Skull Tattoo Designs & Their Meaning

Skulls are often associated with darkness, death and evil. But they don’t have to be. Your skull tattoo can also represent the memory of a loved one, overcoming an obstacle or an expression of your personality.

With the ability to contour the bone structure and place as many embellishments or design features as the mind can imagine, the skull tattoo is truly a diverse piece.

Popular Designs and Meanings

The skull tattoo is popular in choice but unique in design. Each artwork has a different meaning and is usually a serious consideration when choosing to permanently etch a new piece onto your skin. 

Here we explore popular skull designs and their meaning to help you choose the perfect art form.

Day of the Dead

Many of us know the Day of the Dead ceremonies to be an annual celebration among Mexican communities that are full of color, parties, music and dressed-up skulls.

The celebration is a time to honor those loved ones who have passed. A Day of the Dead tattoo is one of the best ways to commemorate those who are no longer with us in physical form. One of the most iconic symbols is the skull dressed with flowers and colors.

Popular designs include flowers for eyes, a crown of flowers or circles with curved lines around the eyes. Adding color is popular as it’s a festive celebration. The skulls are usually portrayed with feminine touches such as flowers, pinks, thin jawlines and long hair.

The Royal Skull

The royal families around the world are some of the oldest bloodlines of wealth and power. Monarchy is tainted with a dark and bloody history, making royal elements the perfect partner to a bony skull.

The most popular design feature to demonstrate royalty is a large crown atop the skull. It can be created extravagantly with jewels and gold or as a monotone crown with diamond peaks. In larger pieces, often long velvet cloaks with an impressive scepter are added to the artwork.

The Grim Reaper

The most obvious meaning of the harsh, bony cranium is human death. It’s on deadly warning labels and a representation throughout history to show mass murders or deaths from natural disasters.

The Grim Reaper is the spirit equivalent to the process of death. His job is to collect the souls of those who have passed. This symbolism will often send a shiver down your spine. The bony skeleton of the grim reaper with a hooded cloak and axe in hand is a tattoo choice not for the faint-hearted. 

You can design your tattoo with the bony skull protruding from the hooded cloak. For larger tattoos, include the full body of the reaper with a long ax at hand.

Skull and Crossbones

This well-known pirate symbol can represent rebellion, prison and death. It can be altered in many ways to make it more masculine or feminine and to suit different styles.

Other Common Surrounding Features

While a skull tattoo is striking on its own, there are many popular surrounding features to choose from. Roses and thorns are a beautiful embellishment, and this can signify life and death, good and evil or beauty and decay. 

Those who perfect a darker theme may choose serpents coming from the eyes. Bands like Avenged Sevenfold have popularized the bat wings as a partner with the skull. Pistols on each side of the skull or in the background is a popular design for many.

Popular Styles for Skull Tattoos

Skull tattoos can be styled in many ways; here are some ideas on how to style your piece of art.


Realism is the art style of creating a piece so realistic that you have to double-take them. This is a popular style with the skull as you can create emotion or a scene for the viewer.

With realism, many opt for the sinister and evil skull style with features like a cloak, serpents or crown. This gives a living dead effect. You can also create a more uplifting or comical skull with a top hat and cane.


Geometric styles utilize shapes to create an individual piece. The skull has many shapes and lines to work with to create something never seen before such as the oval eyes, lines on the cheekbones, jaw and nose and the curvature of the cranium.

Popular geometric styles will utilize these natural features to create more shapes inside the skull, such as diamonds or triangles. Changing the styling of the lines is also a great way to add a geometric touch to your piece by changing your lines to dots or dashes. 


With abstract art, you’re only limited by your imagination. To create an abstract skull tattoo, be creative with colors, textures and external defining features. A popular way to do this is by using other art such as text, eyes or industrial buildings to underlay the skull.

Most skulls are black, however using colors to splash, stroke or texture the main piece is a creative way of designing an abstract piece. Untamed lines and explosions of color or texture will make your skull tattoo stand out from the rest.

Art Deco

Art Deco designs are often simple and symmetrical. They are sleek and sophisticated and contrast with the deathly qualities of a skull, yet it’s a style that works effortlessly with the bony cranium.

Many opt for the full 1920s look, embellished with feathers, earrings, long cigarette holders and bandeaus. Some show off their art deco style with flowers, symmetrical patterning and bright solid colors. 

Art Deco is best partnered with the Day of the Dead designs due to your ability to create symmetry and color-pop, which are essential elements of the style.

Colors Used in Skull Tattoos

Here are some common colors used in skull tattoos.


Black is the most popular choice as it gives a defined structure to the skull. Whether it’s a 2D or 3D image that’s being created, black is the best way to define your image. 

If a skull tattoo has another base color, black is the best color to use for bone structure. Many choose a solid black in their skull; others use it as an outline. Black is a powerful color to use if you’re integrating other elements such as shotguns or roses. It will provide contrast as a background color to make your decorative features stand out.


While black might be the obvious coloring, red is used as a great supporting feature. Popular places where red is used is in the eye sockets to create an evil glow. Reds are also used around the cranium itself to make the piece stand out.


Greyscale is a creative option due to the shading that creates a 3D effect. With greyscale, you can make the cheekbones of the face stand out for a gaunt look or have the eyes sunken and deep to show a low mood.

This is the best option if you have multiple tattoos, and you don’t want to create a color clash. Many also have a greyscale skull or skeleton, but utilize colors for the surrounding key decorative features near the skull.

Body Placements

The skull tattoo is often integrated with other art forms as a part of a leg or arm sleeve. It’s quite versatile and can be a large or a small piece on the body. Here are some common placements.


The arm is the most popular placement for a skull tattoo. It’s often a part of a sleeve, but it’s also striking as a standalone piece. The upper arm is more popular as it’s easily concealed, and there is a large surface area to display the artwork.

They are often etched on the shoulder or outside of the arm as a main feature in the sleeve. Another great place is the wrist for those who aren’t worried about concealing their artwork. This is the perfect place for a standalone art piece.

Upper Back

With such a large surface area, the back is always a great place to demonstrate artistry to its fullest potential. The upper back is the most popular placement for skulls. Standalone skulls are often found above one of the shoulder blades, while full murals see the skull attached to a skeleton and other creative elements.

Some people choose a bony skull covering the entire back area, which often has a sinister touch to it.


Skull tattoos make a great addition to a leg sleeve. Some prefer a single skull on the outside of the ankle or on the upper thigh, often embellished with other features. Most use the versatile skull to integrate into a striking full leg piece.

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