How to Cover Up Your Old Tattoo With a New Tattoo Design

Updated on February 18, 2019
Organised Kaos profile image

As a self-proclaimed tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.

Tattoo cover-up
Tattoo cover-up | Source

If you have a few tattoos, there's a good chance you have one or two you don't like. Whether it was a backyard scratcher offering cheap tattoos, an impulse purchase to declare a love (who now has a new girlfriend), or it's just plain ugly, bad tattoos happen.

We all have regrets and should-have-could-have moments. Considering that tattoos are forever, a bad tattoo will remind you, every time you change your clothes, of the tragedy on your skin.

Initially, you probably thought a tattoo was a one-off opportunity, and technically that is the case. Luckily, there are truly talented artists currently working within the industry worldwide. So bearing that in mind, there is the hope that maybe you could get a fantastic cover-up done.

No matter why you've changed your mind about the design—you've grown up a decade or two, or possibly the once-love of your life, Candy or Gavin, has now evolved into a psychopathic stalker whom you stay very, very far away from—having a horrible tattoo sucks.

Wanting to get rid of or disguise a second-rate tattoo is not unusual. There are even artists and studios that specialise in cover-up work.

There are limitations on covering up an old tattoo, but there are also many success stories of people who now love their skin. If you're thinking of getting a cover-up done, read on!

Understanding How a Tattoo Cover-Up Works

When your tattoo was first done, the ink was deposited approximately one millimetre beneath the skin, into the dermis, which is the layer below the epidermis (the skin you see).

As your cover-up gets tattooed, the new ink is also deposited within the dermis, along with the old coloured ink. The pigment in the new inks does not go over the top of the old tattoo's pigment; rather the two colours combine to make a new colour, although the stronger or darker-coloured ink becomes dominant in the mixture. For example, red and blue ink mixed together make purple, underneath the skin or elsewhere.

Black is the most effective colour to cover up an old tattoo. Of course, a black-ink tattoo might not be your first choice, so you have to decide which is worse: all-black ink or an old, horrible tattoo. (But there are other colour options... see below.)

When an artist is designing a cover-up, they consider the colour in the old tattoo and how it will mix with the new ink's colour. Talented artists work out a strategy for placing the new design and colours over the old one.

Octopus tattoo coverup of spider
Octopus tattoo coverup of spider | Source

Quick Reference: Cover-Up Colours

  1. Traditionally, black was the main colour used in tattoo cover-ups.
  2. Artists can now also use browns, oranges, greens, blues, and magentas when doing a cover-up.
  3. New coloured inks, when merged with the old ink underneath the skin, can create a whole new colour.
  4. Darker versions of the same colour can cover up lighter colours.

Tree tattoo reworked
Tree tattoo reworked

Using Colours of Ink in Tattoo Cover-Ups

Traditionally, black was the main colour used in tattoo cover-ups. But, as the tattoo community becomes more skilled, artists are using more colours and clever placement to hide old, unwanted tattoos.

Tattoo cover-ups can also use:

  • reds
  • blues
  • greens

Some other colours that if used correctly can also be used to cover up old tattoos:

  • browns
  • oranges
  • purples
  • dark magenta

Other, lighter colours can be used in a tattoo cover-up. They are used when the colour being hidden is also light, and in parts of the tattoo design that do not cover up the old tattoo.

A good rule of thumb: A darker shade of a colour can cover itself. So lime green can be covered with emerald green, and light blue with royal blue or purple.

Koi tattoo cover-up
Koi tattoo cover-up | Source

What Can Be Done in a Cover-Up?

When your artist is creating a cover-up design, they will:

  1. Place tracing paper over your old tattoo and trace the outline and major features of your design. This gives them a reference for the areas of the tattoo that need a heavier cover-up design.
  2. Put the outline on a light table and place another piece of thin tracing paper over the top.
  3. Begin designing your cover-up, working around the faint outline of your old tattoo, to camouflage the areas that need it.

A talented artist will incorporate the old design rather than obliterate it: for example, developing scripting into flowing stalks or vines. By creating contrast and interesting design flourishes around the darker areas, the artist draws the eye away from the parts of the old tattoo being covered up.

