As far as popular tattoos go, the skull tattoo reigns supreme.
Even the most delicate tattoo designs may have a little skull hiding in them.
Images of skulls and skeletons are fascinating to most humans.
Because we may be aware of our mortality, but it’s easy to ignore the inevitable.
Looking at a skull, we are reminded that we’re all going to be a bag of bones someday.
Unpleasant? You bet your boots it’s unpleasant.
But being aware of death can be a celebration of life.
We’ve all heard the “new lease on life story”.
The person who, after a near-death experience, comes out with a newfound appreciation for life.
If you befriend death and see it as a natural part of life, you may end up living life to the fullest.
That’s one interpretation of the skull tattoo. And for that one there are easily 100 more.
Skulls have meant different things to different people throughout the years.
Thinking of getting a skull tattoo?
You may want to choose the style and execution based on a mindset that resonates for you.
We’re going to take a deep dive into skull tattoos.
What do they symbolize and to who, and where do the most popular skull images come from?
When searching for the best skull tattoo designs, you’re going to come across a few commonalities.
While skull tattoos have a great deal of meaning on their own, specific themes are a way to enhance and personalize that meaning.
Animal Skull Tattoos
Animal tattoos often speak to a person’s primal side or the qualities they’d like to embody.
With animal skull tattoos, the symbolism may shift.
In the animal kingdom, creatures act on pure instinct.
Survival is what drives them, something that is as much about death as it is about life.
An animal skull tattoo may represent someone who is in touch with, and accepting of, life’s natural cycles.
Bear Skull Tattoos
Bears are symbolic creatures in many spiritual traditions.
They represent themes of strength, protection, and pride.
They are also often a talisman of choice for mothers, who identify with how fiercely a mother bear protects her young.
A bear tattoo can also symbolize the birth/death cycle.
Many creatures hibernate, but a bear is the animal typically associated with this process.
Hibernation is a kind of false death.
It represents how the cycle of life keeps going, even after the fact.
Bear skull tattoos are an excellent choice for people who believe in the afterlife or want to.
Bull Skull Tattoos
A favorite in the Western American states, bull skull tattoos are bad-ass.
Bull skulls can represent tenacity, a feeling of charging ahead or “grabbing life by the horns” while you still can.
Bull skulls are popular among Texans, who will sometimes incorporate an American flag or Texas imagery into the design.
Bull skull tattoos are also a unique choice for those born under the sign of Taurus.
Cat Skull Tattoos
Cats have nine lives, or so they say.
There are many mystical superstitions around our feline friends, so a cat tattoo will always have cosmic implications.
A cat skull tattoo is a compelling image.
It doubles down on the magic of a cat on its own.
It says you believe in life after death and that you plan to return to earth in a new form.
It can also be a memorial to a special cat in your life.
Cow Skull Tattoos
You’ve probably heard of the “use the whole animal” philosophy when it comes to hunting.
Before today’s mass industries, it was frowned upon to produce more animal products than you could use.
Indigenous peoples used the cow’s skull as a symbol of gratitude and respect for the animal.
Cows are also often associated with maternal instincts.
A cow skull tattoo may be a symbol of motherly love and protection.
Deer Skull Tattoos
Deer have a graceful, spiritual quality.
To successfully hunt an agile deer is a badge of honor for many hunters.
A deer skull tattoo can represent respect for the animal’s grace and the nourishment it provides.
For some, it symbolizes a feeling of dominion over the animal kingdom.
Conversely, deer skull tattoos may represent someone who believes in protecting animals.
In this case, the design may remind of a commitment to a vegan diet or other environmental efforts.
If you are getting a buck skull tattoo, pay attention to the position of the horns.
A buck with its horns up is regal, defiant, and content.
A buck with its horns pointed downward may be ready to fight.
What’s your stance?
Dog Skull Tattoos
In many ancient spiritual traditions, a dog stands guard on the other side.
A dog skull tattoo may symbolize the spiritual transition between life and death.
You may have a curiosity about what awaits you, and choose this design to represent that feeling.
Being a common symbol of loyalty, dogs can also represent your devotion to someone on the other side.
Similar to the cat skull designs above, dog skull tattoos can be an interesting pet memorial piece.
Elephant Skull Tattoos
Elephants often symbolize divinity on earth.
Because of their spiritual implications and large, powerful stature, the elephant skull tattoo design represents fearlessness.
You know death is an inevitable part of life, and you are ready to face it head-on.
Fox Skull Tattoos
The fox is a universal symbol of cunning and mischievous acts.
Wearing a fox tattoo often means that you’re something of a trickster- or at the very least more than meets the eye.
A fox skull tattoo may represent your desire to be in control of that side of yourself.
It can also symbolize someone who “cheats death” on the regular- in other words, it’s a fantastic design for daredevils.
Goat Skull Tattoos
Goats are defiant.
They don’t follow the rules, and most actions they make are for their own gain.
They’re tough little guys.
The earliest farmers caught onto this, and many passages in the Bible pit sheep against goats.
Sheep being the docile believers, and goats being the troublemakers.
Goat skull tattoos are a popular choice for rebels, occultists, and rebellious occultists.
This design is often a playful image or political statement, especially for those who lobby for a greater separation between church and state.
Horse Skull Tattoos
Horses represent a wild, untamed spirit.
They can also symbolize death or apocalyptic themes a la the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
A horse skull tattoo may stand for your desire to live free while you’re on earth.
You don’t want to be bound up or shackled down by commitments or convention.
Owl Skull Tattoos
Owls and skulls are compatible symbols.
The owl represents nocturnal instincts, wisdom, and psychic abilities, which, paired with the skull, implies a belief in the “other side.”.
An owl skull tattoo symbolizes a knowingness beyond the mundane.
A person with an owl skull tattoo may be interested in metaphysical or spiritual studies, someone who wants to take a peek behind the curtain.
Ram Skull Tattoos
A ram’s large, imposing horns make for an epic tattoo design.
And sometimes, that’s all there is to it.
Other interpretations may be power, leadership, and fearlessness.
It means that, in your time on earth, you are going to charge forward without reservation.
And people had better make way.
Raven Skull Tattoos
Similar to the owl, ravens are very compatible with skulls.
Ravens are often associated with death, loss, and grief.
Because they can speak, a raven can imply themes of prophecy, mediumship, and second sight.
