Dragon Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning
Dragons have been part of myths for centuries, but Asian and European cultures view them differently. Chinese dragons are well-meaning deities, while Western cultures see them as terrible foes. Depending on the meaning and size you want for your tattoo, you can place them on all parts of your body.
Dragons in Different Cultures
Stories of dragons were common long before humans had any idea of the existence of dinosaurs.
European legends and folktales used to focus on the dragon as an evil foe and destructive force. Its fiery breath threatened humans and needed to be fought and beaten. In this sense, dragons can represent raw power and courage.
Eastern cultures, however, usually view the dragon as a benevolent creature in the skies. In China, it was actually associated with water and rain and was the emblem of the imperial family. Japanese culture shared this vision.
Modern culture and movies offer different possibilities, from dragons as friends to terrible enemies, or unpredictable, volatile beasts. What is common to all of them is strength. For better or worse, dragons are always respected as the most powerful creatures.
There are so many cultures that have incorporated the dragon into their legends and traditions. That means you also have numerous different options for your tattoo. Dragons can look like snakes, have long necks, or be closer to flying, fire-breathing dinosaurs. They can have horns or wings, or even tiny spikes on their heads.
You can look for inspiration for your design in movies or in ancient mythology, depending on the meaning you’re looking to give your tat.
The god Apopis in ancient Egyptian mythology was a demon in snake form. It was the evil enemy of the sun god Ra, and it represented chaos. It was one of the first representations of a dragon-like figure. It’s the origin of the European tradition to depict dragons as a malevolent force.
In a tattoo, you can use Apopis and Ra to depict the battle of good and evil, order and chaos.
The Chinese dragon, long, is a serpent-like figure with four legs, covered in scales. Dragons in China don’t usually have wings, even if they’re believed to roam the skies.
They are considered benevolent, the king of animals, as well as divinities that guarantee rainfall and control the oceans. In China, the dragon was also used by the imperial family as a symbol of their power.
The Japanese have a similar depiction of the dragon as China, but their cultural meaning is often not the same. Japanese mythology doesn’t associate the dragon with rainfall, even if it’s thought to be a water creature. What is common to both is that the dragon is associated with strength and wisdom.
Even the form of the dragon can be a little different. The Japanese dragon is usually more serpent-like and has three claws on each foot, while the Chinese dragon has five. The dragon can also have more than one head in Japanese mythology.
In Celtic art and myths, dragons are a common theme. Even the Scottish flag includes a red dragon. Also in this culture, dragons were traditionally respected as deities and a source of power. When Christianity arrived, they became an evil force that needed to be beaten, much like earlier pagan beliefs.
As far as your ink goes, there are different options for a Celtic dragon. They are usually depicted with wings, but they can also be serpent-like sea monsters. You can include the battle of Christianity and paganism to your tattoo by adding a cross or a sword.
Tribal tattoos are one of the simpler ways to depict a dragon. You can even make them a little abstract if you don’t want everybody to know your tattoo is a dragon.
Dragons from Movies
Dragons have appeared in numerous movies, so if you want to find inspiration for your ink, check out these options.
J.K. Rowling’s creation includes many different dragon species, all with their specific characteristics. The friendly Norwegian Ridgeback, Norbert, is a good option if you want a powerful and unpredictable dragon.
Game of Thrones:
The house of Targaryen uses the dragon as its emblem. Daenerys’s dragons symbolize the terrible destructive side of power. They are visually impactful, with massive dinosaur faces and spikes on their heads. If you want to give your ink a twist, you can even design Viserion, transformed into a blue ice dragon.
Lord of the Rings
Lord of the Rings has an evil dragon, Smaug, that breathes fire and is the ultimate enemy. It has bat-like wings, a long neck, horns and an alligator’s eyes.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The fictitious hacker Lisbeth Salander had a big, black dragon tattoo. It occupied half her back and symbolized the character’s inner strength.
For those looking for a friendly dragon, the options are varied, going from Shrek to How to Train Your Dragon. The Neverending Story, on the other hand, had the luckdragon Falkor that almost looked like a Golden Retriever.
Try adding these or other elements to your dragon tattoo to give it more color or amplify the symbolism.
Another option is to include just the reptile eye in a 3D style. It won’t take a lot of room, but it can be pretty impactful. Just make sure your tattoo artist can perform this kind of detailed and complex work.
If you want to show off your inner dragon, you can include scales. They can be either simple or intricate, depending on your style. Adding a dragon’s scales to your skin is a good way to represent your inherent power.
The tiger is an element that goes well with Asian tattoo styles. Both dragons and tigers are good luck charms, and together they bring strength and wisdom.
Asian dragons often include flowers, symbolizing the fertile, rainfall-bringing aspect of the creature. Flowers also help bring more color to your tattoo. Try lotus flowers to symbolize rebirth or peonies for prosperity.
Possible Colors and Styles
The color combinations are as varied as the styles and cultures that use the dragon in their art. You can do anything from full black to the colors of the rainbow.
A 3D dragon that’s drawn in a very realistic style looks best in darker tones—unless you’re going for the ice dragon. If you want to only do the outline, black would be a good option to enhance visibility.
Chinese dragons often include lots of colors. A red dragon is usually the most powerful, and both red and golden have been used as imperial symbols. Blue represents wisdom, while green is associated with fertility and the Earth.
Asian dragons do usually include other colors, such as red on the crest or a blue background surrounding them.
If you want to use the chaos vs. order symbolism of Apopis, consider using a hieroglyphic style to represent the elements.
The popular placements vary on the type of dragon you’re going for and the size you want to give it.
You can have a long, serpent-like dragon cover your whole back or run all the way down your arm or leg. A Chinese or Japanese-style dragon looks good with lots of colors and covering a wider area. You could also design it for your chest, or even going over your shoulder from front to back.
If you’re looking for a more stylized or tribal design, you can have the dragon’s wings spread over your shoulders. If you want a tattoo you can conceal during workdays, consider a smaller dragon. You can add it almost anywhere, from your arms and legs to your lower back or the sides of your torso. Another possibility is hiding one on the inside of your forearms.
Guys often do a full 3D dragon either on their back or their arms. These kinds of designs look best in a larger size, so many people decide to cover their whole back.
You can also just do a dragon’s head on your shoulder, bicep or forearm. The same goes for the scales and eye tattoos: they are adaptable to slightly smaller sizes.