While everyone would ideally get a tattoo they love and cherish forever, the reality is that both people and tattoos change over time. Not all tattoos are made equal, and in certain cases, people may choose to have their tattoo removed entirely due to personal and design changes.
This article recognizes that some individuals may want their tattoos retouched, amended, or covered up, and aims to provide comprehensive information on these different methods. Additionally, it outlines the most effective approaches for various types of tattoos and common scenarios where people might want to modify their tattoo.
Tattoo touch-ups are a common occurrence in the tattoo industry, and even tattoo artists themselves may need to have their own tattoos touched up to maintain their vibrancy and appeal–something akin to hairdressers styling each other’s hair.
Touch-ups can address a range of issues that may arise in a tattoo, with small imperfections, such as holidays, being an obvious candidate for this type of fix. Many tattoo artists will not charge for these minor touch-ups.
Should You Use the Same Tattoo Artist?
For minor touch-ups, it’s a good idea to return to the same tattoo artist who created your original tattoo for touch-ups, as they can ensure the same ink composition, color, and level of craftsmanship. Additionally, if you have chosen your tattoo artist wisely, you likely have built a rapport with them.
Why the Small Imperfections?
Although it may be surprising to some clients, tattoo artists are acutely aware of the level of pain their clients experience during the tattooing process.
Firstly, many tattooists are heavily tattooed themselves and have firsthand knowledge of what getting a tattoo entails, far more than most of their clients.
Secondly, experienced tattooists can assess their client’s anxiety and pain levels by observing how their skin reacts to the ink. They also pay close attention to their client’s breathing patterns and facial expressions.
Without the tattooee’s knowledge, their body may respond to their psychological and emotional state, resulting in physical effects such as skin tightening.
For a small percentage of clients, it may be best to call it quits for the day and complete minor touch-ups in a subsequent session, such as shading gradations, solidifying lines in sensitive areas, or adding ink to areas previously overlooked.
However, these types of touch-ups are not typically critical in creating a great tattoo, and if a client chooses not to return, it will not significantly impact the overall quality of the tattoo.
Touch-up for Fading
A touch-up can be a useful method to rejuvenate a faded tattoo. Due to varying rates of ink breakdown, not all colors fade at the same rate. If only certain areas of a tattoo, such as the red in a snake’s eyes, require darker shading, a tattoo artist can apply fresh ink over the old ink, endeavoring to blend the colors seamlessly.
This approach applies to all colors, including the outline. However, if the entire tattoo has significantly faded, a touch-up will not suffice, and a complete redo might be necessary.
A touch-up may not always resolve all tattoo changes. Stretch marks, for instance, present a challenge depending on their color and how they affect the tattoo design due to skin elasticity.
Only consultation with a tattoo artist can determine whether a touch-up is viable. Additionally, blurred tattoos may not be suitable for touch-ups. Ironically, if a tattoo is rapidly blurring for any reason, it may require a touch-up sooner than expected.
Time for a Tattoo Redo
As tattoos age or are exposed to the sun, some people may find that a redo is the most appealing option. However, tattooed skin is never quite the same after the first tattoo. Re-tattooing the same skin can be more challenging and produce different results, even if the differences are barely noticeable.
That said, a complete redo can restore the vibrancy of the tattoo and result in a unique sense of depth and shading. The presence of old and new pigment molecules in close proximity gives rise to this effect, with the old tattoo acting as a background to the new design. Although the pigment molecules don’t mix, per se, they coexist to produce a distinct appearance.
Unfortunately, not all tattoo artists are great at what they do, and it sucks to say that. They might tattoo a crooked line or the outline might have gaps. Or perhaps the tattoo shading isn’t even.
Even though most of us can’t draw a perfect star, we expect tattoo artists to do exactly that. If a tattoo doesn’t look right, you don’t have to be an artist to see that fact.
Find A Different Tattoo Artist
If you need a tattoo fixed, it’s best to find a different tattoo artist. A talented artist will be able to assess the situation and let you know what they can or can’t do to fix it. Experienced tattoo artists can use shading and solid lines to help a poor tattoo look better.
