Sugar Skull Tattoos
Skulls are a favorite in the tattooing world.
Many skull tattoo designs are menacing, drawn in black and grey with lots of shadow.
Skulls are often paired with dark imagery such as guns, knives, or crows.
They commonly exist as a grim reminder of the fate that awaits us all, forcing us to confront death.
On the flip side of that same coin are cheerful sugar skull tattoos, with ornate designs and fun colors.
These skulls often smile or wear slightly funny expressions, and are quite pleasant to look at despite the deathly subject matter.
Sugar Skull tattoos and sugar skull designs in fashion started to become trendy in the 2010’s.
Soon, many people were offering their own festive takes on the designs and even weaving pop culture references in with these colorful little offerings.
Mexican sugar skulls are beautiful to behold, so it’s natural that people from all walks of life are drawn to them.
But before getting that colorful design, it is essential that you understand what the skulls stand for, and why they exist.
Not only will this deepen your understanding of the art, it will make it so that when someone has questions about your tattoo- you’ll be able to have a cool conversation with them!
Where do Sugar Skulls Come From?
Sugar skulls originated in Mexico.
The Spanish word for skull is “calavera” and can also be used to refer to these artistic representations of skulls.
Sugar skulls specifically are known as “calaveritas de azúcar”.
Colorful skull imagery shows up in many artistic mediums from Mexican artists, but the original calavera designs were (and still are) made from sugar that has been mixed with water, hardened into a skull mould, and decorated with sunny embellishments.
Sugar decorations were brought to the Americas by Italian missionaries in the 17th century.
They would decorate altars for Easter with lambs and angels.
As Catholicism made its way into the Indigenous Mexican people’s culture through colonialism, Catholic churches were built in Mexico.
The people there did not have the budget to order fancy European church decorations, so they began to learn the art of sugar decorations.
Dia De Muertos
Dia de Muertos, (sometimes referred to as Dia de los Muertos), translates to “Day of the Dead” and is simultaneously a celebration of life and a chance to honor the dead.
This celebration takes place from midnight on October 31st to November 2nd.
In many traditions, this is known to be a time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest.
In the Mexican tradition it is when a person’s deceased relatives are allowed to walk the earth and spend time with them.
First the spirits of children (angelitos), then the adults pay a visit.
Where sugar skulls come into play is their use in Dia de Muertos altars, properly named “ofrendas.”
This is where Mexican families will pay tribute to their deceased loved ones with photos, offerings, and sugar skulls.
These altars are meant to welcome their loved ones to cross over.
Areas of Mexico that have a more Catholic influence celebrate in more subdued ways, but the traditional day of the dead festivities are animated and celebratory.
There is music, dancing, and games to be played.
Similar to Christmas or Thanksgiving in America, this is a time of year that Mexican families will spend a lot of money on, and it is a must-attend type of event!
Sugar Skull Tattoo Meanings
Death is inevitable, but there seem to be two ways of looking at it.
There is the sad and nihilistic way, and the “celebrate life” way.
Sugar Skulls mean you lean toward the latter interpretation.
In Pixar’s “Coco,” a movie celebrated for its positive portrayal of Mexican people, the philosophy is that people are never gone as long as you remember them fondly.
This is a beautiful representation of the mentality behind Dia De Muertos.
Sugar Skull tattoos mean you have a friendly relationship with death; you simultaneously want to live life to the fullest while you’re here, while acknowledging that no one ever really leaves us.
Symbols in Sugar Skull Tattoos
Sugar skull tattoos come in all shapes and interpretations; there are even those who have Batman or Darth Vader Sugar Skull designs!
But there are a few elements that are traditional to the Mexican culture and can be lovingly incorporated into your design:
Hearts as Eyes
This is typically a feminine tattoo, either dedicated to a specific female or on a female body.
It is a way of “cheering up” the skull image and even adding an element of humor and whimsy.
It also symbolizes the love you have for the person who has passed.
