150+ Ghoulish Grim Reaper Tattoos You’ll Be Dying to Get

The grim reaper is a character deeply rooted in mythologies to be the personification of death. Most commonly seen to be a hooded figure with a scythe, the character has been popular in media for centuries. It is often used recently movies, novels or music. Examples of such include “The Book Thief”and songs such as “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”.

With how popular this image has become to the public, it’s no wonder that so many people are starting to grim reaper tattoos. These are no longer seen as a gothic design to get. Instead, the meaning of this tattoo has moved away from being scary and dark, but rather shows the lack of fear for death and acceptance of its inevitability.

Because of this, a grim reaper tattoo would greatly suit anyone who has a fearless or adventurous side to them. Do you like living life on the edge?

If you feel like getting one, you’d be joining celebrities such as Alexis Krauss or Jemima Kurke!


Origins of the Grim Reaper

The history of the grim reaper can be traced back to the 14th century- among the times of the Black Plague- where Europe experienced one of its worst pandemics, resulting in approximately 75 million deaths. With such bleak times, it isn’t shocking that death was on their minds.

Of course, like most mythologies, there are also heavy links to Greek stories. One suggestion is Thanatos and Hypnos, the Gods of death and sleep.

The Greek view of this shows an era where death was not feared, but accepted as a natural process- entering a peaceful yet permanent sleep. Such stories may have moulded our view on death today.

Possibly the most promiment Greek influence, however, is the God, ‘Chronos’, who ruled over time.

The legends say that ‘Father Time’ (or Chronos) was a Titan which would consume all, including the past and the future. In early depictions of Chronos, he was always seen holding a scythe alongside a crying baby, to symbolise this destruction. Examples of this include Chronos and his Child by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli

From these early paintings of Chronos, we can, therefore, see how we have come to develop our modern-day image of Death, scythe and all. His tool was used to harvest souls, alike to how a farmer uses it to harvest wheat. The grim reaper collects the souls from people moving on to the next realm.
The black cloak is a more modern edition, stemming from our traditions of wearing black for mourning.

Also See: 61 Rebel Flag Tattoo Ideas for Men and Women

The Best Grim Reaper Designs

Traditional style tattoo designs are often used for showing the grim reaper, fitting with the older origins of the reaper. Typically, in a traditional tattoo, this would feature much bolder outlining, a more cartoonish style and bright block colours of reds, black and yellows, with fewer details on shading. These are great ways to make your tattoo really stand out.

A cool way to really differentiate your tattoo could be to make it a more humourous design. The Hawaii grim reaper shown below is a great example of this.

These are a great way to ease the tension of death, too!

Blackwork tattoos

If you want your tattoo to fit more with stereotypical ideas of death, then a blackwork tattoo may be better suited to you. This is where the tattoo is instead purely monochrome and has crisper lines to give you more detail.

Blackwork tattoos are especially good for drawing attention to the image and making it clear of what it is. If you want attention from your new tattoo, then this would be a good style for you.


Other ways to mix up your design could be to instead add other elements to the tattoo. This can be seen with the cute bats and hourglass, further showing that idea of time running out.

Other things you could include are: the book of death, skulls, forestry/dead trees, the moon, a pocket watch, graveyards and tombstones, roses, smoke- the possibilities are endless!

This tattoo features dot-work pointillism as well, rather than shading. It’s a great way to add depth to the tattoo, without having heavy shading and keeping it light.

A Female Grim Reaper

Another interesting take on this could be to combine traditional subjects of tattoos, such as a love for pin-up girls and skeletons, to create a female grim reaper.

These are a stunning way to make your tattoo of death look less intimidating and more sexy and fun. It’d also be an awesome design for a lady, too. Here, you can keep your tattoos of a lighter-hearted nature, and so could fit with more pretty designs, such as flowers.



If you prefer higher detail in your tattoos, then realism is the style for you.
This will allow your tattoo to look photo realistic and really push your artist’s talents to the limits. Typically, these are either in black and grey, or full colour.

One great thing about realism tattoos is that with the shading, they’re perfect for you to add to in the future. The tattoos can be faded into each other through shading, without having to worry about harsh lines.

