Day of the Dead Tattoo Meaning, Design & Ideas

The Day of the Dead, or Dia De Los Muertos or Dia de Muertos in Spanish, is an annual celebration that acknowledges the spirits of the dead where one pays homage to their ancestors. It is majorly observed in Mexico and falls on the same days as All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween, and the following Catholic holidays, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, which celebrate all beatified Saints and all passed ancestors respectively.

The effect of the three holidays is to give respect and honor to the dead but also commemorate them with festivals and parties. The Day of the Dead has come to be celebrated two days after Halloween, November 2nd, in many areas throughout North America.

This day progressed from rituals performed by the Aztecs that honored departed loved ones, warriors and rulers. When the Spanish showed up in the New World, they used indigenous beliefs and combined them with the ceremonies and beliefs of the religious practices of Catholics.

In this post, we will review some of the images and tattoos you will see when getting the Day of the Dead tattoo. We hope that by the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of this important day and why so many choose to get a tattoo that represents this holiday.

The Sugar Skull

Sugar skulls are one of the most commonly included symbols in Day of the Dead tattoos. The sugar skull or Calavera is a skull, generally made from hardened sugar, which has been decorated with flowers, dots, and other patterns that represent life. They are used as part of the celebration and serve as a representation of a treasured ancestor.

The skulls are often designed with roses and names and dates that serve as a memorial to a loved one. Sugar skulls are usually vibrantly decorated with bright and bold colors but can be done in greyscale to create a less cheerful appearance.

This image was brought to the New World by missionaries from Italy in the 17th century. From what we can tell, the first mention of art using sugar was from the Catholic Church from Palermo around Easter. At this time, sugar angels and lambs were created to adorn the side altars in the churches.

In Mexico, sugar art was created out of need and lack of money. Because of their abundance of sugar, Mexicans started using sugar instead of fancy and imported European religious decorations.

They learned how to create this art from the friars and from that point forward, they were able to create beautiful religious images and fractions of the cost. Images of angels, sugar skulls and lambs were created using clay molds during the 18th century. The skulls represented departed souls and were one of the main images associated with the Day of the Dead and they are generally incorporated into Day of the Dead tattoos.

In more vivid, cartoonish Day of the Dead tattoos, and in realistic ones as well, skeletons or ghouls are depicted wearing sombreros and other Mexican accessories, often with sugar skull designs on their faces. Marigolds are commonly added to these tattoos, and other Day of the Dead tattoos, because they are considered the flower of the dead.

The bright gold, orange, and yellow blooms are added into pieces to create a fuller appearance and serve as a representative of an offering for the spirits of ancestors.

Day of the Dead Girl Tattoo

The sugar skull decoration is also applied to portraits of women and is part of a larger design that often covers a sleeve area or large back piece. The painting of the woman’s face is an image of the Calavera mask that is sometimes worn during the Day of the Dead celebration to help honor the spirits.

These larger tattoo designs apply the typical sugar skull visage to women with long hair or a scarf framing their faces. Roses, leaves, and spider webs are often included to enhance the theme of death and mourning. In some cases, the ominous tone is strengthened by the addition of a skeleton or ghostly figure in place of the woman. Catholic imagery can be added as well to emphasize the religious intent of the holiday. Images like crucifixes and rosaries incorporate well into Day of the Dead designs.

In addition to the tattoo of an unknown girl with her face painted, another popular way to have this tattoo portrayed is to have famous celebrities incorporated into this tattoo with their face painted. Marylin Monroe is extremely popular in this style of tattoo. She is already a cultural icon so to add her to this tattoo only makes it pop a little more and it gets people talking about it. No matter the woman chosen for this tattoo you will notice that she is always a young and beautiful woman.

Colors and Symbols

The colors used in painting the faces of people celebrating the Day of the Dead or the tattoos representing this day also have meaning. Specific images have meaning as well and below are some of the meanings behind these images and colors.


– In many cultures, and specifically, those celebrating the Day of the Dead, purple is a color of suffering, mourning and grief


– Yellow represents togetherness and unity. It is the color of the sun which provides warmth and happiness.


– Pink is also a color that represents happiness and positivity.


– When used in these paintings and tattoos, white represents purity, hope and the spirit.


– Red represents life, love and blood


– These are common in Day of the Dead art and represent a path in the afterlife. In many cases the petals from this flower are spread to guide the spirits to the celebration.


– These are just another word for sugar skulls and are commonly used in Day of the Dead imagery.


– These are the altars that are used to put food, alcohol, soda and gifts for the dead. It is a long journey to the celebration, so the spirits are said to be famished by the time they arrive.

The Calavera Catrina Tattoo

The Calavera Catrina is an image that was created sometime between 1910 and 1913 as a broadside by Jose Guadalupe Posada. It was published in 1930 by Blas Vanegas Arroyo, Pablo O’Higgiafia and Frances Toor.

The image is satirical and draws attention to the influence of European culture on traditional Mexican culture. It is the referential image of Death in Mexico. Commonly incorporated into Day of the Dead celebrations, you will see this image as the source of ideas when it comes to handcrafts for the Day of the Dead.

There are many images and ideas that represent the Day of the Dead tattoos. It is up to you to decide on what image you want to get to represent the message you are trying to convey.

We hope that by reading this post you have a better idea of what the Day of the Dead tattoo represents and what the day means to the people that celebrate this special day. If you decide you’d like to move forward with this tattoo and you are not sure who to talk to or what artist to see, let us know.

This is the most important thing to keep in mind when getting your next tattoo. If you aren’t happy with your artist, the process won’t be as memorable as it should be and it might not end up how you would like it to look. Take your time in the research stage because you only get one shot at finding the right artist for you.

The team at Tattoo SEO has years of experience in matching customers to artists. We want your vision to come to life so let us help you find the artist that will do the job.

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