Cross tattoos need little introduction. Representing deep religious faith and adherence to Christian values, they’re a great way to express your spiritual beliefs.
In this article, we’ll suggest some of the best cross tattoo ideas – from simple and minimalist to large, elaborate designs.
Meanwhile, in the gallery below, you’ll find tons of great examples of cross tattoos for men and women alike.
Cross tattoo designs
The cross is universally recognized as the most important symbol of the Christian faith. It represents Jesus’ sacrifice for the sake of humanity.
For such a visually simple symbol, there is an astonishing amount of different ways to depict it in tattoo art. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most popular choices and themes.
Simple cross tattoo
Let’s start with the basics: minimalistic cross designs.
The cross is such a ubiquitous symbol that even the simplest rendition will do the job of conveying the full meaning.
At its simplest, a cross design can simply consist of two thin, black lines.
This is a great choice of design for those wishing to keep the tattoo private or at least discreet. A simple cross based tattoo can be placed just about anywhere on the body, including areas that are easy to conceal.
For example, it can fit behind the ear – if you have long hair, it will be easy to expose or hide it at will.
Naturally, it’s possible to get a colored simple cross tattoo. However, the vast majority of tattoos following this theme consist of black ink only. Using black lines adds to the elegance and simplicity of the design.
Celtic cross tattoo
The Celtic cross is a somewhat more elaborate take on the age-old symbol.
It usually involves adding a circle around the point where the two lines meet. Celtic crosses are also typically adorned with patterns similar to those of the Celtic Knot.
The distinctive Celtic Knot is unique in that the lines forming the pattern have no visible beginning or end. Applying the same pattern to the cross underlines the eternal nature of faith.
As the name implies, the Celtic cross is a variation of the symbol which originates in Ireland and the British Isles overall.
It is therefore a common choice of tattoo for Irish people of a Christian faith. It’s also one of the most popular cross tattoos for guys in general.
A sleeve tattoo extends from the shoulder to the wrist, wrapping all the way around the arm. A half sleeve, meanwhile, covers half of the arm – either from shoulder to elbow or from elbow to wrist.
Of course, a cross design alone won’t have sufficient coverage to make for a full sleeve. Even a half sleeve cross tattoo will require some additional elements.
Floral themes are common ‘fillers’ for cross sleeve tattoos. Roses, vines, or leaves will all work great as a background for the cross.
Depending on the style of the design and the amount of detail, sleeve tattoos can take a very long time to complete. They’re quite complex to design and size correctly and require several appointments spread out over a few weeks at least.
For this reason, it’s a common practice to start with tattooing a half sleeve, with some idea of what the other half will depict.
This way, you can complete the half sleeve, give it time to heal properly, and then extend the tattoo to the rest of your arm when you’re ready.
Wooden cross tattoo
Another variation of the symbol of the cross in popular tattoo art involves depicting the image of a wooden cross. Wooden cross designs are often a direct reference to faith.
According to Christian belief, the cross on which Jesus died had been a wooden one.
It’s possible to achieve varying degrees of realism with this kind of design, depending on how you want the finished tattoo to look.
3D wooden cross ink work will be the most realistic, as this style aims to create the illusion of depth and photographic accuracy.
3D tattoos are typically the most challenging from a tattoo artist’s perspective. Luckily, even the most realistic cross tattoo will still be relatively simple, so most experienced tattooists shouldn’t have a problem taking on the design.
Stone cross tattoo
Designs depicting stone crosses, resembling those often seen at the cemetery, are typically remembrance tattoos. Remembrance (or memorial) tattoos are a way to honor and remember a lost loved one.
Just like wooden crosses, these can be rendered in a realistic manner or in a more traditional style.
Metal cross tattoo
Metal crosses in tattoos are often – though of course not always – military references.
The crosses in these designs are usually more elaborate or decorative than stone or wooden ones.
This allows for adding more shading and highlights to imitate the way in which metal catches and reflects light.
Because they usually have at least a moderate 3D effect, metal cross tattoos will look their best at a small-medium size at a minimum.
