While some forms of graffiti are clearly gang-related, much of it isn't. In areas where graffiti is prevalent, gang and tagger graffiti are the most common types found. While other forms of graffiti (conventional or ideological) may be troublesome, they are not as widespread.
There are four major types of graffiti:
- Gang graffiti, often used by gangs to mark turf or convey threats of violence, and sometimes copycat graffiti, which mimics gang graffiti
- Tagger Graffiti, ranging from high-volume simple hits to complex street art
- Conventional Graffiti, often isolated or spontaneous acts of "youthful exuberance," but sometimes malicious or vindictive
- Ideological Graffiti, such as political or hate graffiti, which conveys political messages or racial, religious or ethnic slurs.
Taggers, Party Crews, and Car Clubs are nontraditional gangs. These type of groups are not documented as gangs unless they are involved in criminal activity. Car Clubs in San Antonio are not often documented as a gang. In other parts of the country, they have noted a trend for car clubs to operate like gangs. Taggers consider themselves to be street artists and not gang members.
Some tagger graffiti may involve creative expression, providing a source of great pride in the creation of complex works of art. Most taggers seek notoriety and recognition of their graffiti, and attach status to having their work seen. Thus, prolonged visibility due to the sheer volume, scale and complexity of the graffiti, and placement of the graffiti in hard-to-reach places or in transit systems, enhance the vandal's satisfaction. Because recognition is important, the tagger tends to express the same motif-the graffiti's style and content are replicated over and over again, becoming the tagger's unique signature.
Tagger graffiti is not usually used to mark territory like traditional gang graffiti. Tagging on walls is a competition to those involved. The more a person tags, the more recognition and respect they'll get from other taggers. Taggers are responsible for millions of dollars in damage to private and public property annually. Competition between tagging crews has often become violent. In some cities, tagging crews are now committing crimes like traditional gangs and are known as tag-bangers.
According to the Department of Justice, most sources suggest that paint over colors should closely match, rather than contrast with, the base. Contrasting paint-overs are presumed to attract or challenge graffiti offenders to repaint their graffiti; the painted-over area provides a canvass to frame the new graffiti.