Even with the introduction of innovative tattoo styles like New School and Geometric, there are very few that can compare to the classics.
And nothing says classic like traditional rose tattoos.
For many of the sailors of the 1940s, getting rose tattoos in the traditional style was like a baptism. They got them as remembrances for the loved ones they left at home. And to them, the family was everything, so sailors without their own rose tattoo were a rare sight.
Even now, it can be hard to find a traditional tattoo sleeve without roses. Its iconic appearance and deep symbolism make it a key part of the traditional tattoo style—a must-have for tattoo lovers.
To help you plan out your traditional style rose tattoo, I’ve compiled 30 of the best ones.
Each artist is given due credit, so if you want to check out more of their work or message them directly, their names and Instagram accounts are all there.
Towards the end, I’ll answer some FAQs and talk about the different types of roses and which ideas they represent, so keep reading!
Traditional Rose Tattoos
Traditional Black-and-Grey Rose Tattoos
Because roses look so recognizable, you can opt-out of getting a color tattoo and still get the same effect. Admittedly, the lack of color will limit up to how much you can customize your design. But the good thing is that black ink lasts much longer than colored ink.
black-and-grey tattoos are generally cheaper than colored tattoos and take less time to complete, so if you’re someone with a low pain tolerance (or a busy schedule), black-and-grey tattoos are worth considering.
by scottattoos. (@scottattoos on Instagram).
by Tried and True Tattoo. (@triedandtruetat2 on Instagram).
by theburningeyetattoo. (@theburningeyetattoo on Instagram).
American Traditional Rose Tattoos
The American tradition is the classic style. It uses bold black outlines and simple color schemes that typically only include red, green, blue, and yellow. Because of this, American traditional tattoos often have a vintage look that seems to never go out of style.
Among the colors typically used in American tradition, red stands out the most. This is why design elements like drips of blood, hearts, and roses especially, are used so commonly in traditional tattoo sets.
by sup3rtouch_. (@sup3rtouch_on Instagram).
by worldwidetraditional. (@worldwidetraditional on Instagram).
by Jesse James. (@tattoos.by.jesse.james on Instagram).
by billybernert. (@billybernert on Instagram).
by matticheru_tattoo. (@matticheru_tattoo on Instagram).
Neo Traditional Rose Tattoos
by Metal Machine Tattoo. (@metalmachinetattoo on Instagram).
by Sebastian Dehs. (@sebastiandehs on Instagram).
Traditional Rose Hand Tattoo
Hand tattoos are great for people who value visibility when getting their tattoos. The hands are present in almost every interaction: handshaking, working and even talking (if you talk a lot with your hands).
The problem with hand tattoos though is that they fade much faster than tattoos in other locations. This is because they get a lot of exposure to the sun. To counter this, it’s a smart idea to pick designs with bold black outlines for your hand tattoo. And traditional rose tattoos fit the bill really well.
by Carlos Jordán. (@carlosjordan_tattoo on Instagram).
by Kevin Breitschmid. (@kebreit on Instagram).
by Stefanie Hübscher da Rosa. (@stefanie.huebscherdarosa on Instagram).
by Mortuary Tattoo. (@mortuarytattoo on Instagram).
Traditional Rose Forearm Tattoo
If you’re looking for a good location for your tattoo, the forearm is arguably the most popular. It provides the visibility you need to show off your tattoo while still being easy enough to hide with a long-sleeve shirt in the case of a formal occasion.
Traditional rose tattoos can also be a good starting point should you want a full traditional tattoo forearm sleeve in the future. They generally fit in any theme and look great as a starter tattoo.
by dirtyghettoaleks. (@dirtyghettoaleks on Instagram).
by SOMBRE D’OEIL. (@sombre_doeil on Instagram).
by Alexis. (@alexis.tattoos on Instagram).
by Jay DeRita. (@jay_derita_tattoos on Instagram).
by James Severson. (@james_severson on Instagram).
Traditional Rose Neck Tattoo
If you’re someone with a lot of tattoo experience, getting a neck tattoo can be an awesome upgrade.
I say “upgrade” because tattoo artists usually avoid letting clients get tattoos in extremely visible locations like the neck, since it can be a complete life-changer. So tattoos in these locations usually have to be earned by getting more tattoos.
