The Low Down On Cover up Tattoos

[Edited: January 29, 2024]

A cheating ex’s name. That poorly rendered mural of an awful 90s punk band that never made it. A terrible My Little Pony effigy on the hip that’s grown wider along with your pants size. The Chinese script you thought meant ‘Peace’ but turned out to say ‘Chicken run no rice’. 

Tattoo regrets are nothing new. From poor inkwork to cringe designs, unforgivable blunders and script you wish you’d never got, it’s understandable that you want to make tattoo mistakes disappear for good. When this happens, you have two choices: Removal or tattoo cover-up.

Cover-up tattoos are an easier alternative to having a tattoo permanently removed. They are more affordable, far less painful and sometimes, the only option. Covering up your tattoo may be the answer to your prayers for getting rid of potential new relationship obstacles or for finally eliminating something you can’t stand to look at anymore. But before rushing off to alter your body art, hide those regrets or transform a decades-old piece into something new, there are also a few things to keep in mind before doing so.

Here’s the low down on cover-up tattoos and some important advice from professionals who understand the finer points of covering up things to help you make a better decision the second time around.

Tattoo cover-up vs tattoo removal

Just because we live in the 21st century doesn’t mean we should abandon age-old practices in favour of technology. Tattoo cover-up as an art has been around for as long as tattoos have. In fact, some artists specialize in cover-up tattoos and can do a far better job than a technician with a laser beam.

Zapping your unwanted tattoos

Before you choose to nuke your ink and blast it from your flesh using science, stop and consider what you’re doing. Tattoo removals can be tricky. Aside from damaging your skin, laser tattoo removal hurts – a lot.

It’s expensive and, depending on the size of the tattoo you’re trying to destroy, can take multiple sessions to complete. Removed tattoos always leave behind traces of their existence, and nobody really knows whether sending charged particles of irradiated light into your epidermis is a good idea.

Choose the better option – Choose unwanted tattoo cover-up

Covering up your tattoo involves finding creative ways to re-create something new or to hide your now-despised artwork without making it look like a big ugly blotch. But cover-up tattooing isn’t just for tattoos nobody wants to look at anymore.

Cover-up tattoos are used to conceal scarsburns and even stretch marks. They can turn an old wound into a masterpiece, transform blotchy skin or birthmarks into a patchwork of colour or convert a bad idea into something you can be proud of. Still keen on tattoo removal?

Advice on cover-up tattoos

Even the biggest tattoo regrets out there can be covered up. Whether you’re trying to erase a part of your life you’d rather forget or fix the consequences of walking into a Mamelodi tattoo parlour at 3 am after a night out, cover-up tattoos are your salvation.

Here are some important pointers to think about before heading over to get your cover-up tattoo.

· Cover-up tattoos don’t always ‘cover up’ – they also ‘cover in’

Cover-up tattoos don’t necessarily have to ‘cover’ anything up at all. In fact, most cover-up tattoos actually incorporate the old ones' existing lines, colours and shades, working off the current ink to create something new or improved.

So don’t think of getting a cover-up tattoo as layering a new design over the old one. Think of a tattoo cover-up like a redesign or tattoo makeover. Supremely talented artists are skilled at overhauling ugly, old and bad-idea tattoos into works of art that may look even better than an original piece.

· Get an artist's input first – because not doing so is stupid

It’s important to understand that the replacement tattoo you have in mind might not be possible in the first place. Skin isn’t paper or a canvas, and getting your existing ink covered up or changed is not as simple as ‘repainting’ over a bad part or the entire piece.

Always discuss your cover-up tattoo ideas with an experienced, qualified tattoo artist who knows what they’re doing. They will be able to tell you if your plans for your tattoo cover-up will work out or not. These professionals will also be able to explain how to make a cover-up work better or to provide you with another solution altogether.

Always remember that a good tattoo artist will never put something on your body that they are not comfortable with or that they know won’t look good – their reputation is riding on their work, after all. So don’t despair if your tattoo cover-up plans don’t work; at least you’re getting an expert opinion.