A raven skull tattoo may be a suitable memorial, and many people get tattoos as a way to work through their grief.
The raven skull is also an ideal design for someone who has a connection with the other side.
Snake Skull Tattoos
Snake and skull tattoos represent the sacred duality that drives our earthly existence.
The skull represents death (it’s safe to say we’ve established that!)
While the snake represents fertility and endless cycles.
This tattoo design is a poignant reminder that there was life on earth before you, and it will continue after you are gone.
Being in touch with this cycle is the cornerstone of many spiritual belief systems.
Wolf Skull Tattoos
Wolf tattoos symbolize leadership abilities, keen hunting skills, and a sense of community.
These qualities earn them a great deal of respect, especially in Indigenous peoples belief systems.
The wolf skull may represent the idea of a spiritual guide, having a creature from another plane who protects and walks with you.
Having a wolf skull tattoo may symbolize the desire for spiritual guidance or protection as you transition from life to death.
Tiger Skull Tattoos
Tigers are a popular symbol in tattoos that evoke masculinity, strength, and raw power.
A tiger skull tattoo may, like others above, symbolize a feeling of defiance when it comes to death.
You aren’t afraid to meet your mortality, and you plan to go down swinging.
Saber Tooth Tiger Skull Tattoos
Saber-tooth tigers are extinct, but their memory lives on due to their distinct aesthetic.
Like the tiger above, they represent strength.
Because of their extinction, however, they also have a legendary quality.
The saber-tooth is almost like a comic book character in that it’s a fearsome creature we have to see in our mind’s eye.
Saber-tooth tiger skull tattoos may represent wanting to live on as a legend after your time.
Or it may just be a design that looks cool to you.
Flower Skull Tattoos
Individual flowers have meaning, and you can use those meanings to customize your tattoo design’s symbolism.
The overarching symbolism of flowers and skulls is beautiful and straightforward: they represent the dichotomy of life.
We have to take beauty with pain, love with loss, and somehow continue to be open to new beginnings after being hurt.
A flower skull tattoo can be a friendly reminder that, while there are shadowy things to contend with on earth, there’s also a great deal of beauty.
Rose & Skull Tattoos
Rose tattoos represent passion, beauty, and love.
Paired with a skull, they may represent a lost loved one or a lasting connection.
A rose and skull tattoo may also represent the concept of living your life to the fullest- doing everything you do with passion.
Peony & Skull Tattoos
Peony tattoos often represent good luck, strong partnerships, and abundance.
But they can also symbolize the fleeting nature of beauty.
A peony and skull tattoo means appreciating the good parts of life while you have them while knowing it’s all temporary.
Focus on the essential things, because you can’t take material items with you when you go.
Egyptian Skull Tattoos
Death is a large part of Ancient Egyptian culture.
Unlike some modern societies where it is taboo to talk about such things, death wove itself into the fabric of everyday Egyptian life.
Part of this accepting attitude toward death was the commonly held belief that there is an afterlife.
Having an Egyptian skull tattoo often indicates that your belief systems align with the Ancient Egyptian mindset: You believe that life goes on and are comfortable with the subject matter.
You may also be a history buff, fancying yourself a bit of an Indiana Jones type.
Galaxy Skull Tattoos
Galaxy tattoos often have a trippy or dreamlike appearance.
They can represent limitless potential, scientific discoveries, or unseen elements of the universe you may be curious about.
Galaxy skull tattoos are cool to look at, and sometimes that’s all there is to it.
This design may also represent a feeling of limitless potential, or feeling that your soul extends beyond your body.
Grim Reaper Tattoos
The meaning behind choosing the Grim Reaper for your skull tattoo is simple.
You are bold, and unafraid to meet your maker.
You recognize death as a natural part of life.
Maybe you’re even a daredevil, doing death-defying stunts.
This is a design for people who don’t want to mince words.
It gets straight to the point.
For a Grim skull Reaper tattoo, black and grey or sepia-toned makes the most sense.
Some may choose pops of color, such as a blood-red or sickly yellow.
You’ll want a large surface area to work with so your tattoo artist can include every grisly detail.
Jolly Roger Tattoos
Today, we’ve forgotten the atrocious nature of pirate life.
We instead see swashbuckling heroes who live off the grid and wear cool clothes.
A skull and crossbones tattoo may be an intimidation tactic, but usually a playful one.
Jolly Roger tattoos suit someone a bit cheeky who won’t always behave the way you expect them to.
That, or someone who grew up watching the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Pirate Skull Tattoos
Pirate skull tattoos are similar to Jolly Roger tattoos.
Someone with this design may think of themselves as a rebel.
The pirates we see in films and pop culture own their status as outcasts.
In fact, they revel in it.
If you’re someone who isn’t afraid to talk about death, who feels drawn in by macabre themes, you may feel like something of an outsider yourself.
A pirate skull tattoo can be both an intimidation tactic and a calling card.
It keeps the landlubbers out and attracts like-minded rogues.
Skull with Crown Tattoos
A tattoo that features a skull with a crown serves as a warning: If you get too full of yourself or fixated on success, your greed may destroy you.
It can also be a reminder that your status won’t mean anything after you die- so you’d better make your life mean something beyond it.
Kissing Couple Skull Tattoos
The kissing couple skull tattoo is a romantic design.
It can express your desire for a long term romance or celebrate the fact that you’ve already found it.
This design is excellent for couples and hopeless romantics alike.
Skull Tattoo Designs
Have you narrowed downs some ideas for your skull tattoo?
There are so many directions to go in, it’s hard to choose the right one.
Never fear, browse our favorite skull tattoo gallery for a little ghoulish inspiration.
Black & Grey Skull Tattoos
Black and grey is a natural match for a skull tattoo design.
It’s probably more common to see skull tattoos in black and grey than any other style, but there’s always a way to make it your own.
Vocalist and self-professed “Queen of Halloween” Ash Costello has a black and grey skull tattoo on the back of her hand.
The skull sits at the center of a large ornate bow, over top of a script piece that reads “Dead.”
Black and grey skull tattoo designs can capture a somber tone or look really bad-ass, so it’s perfect for more maudlin and “tough” designs.
Black-work Skull Tattoos
Black-work skull tattoos have a less realistic, more illustrative feel than black and grey pieces.