Candles as Eyes
This is a symbol of the remembrance of an individual, as lighting a candle for someone is a spiritual way to acknowledge them, and even guide their soul to the light.
Marigolds are tall flowers with beautiful colorful blooms used to represent the fragility of life.
They are also used in medicine and ancient ritual practices by the Aztec people who are Indigenous to Mexico/The Americas.
These seem to be less traditional and more something that has come from tattoo culture specifically.
They represent someone’s inner beauty and the value that gives them.
Sugar skull tattoos are religiously and culturally symbolic for many people, especially Mexican communities.
Though there are many variations on the sugar skull design, you will always see several main themes or elements that distinguish a sugar skull tattoo.
First of all, there will always be some sort of skull design involved, though the type of skull can vary.
The design will always be symmetrical, identical on both halves of the skull.
Expect to see flowers or botanical elements or designs play a large role as well.
Owl & Sugar Skull Tattoos
Owls are known to represent wisdom in most popular culture.
But they are also seen in many spiritual modalities as symbols of transformation and guardians to the dead.
This is likely because of their nocturnal habits and the haunting sounds they make.
Because of this pairing between wisdom and the macabre, an owl can represent the kind of knowledge a person gains through a “dark night of the soul.”
This experience could be the loss of a loved one, overcoming addiction, or moving past traumatic events.
Paired with the sugar skull, this owl tattoo could be a reminder to celebrate where you are right now, and what going through difficult experiences has taught you.
An owl and sugar skull tattoo may also be a suitable homage to a deceased relative who was very wise.
Flower Sugar Skull Tattoos
Flowers are incredibly significant in Mexican culture, especially when it comes to rituals of the dead.
Flower tattoos symbolize life and beauty, so it’s common to see people decorate sugar skulls with the symbols of the life and beauty of the people whose souls are represented by the skulls.
Some will also feature cempasúchil flowers (also known as Mexican marigolds) which are the living symbol of death.
Sugar Skull Tattoos with Roses
In Mexico, where sugar skulls originated, red roses are a popular symbol.
They are often associated with the Virgin Mary.
This is because of the miraculous Guadalupe tilmàtli that was filled with roses before Juan Diego revealed the image underneath.
Beyond their religious connotations, rose tattoos represent love and fidelity.
Sugar skull tattoos with roses could represent: the loss of a mother, wanting a divine mother figure to look after your deceased loved one, miracles, or a promise to be dedicated to someone’s memory.
Marilyn Monroe Sugar Skull Tattoos
Marilyn Monroe is an internationally recognized symbol of eternal beauty.
There’s something about her that captivates people even to this day.
Because she died young and has a glamorous and tumultuous life story, people often romanticize her.
She was the young, classic beauty with a sad story who fell from grace.
It’s an archetype we see over and over again in Hollywood, but Marilyn represents it best.
People have started to get Marilyn tattoos with skull imagery, and Marilyn Monroe sugar skull tattoos could represent a few different ideas.
It may be a memento mori, a reminder that you are mortal and everything beautiful is temporary.
The wearer of this tattoo may want to remind themselves that beauty fades, and to put their value in other things.
It may also be there to symbolize the darkness that can lurk beneath a beautiful façade and to not reduce people to their physical attributes.
Because sugar skulls are celebratory symbols, this may also be a reminder to enjoy your youth and beauty while you have it.
Gypsy Sugar Skull Tattoos
The Gypsy character we see depicted in tattoos is something of a myth.
The idea of a “gypsy” comes from the Romani culture, who were displaced and forced to take on a nomadic lifestyle.
Over time, we have romanticized the “gypsy” concept, people who are believed to travel from one town to another, read fortunes, and play tricks on the locals.
These are stereotypical ideas, but have been accepted as truth over time and immortalized in tattoo form.
The gypsy in tattoo art is representative of someone who is free-spirited and mischievous with mystical powers.
Gypsy sugar skull tattoos are a mash-up between two popular art designs: gypsy ladies and sugar skulls.
The imagery together may represent the mysteries of life and death and a connection to the “other side.”
