Butterflies are one of the most common symbols to have inked on the body, and there is a good reason it’s a popular choice. The meaning of butterfly tattoos generally relates to positive change.
The butterfly is a symbol of transformation – evolving into something greater or more beautiful just like a caterpillar into a butterfly. This relates to new beginnings and can be considered as a symbol of resurrection, and a symbol of hope and personal growth.
The symbol of the butterfly is a great way to remind yourself that after difficult times and life changes, we can emerge as a better person – more evolved just like the beautiful butterfly.
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The different types of beautiful tattoo designs can have slightly different meanings, depending on the color of the butterfly design or other symbols that you choose to incorporate.
The butterfly is one of the most popular tattoos to get for a first tattoo, particularly as it can work well as a small tattoo and doesn’t need to be big and bold. It’s also a very feminine tattoo choice, more often seen on girls and women than men.
Let’s take a look at a few different beautiful butterfly tattoo designs for inspiration.
semicolon butterfly tattoo
The semi colon tattoo is one of the most popular meaningful tattoo symbols lately. This design symbolises the story continuing, where it could have ended. This has a deeper meaning in the context of suicide prevention and survival, and mental health.
When this powerful symbol is combined with butterfly symbolism, the meaning deepens even further to beautifully portray how your story could have ended, but it did not and instead you evolved through these hard times and transformed into something greater.
The semi colon butterfly tattoo can be done as a minimal tattoo with black and white line art, or as a full color tattoo. Both just as meaningful but with a complete different look and feel.
Celtic butterfly tattoos
The meaning of butterflies in celtic symbolism relates to the human soul. Some say that ancient Celts believed butterflies to be the souls of the departed loved ones, whether that’s literally or just symbolic.
One beautiful old Irish saying relating to butterflies is
“May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
and find your shoulder to light on
to bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.”
You can create the shape of a butterfly using interlocking celtic twists, bringing together both the butterfly tattoo meaning and a deep connection to celtic culture, or Irish heritage.
You might like to check out the meanings of some more celtic symbols for your celtic tattoos
Butterfly and Flowers Tattoo
Each type of flower has it’s own different meaning, so by combining the butterfly symbol with flowers of your choice, like in this gorgeous tattoo design, you can really layer up the meanings to create something so deep and personalised to yourself.
This can be done with more focus on the butterfly, more focus on the flower, or evenly spit as above.
This delicate back tattoo combining words, flower and butterflies is absolutely stunning.
Tribal butterfly tattoos
Like the Celtic butterfly tattoo, you can create a butterfly shape in the style of tribal tattoos.
Overall, a tribal Butterfly tattoo is associated with femininity and with hope, but if you have a specific tribal background work with your tattoo artist to put together a design that is the most meaningful and culturally significant to you.
Small Butterfly Tattoo
Like we mentioned, butterflies lend themselves well to tiny tattoos. You can go with a single butterfly, or a small grouping of two or three butterflies.
A popular part of the body for your small butterfly tattoo would be the wrist, the shoulder, or somewhere on your arm.
You can even combine your tiny butterflies with other symbols like flowers, or dandelions to create something beautiful, delicate and packed with meaning.
Large Butterfly Tattoos
If you’re not afraid to go big and bold, a large butterfly tattoo is extremely striking and it gives you space to work with a lot of color and detail, like this watercolor butterfly tattoo in rainbow colors
A large butterfly tattoo can create a beautiful feature piece covering your entire back, thigh, chest, or the side of your body.
To make the large tattoo, you can combine multiple butterflies to cover a larger surface area and a beautiful effect.
Word Butterfly Tattoos
Combing words with your butterfly tattoo is a great way to inject even more meaning, and make a beautiful reminder for yourself.
Some of the most popular words to have alongside your butterfly tattoo are strong or strength but we also love this, where the butterfly’s wings create the letter B for breathe.
You can also go for a longer quote like this one reading with brave wings she flies.
Or, make your quote into the spine of the butterfly like this beautiful design reading todo pasa which means everything happens or everything passes, in Spanish.
Butterfly Wings Tattoo
Angel wings on the back is a popular tattoo choice. How about a twist on that by tattooing butterfly wings?
By focusing on the wings of the butterfly, the emphasis of meaning focuses on the flight of the butterfly as well as its transformation. So this tattoo could strongly symbolise transformation through change, freedom, releasing yourself into a new life.
You could also combine the butterfly wings into a more complex design like this beautiful tattoo, which clearly has a strong personal meaning.