The style is characterized by large sections of saturated black ink, which takes a skilled hand to pull off properly.
Black-work tattoos are fairly versatile and can be designed to suit your vibe.
If you want a tattoo that feels in the pop-art/cartoon/comic book vein, but don’t want anything too kitschy or colorful, black-work may be your perfect match.
Neo-traditional Skull Tattoos
Neo-traditional tattoos are characterized by smooth, highly saturated sections of color.
Neo-traditional skull tattoos often have a lot of personality.
Skulls drawn in this style can feel menacing, playful, or some combination of the two.
With color palettes that feel organic and almost “antique” in nature, a Neo-traditional skull is a great idea if you want to play with color in a beautiful, elegant way.
Dot-work Skull Tattoos
If you’re looking for a skull piece that feels serious, but not in a doom and gloom way, consider a dot-work skull tattoo.
This style is inspired by the pen and ink art medium, and can have a very sophisticated look.
A dot-work piece is achieved by incorporating thousands of tiny dots into the design.
The dots will be spaced either looser or denser to create the illusion of depth and shadow.
Though it is a painstaking process, you can’t argue with the final results.
Dot-work skull tattoos are gorgeous, artistic, and unique.
Illustrative Skull Tattoos
As you can see, illustrative is a broad term in the tattoo world.
Illustrative tattoos have artistic flair.
They aren’t as realistic as portrait tattoos, but they’re not necessarily as stylized as a Neo-traditional piece.
The defining feature of this genre is that your skull tattoo will look like a drawing rather than a photo.
There aren’t necessarily any rules for how to draw a proper illustrative skull tattoo, so you and your tattooer can get creative.
This is an excellent style if you’re looking for a custom piece, especially based on graphic characters.
American Traditional Skull Tattoos
The American traditional skull tattoo is all about being bold, bad-ass, and rebellious.
The skull designs in American traditional tattooing say you’re going to live how you want to live, even if it’s reckless.
You exist outside of society’s conventions.
Realistic Skull Tattoos
In the realistic style, every detail pops.
These realistic skull tattoos combine vivid, life-like details with artistic elements for a stunning final result.
Realistic Black & Grey Skull Tattoos
Black and grey is a classic look, and it’s a nice choice if you want your ink to be striking without looking flashy.
These realistic black and grey skull tattoos have impressive levels of depth, light, and shadow.
If you want your skull tattoo to turn heads, this is a reliable way to go.
Etching Skull Tattoos
As their name suggests, etching tattoos look like wood carvings.
Your tattoo artist will use black ink with unique shading patterns to give an “etched in” illusion to the skin.
This style often has a classic, retro feel despite being a modern tattoo technique.
An etching skull tattoo is a piece that will look timeless while standing out from the pack.
There’s an intensity to this style that will grab people’s attention from across the room.
Depending on the design, it could be a calling card or a “do not disturb” sign for the people who see it.
New School Skull Tattoos
New school is fun. It’s just a great time.
Because of their cartoonish and exaggerated characteristics, it’s interesting to apply new school techniques to maudlin subject matter.
It takes the piss out of more serious works, and would be an excellent idea if you want something to remind you not to take life so seriously.
That’s not to say that a new school tattoo can’t be stunning, it’s just that they’re always going to have a bit of a wink to them.
New School tattoos have a sense of movement to them, so they’re great for more dynamic concepts.
If you’re not one to shy away from bright colors and cartoony characters, a new school skull tattoo is bound to impress.
Graphic Skull Tattoos
Like illustrative, graphic is a broad term.
A graphic skull tattoo could really draw inspiration from anything.
What separates it from other styles is its often abstract designs and geometric elements.
Graphic designs often play with symmetry, which is well suited if you want your skull tattoo to have that ancient, occult-inspired vibe.
Geometric Skull Tattoos
Geometric skull tattoos have an exciting contrast between mathematical, symmetrical shapes and more organic lines.
The final result in a geometric tattoo design is modern without being trendy and has a high visual impact.
Trash Polka Skull Tattoos
If you want a highly graphic skull tattoo with just a splash of color, consider something in the Trash Polka tattoo style.
Trash polka is not a style every artist can pull off, so be sure to do your research before booking a consultation.
Trash polka uses blacks, grays, and reds in a kind of collage aesthetic.
It will often layer more realistic pieces with graphic elements to create a stunning overall effect.
A realistic skull done properly in the Trash Polka tattoo style is unforgettable.
Negative Space Skull Tattoos
Negative space art is kind of spooky, isn’t it?
It’s more about what isn’t there than what is.
To elaborate further to that point, a negative space tattoo will utilize blank spaces or “skin breaks” to create its overall image.
The technique has a kind of dark and mysterious feeling when executed well, and that potential for creepiness gives it the leg up when it comes to skull tattoo designs.
Get as playful or as morose as you like- the negative space tattoo is versatile.
Ornamental Skull Tattoos
You’re no shrinking violet.
You want a tattoo with major impact.
You want something that’s been decorated down to the last detail.
In an ornamental skull tattoo, every inch of the design is ornate.
Decorative elements are added to every blank space for a piece that feels fancy and flashy.
If you want a complex skull tattoo, that you can stare at all day and still find something new, consider an ornamental tattoo design.
Watercolor Skull Tattoos
Watercolor is a new, innovative technique that’s taking over the tattoo scene.
Once thought of as a passing fad, watercolor has proven that, when done properly, it can stand the test of time.
In a watercolor tattoo, your piece will either be without a black outline or have pieces that intentionally “bleed” over-top of one.
The technique is done with layers of color “washes” to achieve the same effect watercolor paintings have on paper.
Watercolor skull tattoos can feel poignant and ethereal, playful and graphic, or some combination of the two.
Many people enjoy mixing watercolor tattoo techniques with black and grey styles.
This is an especially effective approach to a watercolor skull tattoo, as it reflects the theme of the birth/death cycle.
Single Needle Skull Tattoos
Single needle pieces have a soft, pencil-drawn style to them.
Unlike most tattoos where liners and shades are used to create different effects, a single needle tattoo will use one fine needle throughout.
The resulting pieces have a soft, delicate feeling to them.
But that doesn’t mean your single needle skull tattoo can’t pack a powerful punch.
There are plenty of ghoulish effects that can be made with a single tattoo needle.
