Sketch Style Tattoo Explained

Do you like the look of sketches, with their rough lines and loose design? Then a sketch style tattoo should be at the top of your list of tattoo ideas!

This new-age design style focuses heavily on the beauty within the base of artwork pieces: the sketch. The style offers a unique tattoo that features artwork in progress, creating an unfinished yet put-together look. You’ll be a true canvas, as your tattoo will look like a design torn from your tattoo artist’s sketchbook!

Continue reading to learn more about what this tattoo style encompasses along with some eye-catching examples from professionals.

An artist sketching a human figure and plant details. Sketch style tattoo is based on the concepts of artist sketches.

Let’s Get to the Point: What is a Sketch Style Tattoo?

A sketch style tattoo is exactly what you think it is!

Have you ever taken a peek at someone’s sketchbook or watched a how-to drawing video? Artists will almost always start with a base drawing that loosely depicts their subject. Think of it as the skeleton of an art piece. And this base is what the sketch style tattoo consists of.

The markings are clear and jagged, unlike what you’d see on something like a portrait tattoo where everything blends. It’s essentially a tattoo that looks like a sketch or a free-hand drawing. The result will look as though your tattoo artist drew your tattoo onto your body with a pencil or pen.

This style doesn’t have a specific type of content associated with it. And it can often get incorporated into almost any tattoo you want.

Any type of artwork uses at least a few or all of the seven elements of design. These elements include line, shape, space, form, color, value, and texture. The sketch style tattoo usually focuses on only a few of these elements, including line, shape, space, and sometimes value. Form, color, and texture are often in the final art product, which this style doesn’t entail.

How Did the Sketch Style Tattoo Originate?

This tattoo style started rising in popularity recently as people wanted to move away from the traditional tattoo look. It only began appearing in the tattooing world within the last two decades or so. It’s still new, making it a modern and contemporary style addition.

Not everyone enjoys the traditional look of tattoos. They want something new and exciting, which is why the sketch style tattoo came onto the tattooing scene.

The Elements of a Sketch Style Tattoo

Every style of tattoo has its specific elements. These elements are what help define the overall style categories. Sketch style tattoos, in particular, omit many artistic elements, stripping tattoos down to their bare bones. But that doesn’t mean these tattoos are boring or simple-looking. Artists can use just a few elements, such as the following, to create breathtaking work.

Black or Gray Ink

Closeup of tattoo artist pouring black ink into tattoo cups.

What do you notice when you think of or look at an ordinary art sketch? You’ll probably see that it’s devoid of any color. Most art sketches solely use a pencil or a black ink pen. Again, this is because a sketch is simply a base, so there’s no need to go into tons of detail just yet.

Due to this, you’ll often see the sketch style tattoo in black or gray ink. Most of the time, the artist will use multiple shades of gray to give some contrast without using full-on shading.

A select few artists do their sketch tattoos in color, but that isn’t usually the norm. If they decide to use color, it’s typically a singular color rather than a combination. Think of it like a colored pencil-style sketch tattoo. It still has a pencil-like look but in color.

Rough Lines

Another vital element of the sketch style tattoo is its almost unfinalized look. This is because the tattoo will have rough and irregular lines, which often cross over each other instead of connecting. The lines are often sharp with the absence of any curves. These types of lines give the tattoo an overall rugged and raw look.

At first glance, the impression you’ll get from it is that the design is still a work in progress. However, the tattoo doesn’t necessarily look forgotten about or unfinished. It just looks like there is room for additions if needed or wanted.

Cross-Hatching or Line Shading

Closeup of the details in an artist sketch.

When it comes to the sketch style tattoo, you won’t usually get flawless, blended shading. This is because art sketches typically don’t include any shading at all. Blended shading is an element that goes into the final product. And a sketch is like a pre-drawing before the actual artwork.

So, instead of shading, tattoo artists will often incorporate cross-hatching to create contrast. Cross-hatching involves crisscrossing lines to create x’s, which utilizes the art and design element of value. It creates the look of light and dark without shading. This technique stands out beautifully, especially against the surrounding white space.