Doing this tells the artist that you are committed to visible tattoos. And when you’ve earned your neck tattoo, you can never go wrong with a traditional rose design. It has just the right amount of class to avoid making you look too edgy.
by Xavito. (@xavitotattoo on Instagram).
by mike iacono. (@mikeiacono_ on Instagram).
Traditional Rose Leg Tattoo
If you have a problem with how visible arm tattoos are but still want tattoos that are visible enough at the right times…a good solution is to get a leg tattoo.
If you’re into sports or martial arts, leg tattoos add a different energy than the usual forearm or chest tattoo—and frankly, it’s impossible not to make a leg tattoo look sexy. The legs also get much less sun, so it’s a great place to put your tattoo to make sure it doesn’t fade any time soon.
by Dafni Christou. (@miss_d_tattoo on Instagram).
by jon perkins. (@hoffinator666 on Instagram).
by christyasfuck. (@christyasfuck on Instagram).
by Francesca Veleno. (@bekytx on Instagram).
by Otautahi Tattoo. (@otchch on Instagram).
by palacioramos.ink. (@palacioramos.ink on Instagram).
by Lewis Stewart. (@lew.tattoos on Instagram).
by Chris Kepley. (@exclaimed.ink on Instagram).
by Paper Crane Tattoo Studio. (@papercranestudio on Instagram).
What do roses symbolize?
The rose is a very fascinating flower. Other than having an elegant and romantic appearance, roses also have symbolic versatility. They can mean many things depending on the context.
Their morphology has also inspired many great works of art. The way the flower exudes tenderness and romance, while simultaneously hiding a sharp set of thorns underneath, is a metaphor in and of itself.
Speaking of roses and thorns, here’s an old proverb you might enjoy:
“You can be sad that roses have thorns or you can be glad that thorns have roses”.
Roses have many symbols, but deciding which perspective you want to take is ultimately up to you.
To help you understand your rose tattoo, I’ve listed down the different types of roses as well as which ideas they symbolize.
After reading through this list, you should be able to conceptualize a tattoo design that resonates with you and looks good as well.
The red rose has long been a symbol of love. The association traces way back to Greek mythology, to the story of Adonis and Aphrodite.
In the story, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, rushes towards Adonis as she attempts to save him from certain death. She pricks her foot on the thorns of a bed of pure, white roses—and dyes them with her blood. Because of her brave act of love, the roses had been forever stained red.
Literature has always been a strong influence on how we see the world. It shapes our beliefs and motivates our interactions. And it’s because of the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis, and of many others, that we offer our hearts through a simple gesture—that of a red rose.
The red rose is also a symbol of beauty. This is evident in how one might give a red rose to their lover—someone they find incomparably beautiful—or how the alluring redness of the rose is the first thing that catches your eye in a garden full of green.
In the story of Adonis and Aphrodite, the rose wasn’t “originally” red. It was a pure, bright white—only stained red through Aphrodite’s courageous act of love. The color white, because of its blankness, is traditionally a symbol of purity and innocence—the absence of external influence. Because of this, white roses are often associated with marriage and new beginnings.
Across the globe, the color white is also recognized as a color of mourning. In many Asian cultures and religions, white is often worn to funerals as a show of respect and purity. In the same way that it can represent new beginnings, a white rose can also be a symbol of remembrance and farewell.
A pink rose has a similar energy to the red rose, except lighter—softer. Whereas a red rose might be given as a symbol of fiery love, a pink rose is less intense. You might give a pink rose to your best friend, fiancée, or ever-dependable co-worker as a symbol of appreciation or admiration.
Like dandelions, yellow roses also radiate a feeling of lightness and joy. Yellow is traditionally seen as a color that reflects these ideas, primarily because of its classification as a warm color. Whereas cool colors like blue and violet spark feelings of calmness or sadness, warm colors can spark feelings of excitement and optimism. This is why yellow roses are often given to show one’s delight.
Similar to how you would give a yellow rose to someone to show your delight, yellow roses can also be given to friends as a symbol of appreciation for the times you’ve spent together. This is because the warmth of the color yellow is similar to the feeling of nostalgia and the glee of friendship.
The color purple is the result of mixing warm and cool colors. Because of this, it represents traits from both sides. A purple rose can represent both the passion and thrill of the color red and the mystery and magic of the color blue. Purple roses are usually given with the idea of love at first sight or the initial enchantment one might feel on a first date (or the first one after not seeing each other for a long time).
Traditional Rose Tattoo FAQs
Why should I get a traditional rose tattoo?