There is debate in the tattoo world about gypsy art- is it an homage to old school designs, or offensive?
The choice is yours, but do some reading before you get a gypsy tattoo.
You should know where you stand on the argument in case it comes up!
Hello Kitty Sugar Skull Tattoos
Hello Kitty Sugar Skull tattoos are part of a larger trend: to celebrate our favorite pop culture icons in classic tattoo forms.
Many people like to pair something they think of as “bad ass” (like sugar skulls) with something that feels more innocent (like Hello Kitty).
The resulting tattoo has a bit of a wink to it, and edginess that’s playful and fun.
This tattoo doesn’t necessarily have a deeper meaning.
It’s just the perfect sugar skull tattoo for a Hello Kitty fan who wants something original.
It may also represent moving from childhood to adulthood, as Hello Kitty is likely a treasured symbol from the wearer’s youth.
Sugar Skull Cat Tattoos
Cats often represent mystery, mysticism, and seeing beyond the veil.
A sugar skull cat tattoo would be well suited to someone who doesn’t shy away from spooky themes.
This person may be a bit witchy and even have a cat as their “familiar.”
Sugar skull cat tattoos may also be the perfect memorial for a lost pet.
Because we can’t forget about our furry loved ones on the other side.
Virgin Mary Sugar Skull Tattoos
Virgin Mary Skull tattoos are likely an homage to someone’s Mexican heritage.
They often represent the Our Lady of Guadalupe miracle, as well as the Dia De Los Muertos celebration: two things that are very important to the culture.
The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant, Juan Diego, on top of Tepeyac hill.
She asked him to build a church there in her honor, a place where the Mesoamerican peoples used to worship their deities.
When Juan Diego went to the bishop, they didn’t believe him because he was a peasant.
So Mary sent him back with a tilmàtli full of roses.
When Juan Diego unfurled his tilmàtli, a miraculous image of Mary appeared.
To the Spaniards who had colonized the area, this image was a symbol that the Catholic church was prevailing over the native people.
But the Indigenous peoples saw otherwise.
In the image, Mary appears to be of mixed European and Indigenous descent.
While she is the mother of the Christian god, many of the symbols of the picture are from the old religions and local traditions that were practiced on that hill.
For the Indigenous people who were forced to assimilate to Catholicism, the image was one of hope and protection for their people and their legacy.
Pairing the Virgin of Guadalupe with a sugar skull is a powerful image because Dia De Los Meurtos was a celebration that the Spaniards tried to put an end to with no avail.
These Virgin Mary sugar skulls may also represent Santa Muerte, a death deity in Mexican culture.
She is a skeleton woman, a grim reaper type who holds a scythe and a globe.
The globe represents the totality of death: something we all have in common.
The scythe can represent “cutting through” negativity.
She is often depicted similarly to the Virgin Mary, which angers some.
Santa Muerte is solely embraced as a folk saint, prayed to by many but officially rejected by the Catholic Church.
She is thought to provide much to those who pray to her, including healing, protection, and financial gains.
Her followers say she is misunderstood and a source for good.
Sugar Skull Tattoo Designs
Many sugar skull tattoo designs draw from both traditional cultural designs and modern or contemporary versions of the symbolic sugar skull.
Mexican tattoo artists and other famous tattoo designers have created hundreds of sugar skull tattoo designs, all of which are distinguished by their intricate symmetry and attention to detail.
Whether in color or black and white, sugar skull tattoo designs stand out.
Black-work Sugar Skull Tattoos
Mexican culture believed very strongly in the symbolism of color.
In ancient Mayan culture, black was the color of obsidian and represented war, bravery, and battle.
Today, black is a traditional color used in many Mexican designs, and represents a hard fought history of bravery and strength from the Mexican people.
A black-work sugar skull tattoo might represent the strength and bravery of a fallen soldier, or an homage to the enduring power of the Mexican culture.
Geometric Sugar Skull Tattoos
Geometric tattoos represent a modern and contemporary take on the traditional sugar skull trend.
