. Each artist has favorite blends of techniques, making their art unique and beautiful.

Realism Tattoo Styles

There are many styles of realism tattoos. The best realism tattoo artists are often well versed in many styles, allowing them to create the versatile art requested by their clients. One of the original styles, one that is still quite popular today, is black and gray realism. This style, as implied by the name, is void of color. These tattoos generally consist of a darker outline with contours and detail added through artistic shading. The other predominant style of realism tattoos is the involvement of color. Adding bright colors to tattoos can increase the impression of reality, allowing for greater shading and contrast. Within these two broad styles, there are many differences in shading, contrast, pigmentation, and needle sizes. These variations make each tattoo come to life, whether it follows the black and gray style or includes a rainbow of colors.

The art of realism tattoos has been in the making for decades. This has allowed hundreds of styles and techniques to be used by realism tattoo artists around the world. Many techniques have been proven to work by the best realism tattoo artists over the years and are widely in use today. Others are still being developed, honed, and refined, leaving an open door for the art of realism tattoos to grow and flourish in years to come.


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