Need some angel tattoo ideas? Check out our favorite designs in our latest tattoo guide.
Angel designs are powerful symbols with religious and spiritual connotations.
In this article, we’re going to look at the possible meanings expressed by an angel tattoo, as well as covering some of the history of angels in culture and religion.
Don’t forget to check our gallery below, featuring pictures of angel art work to inspire and guide you as you plan your design.
Meaning of angel tattoos
Angels, in general, are representative of the following ideas:
- Faith – as widely known symbols for some religions – Christianity in particular – angel art might indicate a deep religious faith.
- Goodness – angels are good, benevolent beings by default, so an angel based tattoo can symbolize the importance of being virtuous.
- Death and afterlife – angels, in most religions, exist in the afterlife – with some stories going as far as claiming that good people become angels after death, or at least join the angels in heaven. For this reason, it might symbolize the concept of death or afterlife, or be more specific – for instance, a reference to a close friend or family member who has died.
- A message from the gods – angels in scripture are usually featured as messengers between the divine (for instance, the Christian god) and humans, able to cross from the divine realm into our world and the other way around.
That being said, these are very general symbolic meanings of angels. The specific meaning of each angel design idea will, of course, depend on the personal intent of each person.
To better understand the meaning of angels as a symbol, it’s important to look at their significance in religion and culture.
Angels and religion
When most people think of angels, the first association that comes to mind is that of religion.
Angels are supernatural beings, usually represented as humans with a pair of large, white wings attached to their backs.
They appear most prominently in Abrahamic religions – with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam being the main, though not the only, faiths.
Religiously motivated angel tattoo designs sometimes include other religious symbolism or verses of scripture.
Angels in Judaism
In simple terms, angels fulfill the role of the messengers of God in Judaism. Initially, both humans and supernatural beings could be referred to as the messengers.
In later phases of the development of the faith, angels became more personalized. Certain angels took on specific roles, with archangels fulfilling the most important duties.
For instance, Metatron serves as a scribe and Michael as a warrior and advocate for Israel.
In the context of Kabbalah, meanwhile, angels are representations of tasks – each has a task to fulfill, and ceases to exist once the task has been completed.
Angels in Christianity
In Christianity, angels are also considered to be messengers. They are also organized into a hierarchy and a system of ranks.
Angels appear at pivotal moments in many of the stories included in the Bible, such as the angel Gabriel being sent by god to deliver a message to Mary.
Angels in Islam
In Islam, angels are again primarily messengers. They have other tasks, too – such as recording the actions of every person throughout their lives and collecting a departed person’s soul.
According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad encountered several angels during his journey through the heavens.
In many Abrahamic religions, there is the concept of a guardian angel – and many angel designs derive their meaning from this idea.
A guardian angel, the belief goes, is an angel assigned to each person at birth. The angel is there to spiritually guide and protect the person throughout their life, and then deliver them to heaven upon death.
An angel-themed tattoo can be a reference to the belief in supernatural, spiritual guidance. As the name suggests, the guardian angel tattoo serves as a metaphorical means of guidance and protection during a person’s time on earth.
Cherubs are among the highest-ranking angels in some Abrahamic religions – in Christianity, they represent the second most important rank. They are believed to attend directly to god, rather than acting as messengers.
Modern depictions of cherubs usually involve small, plump, winged boys. This is because the idea of cherubs became associated with putto – a figure in art, particularly painting and sculpture – and the Greco-Roman god Cupid (or Eros).
In Baroque art, putto became symbols of the omnipresence of god – of his being everywhere at the same time, not limited to a physical location.
In general, though, cherubs have much the same meaning as angels, despite being depicted in a different way.
A cherub tattoo can therefore just be a different stylistic take on an angel tattoo.
Cherubs and love
That being said, however, cherubs are sometimes used in modern Western art and culture as representations of love – particularly on Valentine’s day.
This association reaches back to what we’ve already mentioned about cherubs becoming connected with Pluto and Cupid.
Cupid was the Ancient Roman god of love – known as Eros in Greek mythology – believed to have the power of making people fall in love.
Cupid carried a bow, and anyone struck with his arrow become enamored. Hence, these beliefs have conflated over the centuries to result in today’s Valentine’s day cupids, or cherubs.
A cherub tattoo, particularly one where the little angel is holding a bow with an arrow, can mean romance, falling in love, or having a romantic nature.
Incidentally, the popular image of a heart with an arrow piercing through it – a common symbol of love – is a reference to the Cupid’s arrow, too!
Angels in culture
Culturally, angels appear as guardians and protectors. They are commonly associated with virtue and goodness. For this reason, particularly good, helpful, kind, patient people are sometimes referred to as ‘an angel’.
Angel body art, therefore, can symbolize the importance of these values – of being kind and understanding to all beings. Even small angel tattoos can serve as a reminder to be good to others.
