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Shoulder Tattoos: Meanings and Design Ideas


Large and small, minimalistic or intricate — almost any tattoo works on the shoulder. Tattoo artists agree that this placement is one of the best ones. Still, if you want your tattoo to look good and convey the right message, it’s worth taking some time to study the subtleties of the meanings of your chosen design. Let’s look at some cool designs and possible interpretations of shoulder tattoos.

Shoulder Tattoos: Traditions and Beliefs

In ancient times, ink on the shoulder was meant to tell onlookers about the wearer’s social status, walk of life, interests, and character.

There are some folk beliefs that are linked with this placement.

  • Ink on the left shoulder promises income and easy money
  • A tatt on the right shoulder helps its wearer become wiser and find family happiness.

A tattoo on this body part was also treated as a talisman. For example, a design symbolising death inked on the left shoulder was meant to ensure long and happy life and a gryphon on the right shoulder was believed to channel positive energy.

Why a Shoulder Tattoo? Pros and Cons

Every sketch has its own unique meaning that, when transferred to the skin, becomes not only a body decoration but also a sort of introduction of its wearer.

The most obvious plus of a shoulder tattoo is that it can be easily covered and as easily flaunted. But it’s not all pros.

  • The roundness of the shoulder and its shape allow for creating extremely realistic imagery, including 3D pictures.
  • The skin on this body part is quite thick, which makes the process of getting inked not very painful.
  • If you want to play up your design, you can get your tattoo extended in any direction.
  • It’s easy to care after a shoulder tattoo, which makes the healing process easier.
  • According to professionals, thanks to the elasticity of the skin on the shoulders, the tattoo will look good for many years.

As for the cons, there is only one — shoulder tattoos are extremely hard to get removed. The removal procedure will leave a scar that will be visible for years. This is why it’s important to pick your design carefully keeping in mind that it should still be relevant for you in the future.

People get shoulder tattoos for various reasons. Here are some of them:

  • To get an image that represents courage and determination, strength, sensuality and sensitivity.
  • To bring attention to their muscles and make the image come to life with movement.
  • To sport an intricate and complex design that can be later expanded to the chest, back, neck, or forearm.

Shoulder tattoos for men

Shoulder tattoos for women

Best Styles for Shoulder Tattoos

Tattoos on the shoulder come in different styles. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones.


This body art is rendered in solid spots of black ink, be it a geometric design, separate symbols, or entire scenes.

Color tattoos

Any design can be implemented as a color tattoo, which can look striking with vivid or toned-down shades.


Ornamental tattoos imitate various patterns on the skin. These images consist of lines, spirals, and other interwoven shapes and are pretty detailed. They may not bear a particular meaning, acting as a mere decoration or complementing the key element of a design.


Any text on the body is the most straightforward way to express your views and to tell about your past experience. It can be a single letter, one word, a longer phrase or even an entire quote.

A lettering tattoo can be enhanced with other imagery that will reiterate the message of the text.

Common Designs for Shoulder Tattoos

There are myriads of sketches that can fit on the shoulder, including, but not limited to animals, plants, space-related motifs, and mythical characters.


A wolf tattoo characterises its wearer as a tough and strong person with good intuition, free-spirited but attached to their family. Men often view this imagery as a symbol of bravery and relentlessness.

This predator looks great in any style, be it dotwork, geometry, watercolor, or realism. As for the design, you’ll have no shortage of options: there are wolves howling at the moon, baring their teeth, sitting, jumping or running. Wolves are also associated with love and loyalty, especially if the design features a couple of wolves.\


Dragon tattoos appeal to many people. From large-scale scenes to dainty artwork — there’s one to suit every taste out there.

The general meaning of dragon tattoos is the desire to show your true self and celebrate your inner strength. The color of your dragon adds a certain nuance to the meaning, so be sure to think the color scheme through beforehand.

  • A black dragon symbolises respect and imperiousness, especially if the design features a prominent tail and wings.
  • A dragon in red speaks of the person’s passionate nature.
  • A golden dragon tattoo characterises its wearer as a wise and thoughtful person.


Though dragons may be the most popular reptiles, though mythical, others come close behind.

  • A monitor lizard represents patience and power.
  • A lizard or snake speaks of wisdom.
  • Geckos are associated with change.
  • A crocodile tattoo may hint at great potential and desire for greatness.
  • A chameleon tattoo means the ability to adapt to changes easily.
  • Turtle tattoos speak of inner peace and wisdom.
  • An iguana shoulder tattoo points out a strong character.


