Through intricate designs and symbols, criminal gangs utilize tattoos to signify membership within their organization. These gang tattoos designs carry a covert significance that only members know how to decipher.

For decades, gang-related tattoos have been enigmatic and captivating – inciting intrigue in audiences eager to understand their hidden meaning.

Why Gang Tattoos?

From the classic teardrop to crowns and prayer hands, gang tattoos have become a way for gangs to solidify their members’ loyalty.

Not only do they signify commitment, but these intricate designs also serve as identifiers of particular crimes or threats related to specific gangs.

Gang tattoos are a striking way to send the message of control and domination. Members proudly boast these emblems as signifiers of their allegiance, kept hidden from outsiders who remain unaware of their meaning or significance.

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Gang and prison tattoos

portrait gang tattoo on hand

Organized crime has long been associated with tattoos and their unique symbolism.

From members of criminal gangs to mafia groups, many individuals in the underworld have adopted a ‘tattoo language’ that conveys highly specific meanings for different symbols – often varying from group to group.

Gang tattoos often symbolize a strong sense of commitment to the group.

They show rank, skill, and even criminal activity within organizations – all done with full consent from those wishing to express their loyalty in such an eye-catching manner.

While often seen as a sign of affiliation and loyalty among members, gang tattoos can be used in more sinister ways.

For instance, they may be forced onto someone without their permission, most commonly placed on the face to appear visible at all times.

This creates an unmistakable punishment for anyone who does not abide by gang laws or regulations.

Behind every swallow tattoo reveals about your personality and has a deep symbolic meaning. Below mentioned are some amazing swallow tattoo on an inmate’s body lies a story; each marking holds powerful symbolism to represent the individual’s life of crime.

From simple stars, subtle initials, or intricate patterns – tattoos in prison become far more meaningful than their aesthetic and often indicate which act ultimately brought them behind bars.

Criminals can benefit from their wrongdoings through either positive recognition or punishment.

Positive recognition boosts the person’s status in a criminal group, while negative reinforcement is meant to deter others by shaming those responsible and labeling them as traitors.

Prison sentences can be counted with custom tattoos for individuals in the criminal justice system.

Knuckles and hands are often marked to indicate how many times a person may have been incarcerated – typically represented by one cross per term served.


Examples of gang tattoo Symbols

Tattoos, often seen as symbols of uniqueness and self-expression, are a popular form of body art among gangs worldwide.

Despite the prevalence of gang culture around the world, little research on this fascinating topic makes it difficult to define all its intricate details.

tribal gang face tattoo

Criminals are known to be masters of the clandestine, often opting for encrypted markings and codes rather than making their affiliations public. For example, California’s Crips and Bloods notoriously employ ciphers when communicating.

The Crips: an iconic street gang in South California known for their turf wars with the Bloods.

They’ve adopted various symbols, including a three- or six-pointed crown and code in tattoos; where the lettering is modified to form numbers – A as 1, B as 2, and so on.

Tattoos are a common way for Crip members to symbolize their loyalty and commitment.

The number 211, commonly seen on these gangsters, stands for ‘BK’ – an ominous acronym meaning ‘Blood Killer.’ It suggests the bearer has murdered those from the rival Bloods gang.

The Bloods have a unique way of encoding their markings beyond just symbols.


For example, the 13/13 cipher utilizes an alphabet split into two parts to create a coded message – each letter from one half is switched with its counterpart from the other and vice versa – so A becomes N.

At the same time, N turns into A, B evolves into O as O reverts to B, and so forth.

Blood Members have a unique identifier in the MOB unique tattoo ideas and have great significance in the cultures of human society in earlier history. But still, some people want to get this tattoo and are proud of their Compton Pirus roots. As an homage, many represent these origins with the word ‘Piru,’ along with symbols such as a dog paw to signify loyalty within the gang.


Asian Gang Tattoos

The Japanese Yakuza gang tattoos on back

Hundreds of years ago, criminals in Japan were marked and shamed for their misdeeds with facial tattoos.

In modern times, the Yakuza – a notorious Japanese mafia – is best known for taking tattooing to another level: they boast some of the most intricate full-body tattoo designs expressing commitment to criminal activity.

It is clear that even now, there remains an indelible link between lawlessness and body art in this part of the world – one which shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon.

With a long and intricate history, the Mafia began to distinguish itself with physical markings. This practice quickly became popular among members of this notorious criminal organization.

