Key Tattoo Meaning: [Attributes, Design Ideas, Symbolism]

When looking for a perfect tattoo design on the internet, you will not find a key tattoo among the typical ones. But it has become a favorite choice for many over the years. Sometimes you will find it alone or combined with different symbols.

There is a wide range of meanings to infer from a key tattoo. People mainly associate it with trust, commitment, freedom, or love. It also bears an aura of the secrecy and mystery of the unknown.

But there is more to it. I will explain all the meanings to provide you with a better understanding of the key tattoo. First, let’s delve into its backstory.

key tattoo meaning

History Of The Key

According to their vast history, locks and keys go way back, and the first known pair came to the discoverer’s attention in the capital of Assyria, the Nineveh ruins. Those locks and keys inspired the Egyptians to develop and start using wooden pin locks. They had equipment like keys and bolts for doors.

Inserting the keys would raise the pins out of the holes within the bolts, causing the locks to move. Pulling out keys would drop back into their holes to keep the locks back in their place.

The warded locks are the most popular keys and locks used in the West, from 870 to 900. Afterward, metal locks came into play. The credit is arguably due to the English or Theodorus of Samos, considered to have invented metal keys in the 6th century.

Wealthy Romans used keys and locks to secure their valuable belongings in boxes. No one could get them out without using the specific key. The box owner used to show off the key by putting it on their fingers. It was a way to tell the general people that they were affluent with expensive and luxurious things that they kept somewhere locked. That also ensured that no one could access the stuff as the owner had the key.

The Key Symbolism

I already mentioned that the tattoo has a number of interpretations, as the key has many. I will jump to that soon after talking a bit about its symbolism. From a general perspective, a key is quite a symbolic item.

It symbolizes wisdom and success. It gives its owner access to doors that others find locked. Besides, it is also a symbol of power and wealth. If you have it, it will equip you with the means to achieve things people desire. It will take you to places they cannot explore. In a nutshell, a key comes to you with exclusivity.

Symbolizing beginnings and closures, it celebrates life events like people becoming parents, starting their dream job, reaching their goals, etc.

The sign ‘ankh,’ a cross shaped like a key, was used to represent the journey between this life and the next in ancient Egypt.

The Key Tattoo Meaning

The key tattoo’s meaning and context depend largely on the kind of key. Antique iron keys with complex designs can reference secrets, truths, or something generations have been passing down to one after another. It could signify a memory, tragedy, or characteristic of a family that it has developed or inherited over time.

You can have your key tattoo designed in different styles. It can be simple yet with delicate details or flamboyant and huge. A thin and tiny key having only a pair of teeth might symbolize the key to someone’s diary, where they document the affairs of their daily life. On the contrary, a massive and antique design can refer to a certain period in history or be a reminder of an ancestor or a deceased beloved.

Sometimes people want to add a touch of variety to their key tattoos. So they bring in the designs of mandala and henna to introduce Buddhism, Hinduism, and Indian heritage. It will make the tattoo more intricate and help the tattoo owner demonstrate their philosophy and personality in a blend.

Common Attributes

There are some common attributes of the key tattoo with specific references. Check them out to widen your knowledge about it.

Skeleton Key Tattoos

A skeleton key tattoo with a single or a couple of teeth is like a master key. It is effectively capable of unlocking any locks for which the owner made it. It conveys an inevitable truth or a piece of knowledge or represents the struggle to achieve it.

Skeleton Key Tattoo1

People often make the design with a labyrinthine end resembling a Celtic knot. It stands for a secret while serving as an emblem of keeping skeletons in the cupboard.

Then you can also design skulls or sugar skulls in the grip of your key tattoo to broaden the concept of the skeleton key. It signifies death and has an ominous appearance that matches people with a dark outlook.

Key And Lock Tattoos

Sometimes you will see a lock with a key but in separate places. Usually, one arm has the key, and the other has the lock. The heart lock is a popular tattoo pattern that says, ‘The key to my heart is yours.’ People have it as a sign of love for their special ones.

key and lock tattoo

On a contradictory note, they also convey a message of heartache or betrayal. The metaphor of having the key to one’s heart means that only the special person can open it.

Another design of a keyhole with a heart refers to one’s endless quest for true love. Yeah, the key tattoo can be quite romantic!

Heart And Floral Designs

The key often poses itself as a keeper of secrets. If you could open it, it would take you to the life story of another individual. Besides, you can shape it like a heart to stand for openness and kindness.

Heart And Floral Key Tattoo

If you are into flowers, you can shape the key florally or wrap it with flowers or vines. Ribbons could be an addition, too, knotted into a bow on the key. You can further color it to give it an aesthetically pleasing appearance. It will look very vibrant and youthful.

