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When you’ve lost a loved one, finding a fitting way to memorialise them can feel tricky. How do you honour them in a way that feels most appropriate? Some might choose to have a tree planted in their memory. Others might have a plaque added to a bench in their favourite spot. And some choose to get a tattoo for someone who's passed away. 

A memorial tattoo can be healing way of honouring a loved one who’s passed away and keeping them close. It can also be an expression of grief that can help you feel connected with the person long after they’re gone. You can keep them close and hidden, just for yourself. Or you can wear them openly to start a conversation with others about your loved one and challenge the stigma of talking about someone who’s passed away.  

It’s a very personal thing.  

Choosing a design, artist and placement for your memorial tattoo can take a lot of thought. Hopefully our true stories and tips will help you decide on the right tribute tattoo to help you honour your loved one. 

From memories to ink: inspiring stories of memorial tattoos 

Katie’s memorial tattoo for her Dad 

Katie's memorial tattoo for her Dad with quote

“I got a tattoo for my Dad when he was first diagnosed as terminally ill. It’s our inside joke, in his writing. When I found out he was going to pass away I wanted something where I could keep his jokes and keep his humour with me at all times. It always makes me smile if I’m feeling down or low. I look down and see our little joke that nobody understands. No one knows what it means. But people don’t need to. It’s just mine and his thing.” 

Thanks to Katie for sharing her memorial tattoo with us. You can read more about how she said goodbye to her Dad in Katie’s story.  

Alicia’s memorial tattoos 

“Two of my memorial tattoos are for my Poppa. I took his writing from a notebook and scanned it in letter by letter to create a Vera Lynn quote - I also found a little line drawing of a teapot that he must have doodled while on the phone or something. I can picture him now doing it, it has put a smile on my face (And a little tear to my eye!). 

“The next one I had done was a little sunflower for my Step-Mum. I chose this as it was her favourite flower and she radiated pure joy, just like sunflowers do. I also sent her sunflowers and roses when she came out of hospital. This was also my flower of choice for a spray at her funeral.

“Lastly, I have a rose. This is for my Grandad. Roses are what we leave for my Grandad when we visit the crematorium. It is a flower I have always associated with him and every time I see a bunch, I have a little moment. 

“All my tattoos are small and personal to me. They keep reminders of my family close and offer comfort at unsuspecting moments in the day, when I catch a glimpse of them. Tattoos may not ‘heal’ you or end your grief - and they haven’t for me. But they bring the beautiful memories close to me when I need them.” 

Thanks to Alicia for sharing her tattoos in for her loved ones who've passed away. You can read more about how she helped arrange her grandfather’s funeral in Alicia’s story.  

Amber’s memorial tattoo for her Grandma  

Amber's tribute tattoo of a four-leafed clover for her Grandma

“When my Grandma died, I decided to get a four leaf clover tattoo to remember her by. My sister and I grew up with my grandma always finding four leaf clovers wherever she looked. She started collecting them and pressing them into a book - and became known for always being able to find them.  

“This tattoo was my first tattoo and it means so much to me to have a piece of my grandma with me. Not too long after I got my tattoo, a family friend turned some of my grandma’s clothes into a cushion for me, and added the detailing of the tattoo design.” 

Amber memorial cushion   Grandma

Thanks to Amber for sharing her story about remembering her Grandma with a memorial tattoo.  

Rebecca’s memorial tattoos in memory of her parents 

“One is for my Dad, died 24th October 2021. One is for my mum. Dad's says: You left me beautiful memories your love is still my guide and although I cannot see you you're always by my side. 

“Losing mum and dad in a week of each other was hard but my tattoos mean they will always be with me.” 

Thank you to Rebecca who shared her memorial tattoo story with us. 

Tips for creating personalised memorial tattoos

What size would you like your memorial tattoo to be? 

Think about what sized tattoo you’d be comfortable with. If you haven’t been tattooed before and your memorial tattoo is your first one, do you feel okay with it being a large piece that people might ask about? Or would you prefer to have a small memorial tattoo that can be subtly hidden away if you’re not ready to talk about it? Discussing this with your tattoo artist will also help you reach a decision. They’ll be able to advise on whether the design could have more detail in it if it’s larger or if the piece can be edited or adapted to be smaller.  

What about placement? 

The size and the shape of the design will also help you decide where to put it. If it’s a large piece perhaps it could fit nicely onto your arm or leg? Or could it be placed on your back or your shoulder? If you have other tattoos, then you might want to think about how the memorial tattoo will fit amongst the others. You can speak with your tattoo artist about this too, so you get the placement right. They’ll be able to advise you on whether they think the design will fit with a natural flow and if they think that where you want to place it might not work. Before any tattooing begins, your tattoo artist will also place a stencil of the design on your skin. That way, you can see the exact placement before your artist gets to work. 

Tattoo flash or custom design? 

Some tattoo artists create flash sheets. This means that they have pre-drawn designs in their studio that can be used again and again. So it’s possible that more than one person has the same tattoo. This can be a good option if you have a small memorial tattoo design in mind and have already found a piece that closely fits with your idea.  

But if you have a larger design in mind or something that is very specific, then you could think about approaching a tattoo artist and asking about their custom work. A lot of tattoo artists will offer custom work, where you’ll have a consultation about the design you have in mind, as well as the placement and size. The more detail and references you can give them the better. Then they’ll draw you a custom piece that you can see at their studio to make sure you’re happy with it before getting it tattooed. This can be adjusted if there are small details that need to be changed. That way, it’s completely unique to you. 

Tattoo artist with black gloves on tattooing a person's arm

What tattoo style do you like most? 

From traditional (old school) designs, to flowing Japanese styles, realistic portraits, and striking blackwork, there’s a lot to choose from. Taking your time to explore different styles and see what strikes a chord will help you land on a style that you love and that you feel comfortable having on you forever. A lot of artists will post their work on social media platforms like Instagram or Pinterest, so these are often a good place to start. 

Which tattoo artist do you resonate with? 

Figuring out the tattoo style you like will help you narrow down your search for an artist that works in that style. Again, social media is a good way of narrowing down your search. But it can also help to order some tattoo books that feature tattoos in the style you prefer too. It may take some time to find a tattoo artist whose work you know is the right fit but when you find one you love, you’ll be able to honour your loved one in the way you’d really like. 

What’s your budget? 

The bigger and more detailed the memorial tattoo, the more expensive it will be. For custom work tattoo artists will generally ask for a deposit, and charge by the hour. The amount they charge can vary a lot so it’s worth checking their rates before committing to a consultation. When you want a larger custom piece too this may run over more than one session. So keep in mind that you may need to pay in advance. Flash tattoos tend to be done in one sitting as they’re generally smaller pieces so you may not need to pay a deposit in this case.

How do you personalise your memorial tattoo? 

There are a huge number of memorial tattoo ideas out there, from traditional roses, to quotes, and signatures of loved ones who’ve passed away. But the only real way to make it special is to create something that’s personal to you and the relationship you had with the person who’s passed. Think about some of your favourite memories with them. What does that look like? Where were you? What were you surrounded by? Music? Nature? Food? The real joy in getting a memorial tattoo is creating something that will remind you specifically of a moment with them whenever you see it, even if it means nothing to anyone else.

Image by Isra CGU on Unsplash