Modern artists are often looking to breathe new life into old traditions, and geometric sugar skulls represent a great way to blend old design and new design.
Building off a history of structured architecture and linear designs, geometric sugar skulls blend past and present Mexican design themes together.
New School Sugar Skull Tattoos
Just as geometric sugar skull tattoos blend past and present design trends, so do New School tattoos.
Many of the popular symbols of New School tattooing also bear special significance in sugar skull history as well.
For example, a sugar skull against a fiery background might represent the enduring cycle of death and rebirth, or a sugar skull with a crown might signal triumph over life and death.
Dot-work Sugar Skull Tattoos
Dot-work sugar skull tattoos are a tremendous feat of modern tattooing.
The patience and persistence it takes to execute traditional pointillism in tattooing is remarkable, and when combined with traditional sugar skull tattooing it might represent a quiet, patient strength and confidence in the reunion with a loved one.
Traditional Sugar Skull Tattoos
Traditional sugar skull tattoos are considered a permanent homage to honor the dead.
This classic Mexican symbol made permanent on your skin is a way to memorialize a loved one or famous figure while also demonstrating your connection to Mexican heritage.
Bright colors and traditional tattoo style illustration round out this historic piece of art.
Watercolor Sugar Skull Tattoos
Color is a very important part of Day of the Dead celebrations.
A colorful watercolor background can be customized to symbolize a few different themes, such as orange for death, red for rebirth, blue for peace, black for strength, and more.
Watercolor tattoos also allow you to modernize traditional sugar skull designs.
Celtic Sugar Skull Tattoos
A Celtic sugar skull tattoo represents the blending of cultures in a significant way.
The Celtic people believed the three openings in a skull represent three core values in life: magic, creation, and transformation.
Mexican culture saw all three of those themes come to life in their own Day of the Dead celebrations, so by combining these design threads you honor the three themes together.
Sugar Skull Tattoo Ideas
Dancing with death?
Accepting (and celebrating) the fragility of life?
A sugar skull may be a great way to celebrate that!
Check out our gallery of the most striking Sugar skull tattoos online.
- Black & Grey Sugar Skull Tattoos
Black and grey sugar skull tattoos can be symbolic of the grief or pain that is felt at the loss of a loved one.
Sugar skulls are meant to memorialize the dead and help them move on.
If you’re not ready to move on, you might stick to mourning colors of black and grey to express your pain at their loss before you were ready.
- Small Sugar Skull Tattoos
Small sugar skull tattoos can be placed anywhere on your body for a tiny but personal ode to your culture and your loved one.
Some smaller sugar skull tattoos have also been used to represent the loss of children, so if you’re mourning a young one you might consider adding a small sugar skull tattoo in their honor.
- Sugar Skull Tattoo Sleeve
Full Sugar skull tattoo sleeves have often been used to depict multiple sugar skulls in one place, a sort of living ofrenda or altar to all the people someone is mourning.
If you have several loved ones you want to memorialize, you might consider getting a sleeve so that you can fit them all together in the same place of remembrance.
- Sugar Skull Tattoos for Women
Sugar skull tattoos for women have been known to take on more delicate or more floral tones.
Women typically choose to honor family members’ lives rather than their deaths, so symbols of life such as color, flower, and vibrant geometric patterns are more commonly found in sugar skull tattoos on women.
- Simple Sugar Skull Tattoos
Simple sugar skull tattoos stand out as a sincere and quiet eulogy to loved ones long gone.
The lack of decoration or color can also help generalize your sugar skull, making it less about mourning a specific person and more about celebrating the history and culture of general sugar skull tattoo design.
- Lace Sugar Skull Tattoos
Lace was once considered the national textile of Mexico, and it continues to have major significance to indigenous cultures in Mexico as a fabric of great sentimental value and cultural memory.
A lace sugar skull tattoo represents a connection to the past and to the artisans of days gone by, so if you’re an artist or someone indigenous you might enjoy getting a lace tattoo done.