Sketchy Skull Tattoos
If you love the pencil-drawn effect of a single needle tattoo, but want something with more dynamic shading, sketchy tattoo designs are just that.
Sketch tattoos are made to look as if they were torn from the pages of an artist’s sketchbook.
Skull tattoos in the sketchy tattoo style can be done a variety of ways with plenty of artistic flair.
Contemporary Skull Tattoos
Contemporary is kind of a catch-all term.
There are so many artists doing so many innovative things, each blending the classic designs of the past into something new and exciting.
We love the mixed media feeling a contemporary skull tattoo can have.
If you’re looking to get a skull tattoo that feels fresh, unique, and artistic, ask your favorite tattooer if they’ve been experimenting with any new techniques.
Skull Tattoo Ideas
Have you been searching for some skull tattoo inspiration?
If you’re still unsure what direction you’d like to go with your skull design, here are a few highlights from our skull tattoo gallery.
- Small Skull Tattoos
Small skull tattoos are ghoulish enough for a little scare, but small enough for someone who only wants to show off their spooky side on the weekends.
As tattoos become more popular, many young people have started to collect small tattoos rather than committing to one large design.
This can be a meaningful way to collect memories as you go rather than blowing all your skin real estate in one appointment.
Paris Jackson and Rihanna have joined the micro skull tattoo club with dainty design on their ankles.
There’s also G-Eazy, who has a simple skull tattoo with the initials T, B, & D to represent his 2017 album “The Beautiful and the Damned.”
G-Eazy’s small skull tattoo has been copied by many enthusiastic fans since he unveiled the design.
- Skull Tattoo Sleeve
There is something to be said for a large, epic design that flows.
When you design a monster tattoo from day one, you get a big bad-ass piece with high visual impact.
With a sleeve, you can add other elements to your skull tattoo that help communicate your message.
- Skull Tattoos For Women
Skull tattoos of any style are suited to any gender.
But sometimes, you want something that speaks to your feminine side.
These skull tattoos for women feature the macabre with a feminine touch.
- Horror Skull Tattoos
The best skull tattoos have a little taste of the macabre.
Why not get inspired by classic horror films with a little cinematic flair?
- Large Skull Tattoos
The bigger the skull tattoo, the more design elements you can play with.
When you make the commitment to a large piece, you and your artist can have all kinds of fun with the finer details.
- Cowboy Skull Tattoos
Part of the cowboy life is living on the edge.
If you identify with the loner archetype, someone who lives by their own rules and has a nomadic lifestyle, you may take a shine to these cowboy skull tattoos.
- Tibetan Skull Tattoos
In traditional Tibetan spirituality, a “kapala,” or skull, is decorated and used in ritual work to hold offerings to deities.
A Tibetan skull tattoo can also symbolize your ascent to the other side, what you want to take with you to your next life on earth.
- Smoking Skull Tattoos
Smoking skull tattoos are cheeky.
They represent your earthly vices.
These designs can symbolize a devil-may-care attitude toward your lifestyle or a reminder that you’ve given up certain pleasures to live a longer life.
- Flaming Skull Tattoos
Flaming skull tattoos are a popular design for risk-takers and daredevils.
Do you prefer to live your life on fire?
This tattoo can broadcast it to the world.
- Viking Skull Tattoos
Viking tattoos are already epic.
Viking skull tattoos are metal.
This design can mean many things, depending on where you get your Viking lore.
The Viking skull may signify an interest in Norse mythology.
It can also mean you aspire to be a ruthless warrior like the (often exaggerated) Vikings in pop culture.
- Samurai Skull Tattoos
Samurais are proud warriors, ready to face death for what they believe in.
A person with a Samurai skull tattoo considers themself the same.
They know they’re mortal, but they plan to go down with a fight.
- Octopus Skull Tattoos
The octopus is a mysterious and brilliant creature.
Octopus tattoos are a symbol of creativity and intelligence.
The octopus combined with the skull is sometimes a nod to fantastic beasts from Lovecraftian tales, or it can speak to a desire for superior intellect and creativity.
- Half Skull Tattoos
The half skull tattoo is often a stylistic choice.
When the artist chooses to fill the other half, as with the skull and flower design below, it can speak to the opposing sides of life or someone with a multi-faceted personality.
- Ace of Spades Skull Tattoos
The Ace of Spades is a high-value card in many games, making it a symbol of luck.
When combined with the skull, it can have a couple of interpretations:
- The wearer is willing to take high risks for high rewards.
- It may be a reference to warfare.
The Vietnamese see the Ace of Spades as a symbol of death, so soldiers on the other side would paint the image on their helmets to strike fear into their enemies.
The Ace of Spades skull tattoo has one overarching message: don’t cross me.
- Gypsy Skull Tattoos
Gypsy skull tattoos usually speak to a mystical gypsy stereotype, someone who lives a transient lifestyle and reads fortunes.
This design may represent an interest in the occult and mysticism.
- Biomechanical Skull Tattoos
Man vs. Machine- it’s a theme that has fascinated humans for a long time.
We are fascinated by the idea of robotics.
Can machines replace us, and will they rebel?
Someone with a bio-mechanical skull tattoo is likely interested in these ideas.
- Simple Skull Tattoos
You don’t need a lot of flash to make a big impact.
These simple skull tattoos aren’t too fancy, but they certainly catch the eye.
- Indian Skull Tattoos
The Indian skull tattoo is well suited to someone with a Native American background who wishes to honor their tribe’s traditions and ancestors.
This image may also have a darker meaning- the skull speaks to the struggle of Indigenous tribes, who have historically encountered violence while being forced out of their land.
There are a few things to consider with placement: How large do you envision your skull tattoo?
Do you plan on getting other tattoos in that same area, or do you already have some?
Do you want the whole world to see your macabre design, or only a select few?
Choose carefully, and your skull design will have the visual impact it deserves.
- Skull Chest Tattoos
A broad, flat area of skin is the perfect opportunity for a cool tattoo.
Chest pieces are a great way to show off a rad skull design.
- Skull Forearm Tattoos
If you aren’t afraid of a tattoo that can be tricky to cover, show off those pipes with a forearm design.
Forearm tattoos can be small and playful, but you’ve got enough broad, flat space for something big and badassy.
- Skull Tattoos on Thigh
- Skull Arm Tattoos
As you can see from our gallery, there’s more than one way to draw a skull.