Often tattoos that are designed as cover-ups are around thirty percent larger than the one they cover. This way, the darker areas of the design can camouflage the old tattoo, and lighter colours can be used on virgin skin, deceiving the eye into believing the cover-up is the only tattoo that has ever been there.

Water Lilly tattoo
Water Lilly tattoo | Source

Designs and Tricks Used in Tattoo Cover-Ups

  1. Incorporating the old design into the new tattoo.
  2. Re-working an old tattoo, strengthening weak lines, or adding in features like blush on cheeks, or the illusion of hair.
  3. Correcting the spelling in an old tattoo.
  4. Creating white-based or white-backed tattoos by taking a few preliminary sessions to put white ink over the old ink. Each session lightens the old tattoo by about 10%. Repeated sessions can raise this percentage to 30%, although scarring from over-working the skin would be a valid concern.
  5. Fading the old tattoo through laser removal can aid in an effective cover-up.

Tattoo colour wheel
Tattoo colour wheel | Source

Can I Just Change the Colour of My Tattoo?

Sometimes, a person loves their design but hates the colours. Changing just the colours can be done by using darker inks—although there is a risk this may make the old tattoo look even worse.

When changing the colours, your tattoo artist must consider the merging of the pigments in the ink. Not all colours can be changed into another colour. Of course, light colours can be darkened, for example:

  • a lavender can be changed into a purple,
  • pink to magenta,
  • blue to purple,
  • red to brown,
  • and yellow to green.

NOTE: A tattoo in the process of healing will slightly change colours. Do not panic just yet if your tattoo is still quite new; give it some time to settle down.

Examples

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Often a cover-up tattoo will be much larger than the piece that is being hidden.The darker greens when mixed with the red of the old tattoo have created a new colour.The bird's wing in a dark shade of blue has covered the old tattoo completely.Using the same colour but darker has make this tattoo hide behind the new tattoo.By incorporating the old tattoo design into the new tattoo, they have covered this up with humour.The use of the colour black has worked well with this tattoo, and the face draws the eye away from the cover-up itself.By adding and re-working and strengthening the lines of the old tattoo, the new cover-up tattoo has outshone itself.Amazing use of colours to cover an old tattoo.Black ink covers all indiscretions, a good use of a harsh colour.Definitely a "what the hell" moment. The tattoo design that covers it is well done and uses the lines' flow in the old tattoo.A funny way to cover up a name.Beautiful example of drawing the eye away from the area covered up.
Often a cover-up tattoo will be much larger than the piece that is being hidden.
Often a cover-up tattoo will be much larger than the piece that is being hidden. | Source
The darker greens when mixed with the red of the old tattoo have created a new colour.
The darker greens when mixed with the red of the old tattoo have created a new colour. | Source
The bird's wing in a dark shade of blue has covered the old tattoo completely.
The bird's wing in a dark shade of blue has covered the old tattoo completely. | Source
Using the same colour but darker has make this tattoo hide behind the new tattoo.
Using the same colour but darker has make this tattoo hide behind the new tattoo. | Source
By incorporating the old tattoo design into the new tattoo, they have covered this up with humour.
By incorporating the old tattoo design into the new tattoo, they have covered this up with humour. | Source
The use of the colour black has worked well with this tattoo, and the face draws the eye away from the cover-up itself.
The use of the colour black has worked well with this tattoo, and the face draws the eye away from the cover-up itself. | Source
By adding and re-working and strengthening the lines of the old tattoo, the new cover-up tattoo has outshone itself.
By adding and re-working and strengthening the lines of the old tattoo, the new cover-up tattoo has outshone itself. | Source
Amazing use of colours to cover an old tattoo.
Amazing use of colours to cover an old tattoo. | Source
Black ink covers all indiscretions, a good use of a harsh colour.
Black ink covers all indiscretions, a good use of a harsh colour. | Source
Definitely a "what the hell" moment. The tattoo design that covers it is well done and uses the lines' flow in the old tattoo.
Definitely a "what the hell" moment. The tattoo design that covers it is well done and uses the lines' flow in the old tattoo. | Source
A funny way to cover up a name.
A funny way to cover up a name. | Source
Beautiful example of drawing the eye away from the area covered up.
Beautiful example of drawing the eye away from the area covered up. | Source

However you came into ownership of your new tattoo, please complete the poll below.

