Pixelation has largely been associated with the digital realm, but it’s slowly and surely making its way into the tattoo world too. You’ve probably seen some sick retro video game tattoos done with a ...

Pixelated Tattoos: In Style, Out of Focus

Pixelation has largely been associated with the digital realm, but it’s slowly and surely making its way into the tattoo world too. You’ve probably seen some sick retro video game tattoos done with a pixelated style (think Super Mario Bros.) but more recently, this technique is being used alongside other kinds of designs. Pixelated art is gaining popularity outside of the traditionally used gaming motifs, so we wanted to look at some of the potential meanings that pixelated tattoos can hold. There are a surprising number of applicable meanings for pixel tattoos, so we’re laying out some of the more popular ones right here.

Retro Throwback

An obvious meaning for pixelated tattoos is a throwback to vintage and retro gaming. Gaming consoles from the 80s and 90s are very fondly remembered by the kids who grew up in that era, so it’s not uncommon to see gaming icons in the form of pixelated tattoos. Designs like super mario, yoshi, life hearts – any of the characters or key images from some of the popular NES or SNES games are most commonly seen in this tattoo style.

If you were old enough to use a computer around this time, you’ll also be familiar with the pixelated look that photos had when they were printed out during the early 1990s. It was almost impossible to print a picture and not have the individual pixels visible somewhere in the printed image, so having a portrait tattoo done in a pixelated style can be a great way to throw back to the early years of technology starting to gain household popularity.

Marvel Reference

Captain America Pixelated Shield Tattoo

Since the release of Avengers: Infinity War, there’s been a huge surge in the number of people getting Avengers tattoos to show their love for the comic realm and Marvel fandom. The pixelation comes into play toward the end of the movie, when half of the heroes start to turn to ash and disappear. They start to come apart and deconstruct before they vanish completely, so a somewhat subtle nod to this universe could be in the form of a pixelated tattoo of one of the characters’ main elements.

Glitch in the Matrix

There’s a theory that’s been put forth for centuries, well before ideas for The Matrix movies ever entered the Wachowski sisters’ minds. The idea is that we don’t exist in any base reality, but within a virtual simulation that’s designed by smarter and more advanced entities. This idea has been in question, in some form or another, since Descartes first posed the idea “I think, therefore I am” (cogito, ergo sum), meaning you only exist when you’re aware that you exist. It’s very philosophical and kind of confusing, but subscribers to this theory can be hardcore. Pixelated tattoos, depending on the content and context behind the design, can be representative of a glitch in said matrix. Pixels are associated with glitches, because, for the most part, we really only see them when something isn’t working how it’s supposed to, therefore the individual pieces that make up the whole image are visible. Pixelated tattoos that are symbolic of this idea are philosophical in nature, and can symbolize glitches in the matrix itself, in one’s life, or one’s specific plans.


Pixelating Bird Tattoo

Similar to the idea of the Avengers heroes coming apart and dissipating, pixelated tattoos can be symbolic of deconstruction. It makes sense when you think about it – a broken up image is made up completely of individual pixels, so taking any image and breaking it down to the point where the pixels are visible is majorly deconstructing that image. The pixels in these kinds of designs look like they’re breaking away from the full picture, weakening its structure and slowly causing it to disappear. Pixelated tattoos can be representative of any kind of deconstruction, depending on the context of the design. It could reference a deconstruction of time, of one’s self, of life – there are limitless possibilities for what kind of dissipation and deconstruction that pixels can represent.


Pixelated Rose Tattoo

If the pixels in your tattoo are coming together to create an image, then the meaning becomes the opposite of deconstruction. Pixels become visible when you overly enlarge a digital image, so it becomes clear that it takes each small, individual pixel to create that larger picture. Many things follow the same idea – it takes small, individual aspects to create a whole, and this can apply to anything in life. You could be rebuilding your life after hardship, so using each trial and tribulation as a building block, you form a new, more complete whole. With each piece, or pixel, that’s added, the image gets stronger and more clear, symbolizing one’s own reconstruction. What kind of motif or image you use is up to you, there are no limitations, but keep in mind that some tattoo designs are associated with certain meanings, so take that into consideration when you’re thinking of a design idea for a pixelated tattoo.


Watercolor Pixelated Hippo Tattoo

Pixelation can add a visually amazing abstract quality to any tattoo design. It’s a subtle and simple way of taking a tattoo into the abstract realm, where art doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it’s hella interesting to look at. It doesn’t take a ton of pixelation to create this kind of effect, all you need to do is add a few squares within the the design that are individually colored to match the background. The idea would be like a superzoom effect – if you zoomed in really closely to that one part of the tattoo, what would the pixels look like? There’s no shading or detailing done on these pixelated tattoo squares, they’re just simply colored in as solid boxes in the middle of your tattoo. Pixelation truly is a unique way to integrate an abstract quality to any design.

Pixelated tattoos have many more meanings than you may have initially thought. Sure, they’re small squares that make up a complete picture, but they can be so much more than that. They can represent deconstruction and dissipation, rebuilding, or symbolize a throwback to a simpler time in video games. Pixels can also be added to any tattoo design to create an abstract effect to the piece. Whatever it is that you want to symbolize, pixelated tattoos can add an extra layer of depth to that meaning.

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