175 Cool American Traditional Tattoo Ideas for When You Just Don’t Know What to Get

Getting a tattoo is exciting but can be challenging when you have not figured out what tattoo idea to get. If you’re at your wit’s end thinking of tattoo ideas, then here are some cool tattoos to help you decide:

  1. Lighthouse

If you are sentimental about the sea, whether you’ve lived by it your entire life or dedicated your profession in the waters, getting a tattoo of it is a great way to express it. Elements such as a lighthouse, anchor, and lifebuoy are great metaphors in life to have tattooed. The tattoo can express guidance through adversities and keeping you grounded. You can get one element as a standalone tattoo or combine all elements to create one big tattoo piece.

2. Snake

Snakes are dangerous and scary predators of nature; however, they still convey a very positive symbolism in art. The patterns of snakes are great designs to embellish on your skin as a form of unique individuality. We all know snakes are capable of shedding skin, thus they symbolize growth and a new beginning for anyone planning to get a snake as an artistic image. A lot of attributes that snakes possess can be embodied by the individual who has the snake tattoo. The animal itself is an interesting creature and a great conversation starter.

3. Grim Reaper

No one likes death, and the image of the Grim Reaper is the exact representation of what we all fear. Worry not, though, because getting this tattoo design doesn’t mean you wish for immediate death. The image can be scary for most people but can mean differently for others. The black-hooded Grim Reaper can also represent fragility and courage to face death head-on. It can also be a reminder to live your life to the fullest. It can also show your enthusiasm for horror movies or excitement when Halloween comes.

4. Zodiac Animal

A lot of us are well-aware of our zodiac signs and representations. Although they came from Asia, believing in astrological signs and their said meanings haven’t really hurt anyone. And with the right amount of creativity and inspiration, these signs actually make a good tattoo. Each zodiac has its own traits that make it unique. It can be fun for people to depict what characteristic you embody from your zodiac which you can, later on, confirm or debunk. Time to bring out the expressive Aries in you, maybe?

5. Sleeve Tattoo

If you’ve got enough patience and dedication, you might find yourself wanting to get a wicked sleeve tattoo. You can get your sleeve tattoo with one theme or multiple themes. It covers most of a person’s arm and takes multiple sessions to finish completely. It can be a tribute to a loved one or a form of expression for you and your personality. You can opt for a colorful sleeve or go monotone, whichever to your liking. It will be costly, but the outcome will definitely be worth the price and experience of it all.

6. Wolf

Wolves are related to a man’s best friend but situated out in the wild to hunt and survive. A tattoo of a strong animal, like the wolf, can bring representation to who you are as a person – a traveler, a hunter, and a survivor to name a few. Your wolf tattoo can vary in appearance, may it be intimidating in a realistic way or fun and cute in a cartoon way; either way your tattoo will howl in awesomeness.

7. Japanese-style Wolf

Choosing the style of your tattoo is part of the process. You can choose a style that fits your personality or the liking to your tattoo. This wolf tattoo embodies the Japanese style of art. It has a bright and playful color scheme and distinct Japanese line style. You can also show your appreciation of their culture and art through this. If you are not a Japanese local, it is best to research on how to not appropriating their culture before getting the tattoo done.

8. Sword

Warriors use swords as their mighty weapons made and honed by talented blacksmiths. Swords can symbolize the strength and bravery of warriors; they can also depict hurt and pain with the illusion of a sharp blade impaling or piercing the person. Despite that, the person marches on. It can mean both being strong and vulnerable at the same time. The tattoo symbolizes you as a warrior ready to draw his sword anytime for battle or can also mean that you just really love swords.

9. Sailor

Back then, sailor tattoos were exclusive to sailors only. Historically, various sailor tattoos also have different meanings attached to them; some showing off their ranks, where they have stationed in the past, or how far they have traveled in the sea to name a few. Nautical stars meaning victory in bar fights, swallow birds meaning distance traveled, hula girls signifying Hawaii as their previous station, and anchors signifying their ranks and stability; these elements were distinguishable sailor tattoos. Sailor tattoos are trendy nowadays even with non-sailing folks and with not much superstition attached.

