Before getting tattoo – even a classic one, like a rose design – it’s good to do a bit of research and find out what potential symbolic meanings your future body art might have.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about the meaning of rose tattoos, including specific rose colors, and some great ideas for rose tattoos for women and men.
Rose tattoo meaning
Very broadly, roses in tattoos usually mean love, honor, beauty, balance, intrigue, or timelessness. Often, they are used purely as decorative elements – after all, not every tattoo needs to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes, however, they are an intentionally symbolic element of a design.
Nowadays, roses are mostly symbolic of the expression of romantic love – and this association is anything but new. Already in Greek mythology, the rose was the flower of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She was often depicted with rose thorns around her head.
According to myth, after Aphrodite’s lover, Adonis, was killed, a rose bush grew out of the pool of his blood. This legend helps to solidify the connection between red roses and the notion of eternal love – joining the lovers until death and beyond.
Getting a rose tattoo – particularly one of a single red rose – is a popular way of expressing romantic love. If you want to honor your relationship and express your undying love for your significant other, this is one of the best ways to do so. Consider adding the name of your partner to the design to make it even more personal.
A rose tattoo meant to commemorate romantic love has another level of meaning – the idea of your love being eternal is underlined by the permanent nature of the tattoo itself.
Thanks to a couple of Roman customs, roses are sometimes symbolic of secrets, loyalty, and tacit understanding. Ancient Romans used to hang roses above meeting tables to indicate that anything said at the table will not be repeated and will remain a secret.
Similarly, roses were placed on doors to convey the message that a private conversation was going on inside the room – one that should not be overheard or interrupted.
Recommended Next: Don’t miss our guide to octopus tattoos next!
The phrase sub rosa, still used today, derives from these customs – it literally translates to ‘under the rose’, and means sharing and keeping a secret.
A rose tattoo, then, can be symbolic of trustworthiness, honor, and loyalty – a suggestion that you keep your word and remain faithful to the promises you make and secrets you keep.
The rose’s association with balance is mostly grounded in Tarot cards and the occult. Some people believe that with the aid of Tarot cards, divination is possible – that is to say, predicting the future and/or gaining a better, deeper understanding of the present.
The idea of balance derives from the structure of the rose flower. The petals are symbolic of hope and new beginnings, which is in contrast with the defense and loss associated with the thorns.
In traditional Tarot design, the rose appears in the Magician, Death, Fool, and Strength cards – which are all associated with the meanings of balance and equilibrium.
Recommended Reading: Curious about Aztec tattoos? Don’t miss our latest guide.
Meaning of rose tattoo colors
In addition to the symbolism ascribed to the rose in general, specific colors of roses have further meaning of their own. Rose colors with the best-established meanings are red, white, and yellow.
Red roses are primarily associated with love and passion – traditionally, they would only be given to someone as an expression of unconditional love. However, they also have a number of other symbolic associations, such as courage and respect. These stem from the color itself more than from the flower – red is generally the color of power, bravery, and achievement.
At the same time, the red rose tattoo meaning is not always the main reason behind choosing this design – red roses are undeniably beautiful and impressive. They are often chosen as tattoo design purely for their appearance.
White roses stand for innocence, humility, and chastity. Although associated with marriage and new beginnings, they are also symbolic of virginity.
According to a Christian legend, the flowers of a red rose bush turned white when the Virgin Mary placed her coat on top of it. In similar vein, a German legend involves a red rose turning white after being washed with the tears of Mary Magdalene.
White rose tattoos can, like any other design, be purely aesthetic with no deeper meaning intended. They can also convey the value of innocence and chastity. Sometimes, a white rose tattoo symbolizes a lost loved one – white roses are a common choice of funeral flowers, particularly those of young people.
Recommended Article: Don’t miss our amazing pin-up girl tattoo guide!
Yellow roses have recently begun being associated with friendship. Sceptics suggest that this is the result of a marketing ploy to sell more of these flowers, but whatever the reason, yellow roses are usually given to friends and express non-romantic loyalty and love.
A yellow rose in a tattoo can therefore be a symbol of friendship, often referring to a specific person. This kind of tattoo can be complimented with the addition of the person’s name to the design. Yellow roses also make great matching tattoos for friends.
Other existing rose colors include pink (appreciation, gratitude) and orange (desire, enthusiasm).
The black rose is a symbol of death, mystery, and dark magic. Black roses don’t exist in nature, although red roses are sometimes dyed to deepen their color. It’s not a particularly strong connection, but black roses are sometimes associated with anarchism.
Blue roses are symbolic of magic and mystery, and the color doesn’t occur naturally.
Popular rose tattoo designs
Roses are among the most popular choices for tattoo designs. With a classic, timeless look, they work great both as the main design and as background or embellishment to be combined with other elements.
Single rose tattoo
One rose, a red one in particular, typically represents undying love for one person. However, it can also be representative of the other meanings described above – or simply be purely decorative.
Recommended: Ever thought about getting a garter tattoo?
From a numerological perspective, a rose with seven petals is symbolic of inclusion, order, and universal understanding. A rose with eight petals, meanwhile, stands for rebirth and renewal. Naturally, roses typically have more petals – usually 20 or more – but they can be stylized in such a way that they hold fewer petals and are still recognizable as roses.
