Lisbeth Salander - Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Tutorial




Introduction: Lisbeth Salander - Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Tutorial

This version of Lisbeth Salander’s look is mostly based off the American/English film version but includes some elements of the Swedish version as well. 

This is just my interpretation of it- your imagination is limitless!

See this Pinterest board for reference images of Lisbeth Salander.

Elements of this costume:

-Bleached Mohawk Skull Tshirt (steps 1-10)
-Dark Hoodie
-Leather or Faux Leather Motorcycle jacket
-Dark, distressed pants (step 12)
-Boots with duct tape on right toe (step 13)

Hair and Makeup:
-Dying your hair black (permanent or temporary)
-Hair cut and style
-Makeup: foundation, contouring your face, eyes, brows
-Temporary Dragon and Wasp Tattoos (steps 18-20)

-Facial Piercings
-Razor necklace
-Fingerless gloves
-Leg Warmers (step 14)

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Step 1: DIY Bleached Skull Stencil Tutorial - Materials

-black tshirt, preferably 100% cotton and pre-washed
-freezer paper- found at grocery stores
-1” foam brush
-bleach pen
-disposable container like a yogurt cup
-pencil or [skinny] marker
-newspaper or cardboard
-large fabric scissors
-small fabric scissors or nail scissors
-tailor’s chalk

This is the image I traced for this stencil.

I put on the skull separate from the Mohawk bones because of the fragility of the Mohawk piece. 

Step 2: Bleached Skull Stencil- Tracing the Image

Trace the head/skull part of the design onto the matte (non-waxed) side of your freezer paper by either printing it out on plain white paper then taping it to a window with the freezer paper over it, taping the freezer paper over your computer screen, or using a light box.

Step 3: Bleached Skull Stencil - Cutting Out the Design

Cut out the head of the skull, then cut out the smaller pieces within it, keeping all the pieces.  Small craft scissors or nail scissors work best.

Step 4: Bleached Skull Stencil - Ironing the Outline

Preheat your iron to the cotton setting without steam.  I used a small craft iron that worked perfectly for this application!

Prepare your workspace by laying the tshirt directly on a hard surface such as a countertop.   Place newspaper or cardboard between the two layers of the shirt to prevent the bleach from bleeding through.

Lay the outline of the skull centered on your shirt.  Apply firm pressure  in a circular motion with the iron to lightly adhere the freezer paper to the shirt.

Step 5: Bleached Skull Stencil - Ironing the Interior Pieces

Place the skull you previously cut in its original place, and iron.  Add the small accent pieces and iron.

Then, carefully peel back the interior skull piece, leaving the accent pieces and outline intact and iron down the remaining pieces one more time.

Step 6: Bleached Skull Stencil - Applying Bleach

Squirt some of the bleach pen into your plastic container.  Use the foam brush to apply a thin, even layer to the exposed skull part.

Step 7: Bleached Skull Stencil - Removing the Stencil

Keep an eye on the bleach and watch it change colors.  When you’re happy with the effect (usually 5-8 minutes) carefully peel back the remaining pieces of freezer paper, being careful not the let the shirt bunch up on itself and transfer the bleach to places you don’t want it.

Rinse off the excess bleach in the sink.  I also used a little laundry soap to clean off the bleach.

Pop it in the dryer to prepare it for the next part!

Step 8: Bleached Skull Stencil - Mohawk Piece

Cut out the Mohawk part of your stencil on a new piece of freezer paper.  Go slow!  This part is a bit tedious and the stencil is very delicate.

Step 9: Bleached Skull Stencil - Applying the Mohawk

Follow the same steps as you did for the first portion (steps 4-7), lining it up with the top of the skull.

Step 10: Cutting the Tshirt Into a Tank Top

I chose to do a racerback to show off the dragon tattoo on my back left shoulder.