10. Eagle

Eagles are wild and free birds of the sky. They are great leaders, passionate nurturers, and amazing hunters. It also symbolizes freedom as it is a bird that can fly higher than most birds, flying up to 10,000 feet. You will be reminded by your eagle tattoo to live an honest and free life.

11. Skull Dagger

A dagger piercing a skull can seem like a morbid piece, but it has various meanings that are not always negative. The design means death, protection, bravery, or memory. The dagger’s short handle design prevents the user from slipping its grip onto the weapon; this symbolizes handiness and dexterity. You can get the tattoo on your forearm, leg, chest, or back. You are represented by your tattoo as a protector and a strong individual.

12. Fish

Fish tattoos may seem weird to some but it does bring meaning to other people who get it. The most common fish tattoo done is koi fish. The koi fish that originates from Japan is popular for its meaning of good luck, sense of purpose, and strength. With its meaning of good luck, people get tattoos like a lucky charm to guide them in their journey of life; some people use lucky charm pendants while some have it tattooed. It can also be a tribute to your fishing experience in your childhood.

13. Liquor Bottle Tattoo

A liquor bottle tattoo is a quirky tattoo design because of its playfulness. We all know that liquor is a fun drink to have at events and other special occasions. It does remind us to relax and have fun, once in a while. Having your favorite drink tattooed on your body is a great reminder to not take life so seriously all the time. It can also come to good use to playfully order it by pointing at your tattoo. Adding a quote around or beside it can add to its quirkiness and charm. It can also be a reminder to always drink responsibly.

14. Monotone Handshake

When friendship and loyalty are important to you, getting a tattoo of hands shaking is a good way to show it. Handshakes are usually done during introductions to new people which symbolizes the start of a friendship. This would be a great tattoo to get with friends or people you value your friendship with. It is a good filler tattoo to fill out spaces in sleeve tattoos or big tattoo pieces, most especially for monotone pieces.

15. Colored Handshake

Color brings out the beauty in a tattoo as it gives it a more vibrant and lively look. It emphasizes small details like the handshake of both a man and a woman. Similar to the previous style, this tattoo idea is a handshake but with color and floral decorations. It is also customizable to your liking as you can adorn other decorations around it like flowers, a heart, or other ornaments to make it look better.

16. Rose

The rose tattoo is one of the most common tattoos done. Roses are romantic with its red color signifying love and passion. It is balanced with the presence of thorns which signify thoughtlessness and hurt. The tattoo can be done with just the flower itself or the whole plant that includes the stem, thorns, and leaves. The single or bunch of roses tattoo is usually adorned on the hand, forearm, and back. You can fill it with its bright, red color or keep it minimalistic by opting it out of its color and donning it in amazing linework.

17. Cobra

Cobras are one of the most venomous snake species on the planet. Its distinct hood around its neck is a daunting sight to see as it is ready to attack and protect itself. They are also known to be charmed by snake charmers as a form of entertainment; it is quite a sight to see a vicious creature hypnotized and swaying to its charmer’s music. A tattoo of a cobra is a cool tattoo idea, most especially if you are into cobras and find them very interesting or you see yourself in the likeness and traits of a dangerous wild cobra.

18. Black Panther Tattoo

Black Panther can be the famous Marvel movie or the majestic black cat; let’s focus on the latter. A black panther is an epic tattoo subject to get because of the animal’s power and strength. They are not deemed as bad luck, unlike the common, black house cat.

19. Woman, Snake, and Dagger

This tattoo piece is composed of three elements namely a woman, a snake, and a dagger. The composition of the tattoo is arranged vertically and asymmetrically balanced with more details on the upper portion. If you are into gory stuff, this tattoo idea might be for you. The beauty of the lady is the first thing that captures one’s attention, but later on, you’ll see that it is a beheaded woman on a blade. It gives off a mysterious and intriguing vibe which can evoke conversation and curiosity for people who will see it.

