Good and evil tattoo designs use a dichotomy of images to create a deeper, more unified meaning. In most good/evil tattoos, either is given the advantage or illustrated to be the triumphant or the stronger of the two. Both images are usually very similar, like two cats or two supernatural humanoids.
The effect of the overall design, the combination of a symbol for good and an equal symbol for evil, is that both exist in the world. In a sense, there could be no good aspects of life without bad counterparts, just as there could be no frame of reference for 'cold' without first being aware of 'hot.'
Good and evil tattoos often represent the balance of these two forces in the world; without evil, there would be no goodness. In these tattoos, good and evil, such abstract ideas, are symbolized in a variety of interesting and creative ways. Perhaps most obviously and most traditionally, angel and devil motifs are used. The angel represents goodness and divinity, while the countering devil represents sinfulness and temptation.
This depiction, of angels as good and devils as evil, has a long history among several religions and cults around the world. From contemporary occult groups to Tibetan artwork to Catholic cathedrals, angels and devils or demonic entities have been battling things out for centuries. Generally accepted symbols of angels and devils are often adapted to non-religious creatures or even inanimate objects in order to create more humorous and creative renditions of the same basic design. For the good portion of the tattoo, halos, angel wings, harps, and gold are often used to personify the image as angelic. On the other hand, devil horns, forked tails, pitchforks, and red are used to create the opposite effect.
Although good and evil tattoo designs are somewhat less common than more trendy motifs, these tattoos have a long standing history and traditional conventions. Good and evil tattoos are sometimes separated into a good tattoo and an evil tattoo, although they will look unified through color, style, and size, and each is placed on a shoulder blade, peck hand or foot, creating distance between the two but still emphasizing balance.
This placement harkens back to a common and well known artistic and literary convention. Have you ever seen a cartoon when a character, needing to make an important decision (like to obey and follow rules), is suddenly accompanied by a tiny angel on one shoulder and a tiny devil on the other? These characters are known as shoulder angels and shoulder devils. This is a creative means of expressing the character's internal conflict. He is capable of either choice, but the two little creatures weigh the pros and cons, helping him decide whether to give into temptation or do the moralistic thing. Because of this, good and evil tattoos tend to follow the same established custom. Good appears on one side of the body, while evil graces the other side. The balance is obvious and the person is capable of expressing both good and bad personality traits, a polarity that theoretically exists within us all.
It is impossible to discuss good and evil tattoo designs, without addressing the Eastern connection of Yin-Yang tattoos. Yin and yang are ancient symbols that, when combined, represent the totality of the universe. Yin represents the feminine while Yang symbolizes the masculine. Yin is cold, dark, passive, and weak where yang is hot, bright, active, and strong. It is impossible to understand light, without having a comparison of darkness. Weakness cannot be felt without ever being strong.
Yin-yang symbolizes that everything is in harmony with an opposite, nothing is completely yin or yang, but all things exhibit characteristics of both. In the Japanese tradition, yin and yang are portrayed as a phoenix and dragon, and these creatures are frequently tattooed together, creating the same balance that is seen in good and evil tattoos. However, it is very important to understand that, unlike good and evil designs, neither yin nor yang is considered good or bad. They simply are, without being moral or immoral. Yin-yang is entirely amoral. Good and evil tattoos, in contrast, are good and bad by nature.