Cover ups and re-works

So this is one I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, as it’s one I deal with almost daily. With the tattoo industry coming on leaps and bounds since even the 90’s, it’s no wonder that people are wanting to tighten up those blurred lines and cover up those 18 year old fads.

Cover ups aren’t always as simple as placing one image over another. To get the best results from a cover up there are many things that need to be considered.

• How dark the existing tattoo is
• What the client would like it covered with
• The style of tattooing desired by the client
• The available ‘clean’ skin around the existing tattoo
• Any scarring
• Clients expectations
• Skill and experience of your artist

Style and Colour

Not all styles of tattooing lend themselves to cover ups. For example black and grey tattoos done using greywash ink rely on the skin tone as a colour. If that skin has a tattoo on it already (the one you’re covering), it’s going to show through the greywash once healed. The same applies for some styles of black work where there is a lot of visible skin underneath.

You can however, achieve a black and grey look with grey coloured inks as opposed to greywash. Using grey coloured inks instead leaves you much more options on what you can cover the tattoo with. They’re thicker and can heal almost the same as they look fresh, so it makes it easier to know whether or not you’ll get a successful cover up.

Not all coloured inks are ideal for cover ups however. Depending on what it is you’re covering and the brand of ink you use, pinks, oranges and reds usually need a couple of sessions to hide what’s beneath. Blues, and greens tend to work best in my experience, especially as a lot of blacks used in older tattoos have a tendency to turn blue in time, so adding blue or green over the top camouflages it much better. For larger scale cover ups, it’s a good idea to have two sessions (healing in between) to make sure that its fully covered. Your artist should advise whether or not this will be a necessary step.


Design is another major factor in successfully covering a tattoo. It’s hard to generalise as every tattoo is different, but usually you’ll need plenty of dark areas to distract the eye from what’s underneath. This is where natural things like foliage and animals come in handy as you can create those dark and light spaces.

I often get asked if dreamcatchers or mandalas to be used to cover an old tattoo. While this can work sometimes (on smaller tattoos), generally, its not advised. Mainly for the same reason we don’t often recommend blackwork; you will see the old tattoo underneath.

In a lot of cases, cover ups are more about hiding what’s there rather than completely covering. Distracting the eye with effective design and planning is a great way to get around a stubborn old tattoo.


Size is a concern for some people when enquiring about getting a cover up. Since the popularisation of tattoo cover up TV shows where a client comes in with a small tattoo on their ankle and end up getting it covered with something taking up their whole leg, a lot of people think this is what needs to be done to get it gone. Well, most of the time, it isn’t. While you do need to go larger with a cover up, it doesn’t need to be huge if you don’t want it to be and you’re covering it with an appropriate design.


Be Realistic

Most importantly, the best thing for cover ups is an open mind and being flexible with design. Your tattoo artist will discuss your options with you and advise what they think will work best. Sometimes a few sessions of laser is needed to lighten it all and give you more scope on what you can cover it with. Sometimes it’s as simple as a flower over the top. Being realistic with your expectations and trusting your artist will give you the best results.

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