You’ll want to research until you find an artist who can represent your aesthetic.
If you want a fun, vibrant, new school skull, for example, don’t go to the person specializing in creepy horror show designs.
Skull Tattoos in Pop Culture
When looking for your skull tattoo design, there are any number of wells to draw from.
The pop culture landscape is filled with skulls and has been for hundreds of years.
As long as we’re alive, we’ll be confronted by the idea of death.
The concept has been explored multiple times, yet there’s still more to say.
Where will your jumping-off point be?
A favorite band, a piece of classic literature, or maybe something nostalgic?
Let’s dive into a few highlights from pop culture skull history.
- Yorick’s Skull, Hamlet
For theater and classic lit nerds alike, this Shakespearean skull is iconic.
Next to Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, it’s probably the most well-known image from a Shakespeare play.
Many skull tattoos have been inspired by this memorable moment.
Most of them feature quotes from the scene as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the skull speech is not the “To Be or Not to Be” speech. That happens earlier.
By the time we are introduced to Yorick’s skull, Hamlet has been contemplating mortality for a while.
He has been considering getting revenge on Claudius, who murdered his father.
When Hamlet wanders through a graveyard, he comes across a skull.
He asks the worker if he knows who the skull belonged to, and finds out it is Yorick, a jester from his childhood.
This forces Hamlet to contemplate death in a nihilistic way.
He realizes that everyone, no matter how good or bad, faces the same fate.
It is this line of thinking that pushes Hamlet further toward his plan for revenge.
People who get a Yorick skull tattoo are likely either fans of the play, or fans of that nihilistic view.
Hopefully, they also learned from Hamlet that revenge plots don’t typically go as planned!
- Andy Warhol’s Skulls
Looking for some pop art inspiration for your skull tattoo?
Look no further than Andy Warhol.
In many of Warhol’s paintings, he confronts the idea of death.
He had a fascination with celebrity and the fickle nature of it, which can be a metaphor for life itself.
He wanted to explore every aspect of American culture, from soup cans to suicide.
Describing himself as a “deeply superficial person,” Warhol had a lot of interesting things to say about death.
First, that death “makes a lot of money, honey”, and secondly that seeing a disturbing image over and over again removes its effect.
As far as disturbing reminders of death, his skull paintings sit between Marilyn Monroe’s post mortem portrait and his plane crash painting.
Warhol bought a skull in Paris. It came from either a flea market or a taxidermist, and he began working with it almost immediately.
The idea behind his painting of the skull was that it was a portrait of everyone in the world.
His own version of Memento Mori.
If you get a Warhol inspired skull tattoo, you are asking the world to look at death, confront it, and make peace with it.
Or maybe you just wanted a more original reference to Warhol than a soup can.
- Grateful Dead Skull Tattoos
For many, the Grateful Dead go beyond the music and into a religious experience.
People are known to go to their concerts to take mind-expanding drugs like LSD and Magic Mushrooms.
Because of their name, skull imagery is a big part of the brand.
There are many people with Grateful Dead skull tattoos, a call to “dead heads” of all ages.
The name Grateful Dead came when the band was looking for an alternative to The Warlocks.
The group came across a phrase from an Egyptian prayer.
The “Grateful Dead” is someone who, after passing on, is grateful to the person who arranged their burial.
In ancient Egyptian culture, being buried properly was essential for entering the afterlife.
So the phrase has great significance. It suits the band’s message of love and good vibes.
There are many people who say they feel a great sense of community at the Dead’s concerts.
The two most famous images for the band are the “Steal Your Face” skull and the “Skull & Roses” artwork.
The Steal Your Face skull has a lightning bolt through it, which some say represents enlightenment.
The Skull and Roses tattoo represents remembering people fondly.
The sweetness of life and the inevitability of death.
- Misfits Skull Tattoos
Even if you’ve never heard a single Misfits song, you’ve likely seen this skull.
It was popular in the late 70’s when the band formed, and it is popular now.
Once a symbol of the ultimate punk rock rebellion, it is now embraced by angsty teens who shop at Hot Topic.
Still, for many, the skull has great significance.
Band members Danzig and Jerry Only have often fought over who owns the rights to the image.
The fact is, whoever came up with it was inspired by a completely separate piece of media.
“The Fiend” logo, as it is often called, was based on a 1930’s movie called The Crimson Ghost.
Though the band broke up in 1983, the last fight over the logo was in 2016.
With enough people getting Misfits skull tattoos, the symbol is pretty much public domain at this point.
- Jack Skellington Skull Tattoos
For the young at heart, a Jack Skellington design is a softer skull tattoo.
From Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack “The Pumpkin King” is looking for joy in all the wrong places.
Growing tired of his Halloween life, he tries his hand at Christmas.
A lot of Tim Burton’s work explores the idea of “otherness.”
Trying to navigate the normal world when you feel anything but.
There is some debate about the message behind this film.
But in the end, Jack finds that what he was looking for was in front of him all along.
A Jack Skellington skull tattoo can be a symbol of accepting yourself as you are.
And that being the best version of yourself doesn’t mean trying to be someone else.
- The Punisher Skull Tattoos
The Punisher skull can mean different things to different people.
In its original incarnation, the character Frank Castle appeared in a Spiderman comic book from the early 70’s.
After witnessing the murder of his family, Castle becomes a one-man vigilante justice machine.
Many subsequent Punisher franchises have popped up since then, exploring the character to new depths.
In recent years, Gerry Conway, the Punisher’s creator, has seen the symbol picked up by people he feels are not in line with the original character’s spirit.
American police officers, members of far-right groups, and conspiracy theorists have taken up The Punisher skull.
Conway has stated that The Punisher is an outlaw, someone who feels betrayed by the legal system.
He has tried to reclaim the symbol, promoting Punisher artwork from marginalized artists.
Having a Punisher skull tattoo is, in either case, an act of defiance.
Wearing one may spark a few interesting conversations.
- Mandalorian Skull Tattoos
The Mandalorian has had staggering success on the Disney+ platform.
So, naturally, there are a lot of tattoos dedicated to its mythology.
One of the symbols you’ll regularly see in the design of the show is the Mandalorian skull.
The Mandalorian skull represents the Mythosaur, a large animal that once dominated the world of Mandalore.
