Spade tattoos are very popular, with the Ace of Spades being the most popular spade tattoo. The Ace of Spades tattoo meaning represents a number of ideas that can be positive, neutral, or negative depending on the context. The actual Ace of Spades card has even played a part in 20th century military history.
If you are considering getting an Ace of Spades tattoo, keep reading to learn about this tattoo’s meaning so that you can determine if the image is the right tattoo for you.
Ace of Spades Symbol Uses and Meaning
The spade symbol goes back to the 15th century when it was used in French playing cards. It was called a “pike” and it represented a spear. Pikes were used as weapons of defense in castles and lands where empire or monarch rule existed.
The spade card symbol played a role in 20th-century military history during both World Wars and the Vietnam War. In World War I, British 12th Division infantry soldiers used the symbol as their insignia for luck. In the second World War, the Indian 25th Infantry Division and the American 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment also used the spade symbol as formal insignia or as good luck charms painted on helmets.
It was in the Vietnam War that the Ace of Spades took on its association with death and was used as a psychological war tactic to create fear among the Vietnamese soldiers. Ace of Spades cards were left on the bodies of slain Viet Cong, large numbers of cards were littered on the forest ground, and some American soldiers even wore the cards on their helmets — the intent was for the Ace of Spades card to mean death and to lower morale among the VC. (Click here for a more in-depth read about the Ace of Spades card during the Vietname War,)
Aside from being a symbol of luck or a macabre death symbol, the Ace of Spades tattoo meaning may also signify someone that is in the military, has had experience in defense, or has a family legacy of military service.
Yet another meaning of the Ace of Spades tattoo is connected to gambling and may signify wealth or good fortune. Spades are a common symbol in many casinos and gambling centers. In gambling, the spade embodies wealth and royalty.
The Ace symbolizes the number one and the Ace of Spades is often the highest value card in many card games. In this context, an Ace of Spades tattoo meaning could represent leadership, intuition, or the first step in a cycle. It could also stand for a new beginning, a fresh start, or a new phase of life.
An Ace of Spades tattoo meaning could symbolize both an ending, and a new beginning, and carry both messages of light and love after a dark period of time.
Ace of Spades Tattoo Variations
There are many possible variations of an Ace of Spades tattoo. Symbols of playing cards or gambling are the most common images paired with an Ace of Spades tattoo. You might see jokers, dice, poker chips, money, casino wheels, and cards with this tattoo.
Death is frequently associated with the Ace of Spades. Tattoos will often include symbols of coffins, skulls, weapons, grim reapers, blood, the number 13, and other death imagery. The most common weapons associated with the Ace of Spades tattoo are guns, daggers, and swords. Flames and symbols of hell are also frequently used with the Ace of Spades to express the concept of death.
The Ace of Spades is also seen as a lucky symbol, so there are often designs that include lucky omens when luck is the meaning behind the tattoo. Images of luck may include four leaf clovers, horseshoes, leprechauns, Lady Luck, lady bugs, and lucky candles, or omens of light and love.
Machinery and mechanical elements are other common symbols shown with the Ace of Spades. Harley Davidsons, motorcycles in general, engines, cars, and mechanical icons or symbols may appear with an Ace of Spades tattoo.
Ace of Spades Tattoo Styles
Any tattoo art style can be used for an Ace of Spades tattoo. The most common ones are blackwork, black and red ink, traditional/old school, and realism. An Ace of Spades tattoo in any of these styles sends a strong message.
The Ace of Spades tattoo done in blackwork is a simple tattoo done exclusively in black ink. The wearer may want to have a very simple tattoo design or style that does not fade over time as one in color would.
The color red is often used to add an eye-catching contrast in tattoos done in black or black and gray ink and an Ace of Spades tattoo is no exception. Sometimes the card is an element within a larger color image.
An Ace of Spades done in the style of realism may be the most dramatic of them all. This is a tattoo that looks like a 3D photo or image come to life, often done in black and gray ink or they may be colored tattoos. The concept of artistic realism began in the 1800s in France, when artists wanted to create an image with paint that appeared as if it was an image in real life.
Ace of Spades Tattoo Considerations
The greatest consideration when getting this tattoo is that it has a definite darkness to it in many cases. Some people even automatically associate darkness to it. The spade itself as a symbol can mean a tool for digging and often symbolizes death or other morbid meanings.
An Ace of Spade tattoo meaning frequently suggests grim reapers, blood, skulls, and many other symbols that are part of death imagery. If you are considering this tattoo and you don’t want that message conveyed, you may want to add happier or brighter symbols, or lucky ones such as a clover, and that set a different, more upbeat tone in meaning.
The Ace of Spades Tattoo and Gang/Outlaw Culture
There are no well-known instances of the Ace of Spades tattoo or variations of the tattoo being associated with any gangs in the United States. Ace of Spade tattoos (and spade tattoos in general) are popular in biker culture. These tattoos stand for being tough, fearless, and taking chances — characteristics of the outlaw life.
That being said, there aren’t any variations of the Ace of Spades to be concerned about from a gang culture perspective.
Ace of Spades Tattoo Placement
Where you put your Ace of Spades tattoo is up to you and the message that you want to send with it. It also depends on what style you are using for your tattoo. A simple blackwork design with a personal and private meaning can be hidden on a discreet area of your body. A realism design that has taken experience and cost to put on your body is a design you would want to be seen.
