Grim Reaper Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning
This hooded, haunting figure is instantly recognizable in most cultures. He represents something that most of us have a silent, creeping fear of—death.
Grim Reaper tattoos are certainly not for the faint of heart, but the meaning behind them might not be as dark as you think.
If you’re thinking of getting a new tattoo and want something artistic, deeply meaningful, and kind of hardcore all rolled into one, a Grim Reaper tattoo could be the thing for you. We’ll go over common designs, colors, and meanings here.
The Grim Reaper Meaning
Everybody knows that the Reaper represents death, right?
Well, that may be true, but it’s not always in a creepy, coming-to-get-you sort of way.
While that portrayal may be relevant to some, for those who’ve embraced the idea that we move on to another place after this life, the Reaper represents new beginnings and is a guide into whatever comes next.
The ill-reputed Grim Reaper can mean something negative, but it can also have some really positive symbolisms, such as accepting our mortality and remembering what’s important in this life.
You can easily alter the meaning behind your tattoo by changing the design. A black, evil Reaper waving a bloody scythe could represent the darker side. A lighter, more shaded Reaper perhaps matched with a rose could show acceptance of death.
The concept of this death figure came about in Europe around the 14th century. The continent was dealing with the Black Death pandemic at the time, so even those who managed to escape illness were, quite literally, surrounded by death all the time.
There are a few elements that make the Grim Reaper who he is and contribute to his instant-recognition kind of fame. Each is symbolic of an element associated with death and dying, and when it’s made part of a tattoo, it emphasizes a dark theme.
Skeletons are a fairly obvious symbol of lack of life. Showing the Grim Reaper’s skeleton on a tat instead of just a black cloak reinforces the idea of being lifeless.
Scythes were commonly used agricultural tools in the 8th century. The enormous blade carried by the Grim Reaper is a symbol of the human soul being harvested or reaped—plucked from the body like crops from the Earth.
This element of the Reaper is meant to be metaphorical and not literal. It’s not a blade that’s meant to injure or kill the person destined for death. It’s simply a tool to help us transition from one place to another.
If you want a creepy Reaper tattoo, you can use the blade of the scythe as a weapon and add some drops of blood. To express the idea that death isn’t a finality, make the scythe on your tattoo smaller than it should be.
Robe and Hood
The Reaper’s clothing adds an air of mystery and mysticism. He wears black, which is associated with mourning and funerary processes. His robes are also similar to that of a monk or priest, which indicates a certain amount of authority.
For a classic Reaper look, go with dark colors and a hood covering his skeletal face. If you’re interested in a more light-hearted Grim tat, you can always change up the color of his robes, or have his hood thrown back from his head.
Popular Grim Reaper Tattoo Designs
There are a few specific themes you can choose from depending on how you want your Reaper to be portrayed.
If you want a detailed, scary-looking, proper Grim Reaper-like tattoo, then something classic will achieve that.
These tats won’t have many colors in them. If you want to add something small but effective to enhance the scariness, red eyes or a drop of blood will make it pop.
The classic creepy tattoo can be solid black, which creates a very bold, almost tribal feeling. If you want something in-your-face and striking, this style works.
You could also go for something with much more detail. Shading is amazing on a Grim Reaper. When you consider the detail in the facial structure, the folds of the cloak, and the nicks in the scythe blade, you begin to appreciate the degree of realism that can be achieved.
If you’re cool with Grim and want something a little more fun, you could go for a cartoon-style Reaper.
A black cartoon Reaper retains some of its creepiness and soul-collecting persona. It may be indicative of death being nothing to fear, or just another fun part of life.
If you choose to add some color to your cartoon, it could be a way of minimizing death—taking away its authority and the hold it has over you. It’s no longer dark and frightening, but instead, it’s about as scary as a children’s character!
To make it even more light-hearted, you can add cute elements to fill out the picture, like some hearts.
A common Grim Reaper tattoo style is to have your Reaper doing something random that the death lord wouldn’t normally be doing.
Maybe your Reaper is smoking a cigarette or perhaps drinking a cup of coffee—even skeletons need a boost, sometimes. Maybe he’s holding a book or petting a cat.
Giving human qualities to death isn’t a new thing, but it may help us to accept it as a normal part of life.
Common Grim Reaper Tattoo Colors
Don’t be shy to add some color to your Reaper, but only if it complements the effect you’re going for.
Black and Grey
For obvious reasons, most Grim Reaper tattoos are devoid of bright colors. The most common Grim tats are meant to be hardcore, rugged, and tough.
This is great if you want to stick to the classic Grim Reaper look—he’s rather dark, after all, and shrouded in mystery. A dull tattoo would be perfect to represent those traits.
Dull doesn’t have to be boring, though. You can achieve some amazing levels of detail by shading, so if you’re considering a Reaper tattoo, a black or grey one could work well.