1. Use a seam ripper to remove the sleeves
2. Chalk out the lines on the back, creating thin tank top straps at the top
3. Connect the lines at the shoulder to the front
4. Cut along your chalk lines being careful to only cut through one layer of fabric
5. Seam rip most of the neckband  seam and stretch it out a bit
6. Cut a scoop neck in the front of the shirt underneath the neckband

Step 11: Other Top Layers

Lisbeth wears a lot of layers, which include a black hoodie and a motorcycle jacket usually.  I found a black zip-up hoodie at Target for around $20 (it even has the white accent twill tape on the inside of the zipper like hers does!) although a thrift store might be a good bet. That also holds true for the motorcycle jacket—I got a faux leather jacket from a retail store but thrift stores or online retailers will have them too.

She also wears a pair of black fingerless gloves.  All you need to do is get a cheap pair of black knit gloves from the dollar store and chop off the fingers.  

[first image from:]
[second image from: tumblr]
[third image from: Movie Cultists]

Step 12: Pants

Lisbeth wears two main styles of pants throughout the film—baggy pants and black skinny jeans.  I chose the latter because it was what first presented itself on the rack when I went to my local thrift store. 

My pants already had some rips in them, but you can easily add more!  I added some just below the knees using a cheese grater.  Use a side with smaller holes and drag it back and forth across the spot you want a hole.  This is usually easiest if you are wearing the pants.  As you wear through the fabric be careful not to get your skin!  When you start to wear a hole all the way through, you can just use your hands to enlarge the rip.

[first image from Pinterest]
[second image from Tumblr]
[third image from Summertime Shine]

Step 13: Boots

Any type of black tall boots will work for this costume.  I used some Doc Martens I already had.  Lisbeth has made her own repairs to her boots as they’ve worn out- on her right boot there is duct tape around the toe. 

To get this look for your boots without permanently leaving duct tape gunk on it, first measure one piece of tape that is long enough to wrap all the way around the toe (top and bottom).  Lay this flat on the floor with the sticky side up.   Measure another piece of tape just long enough to wrap over the top of the toe.  Lay this shorter piece, sticky side down, on top of the longer one.  Then take the whole thing and wrap it around the toe so that the only sticky parts will adhere to the bottom of your boot, not to the leather on the top.

[first image from: Tumblr]

Step 14: Leg Warmers

As you can see from the first photo in step 13, Lisbeth also wears some grey knit legwarmers.  These can be easily made by cutting off the arms of a sweater!  

Step 15: Hair

I used a demi-permanent dye called ‘Raw’ (in black metal) that I purchased from Hot Topic for $12.99.  This dye is supposed to last 3-6 weeks.  The strength and staying power of it depends upon how long you leave it in.  I applied it to my hair and left it in for about five hours.  It’s vegan and did not cause a burning sensation on my scalp like a lot of other products do.  Don’t be surprised when it washes out turquoise!

After the first night I re-dyed it with a permanent dye (Clairol Nice n’ Easy in #124 blue black) that stays stronger for longer.  If you are only wearing this costume for one night, the demi-permanent dye would work just fine but my festivities were stretched out over a few weeks.  

[all images from Tumblr]

Step 16: Makeup


1. Start off with a clean face.  Apply a base of white costume makeup to your face to lighten it before putting a foundation on. 

2. After the base has dried, apply a very light shade of liquid foundation with a makeup sponge.  I used Covergirl Clean foundation in #110 Classic Ivory.

3. Next use a foundation quite a few shades darker than the liquid foundation you just applied to contour your face to make it look a bit more sunken-in like hers.  You can find a great tutorial for contouring your face here.  I sucked my cheeks in to more clearly see where the lines of my cheekbones should go.  Using the tip of the sponge applicator apply the dark foundation along this diagonal line and blend. 


I did not want to mess with bleaching my eyebrows and risking a skin reaction to the harsh chemicals so I trimmed my eyebrows back (there may be other better ways to just cover up your eyebrows—there are many tutorials online).


For your lips use a nude lipstick.  Or mix a little bit of pale foundation with some Vaseline.  This will give you an even creepier pale look. 