Driven to extinction by Mandalorian Taung and Mandalore The First, the Mythosaur skull became a symbol for the world’s rulers.
A Mandalorian skull could be a symbol of leadership or the desire for it.
Likely, it’s an homage or calling card to other fans of the franchise.
- Peaky Blinders Skull Tattoos
Peaky Blinders is a historical fiction account of an English street gang that went by the same name.
Unlike other street gangs of the era, the Peaky Blinders put great emphasis on having an aesthetic.
A Peaky Blinders skull tattoo is a clever nod to the show’s juxtaposition between dapper fashion and gruesome content.
- Joker Skull Tattoos
The Joker embodies the spirit behind our Memento Mori’s.
In some ways, The Joker’s MO is to have us confront the shadowy themes we’d rather ignore.
For these reasons, a Joker skull tattoo is perfect.
That, and it acknowledges the destructive nature of this unhinged character.
If you want to get a Joker tattoo but don’t want anything too literal, this may be the perfect design for you.
The Symbolism Behind Skull Tattoos
You are likely familiar with the jolly roger, also known as a skull and crossbones.
Today this image is popular as a tattoo, on pirate memorabilia, and as a warning for poisonous goods.
When most people think of the history of the Jolly Roger, it’s a simple trajectory from pirates to poison.
If pirates kill people and poison kills people, that must be the reason we have this enduring symbol.
But the truth is, though hard to trace, the Jolly Roger has existed since well before most pirates were even born.
It is tricky to trace exactly where the skull and crossbones originated.
As with anything ancient, we can only look at artifacts and make an educated guess.
It starts, as so many things do, in ancient Egypt.
King Tut’s Tomb
The Pharaoh Tutankhamun, commonly known as King Tut, was a teenage ruler who lived and died around 1400 BC.
He is depicted on the solid gold coffin (or sarcophagus) that holds his mummified remains.
This sarcophagus shows the young Pharaoh with his arms crossed over his chest.
His arms hold two tools, the crook and flail.
The crook and flail is an ancient symbol of authority.
It has associations with the gods Geb and his offspring Osiris.
The crook is used by shepherds to gently guide their flock, while the flail is used to discipline animals.
A good ruler, according to ancient Egyptians, sits in the middle of those two extremes.
To be a good ruler is to maintain a balance between discipline and guidance.
Historians theorize that the Jolly Roger image originated from this symbol.
Can you believe your skull and crossbones tattoo has roots in Egyptian burial sites?
The Knights Templar
The first record of the Jolly Roger as we see it today comes from The Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar is an order with a long, complicated history.
For today’s purposes, we will stick to their skull and crossbones.
The Knights were an order who took a vow of poverty and celibacy.
Their mission? To protect Christian pilgrims and crusaders as they moved through Jerusalem.
The knights Templar are the original bodyguards and they established modern banking.
But what does all that have to do with our friend the Jolly Roger?
The church eventually turned on the Knights Templar, ordering that they disband.
During this time one of the Grand Masters within the organization was burned alive.
When his teammates found him, Jacques de Molay was nothing more than a skull and two femur bones.
This then became one of the order’s symbols. To honor their fallen friend, they flew this flag on nautical missions.
This takes us to the most common association with the Jolly Roger symbol: Pirates.
Pirates and the Skull and Crossbones
Who were pirates anyway?
In a nutshell, pirates were groups of robbers who traveled by water.
Books and movies have glorified the lives of pirates.
They are depicted as roguish rebels who choose a life outside of society’s rules.
This may have been true for some.
But many pirates were just poor people who turned to a life of crime to survive.
There is some debate over whether or not pirates had tattoos.
Pirates would have traveled to islands where tattoos got their start, so it’s reasonable to assume they may have gotten some ink.
That said, it wasn’t common for tattooed tribes to ink outsiders, so it’s not something we can be sure of.
Whether pirates had skull tattoos or not, we know they had skull flags.
In the pirate world, not every Jolly Roger is alike.
Pirates liked to assert their identity, so there were many variations on the design.
That said, they all had one purpose: skeleton and skull flags served as warnings.
A skeleton or skull flag on a pirate ship means “we’re on our way, and we intend to kill you.” Yikes.
Why Jolly Roger
As far as ironic nicknames go, Jolly Roger is a pretty cruel one.
But where does the name come from?
There are a few theories:
- The English slang term “roger” refers to someone who is roguish, a drifter who lives by his own rules.
- The devil has many colloquial nicknames, one of them being “Old Roger.”
- It may also come from Ali Raja, a pirate on the Indian Ocean, whose nicknames included “Ally” or “Olly” Roger.
- The pirate Bartholomew Roberts flew a black flag with a white skeleton on it. He also wore a red coat, earning him the french nickname “Le Joli Rouge.” Eventually, the name got the telephone game treatment. It became The Jolly Roger, a name for the flag rather than the man behind it.
In your quest for the perfect skull tattoo, you may have come across the term “Memento Mori.”
It is a Latin term that translates to “remember that you must die.”
This term has been present in many cultures and manifestations for centuries.
It is a concept, a lifestyle, and an object. There is not one specific object that serves as a Memento Mori, and anyone can create one.
To create a Memento Mori is to bring an object or piece of art into your life with intention.
That intention, of course, is to be reminded of your mortality.
Skull tattoos make excellent Memento Moris, often accompanied by the phrase itself.
As a tattoo, it is especially meaningful as the design dies with you.
If that seems like a morbid concept, it is likely due to the influence of today’s death fearing culture.
Death is the only thing we are guaranteed in life. But many people are afraid to speak of it.
Popular cosmetic procedures plump the skin, tighten the body, and fill in wrinkles.
We seem repulsed by the idea of aging.
That repulsion likely comes from a deep fear of death.
People who then embrace images of death are often seen as creepy or weird.
It wasn’t always this way.
Memento Mori in Ancient Rome
The most exciting “Memento Mori” anecdote comes from the days of the Roman Empire.
When military leaders returned victorious from a battle, they were publicly honored.
This meant riding in a carriage led by 4 horses in a massive celebration.
People would watch the carriage pass by and cheer enthusiastically.
In those moments, the military generals were beyond heroes, they were god-like figures.
This was a prestigious ceremony with one interesting twist.
A slave would ride in the chariot with each general.
This slave was given a very important task: to stand next to the general and whisper in their ear.
