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

Updated on November 11, 2015
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 that has now got a new girlfriend, or it's just plain ugly, we all have one.

We all have regrets and should-of-could-of 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 tattoo 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 tattoo 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 tattoo artists and studios that specialise in cover-up work.

You must keep in mind, there are limitations on covering up an old tattoo. But there are many success stories of people who now love their cover-up tattoos. 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. Although, of course, a black-ink tattoo is not very attractive, and you may think you may as well have kept your old, horrible tattoo.

When a tattoo artist is designing a tattoo cover-up, they consider the colour in the old tattoo, and how it will mix with the new ink's colour. Talented tattoo 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 tattoo 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

Colours of Ink in Tattoo Cover Ups

Traditionally, black was the main colour used in tattoo cover-ups. Although, 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 tattoo, working around the faint outline of your old tattoo, to camouflage the areas that need it.

A talented cover-up tattoo 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 first tattoo. 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 tattoo is the only tattoo that has ever been there.

Water Lilly tattoo
Water Lilly tattoo | Source

Other Tattoo Designs and Tricks Used in 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?

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

© 2013 Anne

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    • lesliebyars profile image

      Buster Johnson 3 years ago from Alabama

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

    • Organised Kaos profile image
      Author

      Anne 3 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!

    • manicpanicplease profile image

      L Brander 3 years ago from Canada

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

    • Organised Kaos profile image
      Author

      Anne 3 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!

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 3 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 image
      Author

      Anne 3 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! ;)

    • profile image

      calculus-geometry 2 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.

    • profile image

      Sarah 10 months 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

      GRAMMARPIG :D 7 weeks 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

      terry jones 5 weeks ago

      looks good your cover up

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