Another popular way to show value in a sketch style tattoo is through directional lines. The artist will simply draw lines closely together in a specific direction to mimic shading. As the lines become closer, the value looks darker to the eye. Diagonal lines are a popular option.

The lack of traditional shading and blending will put the look of the tattoo on the flatter side. It’ll lean more towards a two-dimensional design instead of a three-dimensional one. But this isn’t a bad thing!

Sketch Style Tattoo Artists to Check Out

Many tattoo artists are starting to pick up this modern tattoo style. Artists may only specialize in the sketch style tattoo, or they might use it in combination with other styles.

Here are some trending tattoo artists on Instagram who specialize in sketch style tattoos. Their accounts are worth checking out as their designs are perfect visual examples of the style. You might even want to book an appointment with them!

Moona Autumn

Moona Autumn creates her tattoo artwork in Austria at a tattoo shop called Thorns and Spines. Her tattooing style focuses heavily on the sketch tattoo style intertwined with the dark tattoo style. The majority of her work is in black and gray, with a lot of weight on solely pure black ink.

You’ll also notice that her focus is on nature. So, many of her designs revolve around animals, trees, and flowers. But she also has plenty of other-worldly designs, like mythological creatures, which tie into the dark tattoo style. She’s keen on cross-hatching and using line work to create value. This minotaur sketch style tattoo design is an excellent example of how she uses these two techniques!


BK is a tattoo artist located in Seoul, Korea. Many of his designs also incorporate a combination of both sketch and dark styles. Much of his work encompasses surrealistic designs combined with reality, like this mechanical heart. However, instead of using cross-hatching like Moona Autumn, he uses lines closely drawn together.

Similar to the heart design, BK’s tattoos use a loose, scribble-like technique, which accentuates the look of a sketch. His use of this technique creates the impression that he made his designs with an old quill pen. It’s truly mesmerizing to look at.

Heitor Martins

Heitor Martins is a tattoo artist in Brazil who works out of the 3.04 Ink tattoo shop. He is one of the tattoo artists who incorporate color into some of their sketch style tattoos. However, much of his work is in black and gray ink. Martins’ designs feature a mixture of content subjects ranging from animals and architecture to surreal pieces. He can design almost anything!

His value technique of choice is varying diagonal lines like within this beautiful lighthouse tattoo. The designs also feature a quill pen-like look. His designs look exactly like a black ink pen sketch. He even includes the little bleed marks at the end of the lines to hit the look home.

Sketch Style Tattoo FAQs

Do sketch style tattoos age well?

Generally, sketch tattoos will age well. This is because they use black and gray ink most of the time. Black ink fades much slower than colored ink, as black is incredibly pigmented and the darkest ink available.

However, keep in mind that the sun can fade your tattoos faster. So, you should try to keep them covered if you’ll be in the sun for long periods. Using a color-enhancing tattoo cream can also keep your tattoo looking pigmented.

Can a sketch style tattoo be in color?

Yes, this type of tattoo can be in color. However, using color isn’t a common tattooing practice with this style because art sketches are usually in black and white. If the artist uses color, they’ll typically use it in pops of color. Or, they may do the entire tattoo in one color.

Does a sketch style tattoo take longer to complete than other styles?

The time frame of this type of tattoo depends on what the design is and how complex it is. But it will likely take less time than other styles due to the lack of detail. The artist also typically uses one color, so the artist isn’t constantly switching needles or ink colors.

Wrapping Up the Sketch Style Tattoo

A tattoo artist making a sketch.

The sketch style tattoo has plenty to offer with its artistic touches and incredibly unique look. Tattoos are already an art form. But this style further emphasizes that through the rough, pencil-like markings and cross-hatching values.

If you’re looking for a new tattoo, this style is definitely something to consider!

Are you interested in learning about the other types of tattoos that are out there? Check out our Tattoo Styles page for more fascinating explainers!

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