20. Tiger

The tiger is one of the well-known animals of the wild. Getting this tattoo can mean that you are into tigers and have them as your favorite animal or were born in the year of the tiger. This tiger tattoo idea leans towards a more distinct and artistic approach than a realistic portrait. It also plays with color as it does not follow the conventional orange, black, and white color of the animal.

21. Sailor  Skull

Skulls are pretty trendy tattoos which usually represent rebellion or being hardcore. They can be scary or playful, depending on how they are depicted. A skull sailor tattoo is like a play on dead pirates; they are known to dedicate their life at sea and have black flags with skulls on them. Seeing a skull with one eyeball and mustache, smoking a cigarette, dressed in sailor attired is a pretty amusing and comical sight to see.

22.  Death

Legend says that the Grim Reaper’s sharp blade is what separates the human soul and the human body. Death is an interesting subject to do as a tattoo because of the mixed reactions you can get. Some will find it okay to talk about, some will be scared to see it as a reminder of limited time, some are indifferent. This tattoo only shows the Grim Reaper’s face and parts of his hood; his blade and drops of blood surround him, forming an inverted teardrop shape. Its shape makes it fit to put on wide areas such as your shoulder or chest.

23. Campsite

Telling stories around a crackling fire, sleeping in a tent, or roasting marshmallows are some fun moments when we go out camping. It can be sentimental for some people, most especially if they spent time in summer camps. It can also mean solitude and rest from all the hustle and bustle of the city. This tattoo idea utilizes only a few colors but brings out life in the simple design.

24. Exotic Animals

Animal tattoos are a great way to express yourself since each animal conveys different meanings. Some of them symbolize power, loyalty, strength, and freedom. Covering yourself with exotic animal tattoos will make you feel like you’re in an endless safari. All you have to do is pick which species best symbolizes you. Some options include wolves, birds, snakes, lions, and mythical creatures like the phoenix. You can make your design more unique by adding some skulls, hearts, and roses around them.

25. Serpent and Black Panther

A serpent and a panther is an interesting combination for a tattoo design. Ever since the ancient times, the serpent, a snake, represents change, transformation, and rebirth. Since it is also often seen on the ground, it has been used to symbolize an umbilical cord connecting humans with the earth. The panther, on the other hand, is a deadly creature which can be a unique symbol of strength. This animal’s combative technique and physical features make for an exquisite tattoo. 

26. Viper Snake Head

Snake tattoos are a common tattoo design that most people put on their back or forearm. Some would also consider putting them on their leg. The snake is a dangerous creature – just one poisonous bite could lead to someone’s death. Hence, a snake tattoo may represent ferocity and peril. But aside from this rather fierce symbolism of the snake, it may also represent something positive. Having the snake as a spirit animal invites you to grow and aspire for better things. The snake will lead you and help slow you down when you’re life seems to move in the wrong direction.

27. Skull Grim Reaper

If you want to get a more badass look, getting skull tattoos would be a great choice. Tattoo artists have come up with different ways to spice up this common design. Some would suggest a small skull design on your wrist or forearm while some would opt for a 3D fiery version on the shoulder or back. Others would even choose to get the grim reaper design. There is a wide range of options to choose from. Although the skull has been used as a symbol of death, it could also mean other things such as passion, rebellion, mortality, power, and rebirth.

28. Ship in the Storm

A ship sailing in the storm is one of the most popular nautical tattoo designs. It can be made to look like a cartoon or appear more realistic. You could also choose whether you want just a few sails or more. Some like their design extremely detailed, while others prefer a more abstract look. Common ship designs often include waves and water, and some would even add lightning. The details of your tattoo – from the ropes and anchors of the ship to the environment it is surrounded with – will help determine what your tattoo means. The ship often symbolizes courage and determination. It could also symbolize the bearer’s free spirit.

