Maori tattooing is a distinct school of patterns and graphic designs within Polynesian tattooing. While much of Polynesian tattooing is derived from straight-line geometric patterns (and thought to originate with patterns found on ancient Lapita pottery shards such as have been discovered in Samoa), a design fact which rose in part because the traditional Polynesian tattoo combs are best suited to linear designs, Maori tattooing is essentially curvilinear, and the mainstay of Maori designs are based on the spiral. It should be noted that renowned traditional Hawaiian artist Keone Nunes has demonstrated that it is possible to reproduce complex curved designs using traditional Polynesian tattooing implements.
Traditionally Maori tattoo artists followed very specific rules laid out for facial "moko" or tattoos. It is important to note that because of the tremendous cultural complexity of New Zealand's many tribes and clans, these rules often had local variations. But the idea that the tattoos followed a set of prescribed rules was widespread, and tattoos were specific to individuals, family, clans and tribes. Maori tattoos follow the contours of the face, and are meant to enhance the natural contours and expressions of an individual's face. A well-executed tattoo would trace the natural "geography" of an individual's facial features, for example lines along the brow ridge; the major design motifs are symmetrically placed within opposed design fields: lines are used in certain areas where spirals are not used; two types of spiral are used -- the koru, which is not rolled up and has a "clubbed" end, and the rolled spiral. (Ta Moko: The Art of Maori Tattoo, By D.R.Simmons)