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What Does a Teardrop Tattoo Mean?

Teardrop tattoos are a popular option all across the world. Are all teardrop tattoos linked with prison culture? There is some truth behind that thinking, yet television and film portrayal has reinforced that image to an exaggerated level for the most part. However, in real life, that would be a generalization since every teardrop tattoo has a unique, hidden meaning. 

You could go for a teardrop tattoo consisting of a single teardrop, multiple teardrops, or a teardrop combined with other elements. Each type of design has a mystery and distinct meaning. The design to consider depends on the meaning you best associate with. Read on to learn the meanings behind different teardrop tattoo options for different placements. Don’t forget to check out the beautiful designs shared in this article. The source is mentioned below each image, in case you want to approach the tattoo artist for more of their work directly.

What Does A Teardrop Signify?

Although shedding tears is commonly caused by distress, the meaning of tears isn’t always associated with negative emotions. When we are sad, angry, joyful, or have other intense emotions, tears often respond to that emotional stimuli. Whenever the emotions run extremely high, it can easily lead tears to drop from your eyes onto your face. A teardrop tattoo, thus, carries with it an equally intense meaning. 

So, What Do Teardrop Tattoos Mean?

There are a plethora of teardrop tattoos to get inspired from. To a large extent, the meaning behind each design is subject to personal interpretation. Nevertheless, outlined below are a few meanings that are commonly associated with teardrop tattoos.

Prison Term, Loss, Danger, Revenge Etc.

As per popular assumptions, a teardrop tattoo is often associated with ex-prisoners, who get teardrop tattoos to show the long term they spent in prison. More often than not, the reason for their extended-term is the murder they were convicted for.

On top of that, if it’s an outlined teardrop as opposed to a solid one, it represents attempted murder. Else, the outline version is also commonly associated with someone seeking revenge for a friend murdered in prison. These, of course, are no rules set in stone.

These tattoos also mean danger and the mystery behind prison doors. Even if you’ve never been associated with prison life, you could sport these tattoos to look dangerous for the heck of it.

An individual who has served quite some time in jail and has been a victim of abuse during that time would generally get inked with teardrops on the face. The face tattoos signify the abuser’s dominance.

That’s not all for the array of gloom and doom reasons behind teardrop tats. Teardrop tattoos also mean the loss of a loved one. Lil Wayne and The Game are examples of those that got inked in such a way for that very reason.

Pop Culture, Love, Positive Meanings

The meanings of teardrop tattoos have always been subject to debate. You could have your own meaning, and that would be considered equally legitimate. All that matters is that you have a strong personal story to back it up with. 

Of late, for getting a teardrop tattoo, a lot of enthusiasts have been citing the common reason that they want to look unique — away from the typical. Although that’s a positive outlook, it could be dangerous to get inked with a symbol closely linked to prison culture without having anything to do with it.

Lost someone you loved? You could get inked with a solid teardrop tattoo in memory of them. Amare Stoudemire, a famous basketball player, got a teardrop tattoo in 2012 to honor his older brother, who he lost in a car accident.

If a diehard fan, one may have a teardrop tattoo based on the fact heartthrob Johnny Depp could cry a single tear at will in the movie Cry-Baby. To cite another example, you could have a teardrop or multiple teardrops on the side of your face simply because you find teardrops pretty. Your friends and onlookers will admire you for it. 

Teardrop Tattoo Design Options

There are many combinations with teardrops as elements. However, the most popular among them are the single teardrop, multiple teardrops, and colored teardrop designs. The placement of the design further impacts the meaning. What’s important to know is that ultimately it’s the meaning interpreted by the wearer that counts. So, before jumping to conclusions, you might want to ask the wearer what their teardrop tattoo means to them personally.

Here’s what the basic, most popular teardrop tattoo designs look like and mean:

Single Teardrop Tattoos

A single teardrop that is either outlined (clear inside) or solid (filled inside) is inked as a single teardrop below one eye. The size of the teardrop is usually kept small. Sometimes, the other eye is inked with a different symbol that complements the teardrop on the opposite eye in some artsy or meaningful way. This could be a sword, crucifix, or even a stabbed heart. 

Source: @three_jacks_tattoo via Instagram

Multiple Teardrops Tattoos

Another popular placement is multiple teardrops around one eye. Once again, these could all be solid or outlined.

ource: @julia.pelzer via Instagram

Black Teardrop Tattoos

The most popular placement of teardrop tattoos is the face. For that reason, black ink is the color sought by the majority of people. Black usually blends naturally with most skin tones. You should consider black unless you’re looking for a bold, daring look.

Source: @dog_tooth_tattoo via Instagram

Colored Teardrop Tattoos

Black linework or solid black teardrop tattoos, not your thing? Worry not, color-filled ones with contrasting outlines are quite the fad too. The colored look, especially pink, is popular with women. 

Source: @garret_clothing via Instagram
Source: @martyna_popiel via Instagram
Source: @mahaganyshaw via Instagram

Teardrop Combinations

Teardrops can be combined with other elements to form meaningful designs. Some trending options that combine suitably with teardrops to make meaningful tattoos include swords, diamonds, stabbed hearts, crosses, eyeballs, and stars among others. 

Source: @iporkedittattoo via Instagram
Source: @la.dbla via Instagram
Source: @artfulinkmargs via Instagram
Source: @themancorialist via Instagram
Source: @chemoink via Instagram
Source: @paulacastletattoos via Instagram

Teardrop Tattoo Placement

The placement of your teardrop tattoo depends on the meaning the tattoo holds for you. Any teardrop tattoo would show at least some level of rebellion or bravado. If, however, you’re risk-averse and wouldn’t like to boldly display your teardrop tattoo all the time, you can have it placed in an area that isn’t exposed much. 

