Tattoo Cover Ups: From Scars and Sketches, To Beautiful Artwork


Tattoo Cover Ups: From Scars and Sketches, To Beautiful Artwork

by K. A. Kristmanson

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes have permanent consequences. The good news is, with the right artist and realistic expectations, a tattoo can be covered up.

Fixer-Upper vs. Cover-Up

Your tattoo doesn’t necessarily have to be completely changed and hidden within a different design. Sometimes you can reshape a salvageable piece of body art. Depth can be added to a flat, faded tattoo with highlights and shading. Thicker outlines can cover blown out, crooked or inconsistent linework.

After: by Lauren “Ren” Robb at Fly The Cage Tattoo

A perfect example is one of my own tattoos. I wanted to keep the original design, not cover it with a completely new tattoo. This was possible because the image was discernible.

The initial tattoo lacked shading, particularly in the skin-tone areas of the bear, causing it to look flat and dull. The linework was jagged and blown out, but most of it could be covered with another pass of black. However, we decided to add a shadow underneath the bear, to hide the particularly precarious linework around the legs, and to add some depth to the image. 

Voila, fixer-upper complete, and I have an adorable Banjo-Kazooie tattoo that doesn’t embarrass me when I’m swimming. Unfortunately, not all tattoos are salvageable. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to curb your expectations.

Check Your Expectations

First thing’s first, you might have to get comfortable with having a larger tattoo. The most unrealistic expectation that clients have is that their new tattoo will be the same size as the original. This is not feasible in most cases.

Pastel colours are not likely to work out. Neither are light, warm tones like pink and yellow. Watercolor designs will not cover most tattoos. If you are unwilling to compromise on these desires for your future tattoo, your other option is to get lasered.

Tattoo Nightmares makes it look like a fifteen-minute process to produce a perfect drawing. In reality, it takes time to design a tattoo, especially if it’s meant to hide another one. Lines have to work with the shape beneath in order to hide them well. That means that each part of the new image needs to be positioned in a specific way. Patience will be appreciated by your artist as you work together to turn a disaster into a work of art.

Expect your cover up to cost you more than the original tattoo. Since they are more work, some artists will charge more for cover-ups, outright.

Strategies for Covering A Tattoo

Not all cover-ups have to adhere to these rules, however. There are several approaches to covering tattoos, depending on the individual case.

Design by Lauren “Ren” Robb at Fly The Cage Tattoo

Focal points in strategic positions can distract the eye from the original design underneath, making it possible to have your design the same size as the original. Texture is the easiest way to hide an old tattoo behind the new one. Flowers, birds, and leaves are great for cover-ups for this exact reason. Putting something smooth and flat on top will not achieve this effect.

Cool colours like blue and purple work better for cover-ups. This is because warmer tones are less opaque and can end up looking muddy when placed over black. If you’d like bright yellows and pinks, accent colours outside the original outline are a great compromise. Solid greys can be an option, or at least more forgiving than greywash—grey ink diluted with water—depending on the tattoo.

It’s hard to cover up fresh black linework, or dark shading, so the older your tattoo is, the better.

Design by Lauren “Ren” Robb at Fly The Cage Tattoo

Covering Scars

Much like tattoos, when you’re covering up a scar, the older the better. Fresh keloids—raised, red or purple scar tissue with a smooth surface—are not ideal. This is because the colour is not likely to stay in the skin, and potentially cause further damage to the area by chewing up the scar tissue underneath.

Designs for scar cover-ups don’t necessarily have to be something solid. Working with the shape of the scar is one approach. Distracting the eye is another.


Final Note

Keep in mind that when covering a tattoo, you just gotta do what you gotta do. The end result will be a piece of art better than what you had before. However, be wary of an artist that just wants to do something super dark on top, because that’s not always the solution. Your cover up does not have to be a giant black box. Work together with your artist, and create something you are happy with.