Cross and rose tattoo
Specifically, red roses are the most common choice. The vibrant color creates an interesting contrast with a black or gray cross, bringing the tattoo to life. This is a great choice for medium designs, such as forearm tattoos or cross shoulder tattoos.
Interestingly, roses also have a place in Christian symbolism, so they share a common theme with the cross. Because many cultures see them as the most beautiful of all flowers, they became associated with the Virgin Mary.
In Christian art, a number of saints can be seen wearing a wreath of roses. Meanwhile, the rose’s thorny stems bring to mind the crown of thorns worn by Jesus.
In tattoo art, roses are most commonly depicted in the traditional style. The bold black outline is colored without much shading, using a limited palette.
Roses also lend themselves extremely well to the 3D style. Unlike simple flowers, such as daisies or dandelions, roses have a lot of depth that can be used to create an illusion of realism in a design.
One thing to keep in mind though, when combining 3D red roses with a cross, is that the roses will likely dominate the design. Because realistic rose art is so eye-catching and vibrant, the simple symbol of the cross can go unnoticed.
This combination is therefore a good idea if you don’t mind the cross being a little more concealed within the design.
Cross with wings
In Christian symbolism, wings represent angels, the ascension into heaven, and the idea of a higher power. Also, they evoke the idea of the Holy Spirit – usually depicted as a white dove.
Adding a pair of wings to a cross tattoo will – just like with the roses – create a unified theme of Christianity and spirituality.
For larger tattoos, you could consider a back piece with a cross in the middle and angel’s wings on either shoulder. Smaller designs usually involve a pair of white dove’s wings above or on either side of the cross.
Jesus tattoos on the cross
If you’re looking for a more elaborate design and a direct expression of your faith, consider a tattoo depicting Jesus on the cross.
The most popular way to approach this idea is a design resembling statues of Jesus on the cross – the kind you’ll see behind the altar in a church.
These designs look best in grayscale, as they stand out more against the tone of the skin.
An important consideration to keep in mind is that tattooing faces, and human forms in general, with any level of realism is notoriously difficult.
For this reason, make sure you choose a tattoo artist with plenty of experience in 3D tattoos, preferably with some portrait work in their portfolio.
Also, expect the finished tattoo to be relatively large. The back is the preferred placement for this kind of design, as it gives the largest flat surface area. Depending on the amount of detail involved, it may take several appointments to complete the tattoo.
The rosary is a string of beads resembling a necklace, usually with an added cross. It is used in prayer, for keeping count of how many times each Hail Mary was repeated. Roman Catholic rosaries include either 55 or 165 beads, made of various materials.
In a tattoo design, the rosary could be wrapped around the cross, or hanging from the top of the cross.
Alternatively, some people opt for a rosary tattoo that looks like a necklace – wrapping around their neck, with the cross centerpiece ‘resting’ on the chest. This idea also works well as a bracelet-like tattoo.
Cross with writing
To further personalize your cross tattoo, consider adding a quotation, a name, or any other form of writing to the design. Names commonly appear on cross memorial tattoos, honoring a loved one who has passed.
A meaningful quotation from the Bible, for instance, can help the design to fully express your beliefs and your approach to faith.
There are many ways to integrate writing into a cross design, keeping balance in mind. Simply placing the writing on the cross or below it is a good solution, especially if you can choose a font that matches the style of the cross.
For example, minimalist, delicate cross tattoos will look best accompanied by lightweight fonts, such as handwriting or italics. Meanwhile, gothic or bold fonts will suit ‘heavier’ looking crosses.
Matching cross tattoos
Small cross tattoos are a good choice for couples sharing the same faith.
When choosing matching tattoo designs, it’s usually best to stick to simple ideas. This way, it’ll be easier to make sure that both tattoos look exactly the same when finished. The more detailed or colorful the design, the higher the risk that the tattoos will look slightly different or age differently.