They repeated the phrase: “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento Mori.”
The phrase urges the general to look behind, and remember that they are mortal.
This addition to the ceremony served to ground the celebrated leaders in reality.
While they are being worshiped, they must remember that this is a fleeting moment in time.
There are other gods and heroes to come, they are not immortal, and one day all this will be forgotten.
It seems strange, to interrupt the merriment with such an unpleasant thought.
But how many times have you become so swept up in a special moment that you felt depressed the next day?
It is important to remember that everything is temporary.
It helps us to appreciate the good moments as much as we can.
It would be an interesting idea to get a skull tattoo as part of a celebration for one of your accomplishments.
To whisper in your own ear, so to speak.
Memento Mori in Art
Memento Mori has been a huge influence on the art world.
When you see a Memento Mori skull tattoo, it is a direct descendant of these works of art from centuries ago:
- Memento Mori Paintings
Most of our Memento Mori paintings come from the Medieval Era to the 19th Century.
During this time, luscious oil paintings likely featured skulls, hourglasses, and rotten fruit.
Take a good look at some classic paintings, and you may see these symbols where you didn’t before.
These paintings are beautiful but poignant.
They remind us to take in the beauty of life while acknowledging our inevitable death.
Many of today’s “prettier” skull tattoos serve the same purpose.
- The Danse Macabre Paintings
From 1346-1353, the Black Plague killed 50 million people.
The disease spread on trade routes through Europe, Africa, and Asia.
From this catastrophic event came artistic expression. Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, art pieces depict skeletal figures.
The figures are of all ages and walks of life, to prove a point that death does not discriminate.
As the name suggests, the skeletons would often be dancing or moving forward in a procession.
This reminds us that every part of life is a dance with death.
Danse Macabre paintings often hung in churches to remind parishioners to live a good life now, before it is too late.
In this sense, a skull tattoo may suit someone with religious beliefs who wants to be of service.
- Vanitas Still Life Paintings
In the 17th century’s Golden Age, Dutch artists started this Vanita trend.
These paintings are a cousin of the Memento Mori artwork and focus on earthly pleasures.
In these paintings, opulent and expensive items may be paired with skulls, timepieces, dying flowers, and old frayed books.
They have a very similar message to Memento Mori paintings but focus on not becoming consumed by material success.
Remember that you are mortal, and so are your most coveted objects.
Pairing your skull tattoo with the material items you crave would be a very strong Memento Mori.
The concept of Memento Mori is frequently associated with a winged skull.
This was a popular headstone choice in the 16th and 17th centuries.
It is a religious symbol, representing the soul’s ascension into the afterlife.
As time went on and people softened their resolve to remember death, there were fewer skull headstones and more comforting stone angels or cherubs.
Memento Mori in Pop Culture
The concept of Memento Mori seems to be making a comeback.
Rap artist The Weeknd named his Apple Music show after the concept.
In the show, he features music that has inspired him.
Perhaps naming his show after Memento Mori is a reminder to never see artists as immortal gods.
In the video for “Self Care,” released shortly before his death, Mac Miller carves the term “Memento Mori” into a wooden coffin.
He punches through the carving, escaping from the coffin.
Was Mac Miller saying that music is his way of becoming immortal?
Or was he confronting his inevitable demise, or both?
In any case, young fans have started researching the concept as a result.
We may see an influx of Memento Mori skull tattoos for the next few years, but the image is an enduring one.
The Grim Reaper
Most skull tattoos are, at their heart, about accepting death as a part of life.
And there’s no better example of that than the Grim Reaper.
You’ve likely been familiar with this image your whole life.
The Grim Reaper has been portrayed, in various degrees of terrifying, in so many pieces of media.
The Grim Reaper’s skull is just as ubiquitous in the tattoo world as it is in pop culture.
A Grim Reaper tattoo is a bold choice, no matter the style.
Who is this skull-faced figure, and what does this skull tattoo signify?
Let’s explore the origins and imagery of the Grim Reaper.
Who is the Grim Reaper?
The Grim Reaper is a character who, according to legend, comes to you at your moment of death.
Some say he is there to collect your soul, others say he accompanies you to the afterlife.
Or maybe he’s just there to tell you the time has come.
He is not mean, and he is not nice. He is a completely partial figure.
Like a doctor, the reaper just knows when it’s time and can’t get emotional about it.
Like most skull imagery, he exists to remind us that death comes for us all.
Sometimes the reaper is depicted as a malicious figure, chasing someone down as they refuse to accept their fate.
Though there are many artistic interpretations, a few common themes unite them:
- Skull Face
Many people with Grim Reaper tattoos put the focus on his skeletal face.
This character being a skeleton just further drives home the symbolism.
- Black Cloak
Cloaking yourself in black can be a symbol that you are in mourning, but the Grim Reaper’s cloak goes beyond that.
The reaper has an air of mystery because nobody knows exactly when they are going to die.
The Cloak adds to that mystery, keeping the character hidden from view.
There are secrets we cannot know while we are alive, which makes him a foreboding presence.
Many people with skull tattoos will include the Grim Reaper’s cloak.
But most artists will draw it slouching off of his face so the skull can have more detail.
This is where the design really comes to life in terms of customization.
The Scythe is used in agricultural practice to harvest crops.
In this case, the reaper is “harvesting” lives.
Many skull tattoos also include hourglasses, because the Grim Reaper carries one with him.
Hourglasses must run out, just like human lives.
Where Does the Grim Reaper Come From?
The Grim Reaper is so ingrained in media and pop culture, it’s hard to imagine where he begins or ends.
But, like many images of death, it became a more popular image during the Black Plague.
Because people had to get used to a lot of death coming very quickly to people of all ages, they began to depict it more often in art.
Sort of a “write what you know” thing.
Could you imagine thinking of anything else during that time?
Creating this frightening but impartial figure to represent death made sense.
And the inspiration came from centuries-old lore.
- Death in the Bible
In the book of Revelations, Death is the only horseman given a name.
He is described as a rider on a pale horse, followed by Hades.
After we meet all four horsemen, the Bible has this to say:
“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.
And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “‘Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.’”
- In Greek Mythology
In Greek mythology, the “Moira”, are 3 old ladies who weave the threads of people’s lives.
“Moira” translates to “fate” which, as a modern concept, has taken on more romantic overtones.
