Unfortunately, bad tattoos happen to the best of us. Maybe you let a novice practice on you and s/he gave you a truly bad tattoo, or maybe you have a well-done tattoo that's of something you no longer love... like your ex's name. Whatever the reason, if you have a tattoo you aren't fond of anymore, a cover-up tattoo may be the best option for you.
Can any tattoo be covered up, even if it's solid black? What kind of designs work best as cover-up tattoos? What do you need to know to ensure you get the best cover-up tattoo possible? Read on to learn how you can cover up a tattoo you don't like with one you're sure to love!
Tips for Successful Cover Up Tattoos
The best course of action for masking your old tattoo depends on a few different things, like the colors in your original tattoo, how old/faded it is, the subject of the cover-up tattoo you want, and whether or not any components of your old tattoo are salvageable. For instance, the top-left photo is of a different sort of cover-up tattoo that worked around an existing tattoo and hid it in plain sight rather than trying to blot it out of existence. The woman whose arm is pictured didn't entirely hate her old tattoo, but she didn't love it by itself either. Plus it was solid black, which can limit one's cover-up tattoo options. She talked to her tattoo artist and they agreed the best way to deal with it was to tactfully incorporate it into a new tattoo. They worked together on a design that included all the elements she wanted in her new tattoo--butterflies and flowers and curling branches--and then her artist created a design around the old one with such skill that it's hard to spot the original tattoo. Any idea what part was the original? Take a close look. It's in the middle of the thickest branch, but it's interwoven in a graceful way that mimics the curves of the butterflies' wings and the swirls in the background, making the original tribal swirl tattoo look like a relatively natural element in this woman's new nature tattoo.
More often than not, when someone wants to cover up an old tattoo, they want it covered. A workaround like the one shown above isn't always an option, but it is worth at least considering, particularly when you're dealing with darkly-colored tattoos. Tattoo ink isn't quite like paint, which you can put over a layer or two of primer to hide a color palette misstep from your past, like the black walls you chose for your bedroom as a brooding teenager. It takes about 3 coats of primer and 2 coats of a new color to cover up black walls, so how on earth does a tattoo artist cover up an old black tattoo? It isn't easy; it requires blending, shading, detail and depth of color applied with skill, which is why it's worth taking the time to do careful research and find an artist in your area who specializes in cover up tattoos.
What Matters in a Cover-up Tattoo Design
In addition to finding a good artist, you have to choose the right cover-up tattoo design and be open to modifications that will allow it to completely hide your old tattoo. When considering your cover-up tattoo design options and going through the process with your artist, keep these things in mind:
- The more complex your cover-up design is in terms of fine details and rich shading, and the more solid, deep colors it has in it, the better your cover-up will turn out. For instance, elements like layers of scales on fish, variegation in flower petals, and swirls of hair in different shades may aid in the cover-up process. Also, deep purples, blues, greens, and other dark, cool colors with lots of black shading will cover up an old tattoo best, particularly when the original tattoo is dark. By contrast, warmer colors tend to be less successful at covering an old tattoo. The design being covered will determine whether or not any warm colors can be used in your cover up tattoo.
The cover-up tattoo shown to the right is a great example of one utilizing deep colors and lots of shading and detail to successfully cover up an old, darkly-colored tattoo.
- Your new design will need to be larger than your old tattoo, so that it provides more than sufficient coverage. The shape of the new design and the way it's angled over top of the old one will play a role in how much larger your cover-up tattoo needs to be to successfully mask your old tattoo. Don't be surprised if your artist suggests making the new design twice as large as the original one, if not larger.
- Your artist may suggest that you have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal to lighten your old tattoo before attempting to cover it up with a new one. The necessity for laser tattoo removal depends on the age of your old tattoo, how dark the colors are in the original tattoo, what colors you want included in your cover up tattoo, and the complexity of the cover-up design. When covering up an old, faded tattoo, laser tattoo removal usually isn't necessary. Likewise, if your cover up tattoo design is intricate and includes colors that are darker than those in the tattoo being covered, you may not need to have laser tattoo removal first. Your artist will be able to advise you best on this matter.
- Be prepared to have anywhere from one to three touch-up sessions after getting your cover up tattoo. Once the ink has settled, the old design may peek through somewhat, but a few more passes should take care of that problem, if it arises.
The absolute best thing you can do as you embark on the journey of getting a cover-up tattoo is to stay flexible. Keep an open mind about your preferred artist, cover-up design and any factors that may impact its success. If you're too fixed on any one aspect, you may end up just as unhappy with your new tattoo as you were with your old one--or worse yet, still be able to see the old tattoo through the new one.
To get started, pull together a few ideas for cover-up tattoos that really appeal to you and that will have lasting meaning for you, make consultation appointments with a couple well-reputed tattoo artists who have extensive experience doing cover up tattoos, and talk to the artists about your cover-up ideas during your meetings. Ask them which of your design ideas they think will cover up your tattoo best and what edits, if any, they would make to ensure that your cover-up tattoo will be as successful as possible. Look at each artist's portfolio carefully, and decide who you think will do the best job based on their past work and your interviews with them.
Your chosen artist will guide you on things like having laser tattoo removal to lighten your old tattoo if it's really dark or too dense to be hidden by the new tattoo you want, making your cover-up design more intricate to better camouflage aspects of your old tattoo, the ideal cover-up tattoo size and position needed to get the best possible outcome, and what color palette should be utilized in your cover up tattoo. Once your cover up tattoo is complete, your artist can also tell you if you should come back after it's healed and have another layer of ink added to finish the job properly.
Cover-Up Tattoo Recap
If you want to rid yourself of a tattoo you no longer like by covering it up with or incorporating it into a new tattoo, just keep these 4 simple tips in mind to ensure that you get the best new tattoo possible:
- Research your tattoo artist well. Find someone experienced who specializes in cover up tattoos.
- Choose a cover-up design that utilizes cool, dark colors (purples/blues/greens), shading and lots of fine detail to ensure your old tattoo will be successfully masked.
- Be open to suggestions from your artist about size, placement and design changes that will yield the best cover-up tattoo results.
- If your artist strongly encourages you to have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal before starting the cover-up process, do it. Also, go back for touch-up sessions after getting your cover-up tattoo if your artist says it's necessary.
Having an old, faded tattoo, a bad tattoo, or a tattoo you're just no longer crazy about covered up can be expensive and time consuming, but it's worth it if it means you'll end up with a great new tattoo that you'll cherish for years to come. You'll have to find the right tattoo artist, choose a larger, more complex design that can cover your original tattoo, and possibly have a little laser tattoo removal and/or a few touch ups to finish the job properly, but the effort you put forth and the investment of time and money you make will be worthwhile if it means getting the best cover-up tattoo possible. When you see a new design you're crazy about emerge before your eyes and it erases the piece of your past you no longer care for, it'll be worth every moment and penny you spent to get a tattoo you really love.
Note: The cover up tattoo images shown here can all be found either on BodyModInk.com, on TheStudio.PainfulPleasures.com, or in our Body Mod Photo Gallery, where members of our online community share photos of a wide variety of mods like original and cover-up tattoos, piercings, scarification, human suspension, and more. If you aren't yet a member of our online community and would like to join to have full access to our photo gallery and be able to comment on photos, share pictures of your own mods and participate in our forum, please read the Gallery Rules, the Rules of the Forum, and our instructions for using our photo gallery.