Let’s talk more about blurry tattoos. Sometimes tattoos get blurry for different reasons. Can they be fixed? Well, usually not until the tattoo has blurred so much that a new color on top would look separate from the old.
Trying to tattoo white ink over the old tattoo isn’t effective for a few reasons. The old pigment is mostly captured in the dermis, so “painting over it” won’t remove it. Some of the previous pigment molecules may become dislodged, but not many.
Secondly, white pigment never comes out white in tattoos. It’ll mix with your skin tone and end up looking like a pale version of your skin, especially for deep skin tones. So, don’t try to fix a blurry outline with white ink. Your best bet is to give it time, cover it up, remove it, or a combination of these.
This is where tattoo artists really need to flex their creative muscles and use all the techniques at their disposal–and the results can be downright amazing. Cover-ups can range from something small and straightforward to something larger and more elaborate.
Number One Reason for A Tattoo Cover-up
Back in 2002, a Harris poll revealed that the number one tattoo regret was having a name inked on one’s body. I sometimes get a little preachy about not getting your significant other’s name tattooed on you, but it seems like many couples didn’t listen, since tattoo shops are always packed on Valentine’s Day.
Jude Law and Angelina Jolie went the removal route for their name tattoos, while Billy Bob Thornton opted for an angel to cover up “Angelina” and Johnny Depp changed “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever.” The name cover-up is definitely the most common and simplest fix.
Larger Tattoo Coverage
Covering up a larger and more complex tattoo can be a bit more complicated. People have various reasons for wanting to cover tattoos: changes in their tastes or perhaps life circumstances; dissatisfaction with the tattoo quality; or the fact that the tattoo is simply no longer relevant to them. Wanting to be rid of a prison or gang tattoo is the perfect example.
Whatever the reason, getting a new tattoo to cover up the old one is a common solution. Usually, the new tattoo is larger and has dark areas that match the old design’s dark areas.
However, the cover-up doesn’t have to be a big black square.
A successful cover-up should draw attention away from the old design and toward a new eye-catching part of the tattoo.
In fact, the best cover-ups are so good that you wouldn’t even be able to tell that there was a previous design underneath it, unless you knew what to look for.
Cosmetic Tattoo Cover-ups
I’m going to exclude cosmetic tattooing from this discussion, as this type of tattooing is increasingly being performed by licensed professionals who specialize in this work and is generally not done in tattoo studios.
However, in addition to the cosmetic tattooing of vitiligo, eyebrows, eyeliner, and lip liner that make up the bulk of cosmetic tattooing, there is also scar tattooing.
Tattooing Over a Scar
People with tattoos may unfortunately suffer some sort of trauma to their tattoo from accidents or surgeries that create scars. This can be especially frustrating when it ruins a great tattoo.
However, a scar can sometimes be covered and integrated back into the overall tattoo design.
Sometimes, people who have never been tattooed choose to have a scar tattooed. For example, women who have had a mastectomy have been known to have their scars covered with flowing vines and flowers to add something positive to a reminder of something negative in the past.
Scar tissue, however, is different from undamaged skin and may or may not tattoo well. If you’re considering having a scar tattooed, consult with both an experienced tattoo artist and your doctor.
By the way, aftercare procedures for any type of touchup, redo, fix, or cover-up are exactly the same as those for a virgin tattoo.
If you’re looking into covering tattoos or having them touched up, I hope you’ve found the above information helpful–or at least given you some things to think about. Your best source of information and advice when it comes to having your tattoo changed is going to be professional tattoo artist. But I hope I’ve at least headed you in the right direction and given you some hope if you’re not satisfied with your ink.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on the tattoo. The smaller and lighter in color, the better your chances for an awesome tattoo cover-up outcome. If you’ve got a piece covering your entire back or a sleeve, it can still be done (I’ve seen it) but it will take some ingenuity and multiple tattoo sessions.
If you’re talking about temporary measures to cover tattoos, you can consider makeup such as a full coverage concealer or full coverage foundation, perhaps water resistant. Wearing concealing clothes is another alternative that will work for hiding tattoos.
Yes, because of the design complications involved and the actual tattooing itself, most tattoo artists will charge more for a cover-up.