The exact meaning depends on its shape:

  • a five-pointed star means inner harmony
  • a seven-pointed star speaks about your eagerness to explore the unknown
  • an eight-pointed star is said to help to attract wealth
  • a nine-pointed star indicates the person’s perfect health and wellbeing.

A six-pointed star, the Star of David, is often viewed as a talisman, a protective symbol. A pentagram (a five-pointed star in a circle) originated as a symbol of protection, but an upside-down pentagram is now associated with the occult.


The bear is a mighty animal that can represent different traits of character depending on how it’s depicted.

  • A bear with bared teeth signifies courage and self-confidence, the ability to face danger and come out of any situation on top.
  • A bear’s paw hints that you are a strong, yet gentle person that would do anything to protect their family. A shoulder tattoo depicting a bear’s paw also demonstrates a person’s readiness for self-development and self-improvement. Prominent claws on the paw mean strong willpower and faith in luck.
  • A she-bear with cubs is a go-to design for women. It speaks strongly about maternal instincts and devotion to family.

The species of the bear also enhances the meaning of the tattoo. For example, a polar bear is a less common design. It may be a choice of a person who wants to show that they are able to survive through anything. A brown bear is associated with a fighter’s qualities and the ability to achieve your goals.


A tiger shoulder tattoo has versatile meanings, with the main ones being determination, courage, and a fierce temper.

Additional elements and the overall feeling of the design can enhance the meaning of the ink.

  • A tiger with bared teeth is symbolic of the person’s relentlessness and violent temper.
  • A stealthy tiger highlights the wearer’s wariness and composure.
  • A tiger licking its paw speaks of softness, but only to the point when a person’s boundaries are crossed.
  • A white tiger is meant to symbolise a unique personality.
  • A tiger’s cub on a woman’s shoulder is a sign of vulnerability, fragility, and strong maternal instincts.
  • A design featuring a tiger and a dragon is a common motif that signifies the balance of power.


Ink depicting the King of Beasts stands, above all, for power and respect, the pursuit of justice, wisdom and nobility. People also get lion tattoos to show their strong character and fierce personality.

There are different variations of lion shoulder tattoos that bear different meanings.

  • The Lion constellation design speaks of its wearer’s quick mind, independence, and willpower.
  • Two lions sitting back to back embody the pursuit of inner peace and harmony.
  • A resting lion is a symbol of tranquility, self-control, and the readiness to defend your interests.
  • A tattoo of a lion with bared teeth characterises its wearer as a strong person.
  • A lioness on a woman’s shoulder stands for wisdom, loyalty to her close ones, and readiness to protect her children.


Shoulder tattoos in the form of mandalas, floral and other patterns never lose their appeal. Lace and geometric patterns are especially common. In most cases, such tattoos do not hold deep meaning, excluding mandalas that usually convey a certain message.


Initially,  the cross embodies the key of life. However, keep in mind that different crosses hold different meanings.

  • The Celtic cross speaks of spiritual balance, the unity between body and soul, and strong faith.
  • A Christian cross is often viewed as a protective amulet.
  • A simple black cross signifies devotion to the faith and its doctrines.
  • An upside-down cross can be interpreted in two ways: as a diabolic sign or as the Sword of Saint Peter who holds the keys to heaven.
  • A cross paired with wings reinforces the religious interpretation of the ink, bringing to the forefront the person’s spiritual strength.
  • A cross with a rose speaks not only of the love of God but also of the love of all humanity. Such a motif with thorns indicates that the person lost a loved one.


Floral motifs can often be seen both on men and women, especially in designs featuring wild animals.

A red rose is always symbolic of a passionate nature. A rose with sharp thorns stands for harmony: the unity between the light and dark sides of a personality, the balance between good and evil.

The meaning of a rose shoulder tattoo can be enhanced with the help of colours.

  • A black flower means grief and vain hopes.
  • A white blossom speaks of purity and faithfulness.
  • Burgundy flowers are associated with inner peace.
  • Dark blue roses are all about the defiance of social norms and the desire to express your unique personality, while light blue flowers symbolise the pursuit of unattainable goals.


The first meaning of an angel shoulder tattoo that comes to mind is humbleness and spiritual strength. A person may want this tattoo to declare their readiness to protect their dear ones and endure hardships. An angel with spread wings speaks of the determination to fight for justice till the end.

Angel tattoos may also mean purity, innocence, and the inability to cause pain to others.

Summing Up

The shoulder is a perfect placement for tattoos as they are easy to cover and care for and not too painful. When it comes to designs and their meanings, the sky is your limit. All you need to do is make sure that you take into account all possible interpretations of the motif you want to get when creating a sketch of your future tattoos. You can come up with the design of your shoulder tattoo yourself or collaborate with a professional tattoo artist.

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