Examples of cross tattoos
This design is interesting in that it looks a lot like a rosary, except with fewer beads – just enough to allow the chain to wrap around the ankle.
Note that the ornate cross is placed on the flattest part of the top of the foot. Flat surfaces on the body are usually better placements for tattoos, as wrapping the tattoo around a curve can distort the design.
Even sleeves – where wrap-around is unavoidable – are usually designed in a way that places larger elements on flatter spaces.
The combination of the cross and the rose in this design makes sense on two levels. Firstly, as we’ve already seen, the rose has a symbolic meaning in the Christian faith, just like the cross.
Secondly, the cross in this tattoo is a Celtic one. Interestingly, roses also have symbolic significance in the Irish culture. Wild roses, in particular, represent strong, independent Irish women.
This design is also an example of seamlessly combining these two elements. The rose wraps around the cross in a realistic way, rather than being simply placed alongside it as a separate element.
This design is a brilliant example of seamlessly combining the symbol of the cross with writing. Just like with the rose in the previous image, here, the writing appears directly on the cross in a natural way.
The cross appears to be made of stone, and the writing is carved into it, rather than appearing below or next to the cross.
The Latin phrases appearing in this design are also highly meaningful, with a long history in culture, faith, and literature. They’re ancient maxims, or statements expressing a universal truth or a way to live.
Nosce te ipsum means ‘know thyself’, a phrase interpreted in various ways by different philosophers and writers. Typically, it means self-awareness, self-acceptance, and understanding your worth and your limit.
Carpe diem, meanwhile, means ‘seize the day’. It’s a reminder to live in the present, appreciate each moment, and make the most of your life while you can.
Another writing tattoo, this one is an example of a clever way to incorporate lots of text into a design. It features a lengthy quote from the Bible that likely has a special significance to the person.
By arranging the text into this shape, the artist included the symbol of the cross in the design without actually depicting one. The use of a handwritten font adds to the personal nature of the design.
It also keeps the tattoo light and delicate, despite the large surface area it covers.
With this design, the artist found a way to make a very simple shape more interesting and elaborate. The 3D perspective makes it look as if a cross-shaped piece of flesh is missing from the person’s shoulder, implying that faith is an integral element in feeling complete and fulfilled.
The ‘cracks’ added by the artist further complicate the design. They make for an additional opportunity to introduce 3D elements and enhance the perceived depth of the tattoo.
This design effectively combines the creative techniques from the two previous examples.
The artist created a perspective that suggests a cross-shaped piece of skin is missing. Underneath, we can see words from scripture – Romans 8:38-39, as the second written element informs us.
The font and spacing used for the writing within the cross shape resembles print. This aids in creating the illusion that we’re looking at pages from the Bible.
These small crosses on the middle finger make for subtle, delicate tattoos that don’t immediately stand out. The addition of the gems on either side makes it look as if the person is wearing a set of rings.
The larger cross includes an astonishing amount of detail for such a tiny tattoo. This has partly been achieved through the use of dotwork – rather than using traditional shading, the artist tattooed a series of dots. The artist spaced them out in such a way that they resemble fading lines.
If you’re considering a very small tattoo with a relatively large amount of detail, make sure to see an experienced tattoo artist. It takes a lot of expertise to know just how intricate a small tattoo may be.
A mistake at this stage could lead to the tattoo not ageing very well and the details being lost or blurry within a couple of years.
Here again, the artist took a creative approach and designed a cross tattoo that doesn’t actually depict a physical cross.
Instead, we’re getting a cross-shaped ‘view’ at a complex scene, confined within the lines of the symbol. The grayscale scene appears to involve flowers and other floral elements (such as leaves), as well as skulls.
The eye within the triangle above the cross is likely a representation of the Eye of Providence. This is a ubiquitous symbol that appears, among other places, on the Great Seal of the United States, found on the one-dollar bill.
The Eye of Providence represents God watching over humanity. Typically, this symbol involves a triangle that points upwards. The fact that it points downwards in this design is probably just an aesthetic preference – the symbol’s meaning doesn’t change.