Wrists, necks, forearms, are the most common body parts for Ace of Spades tattoo placements. When you have your design on paper, place it on different parts of your body to experiment and see which placement feels the best to you.
Ace of Spades Tattoo Examples
How you design your Ace of Spades tattoo is up to you and your tattoo artist. The creative license is unlimited, as you’ll see from these images that could be used as templates for tattoos.
Playing Card Images
Example 1: This image of a skull overlaying the spade symbol has aspects of the realism tattoo style.
Example 2: Again, an image created in a realism style with a small pop of red that creates a distinct mood and feel for the image. If this were used for a tattoo, it would clearly have one of the darker meanings behind it.
Example 3: This ace of spades playing card image is a little more gallows humor in tone with its use of a pirate skull and crossbones.
Example 4: This color image of an ace of spades playing card uses muted colors that keep a somber feel. The skull is done in a style that suggests tribal or or Latino-influenced art.
Example 4: The simple, yet dramatic art style of this ace of spades card image would make for a bold, statement tattoo.
As Part of a Larger Tattoo Image
Sometimes the Ace of Spades is not the obvious focal point of a tattoo image. Instead, it’s an element within a larger tattoo image which sets the context for the Ace of Spades tattoo meaning.
Example 1: This is an image of the four ace cards, with the Ace of Spades being the topmost card shown.
Example 2: If this image were worn as a tattoo, it could have an Ace of Spades tattoo meaning about the risk and uncertainty of life. In gambling lore, the two black aces and pair of black eights was said to be the hand Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was fatally shot in Deadwood.
Example 3: This image prominently features the spade symbol with all four spade cards in the background.
Example 4: An image similar to the previous one has a very different tone with skulls.
Example 5: An Ace of Spades tattoo meaning of this image is set by the “gangster skull” context.
Example 6: Likewise, if this image were used for a tattoo, it would express an Ace of Spades meaning having to do with gambling and luck.
Example 7: This black and white image of the four ace cards is drawn in a modern style where the cards aren’t fully formed, but are suggested with partially drawn lines. This adds to the effect created with the ink running down the image.
Example 8: The ink splatters and flames shown in this image of cards and dice sets a specific, dark tone for an Ace of Spades tattoo meaning.
Example 9: This image is a nod to the role the Ace of Spades card played in the Vietnam war.
Example 10: This image seems to pay homage to the gangster/gambler lifestyle.
Standalone Spade Images
Rather than being shown on a playing card, the Ace of Spades can also be a standalone spade symbol with other elements to indicate it’s the ace card the tattoo represents.
Example 1: Here we see just a few of the many artistic options for the spade symbol when combined with the “Ace of Spades” banner.
Example 2: The sunburst lines and ornate embellishment of this image would work as an Ace of Spades tattoo with a positive meaning behind it.
Example 3: Essentially the same image as above, the meaning it expresses changes drastically just by changing the central detail to a skull.
Example 4: The “hell imagery” of this illustration would definitely suggest an Ace of Spades tattoo meaning associated with death or possibly the occult.
Styles of Spades
There’s lots of room for artistic interpretation of a spade symbol to add a unique and personal touch to your Ace of Spades tattoo.
Example 1: A spade can be done in a very ornate, embellished art style.
Example 2: This spade could possibly be considered done in a Celtic style.
Example 3: This art style gives the spade a mystical, Eastern feel to it. The eye in the middle could represent good fortune or luck.
Example 4: This minimalist art style gives the spade an Art Deco feel to it.
Example 5: The skull doesn’t always have to be a grinning, fiendish one, either. This sugar skull sets a very different tone for an Ace of Spades tattoo meaning.
Example 6: There is something of a Nordic/Viking tone to this image that would allow an Ace of Spade tattoo to be added into existing Viking-themed tattoo work.
Example 7: This skull is reminiscent of vintage ink drawings that show shading and contours. Even though only the edges are seen, this is definitely a spade symbol image.
Lest You Think All Ace of Spade Tattoos Are Macabre…
You may be thinking that an Ace of Spades tattoo is always a serious or somber image. Check out these two images that prove otherwise.
Example 1: The sketch-art style of this image would make a dramatic tattoo with all four suit symbols or even just the spade on its own.
Example 2: This image created in softer colors and drawn in a cartoon style would make for a unique tattoo that conveys a meaning with a sense of humor.
Ace of Spades tattoos have a lot of different meanings, depending on the style and design you choose. An Ace of Spades tattoo meaning typically can mean something light or dark to the person wearing the image.
It can be shown with symbols of luck such as horseshoes and ladybugs, but it can also be paired with symbols of death and mortality. When shown with gambling imagery, it represents wealth, money, or abundance.
Of course, we can’t forget about the Ace of Spaces in military history and the ways it’s used to pay tribute to those who’ve served our country.
So now that you know the various aspects of the Ace of Spades tattoo meaning, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on whether or not this is the right choice for your body art image. If yes, then work with your tattoo artist to come up with an Ace of Spades tattoo that suits your personality and the special meaning your tattoo will carry.
Are you curious to know that the meanings of other tattoos are? Then click here for the articles in our Tattoo Meanings series.