A sad angel, in this context, is an image sometimes used to represent the overwhelming evil and unpleasantness still present in our world. Though most of us try to be decent most of the time, there’s still a lot of suffering and injustice in the world.
Sad angel designs can mean a reminder that the world is not as good a place as it could be, potentially implying that we should all strive to make it a better place.
Angels and the afterlife
Some angel tattoos refer to the belief that after death, a person who has lived a good life will become an angel. Another version of this belief is that the person will join the angels in heaven, not necessarily as one of them.
Angel based designs in memory of a loved one are therefore a common choice. They serve as a reminder of the person’s kindness and nature. Another meaning is to express the hope that even though the person is not with us anymore, they are in a better, happier place.
Tattoos of angels that are meant to represent a loved one often feature their name, and/or their date of birth or death.
Angel tattoo designs
3D angel designs
The 3D style of tattooing takes an image – usually a photograph – as a point of reference. The artist then uses careful shading to create a photo-realistic tattoo, ideally with an illusion of true depth.
Naturally, it’s impossible to use a photograph of an actual angel as a reference. The most common choice is a photo of a stone statue of an angel, resulting in a grayscale tattoo.
An image of a person can also be used, with the wings being added either from another reference point or from the artist’s imagination.
3D tattoos usually need a fair amount of space to be rendered accurately, so it’s best to designate a large enough area of the body for this design. The back, chest, arms, stomach, or legs will work just fine.
3D angel tattoos are tough to get right – and look rather odd and distorted if gotten wrong.
For this reason, it’s particularly important to be careful when choosing the right artist for your tattoo.
If possible, choose someone with proven experience in the 3D style, particularly in rendering faces.
Simple angel tattoos
At the other end of the spectrum from the highly complex, intricate 3D designs there are minimalistic, simple designs.
A simple angel-themed tattoo could be just an outline of the figure of an angel, with or without fill.
A skilled artist will be able to come up with a design that’s both minimal and still immediately recognizable as an angel.
Another option when looking for small designs is getting creative with what’s included in the tattoo.
A small pair of wings, for instance, can be enough to represent the idea of an angel without having to include a depiction of the entire figure.
Angel tattoos on the back
Something of a classic in angel-themed tattoo art, this design involves a large back piece, with the angel’s wings extending down a person’s own back and sides.
The human figure of the angel – optional in this design, as many people opt for the wings only – is placed in the middle of the back, mid-way down the spine or between the shoulder blades.
The large, white or gray wings are then tattooed symmetrically on either side, sometimes extending all the way down to the person’s waist.
This is one of the top choices of angel tattoos for men, although the design is increasingly popular with women, too.
A heart is sometimes added to the design, in place of the angel’s figure – so the wings appear to grow out of the shape of the heart.
Angel and demon tattoo
A design combining both angelic and demonic elements can represent the duality of human nature. Many people believe that none of us are exclusively good or bad – rather, that we all have a bit of both worlds inside us.
An angel and demon tattoo, therefore, expresses acceptance for the varied nature of our personalities.
A common way to depict this combination of ideas is a design with an odd pair of wings – one of an angel, one of a demon. This might be a large back tattoo, like the wing back tattoos described above, or a smaller, more symbolic design – with the wings tattooed on both wrists, for instance, or the outsides of both ankles.
While an angel’s wings are feathered and usually white or light-grey, a demon’s wings in tattoos are usually covered in black feathers for contrast. Featherless, leathery wings, like a bat’s, are another common choice.
Gothic angel tattoos
For a darker, more sinister look, consider a gothic angel tattoo. Angels have a long-standing place in the gothic aesthetic, either as sympathetic figures or as the harbingers of death.
A more gothic look is achieved through the increased use of black ink. The wings of the angels can be black, for instance, or the background can be rendered darker to change the mood of the whole design.
Gothic angels are also sometimes depicted with a scythe, a sword, dagger, or another weapon.
Angel warrior tattoos
Angel warriors, distinguished by their plate armor and weapons – usually a sword – can have several meanings. They might be intended as a representation of the concept of the guardian angel.
They can also refer to the idea of the righteous warrior – of fighting for one’s values and standing ground on what we believe is the right thing to do. This can also have a religious inflection – of being an active defender of one’s faith and beliefs.
Cherub angel tattoo
Cherub designs have a more light-hearted, ‘cute’ feel than conventional depictions of angels. Cherubs, as we’ve already touched on, are usually drawn as small, chubby, friendly boys with little wings.
They may hold objects in their hands, such as harps, trumpets, and other musical instruments.
A cherub with a bow and arrow is usually supposed to represent the modern take on the Cupid – symbolizing romantic love.
No two angel ideas are the same, with so many design options and ideas available. Angel themed tattoos offer huge scope for creativity, with a whole range of ideas that can be expressed and visual effects to be achieved.
We’ve gathered a huge collection of angel tattoo designs below – let us know your favorites in the comments!