Tutorial: Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead! It’s not just an underrated George Romero film: in fact, it’s one of the world’s most popular holidays. Throughout Mexico, Central America, and parts of the United States, people observe Day of the Dead on November 1 and 2 as a way of honoring their ancestors, embracing the cycle of life, and having awesome graveyard picnic parties.

Among the most beautiful and recognizable Day of the Dead symbols is the calavera, or decorative skull. These show up in the form of candies, statuettes, even costumes—and coinky-dinkily, PicMonkey has an entire theme devoted to calaverifying your face! So this year, why not celebrate Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos, as we call it en la neighborhood) by turning yourself into a skeletal masterpiece? Open up the Themes tab and head to Day of the Dead to play along at home.

Bone Color

Choose white for your basic skull bones. After painting it on, use the eraser to remove errant strokes, and feel free to move the Fade slider to make your color stronger or not-so-strong. Click Apply.

Next, add a black or bright color around the eyes. Don’t worry about getting a perfect makeup-artist-of-the-dead look right now: you’ll fill this area in with eye socket designs in the next step! All you need to do is paint around the eyes. Adjust the fade to taste and click Apply.

Tip: Create a sculpted, skeletal look by using black to darken the area under the cheekbones and lips. You’ll wanna turn the fade up pretty high to keep it looking subtle.

Eye Sockets

Position your eye socket over your subject’s eye. (What??? Hey, you can put them over the cheeks or nose if you want; we’re not the boss of you.) If the eye socket is a solid shape, use the Eraser button within the Graphic palette to see eyes. Right click, duplicate and flip horizontally to make the matching eye socket.

Tip: If you want a creepier calavera look, use Corpse Eyes (in the Zombies theme) or Evil Eyes (in Vampires) to make your eyes to diiiiiiie for.

Nose Holes

Skull nose holes look best if they cover the nostrils of your subject, so align and resize your Nose Hole of choice until those nostrils are invisible (that’s “invisible” in Spanish, folks).

Tip: You may need to rotate the Nose Holes to match the angle of the skull head.

Skull Teeth

Place the skull teeth over your subject’s lips. Play with the size of the image; sometimes a bigger mouth is more dramatic, other times a tiny one will do the job.

Tip: To change the aspect ratio of your teeth, hold down the shift key on your keyboard while you move the resize handles.


Here’s a fun fact about our Day of the Dead Embellishments: see those marigolds? We’ve included them because marigolds are believed to guide the spirits of the departed back to their graves, where their living relatives prepare a picnic of their favorite foods. (Naturally, the spirits can’t actually eat the food, so their relatives are kind enough to polish off the picnic for them.)

If you’re a rookie embellisher, go for symmetry: place a design on one side of your subject’s face, right-click, duplicate, and flip it horizontally to make an exact copy for the other side.

Tip: Use graphics such as Geometric, Hearts, and Stars to add more detail.

Sugar Skulls

Last but not least, Sugar Skulls. These graphics work as lively decorative elements, but can also be placed right over faces for a one-click Day of the Dead costume transformation.

And there you have it! Your guide to dipping your toes into one of Mexico’s most beautiful traditions. This Day of the Dead, we hope you try your own festive photo transformation, patronize a local taco truck, watch The Book of Life, or just tell your family you love them. And have fun!

Turn inspiration into action. Join now, and treat yourself to the PicMonkey creative toolkit.

This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make powerful images that level up your business.