Contrary to popular belief, large tattoos no longer signify mafia affiliation in Japan.

This is largely due to the impracticality and attention it can draw – tattooing being generally considered unacceptable socially restricts its visibility among citizens.

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Russian Prison Tattoo Designs

Russian criminals, branded with symbols befitting their offenses, have been a part of correctional institutions for centuries.

These unique markings remind others about the individual’s past transgression and can include everything from stars to crosses.

  • Cats are a common sight among criminals. Not only is the presence of one or several felines seen as an indicator that an individual or group committed theft, but the head of a cat has become something like a good luck charm for thieves. Wearing this symbol on their chest signals bold disregard and contempt toward law enforcement personnel.
  • The Scarab Beetle is more than a symbol of good luck to some – it’s also the calling card of pickpockets, who have used its symbolism for centuries as iconography in their illicit operations.
  • Russian gangsters, known as Vor V Zakone, are infamous for their elaborate star tattoos. Each point of the intricate design represents one year spent in prison – a badge of honor among these elites in organized crime. With four large arms and eight small ones spanning two shoulders or above each knee cap respectively – it is an unmistakable signifier that these criminals aren’t likely to kneel before anyone.
  • Throughout history, cross-subordination has been used as a severe form of punishment. Enslaved people were often forced into submission and made to surrender their rights against their will.
  • Manacles signify years of sacrifice in prison, a stark reminder that justice will be served.
  • Military insignia often symbolize something more sinister, implying that the prisoner was a person of power and authority who has since been stripped of their rank and status.
  • The skull, a universal symbol of mortality and danger, connotes that the wearer has committed heinous offenses worthy of imprisonment.
  • Barbed wire is more than just a physical barrier – when placed on the forehead of prisoners and serves as an everlasting sentence that offers no hope for parole.
  • As they soar across the vast sky, birds symbolize true freedom – a reminder of our innate right to be liberated.
skull gang tattoo

Common Criminal Tattoo Symbols

blood in blood out gang tattoo on chest

The criminal underworld has numerous symbols and designs that carry a universal language, from gang-specific tattoos to prison graffiti. These distinct visuals embody the hidden codes of communication used by criminals worldwide.

  • With their orange and black stripes, tigers have long been symbols of immense power and strength. For centuries they’ve captivated the world with a fearlessness that underlines mankind’s awe of nature’s majestic beasts.
  • The spider web entangles those who cannot escape the cycle of the gang lifestyle, trapping them into a seemingly endless prison sentence.
  • The three dots tattoo – a profound symbol of transformation within the criminal underworld. Representing ‘prison, hospital, and cemetery, this symbolic triangle has long marked an individual’s initiation into Mexico Mafia gangs – signaling their allegiance to crime and setting them on a path with no reverse gear.
  • Among the criminal underworld, a circle of five dots represents an elite group bonded together in loyalty and protection. Thought to have originated in Vietnamese culture, this symbol has become increasingly popular among street gangs such as the Bloods and Gangster Disciples; even Asian triads now employ it for its exclusive connotation.

Gangs bearing masks or clown faces are a common sight, standing as an alarming symbol of the dangerous consequences that come with being in debt. It reminds us to think twice before making rash decisions and incurring obligations we may not be able to keep up with.

eagle and samurai gang tattoo on back

Popular Gang Tattoos With Their Meanings

mother mary gang chest tattoo

Tattoos have a unique meaning within gang culture, serving as visible indications of allegiance and warning signs of potential danger.

Tattooing is an exclusive privilege for active members who use it to intimidate others and mark their territory. Only an active member is allowed to ink gang tattoos.

Tattoos are more than just art – they have a deeper meaning, acting as physical symbols of personal history and connection to gangs.

For some criminal organizations, tattoos serve as markers that identify members within their network and help strengthen the bonds between them.

MS-13, infamously tattooed across their bodies in loyalty to the commander, is heavily rooted within El Salvador and Honduras; two countries recognized as among the most dangerous. But they’re not without enemies – Barrio 18 poses a threat unlike any other for MS-13.

Checkout these famous gang tattoos ideas with their meaning:


The teardrop tattoo is an iconic symbol associated with criminal and gang culture. It honors someone’s release from incarceration and marks a time when they have experienced public humiliation or grief for losing a loved one.

The wearer carries this personal story with them forever in ink and color to pay respect to their past journey.