Lisbeth’s eye makeup changes throughout the film depending on her mood and how she wants others to perceive her.  If you want to go with one of her lighter looks like I did, apply a thin line of black eyeliner to your upper lid.  Apply the liner also to your water line. 

Next take eyeliner or black eyeshadow (either creme or powder) on a small angle brush and apply it to your lower lid.  Smudge the eyeliner down and out to capture her ‘slept-in’ look.

In my photos above the first one is an example of the lighter look and the second one is the more aggressive, darker look.  
[Second to last photo from Time.]
[Last photo from The New York Times.]
[All other images from Tumblr.]

Step 17: Jewelry

Lisbeth has four notable/visible piercings: a nose ring, septum piercing, lip ring, and brow piercing.  I already had my nose pierced.  You can use a captive ball ring (without the ball in) for the septum piercing so it just sits between your nostrils. 

For the lip ring I purchased a pair of 5/16” spring hoops for non-pierced ears.

To create the look of the eyebrow piercing I got some stick-on crystals from my local craft store and spray-painted them metallic silver.  I used some eyelash glue to adhere them.  I would recommend doing it this way instead.

Another one of Lisbeth’s most prominent facial ornaments is her gauged earrings.  There are lots of options out there for people whose ears aren’t gauged—I got both my pairs of fake gauge earrings on Etsy.

The first set of earrings I'm wearing are the most similar to those worn by Lisbeth throughout the movie.  The pair in the photo after that were worn in some promo shots for the movie.

Lisbeth also has a second set of piercings in her ears and wears small hoops in them.

Another staple of Lisbeth's look is her razor blade necklace.  There's a multitude of razor blade pendants on ebay.  The necklace is easy to make yourself with a chain, jump ring, and clasp from your local craft store.

Lisbeth also wears a variety of cuffs and rings throughout the film.  Anything that's dark and edgy-looking will work just great. 

[first image from Tumblr]

Step 18: Tattoos - Intro and Materials

Lisbeth has two prominent tattoos-- a large dragon tattoo on the left side of her back and a wasp (her nickname) on her neck.  

-stencil sheets from local craft store
-stencil cutting tool
-temporary tattoo spray - available at your local craft store
-translucent powder
-spray liquid bandage
-a friend to help with the application

Step 19: Tattoos - Tracing the Image and Cutting Out the Stencil

Print out the image you want as the tattoo.  Make sure that all of the white spaces in your image are connected in your image before printing.  My tattoo was about 9.5in x 11in, printed on two pages.

Tape the stencil sheet over the image and trace with a sharpie onto the plastic.  I chose to further divide the top section into two sections so that the stencil could lay flat over the curve of my back.  

With a piece of wood as your surface, use the stencil cutting tool to cut out your shape.  I trimmed any extra melted pieces with a pair of small scissors afterwards.

The first image above is the original tattoo, and the second image is the stencil I created based off the original tattoo.  

[Image originally found here]

Step 20: Tattoos - Applying the Tattoo

Grab a friend to help you with this part!

Once your design is cut out, spray a little bit of craft bond onto the back side of the plastic.  Allow it to dry for a minute so that it lightly adheres to your skin.  Lay the stencil onto your skin and pat down creating a good seal between your skin and the stencil.

Spray the temporary tattoo ink from about 6 inches away at a 90 degree angle to the stencil, coating evenly.  As I mentioned previously I did mine in three separate segments, carefully lining up each successive piece.  

Allow the ink to dry and then slowly peel back the stencil.  Brush on some transluscent powder, and then spray on some liquid bandage.  This will keep the tattoo on longer and make it more water resistent.

And the photo above is how mine came out!

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    7 Discussions


    6 years ago

    Just curious if you could go into detail on how you did the darker makeup? :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Take a look at the original swedish movies with Noomi Rapace as Salander, a much better movie and actress than the american movie with Mara Romney.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bpcl=38897761&biw=1280&bih=617&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&authuser=0&ei=s1e2UI23F43V4QTl8IHwCA


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Really really really excellent attention to detail. I mean, seriously, wow. Wonderful work. You even managed to credit the photo sources in an elegant way!