Three roses tattoo
It is said that a bouquet of three roses is equal to saying ‘I love you’. A tattoo design incorporating three roses could be a reflection of this – meaning love and affection.
In Freemasonry, three roses are symbolic of the three guiding principles – love, light, and life.
The reason behind choosing this particular number of flowers for a tattoo design could be practical or aesthetic. Three roses can be arranged in a triangle pattern for larger, flat areas of the body such as the shoulder or back.
Rose and skull tattoo
Skulls tend to be understood as symbols of death, but also of victory (the death of enemies) and the concept of mortality.
A skull and rose tattoo might symbolize the promise of a new beginning – growth (rose) after the end of a phase or period (skull). The design can also mean eternal love, or serve as a reminder to appreciate the beauty of life (rose) while we can (skull = mortality, inevitable and impending death).
Visually, there are several ways to combine these elements. A common choice is for the rose to be growing out of one of the skull’s eye sockets. Roses might wrap around the skull like vines, with thorns on display, or the skull might be nestled in among a bouquet of roses.
Rose and compass tattoo
The compass is a powerful symbol of – unsurprisingly – direction and guidance. Ambition is another meaning often associated with the compass, as is independence – finding your own way rather than following a set path.
When combined with a rose in a single tattoo design, there are several meanings that emerge. The design could mean balance and loyalty – staying true and ‘on course’, following your values. If we take the rose to mean love (a red rose is recommended in this case), then combining it with a compass suggests love to be a guiding principle in your life.
Interestingly, the part of the compass that displays cardinal directions – the ‘arrows’ on the face of a compass – is known as the compass rose, or rose of the winds.
Rose and dagger tattoo
Classic sailor tattoo, this design includes a dagger piercing through a rose flower. It means that the sailor is loyal and willing to do anything to serve, including destroying something beautiful to protect his values. This is a popular choice among rose tattoos for men.
A single rose flower with a name is another example of a typical sailor tattoo – a reminder of a wife or partner, left behind for long periods at a time as the sailor sets out on a journey.
Rose and anchor tattoo
Another sailor classic, this design represents commitment to a loved one, despite time and distance.
The anchor is not only a nautical symbol, but also one representing strength, steadfastness, support, and safety. Combining it with a red rose, symbolic of love and passion, suggests a committed relationship, and finding support and safety in a loved one.
Small rose tattoo
Though many rose tattoos are fairly large and expansive, there’s no reason why this beautiful flower can’t be scaled down to a small design.
For a small rose tattoo – to fit behind your ear, on your wrist, or any other similar-sized space – consider relatively simple designs. All-black or even outline-only tattoos are a great choice here, as are solid fill colors and limited amount of detail.
The reason behind this is that small designs generally shouldn’t be too intricate. Using lines that are too thin can lead to them wearing out with time – as the tattoo heals, you run the risk of ending up with uneven, broken-up lines.
If the lines are too close together, meanwhile, the tattoo might not age as well as you’d like it to. Skin stretches over time and tattoos lose their sharpness and detail as they age, and some lines may become wider than originally intended. If they’re close together, they’ll run into each other and the design will go out of shape.
For truly tiny tattoos – for the side of your finger or your ear, perhaps – will need to involve minimal amounts of detail. A plain black design – sort of like a shadow-shape of a rose – is generally the way to go.
Rose tattoo styles
If you’re coming up with your own design rather than choosing an existing one, the key elements of your tattoo are not the only consideration. Another choice to make is the overall style, or technique, of the tattoo.
Traditional rose tattoo
The traditional style involves bold, black outlines with vivid colors for the fill, usually with very little shading. It’s characterized by a low level of realism, resembling a cartoon rendition more than the real thing.
Traditional rose tattoos have a classic, timeless feel to them. This is the perfect choice for sailor-style rose tattoos, since the use of the traditional technique is one of the defining characteristics of sailor designs.
3D rose tattoo
One of the most popular options for rose tattoos in the last few years is the 3D style. 3D tattoos are basically hyper-realistic renditions of an image or object, aiming for full photo-realism. This is achieved through careful shading and lack of distinct, unnecessary outlines to create an illusion of depth.
A single rose will work just as great as a more elaborate design. A 3D rose sleeve tattoo, for instance, is sure to be impressive and beautiful.
Both color and grayscale roses are viable options here. Naturally, color 3D rose tattoos will create a better illusion, closely resembling a real rose, and be more eye-catching. The grayscale option, meanwhile, adds a different mood to the tattoo and – importantly – is likely to blend more easily with other tattoos – including potential future additions to the rose.
Watercolor rose tattoo
As you may have guessed, the watercolor technique aims to mimic the look of a watercolor painting. Light, black outlines may be used to give the tattoo more definition, but generally most of the design is done using colored ink, applied to the skin in a way that makes it appear watered-down in places.
The resultant tattoo is vibrant and original, with a lighter, more delicate look.
Hopefully, you now have a full understanding of the potential meanings behind rose tattoos and, even better, a firm idea of the rose tattoo you’d like to get. For more inspiration, check out the gallery below!