29. Palm Tree

A palm tree tattoo is a unique tattoo design in itself. It’s foliage and trunk could vary from one tree to another, so you have many options to choose from. This design can be incorporated into a larger, more complex design, such as the one shown in this photo. Due to its versatile design, it can be placed in different parts of the body depending on the size you want and the details you would like to add. The palm tree has been known in ancient times as the Tree of Life, a symbol of immortality and eternity. In line with this, it is also thought to represent paradise, goodness, and wisdom.

30. Spider Web

The spider web tattoo has been around for quite a long time and has an interesting history. It has been a symbol of hard times and incarceration. It gained popularity during the 70s and 80s, with inmates getting inked to show the time they served. Over the years, the meaning of this tattoo has been watered down. Many people now believe that the tattoo’s meaning can only be defined by whoever wears it, and that there is no need to associate it with its former meaning. Some would wear this tattoo because of its intricate design and use it as a symbol of strength and perseverance.

31. Mythical Ox

The ox is a powerful symbol of endurance and strength, as humans try to control and harness the power of nature to pull their carts when plowing. It often represents human civilization, but in earlier times, it has been used as a symbol of service and benevolence. This patient, modest, tireless, and calm creature is widely known in the Chinese Zodiac. Its other attributes include intelligence, dependability, and rationality. If you are interested in the Chinese Zodiac and the ox is your zodiac sign, what better way to show this to people than by getting inked with such beautiful design?

32. Black and White Pirate Ship

Pirates have been known as fearless sailors who attack unsuspecting vessels on the open seas. The pirate ship tattoo is a symbol of power, showing everyone that the wearer is unafraid to fight for what they believe in no matter what the cost. This design can be easily customized with a flag, sails, storms, and a strong wave. A lot of people see the pirate ship tattoo as a representation of home, while others see it as representing the start of a new journey or immersing with nature. It could also be a symbol of faith, curiosity, education, or other motives for taking on a journey to the sea.

33. Daggers through Heart

The dagger through the heart tattoo is a traditional design that dates back to a century ago. It is a classic design that has lived on for quite a long time. It used to be worn in prison and was made to show that whoever wears the tattoo is willing to kill. Outside the cell, it has been used to mean that love hurts. Through the years, it has been given several different meanings and interpretations. Some would associate it with feelings of hurt or pain, while others would use it as a symbol of someone’s betrayal.

34. Roses and Daggers

Rose tattoos may look feminine, but they are wearable by both males and females. This design is often incorporated with other symbols such as a dagger. The rose and dagger represents the duality of human life due to the opposite meanings each symbol holds. The dagger signifies betrayal, death, and destruction while the rose has been used to represent growth, beauty, peace, love, and a fresh start. Personalize this design by customizing the dagger’s design, the color of the roses, or by putting a quote on a scroll.

35. Nature and Death

Parrots are important symbols used by different cultures. Their skills in speech and mimicking human conversation have made them a symbol of communication and human companions. In Hindi culture, Kama, the god of love, chose the parrot as his symbol. Hence, this bird has been used to signify love and courtship. By contrast, the grim reaper represents death. The sharp scythe and long black coat puts fear into anyone who catches a glimpse of him. Combining these two symbols would make a fierce and eye-catching tattoo.

36. Grim Reaper in Garden

Getting a tattoo that combines two or more designs is a great way to make your design more unique. Flowers and a grim reaper is not something that a lot of people would ink themselves with, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t make it work. Legend shows that when someone is about to die, the grim reaper appears moments before his death. He separates the soul from the body through his scythe, and accompanies the soul to its resting place. Flowers could have different meanings depending on their type. They could mean love, friendship, or forgiveness, among other things. Adding floral designs could make your tattoo look more vibrant.