Demonstrating ‘Key’ Properties

Apart from being mysterious, a key tattoo can be a portrayal of someone’s characteristics. In that case, an individual can design the key with distinct cuts that can fit only specific locks. Then it will symbolize the properties of the person with the tattoo, which make them different from others.

Demonstrating Key Properties

You can be creative with it and design a crown into the key’s grip. Then it will be the indication of royalty – a tiny yet classy upgrade to bring out the inner you.

Moons And Stars For Spirituality

If you have a spiritual outlook toward life, you can try celestial images with your key tattoo by asking your tattoo artist to incorporate moons and stars into the key grip. It will highlight the spiritual side of your personality.

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Moreover, you could also have it turned into something like a crucifix of David to display your religious belief. Or, to have light but surreal imagery, you can get angelic wings on both sides of the key to generating light yet surreal and peaceful imagery.

Padlock Tattoos

It is a special one. Key tattoos are directly related to padlock tattoos. You can also call them couple tattoos since it is particularly for love birds to show their love.

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When couples decide to get a padlock tattoo, one has the key, while the other has the padlock. They are the symbols of togetherness, endearment, affection, and love between the two persons.


Aside from the discussed attributes, the tattoo refers to surrender, too. It can simultaneously be the door to freedom by unlocking it and the door to imprisonment by locking it.

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Another significant meaning is when an individual is entrusted to the keys of the city, showing they belong to a community and can enjoy unlimited freedom and access.

Placement Of The Key Tattoo

The placement and the meaning of a tattoo design may not be codependent. But they are when it is a key tattoo.

If you have it on the lower part of your body, the key tattoo meaning will become very personal and intimate, meant to be shared selectively. However, having the design around the heart can indicate that it is about someone the tattoo owner holds very precious.

You can choose short phrases, words, names, and favorite quotes to be around the key. Words could be about your personality, whereas names could be of the people you will never forget. For example, you can use properties like ‘honesty’ or ‘powerful’ to show what you prioritize in a human being.

Phrases and quotes could be about something that shapes your philosophy of life. Basically, you can add anything that suits the key design and matches you as a person.

There are several fonts to use for the words or sentences. A widely used font is a script-like one that connects the grip with the key teeth to combine the letters accurately. Then they will not look out of place. Some link them with the key through a chain to make the design unique.

Who Wear A Key Tattoo?

People with a gloomy past that they want to forget and are about to step on a fresh beginning pick the design. The key tattoo meaning reminds them of the possibilities of life. It encourages them to live anew in the present and embrace the future.

Young adults prefer a key tattoo with a heart as a token of their love of life or heartbreak. Religious people carry key tattoos to preach their thoughts and beliefs.

But being neither does mean you cannot get a key tattoo. What you want it to convey is up to you. As long as that goes with your mindset, you can get it and add more details per your choice. You can read the following section to get some direction about it.

How To Get A Key Tattoo To Your Advantage 

What To Symbolize

The first thing about taking advantage of a key tattoo is to determine what you want to represent by it. For instance, a black-and-white key tattoo will be fitting if it is about your capability and intelligence. But if you want to express your love for someone, you can get a double tattoo with a flashy outline.

The key point is the key tattoo meaning. The presentation of the design will vary from one symbol to another.

Combining It With Various Components

Additionally, as you have read about the other attributes above, you can combine them with your key tattoo. For instance, a padlock closing a chain would indicate the presence of something to protect, and only the right key can unlock it.

Another example is associating an unforgettable day of your life or the name of someone with the padlock. It is a way to reminisce about your special moments with that person.

Finding The Right Tattoo Design

The outcome of a tattoo depends largely on choosing the right tattoo design. You have to understand how to keep the message intact while adding more components and delicate details.

For instance, a golden key will be appropriate if it is about love. But it will not work well for secrecy. You would need a little silver key for that.

Afterward, you should focus on the placement. Small tattoos appear better in areas like the arm, ankle, or wrist. Large ones should go to the legs, back, or chest. It is no thumb of rule but for aesthetic purposes only. Then again, isn’t aesthetics a part of the whole thing?

Paying Attention To The Details

You must pay attention to each and every detail of your key tattoo, regardless of its size. And make it personal so that it best reflects your taste and personality.

Failing to do that will result in an undesirable outcome in both appearance and symbolism. So, you should put enough care and effort into your key tattoo to get the most out of it.

Final Words

The key tattoo meaning is not limited to one thing. It can signify the transition between life and death, power, opportunities, secret, love, and many other things. So it is important to learn about them before getting a key tattoo.

I tried to explain everything I found out about it. Whatever you select for your key tattoo to represent, be attentive to the design, placement, and details for the best result. Good luck!

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