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Graffiti Facts : Types of Graffiti

Types of Graffiti

“Hip Hop” or “Mainstream”

Often referred to as ‘hip hop” graffiti this is the most prolific type of graffiti there is and has the most evolved culture surrounding it. First noticed in the mid 80’s this activity started in what was mostly minority and economically challenged neighborhoods of big cities. The growing hip hop culture embraced graffiti along with break dancing and rap. With the internet the practice quickly gained writers all across the country and eventually other countries around the world. While this type of graffiti owes much of it’s start to the hip hop culture, graffiti has gained a momentum of it’s own so that now an appreciation for graffiti and rap do not have to go hand in hand. For that reason “Mainstream” rather than “Hip Hop” is a more appropriate classification. Today experts agree that 90-95% of graffiti is this type. Through the rest of this handbook unless otherwise noted the graffiti referenced will be of this type.

Mainstream graffiti is the practice of writing your moniker or message on a surface that can be seen by as many different people as possible. This graffiti culture is based upon the creative use of letters and words for self-expression. Style is a primary element of this use. Graffiti writers strive to create a unique name or moniker and to “write” that name in an equally unique and distinctive style. The plagiarism of another’s style is referred to as “biting” and can lead to confrontations either through “battles”, where both sides compete against each other to determine the better “artist”, or sometimes through violent physical battles.

Within mainstream graffiti are several different types of graffiti each with its own definition and skill level. Following you will find a listing of types of graffiti, with definitions, examples and photographs where available.


The most basic form of graffiti, a writer’s signature with marker or spray paint. It is the writer’s logo, his/her stylized personal signature. If a tag is long it is sometimes abbreviated to the first two letters or the first and last letter of the tag. Also may be ended with the suffixes “one”, “ski”, “rock”, “em”, and “er”
- Art Crimes glossary

This is the most commonly seen graffiti in any urban setting. 90% of the graffiti seen in downtown Portland is this type of graffiti. Similar to practicing your signature for a style that you like when signing documents, a writer will practice his tag thousands of times. Starting on paper or in a “black book” a young vandal will try hundreds of combinations of letters and variations of style before deciding on “the one”. After this practice they will move to the streets where their style is further refined on different surfaces with different types of media. This type of graffiti can be done in mere moments with little chance of observation and possible arrest.

It is this prolific nature of this stage of tagging that has victims and residents comparing vandals to dogs marking their territory. Each action can offend the senses of those in the area.

Even after moving onto larger more complex types of graffiti a tag will remain a strong weapon in the writer’s arsenal. Like a fine artist the writer will often sign their pieces or productions with their tag.


Sticker tags or “slap tags” can be useful to most graffiti writers. Whether the goal is quantity or quality stickers are a powerful tool. Because the time it takes to put up a sticker is minimal application is done almost entirely without observation. Easy to get rid of a writer can go out on the town with a stack of stickers and with little effort have marked a substantial area. For the more artistic writers stickers allow them to show their talent in visible places with little risk of detection. The time for creating the “art” can be done in the comfort and security of their home and then put up quickly. A detailed sketch or mini piece that would not be possible otherwise is within reach with the aid of stickers.

While the writer who is using the sticker as a mini canvas may invest in blank materials, many writers gain their stickers through established sources. My Name is stickers are inexpensive, but the USPS priority labels are large and free. A quick call or online request can even have the stickers delivered right to their home.

While certainly useful for the writer these stickers are still an eyesore for most people and can be difficult to remove without harming the surface they are applied to. Many writers view slap tags as cheating and not a real form of graffiti. Once a writer gains skill and confidence they are less likely to use stickers for quantity.


Over time, this term has been applied to many different types of graffiti. Subway art says it is “a name painted quickly with one layer of spray paint and an outline”, although some consider a throwup to be bubble letters of any sort, not necessarily filled. Throwups can be from one or two letters to a whole word or a whole roll call of names. Oftentimes throwups incorporate an exclamation mark after the word or letter. Throwups are generally only one or two colors, no more. Throwups are either quickly done bubble letters or very simple pieces using only two colors.
- Art Crimes glossary

This type of graffiti is the second most common throughout the United States. While this form takes longer than a tag it is not as time consuming as a piece or blockbuster, but is the first step on the ladder towards those forms. As said above a throwup as we will refer to here will be a bubble-based letter outline with at most a single color fill. Generally there are three different types of throwup styles.

Moniker – In which the writer puts up his full moniker usually accompanied by his tag, his crew name, and any crew members that he is especially close to or are with him.

