How to Design a Tasteful Memorial Tattoo

girl with wet hair near a body of water, with tattoos on both arms

 Photo by Estela Shaddix on Unsplash

It's a painful experience when someone close to us passes away, and often we're overcome with a desire to do something to memorialize that person. Many people choose tattoos. It's a great way to honor someone that you've lost and to keep them close with you forever. Still, choosing the right design for a memorial tattoo can be a lot more difficult than choosing one for personal enjoyment.

Admittedly, it's best to wait until you have given yourself time to grieve and mourn your loved one before you make any decision about getting a tattoo. Making a permanent decision when your emotions are particularly high is rarely a good idea, and the last thing you want is something that reminds you of them in the moment, but you don't associate with their legacy. A memorial tattoo should reflect the personality and interests of the person you are memorializing, but it also does have to be something that you will be proud to wear on your own skin.

A Unique Tattoo for a Unique Person

Typical memorial symbols like roses, crosses, and ribbons with the birth and death dates of the person can also be included in your design, but alone, they're not particularly unique or imaginative. If they were religious, or you are, religious symbols are a great idea—again, just don't get anything that really has nothing to do with them.

Think about this person as an individual first and foremost. Did they have any particular interests or hobbies? Almost everyone does. What stood out about them as a person? Maybe they rode a motorcycle, collected stamps, loved Bruce Springsteen or had a penchant for cooking. If you can think of something that represents what made them unique and special to you, that’s a good place to start. Search for imagery that represents them.

You should also consider how that person affected your life personally, and why they were special to you. If there was something in particular that bonded you together, is there an image that comes to mind that could be incorporated into the tattoo? If you enjoyed playing pool together, shared a love for crocheting, or liked hanging out at karaoke bars together, these things all conjure up images that could be included in a tattoo design.

Memorializing a Child

There probably isn't anything more painful than losing a child, no matter at what age. If the child was too young to have developed particular interests, there may not be any specific images that come to mind. A portrait of the child could be appropriate, as long as it won't cause intense sorrow when you see the tattoo. Angels, halos, and angel wings are also popular for child tattoos. Draw on how they made you feel more than anything—there's a bond only you shared with them, and that will help guide you.

Memorializing a Pet

Losing a pet can be like losing a member of your family, but it's often hard to capture a pet's essence in one image. Often, portrait tattoos are your best bet for pets, just make sure you get a good artist. You could also get a smaller tattoo that represents their species as a whole, but isn't necessarily as photorealistic or intensive as a portrait. Other pet-related tattoo ideas that are popular include paw prints and dog bones.

When You Didn't Personally Know Them

If you’re getting a memorial tattoo for someone you didn’t know personally, like a favorite musician or something to symbolize the many lives lost in a tragedy, it presents a special kind of challenge. You want to honor what that person (or those people) meant to you. Think about what best depicts that person in a positive light, or the tragedy in a way that would be considered honorable to others who would have been affected by the same situation.

Whatever design you come up with, the final decision is yours, as you're the one that will have it forever. Still, if you've taken the time to honor the person right, the tattoo will bring fond memories and honor them until you leave this world yourself.

  • Can you use cremation ashes in a memorial tattoo?

    Yes. Your tattoo artist will mix a small amount of cremation ashes with regular tattoo ink to create the customized memorial ink. However, it's important to find a skilled tattoo artist who is experienced with these types of tattoos to try to minimize any risk of infection. Cremation tattoos have not been extensively studied for safety, and the FDA does not typically regulate tattoo ink, so you should also speak with a healthcare professional to discuss any safety concerns before getting your tattoo.

  • How much does a memorial tattoo cost?

    For something small and simple, the price may range from $50 to $200. If you decide to use cremation ashes in your tattoo, costs may be higher (potentially starting at $200). The cost will vary, of course, depending on the design, tattoo artist, ink, etc.

  • What's the least painful spot to get a tattoo?

    Areas of the body where there is more fat and muscle and fewer nerves will likely be the least painful. For example, getting a tattoo on the back of the leg or arm will not likely be as painful as, say, the ribs or hands.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tattoos & permanent makeup: fact sheet. Updated March 15, 2022.

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