They also look amazing if you want to really give off that spookily eery vibe that the grim reaper once had.


The most common place for this tattoo tends to be along the arms, shoulders, or legs, but as you can see from the back above, the placements are really endless. Of course, this would all depend on how big or small you are willing for your design to be.

If you’re wanting your design to be smaller- which is recommended for people with a low pain tolerance or a first tattoo- then the lower arm or calf is a great place to get inked. However, if your art can’t be visible for work or other commitments, the thigh, belly or upper arm is a good alternative to these.

If you’ve got no fear over needles, the back or chest are great sections of skin to get covered. Your design can include lots more details here, that a smaller design wouldn’t fit.

One really popular placement that has been growing in the last few years is the jaw design on the back of the hand. This gives an interactive tattoo that when placed above the wearers mouth, gives them the appearance of death, themselves. You might have spotted these on the internet recently, yourself!

The best tip for this would be to consider how your design will fit the space, to make it flow with your natural curves. For example, if you want a large arm design that will wrap a lot into the inner arm, it may be better to have it on a larger area, so that it could all be seen at the same time.

Your artist will have a trainer eye for this, so don’t worry too much if you can’t decide yourself!

Adding script to designs

A timeless way to diversify your tattoo could be to add text to the image. This could be a line of script from your favourite book, song lyrics, a movie catchphrase or even a person anecdote summed into a funny phrase. Of course, bare in mind you’ll always have people asking what your cool new tattoo says!

A few common examples are:

  • ”Death awaits”
  • ”The only thing certain in life is death”
  • ”So it goes”
  • ”Still breathing” (especially well suited to survivors)

Check out some of our examples below for further inspiration.



Preparing for your tattoo

When getting a tattoo, you need to remember that the needles are essentially creating an open wound on your body. You need to care for it as you would if you’d just had surgery.

Make sure that you don’t have any alcohol or blood thinning medicine the night before (if you can avoid them). Also, tell your shop beforehand if you have any conditions which could possibly interfere with the process. If you work in an environment where the tattoo could be exposed to dirt, consider taking time off. For example, if you work on a construction site, this dust could cause damage to the piece if it sticks. Otherwise, try getting medical wrap for it to keep this out.

Bare in mind that failing to look after it will impact how it looks in the future!

On the Day Preparation

On the day, ensure that you have something to eat and drink and grab something sugary to take with you. This will reduce the risk of you feeling faint, due to the amount of adrenaline during he process.

If you need to stop at any time then tell the artist instead of waiting. Your comfort should be their main priority.

If you ever feel unsure of  it at any point, you can talk to your artist or leave the shop if you feel uncomfortable. Another artist will always be able to pick up where they left off. This is most important if the shop looks unsanitary to you.

All shops and collectors have different approaches to aftercare, as there’s no ‘one size fits all’ model to this. Generally, it’d be best to keep it wrapped for the first 24 hours and to clean it regularly after that. After your first tattoo you’ll know which cream suits you best. Apply some to keep the tattoo moist, but not wet.

NEVER pick at a tattoo scab, as you will pull away some of the ink and leave it looking patchy.

Final Tattoo Thoughts

We hope you found some inspiration in this article for your next ink!

However, when getting a tattoo, there is more than just the design and placement to consider. Here, I’m going to briefly touch on other elements here that you need to think of.

Besides the regular questions of “have you considered the tattoos effect on your employment rates?” and “will you like it long term?”, it’s important to also think about the actual shop and artist you are going to get your art from.

For example, if you go to a cheaper shop, you may run the risk of not getting the best quality tattoo that you could. Especially if a cheaper shop cuts corners which could lead you to get an infection, costing your health in the future.

Generally, these shops charge price by the time they’ll spend on the piece and so more time = more effort and detail.

To find out if your artist is the one you want to trust with your body, make sure to check out their images of previous clients. Nowadays, most tattoo artists will have an Instagram account you can follow to see their work.

To be even safer, search their name and shop on Google and Facebook, to see if any bad reviews have been left. Sites like these don’t let the shops remove any reviews at all, so worse work can’t be hidden. You can then see the full picture of what your experience with them could be like.

Abigail Browning

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