Fairy Butterfly Tattoo
Both fairies and butterflies have gorgeous wings, both are magical and inspiring.. you can see why people would love to combine the two for a tattoo design that’s something really special.
We love this one that also incorporates the phases of the moon – so witchy. This design symbolises a deep connection to nature and spirituality.
This whimsical design is also really effective and powerful
Monarch Butterfly Tattoo
Monarch butterflies are one of the most recognisable butterfly species, a beautiful creature with orange with red and white markings.
The monarch name relates to royalty, linking the meaning with strength and endurance, in addition to the transformation and evolution meaning.
Broken Butterfly Tattoo
This tattoo concept relates to the fragility of beauty. Sometimes beauty can be delicate and fleeting, but this is another reminder for us to live in the moment and appreciate beauty before it passes.
In this delicate minimalist tattoo, the butterflies wings shatter like broken glass into falling shards.
What do different color butterfly tattoos mean?
The type of butterfly, or different colors of butterfly can influence the meaning behind your butterfly tattoo, meaning that not all butterfly tattoos mean the exact same thing.
Black Butterfly Tattoo
Whether you go for black wings, black butterflies, or just tattoo your simple butterfly line drawing in black ink, the black butterfly is a simple and elegant tattoo that can be done in a minimalist style, or a more traditional tattoo style.
The color black symbolises death and grief, and the black butterfly in nature is rare and elusive meaning this color of butterfly has an element of mystery.
Using black ink, you can create a beautiful detailed butterfly with mandala style detailing.
This black ink butterfly tattoo is made up of many tiny little butterflies, symbolising how many small things can come together to achieve a bigger goal, or celebrating the beauty of teamwork and family.
White Butterfly Tattoo
White butterflies symbolise positive energy in the universe. They are also known as a message of comfort to those in mourning, if you see a white butterfly is seen as a symbol of good fortune.
The color white generally symbolises purity, innocence and spiritual growth.
Full white ink tattoos are something quite unique, and extremely subtle. This white ink butterfly tattoo won’t be seen from a distance, it’s like a hidden secret on your body.
Red Butterfly Tattoo
Red butterflies are a symbol of joy and peace, and red is generally a symbol of passion and love.
This red butterfly tattoo on the shoulder bone has a 3D effect by using the shadow to create a 3D butterfly tattoo – so cool.
We’ve also seen many red ink butterfly tattoos which simply use the red ink for a line art and shading tattoo, like you would normally do with black ink.
Using the color red, you could also incorporate other powerful elements like flames of fire.
Purple Butterfly Tattoo
Purple butterflies are a symbol of serenity, and gentle strength.
Purple is also the color of wealth and majesty so combining this color into your butterfly tattoo can bring elements of this.
Seeing a purple butterfly is said to be a good omen, and a sign of divine intervention.
The shade of color you choose is also going to influence the look of your butterfly tattoo, you can go with bold vibrant colors or something more subtle and pastel.
Yellow Butterfly Tattoo
Yellow is a joyful happy color, a symbol of optimism and positivity. Yellow butterflies are said to be a symbol of good luck.
This yellow butterfly tattoo combined with sunflowers is such a positive, uplifting and gorgeous design
Blue Butterfly Tattoo
Blue butterflies are some of the most beautiful. Blue butterflies are considered as a symbol of love, and the blue butterfly tattoo as a symbol of good luck.
Blue butterflies represent the need to be true to yourself in all aspects, and to be creative.
Blue is a color of calm, tranquility and peacefulness and also the color of sadness. Sometimes change, although positive and beautiful can also be sad as it sometimes necessitates leaving things or people behind, so the blue butterfly tattoo is a beautiful way to recognise the bittersweet nature of some of these life transitions.
Symbolism of the Butterfly Effect
Another cool meaning of butterflies, as well as transformation and change, is the butterfly effect. This is the idea that the world is deeply interconnected and one small action can cause a chain reaction of effects like a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world causing a tornado in another part of the world.
The butterfly effect is part of the chaos theory, and is a mind-blowing and thought-provoking concept which can add an even deeper layer of meaning to your butterfly tattoo.
Whatever type of butterfly tattoo you’re leaning towards, these delicate creatures are full of symbolic meanings in many different cultures.
We hope these butterfly tattoo ideas helped give you some inspiration and to understand the deeper meaning of these beautiful creatures.
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Anna is a Wales-based writer and graduate from SOAS University of London.
As the voice behind On Your Journey, she empowers women to embrace holistic well-being and spiritual growth through her expert insights into wellness and symbolism.
When she isn't writing thought-provoking articles, you'll find her busy crafting and raising her 4 children.