Because roses have so much variety in terms of what they can mean (depending on which color you choose) it’s very easy to personalize rose tattoos.
If you need to customize your rose tattoo according to a specific emotion or idea, just pick a color that best represents the vision you have for your tattoo.
Roses also have a very elegant appearance. This means they can look good on anyone that tries them on.
As for the “traditional” part, it’s usually a great style regardless of which design you choose. Traditional style tattoos have a timeless quality, so you likely won’t get tired of your tattoo anytime soon.
Combine roses and traditional tattoo style, and you get a tattoo that’s elegant, meaningful, and timeless.
I’m a guy. Should I get a rose tattoo?
Flowers are traditionally seen as feminine (thus, “unmanly”). But wearing a floral tattoo won’t make you “less of a man”. Rather, your attitude towards it will.
Even MMA fighters and Yakuza members have flowers tattooed onto their bodies, and they’re the epitome of “manly”. Cherry blossoms are particularly popular, especially for Japanese traditional tattoos. Pink. Flowers. So does that make them unmanly?
The thing about manliness is that it doesn’t come from what you wear or how you look. Manliness is about values and confidence. And when you’re confident enough to wear a rose tattoo despite the “unmanly” stigma…that’s one of the manliest things ever.
Where should I put my traditional rose tattoo?
Some of the most popular locations for traditional rose tattoos are on the forearm, calf, and the back of the hand.
These three locations are perfect if your work environment tolerates visible tattoos. They stand out really well and will do great to accommodate sleeves or tattoo sets should you want them.
But if your work environment isn’t very tattoo-friendly, we recommend placing your tattoo on your thigh, chest, or back. These locations provide enough visibility while allowing you to progress in your career path unhindered
If you’re going for a “true” traditional look, sailors used to put their tattoos on their chest, and along their arms as badges to show off.
Will it hurt?
The intensity of the pain you’ll experience will depend largely on a few things:
- Size & complexity of the design
- Pain tolerance
- Tattoo placement
Let’s talk about how each factor affects your tattoo’s pain level and what you can do to offset the pain.
- Size & complexity of the design
Traditional rose tattoos generally aren’t very big. The biggest ones often only reach sizes of up to 6 square inches. And that’s an overestimation.
Traditional style usually looks better for small- to medium-sized tattoos. This isn’t to say you can’t get a big one done, but traditional style tattoos often function like badges. This is how they were first used, and it’s a good way to use them now.
Because of this, you often won’t find singular large scale traditional tattoos, but you will see a lot of small- to medium-sized traditional tattoos grouped together (as in sleeves and chest pieces), with each one bearing its own purpose and meaning.
The good thing about this is that small and simple designs won’t take long to finish. This gives your body enough time to adjust by releasing the needed endorphins and adrenaline to keep the pain at bay.
- Tattoo placement
Where you place your tattoo is one of the biggest factors. This is because some parts of the body generally hurt to tattoo more than others.
The reason for this is because some parts of the body generally have thicker skin and more fat and muscle.
Take the forearms, thighs, or chest for example. These are the meatier parts of the body. When you tattoo these body parts, the pain isn’t as intense.
On the other hand, body parts like the wrist and ankle have noticeably less fat and muscle, which is why they hurt much more to tattoo.
For a comprehensive discussion on which body parts hurt most when getting tattooed, check out this article by Healthline on tattoo pain.
- Pain tolerance
Some people have naturally low pain tolerances. This could be caused by a skin condition, thin skin, or recent emotional trauma.
If you want to minimize the pain, you should:
- Get enough sleep before the tattoo session (Important!)
- Stay sober. Alcohol is a blood thinner that can cause bleeding and bruising. (Important!)
- Stay hydrated to make sure your skin doesn’t dry up
- Whenever the pain gets too intense, ask your tattoo artist to take a short break
According to research, a person’s pain tolerance is directly affected by their experience with tattoos. This means that if you’ve had tattoos done in the past, you’ll likely feel less pain.
Traditional rose tattoos are the definition of classic. If you want a fresh, vintage look that never goes old, you know which tattoo to get.
They’re easily customized and have a ton of symbolic versatility. You can even use it as a starting point for your customized traditional tattoo sleeve. Just pick a color that resonates with what you’re feeling, and you’re good to go.
Did you enjoy these traditional rose tattoo designs or are you looking for more inspiration? Check out the following links to see more designs from talented artists.