37. Eagle

The eagle is a stunning idea for a forearm tattoo. Native Americans see the eagle as a representation of spiritual power. Due to their ability to fly up the mountains amidst the bright sun, this animal has been considered as the gods’ great messenger. Some native tribes perceive the eagle as the embodiment of the thunderbolt spirit – the symbol of lightning and thunder. Today, the eagle tattoo is also worn as a symbol of power, spirituality and wisdom.

38. Sailor

The life of a sailor is mysterious and adventurous. They are often faced with many unknown elements and challenges while at sea. Because of this, they have been known as one of the bravest people in all of mankind. Wearing the sailor as a tattoo can be a great way of showing that you possess similar attributes or that you admire them for their bravery.

39. Clawed Skull

The eagle skull is an interesting combination for a tattoo and is an artistic way of expressing one’s strength. These symbols, when brought together, represent power, strength, and victory from evil. The yellow and red colors make a great accent without looking too colorful. This design looks best when placed on the upper arm, preferably on the biceps.

40. Ship and Eagle Emblem


The eagle is one of the most dangerous birds around the world, yet a lot of people are still mesmerized by this creature’s strength. It has long been known as a symbol of pride, beauty, and majesty. This animal is also considered as independent and free. When combined with the ship design to make an emblem, these two symbols definitely express a strong meaning. They signify a person’s free spirit and courage.

41. Full Back Eagle

As mentioned, the eagle is a mesmerizing and majestic creature that would make a stunning tattoo design. This is why some people would prefer to get a full back tattoo of this beautiful  bird. Your back makes the perfect spot for big tattoos. You can go all out when getting a back tattoo because it can be covered up easily. Also, your back makes an easier canvass compared to other parts of the body. Do keep in mind that getting a back tattoo takes a lot of patience and time, and will be a lot more painful due to the huge area it covers. 

42. Chinese Lion

The lion is a symbol that is commonly found in Eastern and Western cultures, especially in the Chinese and Japanese myths. This creature is worn as a tattoo design because some people believe it to be a symbol of royalty. Stories from many different cultures show the lion as the king of the beasts. If you want an animal design that signifies strength and courage, the lion tattoo might just be the perfect choice. It is one of the fiercest predators roaming the earth and can be a great reminder of your strength.

43. Flying Eagle on Chest

A lot of people get inked with an eagle design due to its strength and majesty. A flying eagle on one’s chest is one of the most popular ways to show off this stunning design, especially for men. It shows off their masculinity and makes them look like a badass. Though the pain when getting a chest tattoo is minimal, if you have a hairy chest, you may want to consider getting inked on other parts of your body instead. This is because it may be a bit of a hassle to maintain since you would have to keep shaving to keep the design visible.

44. Viper Snake Glove

Through the years and in many parts around the globe, the snake has been commonly known as a poisonous and dangerous animal. It often symbolizes every one of its traits – secretive, sneaky, sinuous, seductive, and sleek. However, these creatures may are also often misunderstood. Some species may be dangerous, but not all of them pose a threat on humans. They often hide and only attack as a form of self-defense. Hence, the snake can also be a symbol of strength, intelligence, and patience.

45. Stabbed Serpent

The dagger tattoo is an artistic design on its own, but it can become more meaningful and creative when a twist is added on the design. Daggers are used for fighting, display, sacrifice, or games. It is sometimes worn as a tattoo to serve as a warning to others that the wearer is dangerous. Some would wear it as a reminder to be more careful of the dangers other people are hiding. The good thing about the dagger design is its versatility. It can be easily mixed with other designs such as snakes, as shown in this photo.

46. Full Sleeves

Getting a sleeve tattoo on one arm is great, but why stop on one side? A full sleeve tattoo on both arms make a great canvas and can really convey the message you want to express to people who see you wearing them. On top of this, it will also make you look cool and badass. However, be ready for the pain you are about to experience when you get yourself inked. You will carry your new tattoo with pride knowing that you have endured the process of getting it done.



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