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Covering Up Your Old Tattoo

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Do you have an old tattoo that you no longer want? Whether it was a spur-of-the-moment impulse tattoo, an ex-lover’s name, or just a tattoo that you just don’t want anymore, you are not alone. We all have regrets, but with tattoos being a permanent mark on your body, seeing it everyday can become quite the annoyance. No matter the reason, getting a cover-up tattoo does have its limitations, so here are a few things to keep in mind before going in for a cover-up.

How do cover-ups work?

When you are getting tattooed, ink is being deposited into your dermis, just one millimeter under the skin. As the ink is now permanently situated, a cover-up works by depositing a new color in with the old, not sitting on top of the old color but combining together to make a new color. For example, if red is covered up with green, it will turn brown, whether on paper or underneath your skin.

When your tattoo artist is strategizing how to cover up your old tattoo, they are also thinking about how they can incorporate your existing design into the new one, and how the existing colors will mix with the new. Cover-ups are not easy- on many cover-ups you can still see a hint of the old design, and that’s normal. A cover-up is very different from tattooing on blank canvas, so while some concepts may work for a new tattoo, most won’t for a cover-up.

What you need to know

Here are a few points that you need to keep in mind:

  1. The new design must be bigger than your existing tattoo, sometimes 3-4 times larger

  2. It will need to be much darker, especially if your old one is dark.

  3. Bright, warm colors like yellow, orange, and red don’t work well for cover ups. Cooler, darker colors like purple, blue, and green works better.

  4. The new design must be solid with lots of coverage, meaning you won’t be able to have negative space. So geometric, dotwork, and tribal tattoos won’t work.

  5. It may take a few passes for the old tattoo to be successfully covered, so it will take time and patience.

Choosing the design

Deciding on the design can be difficult, as there are lots of limitations. Most times, the cover-up will just camouflage the old design, and there are some subjects are tend to cover up pretty well.

For example, animals that can be darker, or more elaborate designs with lots of detail like scales and feathers work well also, like koi fish, dragons, birds like ravens. For background cover-ups, black atmospheric shading can also help to hide the old tattoo and elevate the cover-up.

You will need to have a consultation with an artist before going in for your cover-up, as the artist will need time to think of different possible solutions before creating the design. During the consult, the artist will take a tracing of your old tattoo, and sometimes even draw on your skin to get an idea of solutions and to also show you the possibilities.

Cover-ups can be expensive and take time, but with the right artist and design, it will be well worth it.

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