In the end, some of those crappy, faded tattoos we all sport are the stories of our lives. Considering our lives are full of ups and downs, maybe our tattoos should be too.

Just take your time to find that awesome tattoo artist that's just right for you. Don't scrimp on the dollars for the tattoo artist and the after-care procedures you follow.

Hope it all goes well.

How did you end up with your crappy, old tattoo?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Anne

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Henry joute 

      9 months ago

      How much will it cost me one right full hand?

    • profile image

      Lau chi han 

      9 months ago

      Can u design for me to cover up my old tattoo at back side

    • profile image

      Funnygaming 

      16 months ago

      My tattoo ink look faded (in it 4 month later), mostly the black look like a light gray and was suppose to have many different colors but it end up looking the same mudy blue everywhere no green or purple for my butterfly and my lettering was suppose to have a violet pinkish color with a very fine line and he decide to put a grayish lilac and shading at random place .. ;/

    • profile image

      pandabrian 

      17 months ago

      i have a stupid mistake on the back of my head in the form of an ignorant racial emblem... my children and the shame on there faces when your at your daughters 2nd grade parent conferences...

    • profile image

      prasamma 

      20 months ago

      i want to cover my old tatoo.. please help me

    • profile image

      Sailesh Adhikari 

      20 months ago

      I want to cover my old tattoo.

      Can you help me....

    • profile image

      Theresa M. Gargano 

      21 months ago

      Thank you for providing valuable information regarding the lightening, cover-up, or removal of an undesirable tattoo.

    • profile image

      terry jones 

      23 months ago

      looks good your cover up

    • profile image

      GRAMMARPIG :D 

      23 months ago

      Good article on cover ups. I have an issue with misplaced apostrophes though. When I read something that has them added incorrectly, it diverts my attention off of the message and on to the grammar mistakes!

      PLEA'SE U'SE APOSTROPHE'S RE'SPONSIBLY. :)

    • profile image

      Sarah 

      2 years ago

      I looked up to find a way to fix some crap job wings the artist left with with after they took my car as a payment, refused to give it back then totaled it.

    • profile image

      E.P. 

      3 years ago

      I had a tattoo done on my 18th birthday. I knew what I wanted and somehow got bullied into a design the artist (and my mother's ex) told me "would be just fine." Being naive and stupid, I went with it and hated it. I then went to another artist who did a horrible job in trying to cover it and I ended up with a monstrosity of black ink on my upper back. Is it possible to cover faded black ink with colored ink? I have been trying to fade the ink over the past seven years.

    • profile image

      calculus-geometry 

      4 years ago

      Wow, those are really incredible before and after pictures. The drawback is that you have to get a lot more ink, it seems.

    • Organised Kaos profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne 

      5 years ago from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS)

      Thanks for your links missl0ng123 - understand about wanting to have one covered up! hope he gets it soon, it just makes things....better in the mirror! ;)

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 

      5 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Good hub. I am wanting my man to cover up a tattoo, so this is great information. Shared the link to my Facebook friends. Well covered topic.

    • Organised Kaos profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne 

      5 years ago from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS)

      Thanks heaps Manicpanicplease! Really love those photo's shows how awesome a tattoo can look these days!

    • manicpanicplease profile image

      L Brander 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Cool hub, I loved the photos you used. Voted up, interesting & useful.

    • Organised Kaos profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne 

      5 years ago from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS)

      Thanks for your feedback. And yeah, me too with the cover-up tattoo!

    • profile image

      lesliebyars 

      5 years ago

      Nice hub. I've had one of my tats covered up with another. Very useful article my friend . Voted up, interesting and useful.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, tatring.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://tatring.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)