Latin Kings Tattoos


The Latin Kings, a prominent street gang in the United States established during the 1950s, provide their members with support and protection against discrimination and violence when faced with the influx of Puerto Rican immigrants.

Erik Eck, a former member of the notorious Latin Kings street gang, stands firmly in his DuPage County Jail cell displaying tattoos that reflect his distinguished tenure with the organization.

Crips Gang Tattoos

mask gang tattoo on chest

Crips have crafted a trademark style, donning hats at an angle and square scarves tucked into the right pocket.

They creatively express themselves through symbols such as six-pointed stars, hexagonal crowns, and their signature number, 6.

Gang members express themselves uniquely by placing a ‘dot’ at each graffiti. The initials “WATCH,” which stands for My Crazy Life, serve as a symbolic reminder that life is meant to be lived in its extraordinary moments and experiences.

portrait gang tattoo on chest

Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club

Hell's angels gang tattoos

For centuries, skull-and-wings have been a powerful symbol for biker groups like the Hell’s Angels and Harley Davidson.

With religious art interpreting skulls as death personified and bat wings representing rehabilitation or regeneration – it certainly makes sense that this motif would be chosen to memorialize Augustine Curtis in Norwich Historic Church Trust.

The image also serves as an enduring reminder of rebirth after mortality – offering hope beyond despair.

soldier gang tattoo on chest

Ku Klux Klan- an American White Supremacist Group

man trying to cover up his Ku Klux Klan gang tattoo

Notoriety prevails for three far-right groups in the United States who promote a singular belief – that of white supremacy.

An iconic figurehead stands to symbolize this archaic ideology: The Ku Klux Klan and their typical attire, including pointed hoods and pure white coats.

The Ku Klux Klan tattoos represent hate, and the group members wear them proudly.

MS-13 Gang Tattoos

Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, is an infamous transnational criminal gang with a shocking history.

Originating in Los Angeles and growing to span North America into Central South America, it has become recognizable through its trademark full-body tattoos that signify association with this group of frightening individuals.


Grandel Gang Tattoo

Grandel gang tattoo

This devoted Grandel member has found a unique way to show his undying loyalty – getting the band’s name prominently tattooed on his back and displaying pride in The Grandel Gang through an adorned cardinal affixed with BB’s initials. His devotion is truly unparalleled.

Mexican Mafia Tattoo Designs

Mexican Gang tattoo

Members of the New Mexican Mafia proudly display tattoos that mark their allegiance; a skull, twin skulls, stylized MM with an angled base, and flames within a circle.

All poignant symbols to signify those in the know: This member has left ‘Old’ behind for what is now.

The colossal blaze gives off a clockwise slant, partially hidden from view. The smaller flames are obscured by the shadows but still present their spiral pattern.

Earning the highest distinction in his field of combat, one member has proven themselves victorious after confronting their adversary and being awarded a commission. This honor carries unparalleled respect amongst its peers.


Tattoo on Lips

As law enforcement becomes increasingly aware of tattoos’ role in gang affiliation, more and more individuals are electing to conceal their body art.

This strategic move is a proactive choice intended to distance themselves from potential criminal implications associated with visible markings.

Aryan Brotherhood Prison Tattoos

Aryan Brotherhood Gang Tattoo

The Aryan Brotherhood, also known as The Brand, Alice Baker, and One-Two is an infamous white supremacist gang with a long history of criminal activity.

With its estimated 20,000 members spread out through US prisons nationwide, it stands firmly as today’s largest and most notorious group in the American prison system.

With its roots in the mid-1960s, this gang first emerged as a united front of Irish cyclists to combat racial segregation in jails and safeguard white inmates from harm.

1488 Gang Tattoos


In Nazi Germany, each prisoner had a numerical designation that bore symbolic meaning.

Signifying the infamous and oft-repeated statement from their leader of “securing existence for our people and a future for white children” was number fourteen – spoken with chilling frequency by General David Lane.

From the number 88, an inmate makes a statement: Heil Hitler. This tattooed symbol is visible to all as they enter prison walls beforehand and remains on their skin after leaving.

The 1488 gang is a well-known organization that only grants its esteemed membership to those who meet appropriate requirements. A symbol of unity, the iconic badge is evidence of full integration into their circle.

Spiderweb Tattoo Designs

Incarceration can often be depicted through the powerful symbol of a spider web.

