Browse Quick Guides by Subject

Covering Up an Old Tattoo

Covering Up an Old Tattoo

Share this with your friends

Do you have a tattoo that once meant the world to you, but now you just want gone? No matter how big or intricate, a good tattooist can cover up your bad ink with something better. In this guide, we’ll look at the different options to changing old and unwanted tattoos.

What You Need to Know Before Covering It Up

Doing a good cover up is not easy. On many cover-ups you can still see a little hint of the old tattoo behind the new one. That is normal. Some cover-ups are over very dark or heavily scarred tattoos. There is nothing that can be done for the texture of the scarring in the old tattoo but the old tattoo design won’t be legible.

A cover-up is an entirely different kind of tattoo than a tattoo on blank skin. Some concepts work in covering up tattoos, but most don’t. There are a few important things you should know if you want to get a good cover-up so that the new tattoo looks like a good tattoo and not like a cover-up.

Designs that Cover Well

Choosing an idea for your cover-up design can be difficult. Not all ideas will work due to all the limitations of getting a cover-up. Many times a cover-up will simply camouflage the old tattoo. This is easier to do with tattoos that have a lot of detail. Any animal or mythological beast that has scales or feathers is a good choice for a cover-up. Asian-style dragons, koi fish, or any kind of fish that can be darkly shaded will work well. Also birds such as ravens or eagles will make for a good cover-up. Biomechanical tattoos can have a lot of detail and are good for cover-ups.

A design that has a dark robe like a Grimm Reaper will be able to cover most designs. You could replace the Grimm Reaper with a woman in a cloak, and use her hair to help with the cover-up. Seventeenth-century French ornamental design can work well if it is put together correctly. Dark floral designs that have a lot of dark leaves are good, and may work if you need a name in a banner covered. Most of the time you will need to cover the entire tattoo and not just the name.

An example of an old, unwanted tattoo and then the tattoo that covered it up.

An example of an old, unwanted tattoo and then the tattoo that covered it up.

For background on cover-ups, black atmospheric shading works well. An example of this can be seen in Classical Chinese brush painting. There are no rigid lines or any rules of how to put it together like in traditional Japanese backgrounds. This gives the tattooist the freedom to place the shading where she needs to, to further cover the old tattoo. It is also faster to accomplish and will hurt less in the end.

Preparing for Your Cover Up

First, you will need a consultation. The tattooist will usually make a tracing of the area and the old tattoo so that he will know what it looks like while he draws the new design to cover the old one. Many tattooists will draw on you to get a feel for what needs to be done, and then take a digital picture of that for later reference. Some cover-ups need to be drawn on completely without the use of a stencil. This works well because the design will fit to the body well and you will be able to see how it is done. Every tattooist has his or her own way of solving the different cover-ups.

An example of a stencil over an old tattoo that is about to be covered.

An example of a stencil over an old tattoo that is about to be covered.

Not all cover-ups need to be so elaborate. Older tattoos that have faded to almost nothing after years in the sun or tattoos that have had a turn under the laser machine are easier to cover. Still, you will want to research well who does your cover-up.

Covering up your old ink can be expensive, but with the right tattoo artist and design, is well worth it. Good luck, and happy inking!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo by John Reardon