- Elephant Sugar Skull Tattoos
Elephants are traditionally considered to be a symbol of wisdom and protection.
As sugar skulls often symbolized the passing of a loved one into the next life, elephant sugar skulls might mean a wish for protection of your loved one in both this life and the next as they move on without you, as well as a protection charm for you while you remain here.
- Dog Sugar Skull Tattoos
Widely known as man’s best friend, dogs in Mexican culture are actually associated heavily with death.
Dogs often were guides into the underworld that saw people through death into the afterlife.
A dog sugar skull tattoo represents the history of that spiritual guide who would make sure you left this life in peace and headed into the next one.
- Frida Kahlo Sugar Skull Tattoos
The famous artist Frida Kahlo is the patron saint of many Mexican artists and female painters in particular.
Her recognizable silhouette has become known across the world as a symbol of Mexican heritage and artistic history.
Having a sugar skull of Frida Kahlo is a way to honor her history and legacy, like setting out an offering for a loved one.
- Sugar Skull Tattoos for Men
Men’s sugar skull tattoos are often more likely to be larger and more dominant pieces of artwork.
They feature intricate detail and sharply distinctive patterns and are often homages to beloved family members or celebrities that have since passed on, though they can also combine elements of floral and botanical design.
- Half Sugar Skull Tattoos
Half sugar skull tattoos often represent the crossing between life and death.
One half of the skull is not complete, depicting a life that’s still being lived and is not yet ready to pass on, while the other side has become fully skeleton, showing what will happen once a person finally accepts death and transitions into the afterlife.
Sugar skull tattoo placement varies depending on the size and style of the tattoo you’re choosing.
There is no particular symbolism on where you have your sugar skull tattoo put, though many choose their arms or more visible parts of the body so they can more visibly honor loved ones who have passed on.
- Sugar Skull Tattoos on Forearm
Sugar skull tattoos on forearms are a popular location for tattoos because it’s a nice, flat surface for your artwork to be displayed from at all times.
Having your sugar skull tattoo on your arm means more people will see it and you have more chances to explain the history and culture behind that particular tattoo choice.
- Sugar Skull Tattoos on Thigh
Sugar skull tattoos on thighs are great locations for statement pieces or larger sugar skull tattoo pieces with more intricate detailing that covers more surface area.
Especially if your sugar skull has lots of interior decoration flourishes or many colors in the background, you may want to choose your thigh as the tattoo spot so your artist has plenty of room to work with.
Things To Consider & Aftecare Tips
While black and grey sugar skull tattoos are striking in their own way, they don’t have the same impact that vibrant color tattoos do.
However, the colorful designs that seem so charming in pictures can actually turn out less vibrant than expected, over the years.
Usually a colorful tattoo tends to fade faster than a monochromatic one, resulting in a blurry tattoo design, over time.
The different colors used in a sugar skull tattoo fade at different rates, making it complicated to maintain the original appearance.
This is especially true for small and colorful tattoos.
Colored tattoo ink doesn’t always translate well to small areas, which is why we recommend a large colorful tattoo.
If you’re considering a small tattoo, it’s much safer to go with a black and grey design.
However, if you’re dead set on getting a colorful sugar skull tattoo, choose a body part that’s less exposed to the sun, like the inner biceps, inner wrist or ribcage.
Don’t spend too much time in the sun — always make sure to put on sunscreen or cover your tattoo with clothing.
How Much Does A Sugar Skull Tattoo Cost?
When it comes to getting a tattoo, time is money.
While tattoo artists at well-known shops may charge more than $300 per hour, an average artist typically charges $50 to $100 per hour and up.
Depending on the size of the design, a tattoo can take between two and eight hours to complete.
Small sugar skull tattoos can take anywhere between 2 and 3 hours to complete, while larger ones can take 4 to 8 hours.
If it’s a full sleeve tattoo that stretches from your wrists to your shoulders, for instance, an artist can spend more than eight hours drawing it out and tattooing it.
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