Representing entrapment and imprisonment, this meaningful emblem is commonly spotted on elbows or necks – acting as an enduring reminder for those tattooed with it to live in freedom from captivity.

Yakuza – The Japanese Notorious Gang

Yakuza gang tattoo on back

Joining Japan’s notorious criminal underworld requires a unique form of commitment – the bold, intricate artistry of traditional full-body tattooing.

The Yakuza is the world’s preeminent criminal organization, not solely because of their notoriety in Japan.

Often termed “good” or “traditional gangs,” they have been part of Japanese culture for centuries and remain a powerful presence domestically and abroad.

RELATED: Yakuza Tattoo Symbols and Meanings

 3 Dots Tattoos

three dots tattoo

A profound symbol of transformation within the criminal underworld. It represents ‘prison, hospital, and cemetery.

This symbolic triangle has long marked an individual’s initiation into Mexico Mafia gangs – signaling their allegiance to crime and setting them on a path with no reverse gear.

Three dots have both religious and traditional significance. Most often associated with the Christian concept of the Trinity or Three Holy Apostles, three sharp sticks create a powerful visual representation of these meaningful symbols.

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Quincunx 5 Dots Tattoo

The five dots that adorn the skin of many individuals tell a story. This unique pattern, called a quincunx, is symbolic of incarceration; four walls encircle one prisoner who spent time in prison or jail.

It’s an iconic mark on many incarcerated persons’ bodies throughout America and Europe, which serves as physical evidence of their past experiences.

Inmates made a fashion statement by wearing five distinct dots, usually seen on the webbing of their hands. These iconic markings carry an array of connotations and meanings depending on where they are located.

De Mau Mau Gang

Charles 37X Morris, commonly known as Charles Kenyatta, was much more than a former bodyguard of Malcolm X.

He was the founder of De Mau Mau and heavily influenced four groundbreaking African-American gangs: The Black Panther Party, Black Guerrilla Clan, Gang Black Disciples and those driven by the ideals of black nationalism (BLA).

666 Number Tattoos


This iconic tattoo, often seen inked upon the skin of those behind bars, represents a darker side to life. It is an emblem used by inmates to signify their power and influence within prison walls.

A TikTok video went viral when a man was harassing a girl for her 666 tattoo. In the above pic, you can see a man getting a 666 tattoo.

Watches Without Hands

Inmates have found an unconventional way to commemorate their time spent in prison – with a meaningful tattoo.

From the details of their convictions inscribed on their wrists, these body decorations serve as permanent reminders representing different life stages for those behind bars.

Clocks are a traditional symbol of time, but some wall clocks and pendulum shape watch designs have recently made waves in the fashion industry.

Interestingly, jail-style clock tattoos can signify much more than just jail time; they’re also often worn to represent loss or survival after an amputation.


Norteño Gang

The Norteño and Sueros are two warring gangs based out of Southern California.

Delano serves as the battleground between their territories, where they regularly engage in dangerous confrontations to control lucrative drug trafficking activities such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine distribution.

More Gang Tattoo Inspiration

Dagger gang tattoo on arm
church chest gang tattoo

Gun gang leg tattoo
symbols for gang tattoos
women gang tattoos
colored gang tattoos
full sleeves gang tattoo
gun and mask gang tattoo
spider web gang tattoo on chest
skull gang tattoo
razor blade and blood gang tattoo on leg
in gods hand gun tattoo design
health, money, lucky gun gang tattoo on chest
facial gang tattoo desings
MS-13 gang face tattoo
Mother mary gang tattoo for chest
Full body gang tattoos
yin yang gang tattoo on arm
birds black ink gang tattoo
made in hell gang tattoo
barbed wire gang tattoo on leg
angels gang tattoos on chest
Japanese style gang tattoo
forehead cross gang tattoo
ms-13 gang tattoo
Full body gang tattoo
Skull Gang tattoo for forehead
tribal gang tattoo for face
gang tattoo for face
Shoulder gang tattoo

gang tattoos for back
shoulder gang tattoo

Final words

A word of caution: gang tattoos represent far more than just a visual statement. In some cases, they may signify rank or particular skill sets – but in others, befitting punishment for serious rule violations. Respect their significance and tread carefully.

While tattoos can express personal style and identity, one must think carefully before getting a tattoo that symbolizes any gang affiliation. Unearned symbols may land you in hot water if discovered by the wrong people, making this choice particularly hazardous – do your research first.