The placement also depends on the size and number of elements of the tattoo design. If the overall design is larger, the face isn’t an option for placement. 

The face is the most popular choice for a typical teardrop or multi teardrop tattoo. For combination tattoos that you don’t want much attention drawn to, you could have them placed on your thighs, chest, back and lower back, and shoulders. Other common placement areas for teardrop tattoos include the fingers and legs.  

Teardrop Tattoo On Thigh

Source: @wherethefuckisconnor via Instagram

The above teardrop tattoo looks incredible on the front side of the man’s thigh. It’s a medium-sized solid, red teardrop with the phrase “boys do cry” tattooed in black ink above it. The teardrop’s strong presumptive association with prison culture doesn’t hold for everyone. A positive, emotional phrase like the above, helps onlookers know what the wearer’s intention is.

Teardrop Tattoo On Chest

Source: @monsteralphabet via Instagram

Teardrops tattoos are often preferred in small to medium sizes. The above chest piece has fairly large teardrops in black ink, giving the design a quirky appeal.

Source: @babie_lato_tattoo via Instagram

This realistic, colored teardrop sits right in the middle of the woman’s chest area. Through the specific placement and blue hues, the tattoo signifies feminity. 

Teardrop Tattoo On Back

Source: @gatamagattattoo via Instagram

The multicolor teardrop on the upper back center region symbolizes diversity, inclusion, and love for life.  

Source: @twontattoo via Instagram

This is another beautiful upper back teardrop tattoo. The teardrops are outlined, whilst the interiors are shaded. The full eyepiece makes this a stunning design for women.

Teardrop Tattoo On Shoulder

Source: @death_lily via Instagram

This illustrative teardrop tattoo placed on the shoulder looks quite vivid, due to the choice of black ink and negative space. The other elements, namely the snake and the fire emitting hand, complement the teardrop wonderfully.

Teardrop Tattoo On Fingers

Source: @may_be_yes_or_no via Instagram

This simple, elegant teardrop tattoo on the finger looks remarkable due to the fine line work.  

Teardrop Tattoo On Leg

Source: @mamayonk via Instagram

Two sets of teardrops. One set per leg. This is the recommended placement if you don’t want to continuously attract attention through this extremely emotional and sad symbolism. 

Teardrop Tattoo On Face

Source: @bunter_bodymodification via Instagram

The face is the most popular location for a teardrop tattoo. A teardrop under one eye is the number one placement preferred by enthusiasts. Before finalizing the same location for yourself, think it out clearly. According to the gang and prison culture, the outlined teardrop below the eye commonly means the wearer is seeking revenge for the murder of a loved one.   

Other Placements

Source: @sadunderthesaturn via Instagram

The collarbone and the mid-upper chest region are another nice placement area for a teardrop tattoo. The eyeball and multiple teardrops are an incredible combination for the tattoo. 

Source: @ju.laika via Instagram

This stick and poke style teardrop look with a centerpiece that is an eyeball, looks astonishing on this woman’s upper arm.

Source: @blxckink via Instagram

Best friends or siblings can have these teardrop tattoos to signify their strong, emotional bond. The face is complete when both are together, represented by each one having half the look. This tattoo is ideal for the forearm region. 

Should You Get It On The Left or Right Side of Your face?

When it comes to teardrop tattoos, if you’re part of prison culture, it should matter what side of your face you get inked on. An inmate that has teardrops inked on the left side of the face, means they’ve murdered someone. Furthermore, multiple teardrops could signify that many murders.

A teardrop on the right side of the face means you’re commemorating the loss of a loved one. On the whole, there are no official rules for teardrop placements. It would be wrong to make assumptions about the meanings. Each person gets teardrop tattoos inked for reasons, and meaning, personal to their life or interests. 

Is It Worth Getting A Teardrop Tattoo?

Teardrop tattoos can make you look brave, rebellious, and the like. Yet, you need to think it out carefully since most of the common designs are associated with gang and inmate activity. These include the teardrop or teardrops inked under the eye or on the cheek, in either solid or outlined versions. 

Tattoos are permanent. If you feel you need a teardrop tattoo to represent the loss of a loved one, that might at first be an incredible idea. Later, though, you’ll feel it’s making you sadder and affecting you mentally. 

It may be better to think of some other way to mourn the loss of a loved one than by getting a permanent mark on your face. Similarly, suppose you’ve been a victim of abuse. In that case, you may not want to remember the abuse once you’ve finally mentally gotten over it. 

If your motive is to appear dangerous, you need to think it through further before getting inked with a teardrop tattoo. Imagine walking the streets of other countries where the cultures may take offense in your symbolism of gang life. This could pose a risk to you by the officials or conflicting gangs. Furthermore, as you grow older, it might be more difficult for you to cope with and defend your dangerous appearance.

Other possible drawbacks of facial tattoos are workplace discrimination and a negative effect on both relationships and job prospects. A drawback with teardrop tattoos, in particular, could be its wrongful message that you have a criminal record when in reality you don’t. 


Given the many linkages of teardrop tattoos with prison culture, danger, and loss of life, you’ll have to carefully weigh in all your options. If, after that, you’ve made up your mind to still get one, a placement area like your chest, back, or fingers is always a better bet than the face. 

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!