The Art of the Tattoo Cover-Up

We’ve all seen ugly tattoos: Whether it’s something that hasn’t aged well or a piece that was executed poorly to begin with, some tattoos just are not a joy to show off. As a result, a tattoo cover-up is something you or someone you know may have considered. On today’s blog, we’re sharing some of our inside perspective on the art of the tattoo cover-up–so if you’re wearing long sleeves to hide a piece you hate, read on!
Tan Vo takes his time designing and applying each tattoo to ensure you'll love your piece for a lifetime--no tattoo cover-up required!

Consideration 1: Tattoo Cover-Up vs. Touch-Up

Sometimes tattoos fall victim to circumstances. If you’ve experienced significant sun damage or have never moisturized your tattoo post-aftercare, you may be sporting a tattoo that is faded and/or blurry. Depending on the degree of damage, it’s possible that your tattoo can be salvaged! A touch-up is potentially an easier process than a full tattoo cover-up because it means an artist is able to work with the existing lines, colors, and details rather than against them.

If you can’t see your original tattoo artist for a cover-up, we’re always happy to take a look and see what’s possible. A touch-up is often a good time to add to an existing piece, so feel free to bring your favorite ideas to our studio!

Consideration 2: The Workaround

In the course of collecting tattoos, many times people “outgrow” certain designs for one reason or another. Perhaps a small piece is taking up valuable real estate on your personal canvas, or maybe your aesthetic has dramatically changed.

If you’ve got a piece that you don’t hate but you’d like to alter, a potential alternative to a tattoo cover-up is a workaround.  This might involve adding to an existing piece: For example, if you’ve got a small rose on your upper arm, an artist can create a design incorporating thematic elements like birds, butterflies, or more flowers to create a half-sleeve that “reads” as a coherent design.

Sometimes with a workaround, an artist can sometimes blend an old piece into a seamless tattoo cover-up. Imagine a paisley design being reshaped into an intricately detailed petal on a lotus blossom, for example, or a butterfly becoming part of a woman’s dress.

With a workaround, it’s particularly important to consider the overall style of the tattoo cover-up. If you your existing tattoo is American Traditional, it may be advisable to stick to that aesthetic in order to avoid a choppy final product.

Consideration 3: Salvaging Design Elements for Your Tattoo Cover-Up

If it’s not possible to work the entirety of your old tattoo into your new one, another option is to salvage specific elements of your existing ink. This might mean keeping one specific piece of your tattoo: For example, if you have a terrible portrait tattoo of your grandmother but the script for her name is well done, an option might be to cover the portrait with your grandmother’s favorite flower while leaving the script alone.

Another way of salvaging design elements is to allow your artist to work with the existing lines of your tattoo. Do you have a shabby lion tattoo you’d like to get rid of? Imagine working with the underlying structure of the tattoo to create a fierce dire wolf. Makes sense from a design perspective, right? Now imagine trying to overlay a design of a swallow over the lion instead. Not necessarily as straightforward! (Even so, such a dramatic transformation is potentially possible, if you’re open to the artistic perspective of an expert cover-up artist.)

Consideration 4: Total Tattoo Cover-Up

We understand that for some pieces a total tattoo cover-up is just what you need. Maybe it’s an ex’s name, maybe it’s a cringe-worthy rendering of a Disney princess–we feel your pain, and we’re here to help.

In such instances, it might not be a matter of transforming one animal into another, as with the lion-to-dire-wolf example above. But the same rules apply: The more you allow your artist to work with structural elements, the better your tattoo cover-up will turn out. Even a name has a framework that lends itself to certain designs: Cursive script has soft, rounded lines that easily flow into flowers, for example, while block lettering may require a different approach. Similarly, the particular morphology of that tragic princess tattoo can potentially shape your cover-up options.

Other factors to consider in your tattoo cover-up include color, depth, and detail. Depending on the original piece, certain colors might not fully cover the existing design, which can limit your cover-up possibilities. A pale pink dahlia might be out of the question in one particular case–but a dahlia in a deep purple could potentially work. A complex tattoo cover-up that involves shading and multi-layered details can help to cover or obscure your old piece. Animals with detailed scales or fur, trees with gnarled bark, intricate mandalas–these can potentially serve your tattoo cover-up better than simple or one-dimensional designs.

Consideration 5: Tattoo Cover-Up Expectations

We’ve got zero judgment when it comes to your tattoo cover-up. Whether you didn’t do your research or just hate your existing ink, we have a number of artists who are experts in tattoo transformation.

One of the biggest ways to succeed with your cover-up is to manage your expectations. In some cases, you might not be able to get exactly the design you want over your old piece, with no sign of the original–and that’s great! Other times, though, your existing ink might not work with the cover-up you have in mind, or certain elements might show through no matter what an artist does.

If you go into your cover-up consultation with an open mind, you’ll be amazed at your results. Collaborative design and creative freedom can give your artist the ability to totally transform your piece, perhaps in ways that you yourself hadn’t even considered. We encourage you to bring a number of ideas you’re interested in rather than a single concept–and we would love if you’d let us suggest alternative strategies in turn.

We value our clients and our professional integrity, so we will be honest with you about what’s realistic with your tattoo cover-up. If we can’t agree on a design or if your tattoo just isn’t a candidate for a cover-up, we will always be upfront with you. In some instances, a few sessions of laser removal can make a big difference in your options.

Remember that a cover-up is a complex process with numerous factors at play. Depending on the project, you might need several sessions for us to do the absolute best job possible with your transformation. We treat every piece we undertake as a priority so that you’ll have a finished product you’re proud to show off–and that means we never rush any tattoo, whether it’s a cover-up or a custom original.

If you’re interested in getting your old ink redesigned, send us an email to get scheduled for a consultation! Please include pictures of your existing tattoo as well as any ideas you have for covering it up. We can connect you with one of our cover-up experts and get you scheduled for an in-studio consultation that will give you a full picture of what to expect. We look forward to helping you love your new tattoo!