The Moira Atropos, or fate inflexible, was the one in charge of cutting the thread.
When the thread of your life is cut, you die.
Many people believe the scythe part of the reaper’s mythology was inspired by this concept.
- In Celtic Mythology
In this version of the tale, the robed skeletal figure with a scythe is not the personification of death.
But he does work for him.
He collects souls for death, and some say he is actually the soul of the first to die in a year.
In order to go to the afterlife, he must work for death until he is allowed to cross over.
Crystal Skull Tattoos
It feels like the traditional systems we’ve lived under are no longer satisfactory.
People are beginning to revolt against leaders in government, media, and spirituality.
As a result, young people have started to embrace new age and occult practices. This is cyclical.
Whenever the world feels chaotic, unconventional spiritual practices become popular.
This transition is reflected not only in our media and popular causes, but in our tattoo art.
Crystal tattoos are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason.
Crystals are often used in the occult spiritual world for their alleged healing properties.
Not only that, but they are visually appealing.
Wearing a piece of crystal jewelry looks nice, whether you believe in the significance of it or not.
The same goes for crystal skull tattoos.
With skulls being such a constant in the tattoo world, this naturally leads us to crystal skulls.
Many artists are finding new and unique ways to fuse these two images together.
It brightens an otherwise dark image, and tattoo clients can choose a color that resonates with them.
They may even choose to portray a crystal with magical properties suited to their life at the moment.
Have you been considering a crystal skull tattoo? The art is undoubtedly beautiful.
What’s interesting is there is a whole fascinating history behind it.
Crystal skulls have been the source of controversy and conspiracy since 1924.
If you believe the hype, they’ve actually been around since pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
We’ve got a lot to dive into here, so let’s get started.
Where do Crystal Skulls Come From?
No, they weren’t fabricated for 2008’s installment of the Indiana Jones franchise.
There was a crystal skull in the British Museum as early as 1881.
It is said to be an Aztec artifact.
The skull was fascinating to historians because the design appeared impossible.
It was carved in such a way that it should have shattered the almost life-sized chunk of crystal.
This gave the skull a mysterious, spiritual quality.
Later, the most famous crystal skull in public record was discovered on a trip to Belize with explorer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges and daughter Anna Mitchell-Hedges.
The story goes that Anna saw the skull in a Mayan Pyramid, where the sunlight was glinting off of it.
Thinking it was a person with a flashlight, she was lowered down into the cave.
When she was pulled back to the surface, she was holding the top part of the crystal skull.
The team later found the jaw piece to go with the skull. Quite the story, if it’s true.
The Mitchell-Hedges alleged that the skull was described to them by the Mayans in the area.
They were (allegedly) told that the skull had been used in Mayan ceremonies to bring death upon people.
Being an accomplished writer, F.A. had this to say in his book Danger my Ally: “It is at least 3,600 years old and according to legend, it was used by the High Priest of the Maya when he was performing esoteric rites.
It is said that when he willed death with the help of the skull, death invariably followed”.
Though this was omitted in later publications of the same book, people weren’t quick to forget the mystical claims.
By the 1970’s, 13 crystal skulls had been discovered. As more skulls were displayed in Museums, people had all kinds of things to say about them.
The number 13 also gave them a somewhat magical reputation.
Magical Theories About Crystal Skulls
- They are Made by Aliens
The technology behind the skulls could not initially be explained.
Anna went on record to say this is because they were fashioned by extraterrestrials.
Many believe versions of this theory.
The show “Ancient Aliens” often says that history’s impressive structures have been the work of aliens.
There are even those who claim aliens live on earth and helped humans develop the iPhone.
- They are Ancient Computers
Quartz is capable of storing information and conducting electricity.
It is actually used in a lot of technology, most famously in watches.
The belief is that crystal skulls are mystical supercomputers, filled with esoteric knowledge.
Mitchell Hedges claimed to have used hers to predict Kennedy’s assassination.
Some say when humanity is ready, the crystal skulls can be placed together.
They will then be used to communicate necessary knowledge for the earth’s survival.
- They are From Atlantis
At the time of the skull’s discovery, F.A. was fascinated with the Atlantis theory.
In fact, he made the trip to Belize to try and discover the lost city.
Anna said the skull is from Atlantis. Her theory is it was brought there by extraterrestrials, but it later surfaced in Belize.
Debunking Crystal Skulls
In 2008, one year after Anna’s death at the age of 100, each of the skulls had been analyzed and proved to be of modern origin.
Though the ancient skulls were a hoax, crystal enthusiasts believe the skull shape itself can amplify a stone’s properties.
Modern crystal skulls are frequently bought and sold through new age shops.
They are said to have powers of healing and divination.
Some may buy them for purely aesthetic reasons, and they do look pretty cool no matter what you believe.
Meaning of Crystal Skull Tattoos
There are a few reasons why people may choose this design for their skull tattoo:
The Polarity of Life: death is inevitable, but life is beautiful; surrounding a skull with vibrant, colorful crystals is a nice way to communicate this.
A Connection to the Earth: if you feel at one with nature, pair a human skull with these natural minerals; it can be a cool way to communicate that connection.
“I Want to Believe”: you’ve read the scientific reports, but you’re dubious; you still think aliens are among us, and that the crystal skulls have deep esoteric meaning.
Why not put the call out to other believers with a crystal skull tattoo?
Colors in Crystal Skull Tattoos
The possibilities are limitless, but here are a few ideas for your crystal skull tattoo based on some common crystals.
Pink Skull Tattoo: rose quartz promotes self-love and comes in a beautiful pastel pink shade.
Purple Skull Tattoo: amethyst is often used as a calming stone; it would be an especially powerful image for someone with anxiety.
Green Skull Tattoo: green represents the heart chakra; malachite, a deep emerald stone, is used to absorb and heal negative energy.
Yellow/Orange Skull Tattoo: citrine is a popular stone to increase wealth and promote self-expression.
For more Horror-inspired tattoos, go to:
- Pinhead Tattoos
- Leatherface Tattoos
- Evil Clown Tattoos
- Gargoyle Tattoos
- Bird Skull Tattoos
- Evil Dead Tattoos
- Valak Tattoos
- Wendigo Tattoos
- Mothman Tattoos
- Jason Voorhees Tattoos
- Wyvern Tattoos