Throw- In which the writer puts up an abbreviation of his moniker, many times the first two letters, usually accompanied by his tag and crew name.

Crew- In which the writer puts up the crew initials, usually accompanied either by the members present, or by a full “roll call” which is a list of all crew members. Usually in a smaller crew a roll call would be used, where in a large crew only those members present is used for sake of time, some crews can have hundreds of members.

Both tags and throwups act as branding pieces for a writer. Once a style has been found a writer will usually stay with that style and look for his tags and throwups using them as a logo of sorts so that their work is easily identifiable to others. A combination of size and speed make this type of graffiti popular when a writer is trying to increase his reputation and fame.


Prolific painting or marking with ink. To cover an area with your tag, throwups, etc.
- Art Crimes glossary

One of the primary goals of graffiti vandalism is attention or “fame”; this fame is accomplished through having your moniker up in as many different places as possible to maximize the number of people who see it. Writers will often go on “bombing” runs or missions in which they attempt to put their name up in as many places as they can within a given night or time period. While style is still important, just like someone who is doing extensive handwriting if they are trying to write in a particular style fatigue will lead them to revert back to their natural handwriting. Therefore you will see variances in style between different tags by the same writer on the same day, but the base style will remain consistent.

While bombing is more related to sheer volume rather than type it is important to note. In many jurisdictions graffiti applied during a bombing run can be aggregated even though the tags may be on different properties. If the community has an effective removal program evidence of bombing runs should be obvious. Even if your areas laws do not allow for aggregation the information is still valuable during sentencing. When examined the high damage cost in relation to the short period of time make bombing runs a shocking phenomenon that changes the opinion of graffiti as a relatively harmless rebellion to the criminal activity that it is.


A graffiti painting, short for masterpiece. It's generally agreed that a painting must have at least three colors to be considered a piece.
- Art Crimes glossary

This type of graffiti is where the argument for graffiti as art first gains traction. Usually a fairly large piece with multiple colors and often characters, a piece is not an impulse crime. It takes planning and preparation as well as strategic thought about location and timing. Writers will start by sketching and coloring their piece in their “black book”. Then they will scout locations that will allow them the time necessary to complete the piece without interference. This would mean a secluded spot with less visibility for an unauthorized application or a designated location for murals or legal graffiti.

A piece will nearly always have the writers tag and crew included as signatures to the piece. The subject matter could be the writer’s moniker, a character, or a sentiment. Often characters are included either as an additional “logo” for the writer or just for decoration.

Writers who develop to the level of producing pieces are usually quite talented and very skilled with spray paint as a medium. It is very easy to look at these pieces and appreciate the artistic beauty they present. However, it is important to remember that the difference between art and graffiti is permission. The vast majority of writers that reach this level of skill refined their talents on the backs of property owners. They did not restrict their efforts to canvas or paper and many obtained their paint through theft.


Big, square letters, often tilted back and forth and in (usually) two colors. Mainly invented to cover over other people and to paint whole trains easily, but they are effective on smaller walls for maximum coverage.
- Art Crimes glossary

Blockbusters are very large pieces of graffiti. They use very simple block letters and are often applied with rollers and bucket paint rather than cans. These pieces can be seen from long distances due to their immense size. Sometimes writers will apply these to rooftops so that the tag can be seen from overhead bridges or freeways. Seawalls and riverbeds are also popular locations. The sheer scale of these pieces can be at times overwhelming.


A complicated construction of interlocking letters. A hard style that consists of lots of arrows and connections. Wildstyle is considered one of the hardest styles to master and pieces done in wildstyle are often completely undecipherable to non-writers.
- Art Crimes glossary

Wildstyles take letter form and style to the absolute edge. With the added curves, arrows, and overlapping it can be nearly impossible for an uninformed viewer to read. The best writers will produce a style that even those familiar with graffiti can have a hard time deciphering.

The goal of the wildstyle is to push the envelope on the writer’s ability to portray his moniker in a manner that is very artistic while still maintaining the basic letter forms.





Over the last several years writers have taken the basic premise of wildstyle and adapted it even further. The use of 3D effects and sinuous forms has become more popular. While traditional wildstyle while unreadable to many can still be recognized as letters. Today’s wildstyle has very little that identifies it as language.


Productions are large pieces or murals that are collaborative efforts between a group of writers. There is often a character or theme to the image. Because of the large size and complex nature of these pieces they are rarely done illegally and are usually found on the wall of some sympathetic property owner or as part of a community project. Productions can also be used to advertise a business or product or to commemorate a memorable person or event.



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