· Size matters – especially when you’re gonna be doubling up

Like many things, size does matter when it comes to cover-up tattoos. This is an important aspect of your tattoo plans and shouldn’t be ignored. As a general rule of thumb, the new cover-up tattoo will likely end up around twice the size of the original tattoo. This is to ensure you get complete coverage and end up with a good result. There’s no way around it; that’s just how it is. Maybe you should have listened to your reluctant artist before getting that 60cm x 60cm chest tattoo of Madonna’s face which is most definitely not a tattoo removal candidate.

Remember, the tattoo artist doesn’t only have to hide your old tattoo using special shading and contrasting techniques - among many other things - but they will also have to divert attention away from the original design by creating an entirely different focal object, away from the original piece’s centre point, and this may take some careful planning as expanding.

· Colour me perfect – just pick the right colours

Sometimes, your vision for your tattoo cover-up simply won’t work for obvious reasons. Whether it’s the original design, colour palette, placement or size, the math just doesn’t figure. Take a jet-black Chinese symbol representing ‘eternity’ as an example.

This style and colour can’t be covered up with a design that is lighter and more dainty - like a different script or a delicate frangipani flower. In this case, your idea won’t work, and the artist will have to use deep, dark colours like blues, purples and greens to cover it up. The warm reds and yellows in flowers or lighter scripts aren’t always dark enough to offer a complete cover.

Other factors like tattoo opacity (how dense the colours are on your skin) and contrast also play a big part in choosing the tattoo cover-up colour palette. In a case we’re still trying to forget, one of our top artists spent a gruelling 54 hours on a cover-up for a determined client, with another specialist roped in to finish the work. You can imagine how much time and money that cost.

· It might sting a little more - than the first time

Okay, it might sting a lot more. Older tattoos, which may not have been done with the right care or skill, will likely be scarred or raised. Any attempt to cover up these ghastly mistakes will hurt badly, though still likely not as much as full tattoo removal.

Scar tissue doesn’t like being worked on. As the flesh has healed, the nerves have repaired themselves, and, as artists spend more time than usual trying to get the needles into the uneven surface, you may find the cover-up being a whole lot more painful than when the tattoo was originally inked.

On the plus side, however, in some cases, the raised skin actually returns to its original flatness once it’s been punctured with a needle. In these instances, your tattoo cover-up might even help reverse some scarring and damage done by the half-blind rookie who worked on you in the first place. Not a bad deal.


· You might not need a cover-up at all – you may just need a ‘touch-up’

In some cases, a cover-up or tattoo removal may not even be necessary at all. While ex’s names and bad designs may be a personal issue you think needs to disappear, your artist may offer a cheaper, easier and less extensive solution – the touch-up.

With touch-ups, the artist simply reworks some of the dull areas, fixes the lines and adds some fresh contrast. Script and names can be reconfigured (just ask Johnny Depp), and even the worst work can be redesigned into fine body art.

Depending on the circumstances, the artist might even suggest one or two sessions of laser treatment to lighten up portions of the tattooed area instead of removing it. This is more often the case with large areas of skin in need of a tattoo cover-up that is just too dark to work out. Just remember that laser treatment can be extremely expensive and has a rather low success rate when compared to cover-ups.

So, if you do decide to get lasered, make sure you find a reputable, experienced therapist to do it for you to avoid scarring the tattooed area.

Covering up tattoos – A new beginning for your existing body art

Cover-up tattoos are the perfect solution to those bad ideas, fading mistakes, tattoo regrets and stale art. They give your tattoos a second shot at glory and cost a whole lot less than laser. While you still have the option of wiping your old tattoos off your body for good, think about the pain, time and effort it’ll take to get it done.

Don’t abandon your tattoos. No matter how bad they look now, with a tattoo cover-up delivered by seasoned pros and experts in their fields, you could end up with something much more beautiful than you could’ve imagined. Besides, hanging out at a vibrant professional tattoo studio full of passionate people beats getting your flesh seared in a dreary doctor's office.


Conclusion - Watergate & Chernobyl-level cover-ups that work

So, there you have it - the low down on cover-up tattoos. Take your time to find an artist who knows what they’re doing, save up to have it done properly, and you will walk away with a brilliant piece of art that will truly last a lifetime. And in the worst-case scenario, you can still opt for the tattoo removal route.

Or visit us at our studio and learn more about how great we are at transforming tattoos – no matter how bad they were to begin with. Because every tattoo deserves a second chance.