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Let’s talk about tattoo cover ups and partial tattoo lightening

By September 21, 2016April 12th, 2022Laser Tattoo Lightening, Tattoo Cover Ups

Tattoo Cover Ups and Partial Tattoo Lightening

Thinking of replacing your old ink with a fresh new design or removing just parts of it? People change their minds about tattoos all the time, so you’re definitely not alone. Changes in taste, a change in relationship, a hasty trip to an untalented artist – all of these are examples of how one might end up hating the sight of their tattoo.

Covering up a tattoo with a new one is an excellent option if you have a change in heart over your existing ink but still want to have one – and in cases where the old artwork is not faded naturally over time or has solid colored pattern – fading an old tattoo with laser is quite common.

A wish for restructuring an existing tattoo can come after years of having it done.

Our client Kelly was a tattoo artist who decided to have her first ever tattoo lightened in order to cover it up with one that she thought would be more cohesive with the rest of the artwork she had gotten in the meantime. Even for people who are not in the tattooing industry the process of decorating a body with ink can be quite addictive – many people who decide to have a tattoo won’t actually stop with just one. After going through the initial tattooing experience and seeing perhaps all those stories of pain during inking were somewhat exaggerated, people get excited and want even more markings of milestone events on their skin, more messages, more colors etc. – and they often don’t look at the big picture of whether the tattoos complement one another.

As Kelly remarked, the first advice she gives to her clients now is for them to try to visualize an overall image of their body with the tattoo they intend to get in regards to what they already have tattooed, what’s their body shape, height etc..

“The thing with me was that being an artist myself, I was paying a lot of attention to details of the tattoos – their shadows, contours, soft lines and of course, their colors. I went on with one tattoo after another and didn’t give too much thought of whether they blended all together.”   And even though I thought I loved my first artwork and took pride in it, one day after viewing a reflection of my full body image as I passed by a mirror in a department store, for a split second I thought to myself –”Wow, check out that chick with a terribly oversized tattoo…someone should really tell her something about that!“ Just imagine the feeling when I realized the stranger I was looking at was me. After looking at it more closely, Kelly realized that the tattoo made an impression of distorted images, unless viewed from a certain angle.  It was supposed to be a humming bird unfolding its wings – and suddenly I realized that when I looked straight at it, its wing stretches too far to my shoulder, hence looking broken. No one wants a tattoo of a birdie with a broken wing.   And as things usually go, she started hating the sight of it day after day. Full cover-up was Kelly’s choice, and as a tattooist, she has seen some amazing solutions for covering up old work.

CAN ANY COLOR BE COVERED? The best course of action for masking your old tattoo depends on different factors, such as:

The colors in your primary tattoo, how big, old or faded it is, the design and colors of your cover-up tattoo, and whether or not any components of your old tattoo are salvageable.

Depending on these, the process might take several sessions. Covering up old pieces of ink can take time and if they are solid black or even in darker shades, it is possible that the artist will use the ‘white out technique’. This process includes going over darker colored tattoos with white ink in order to try and lighten up the coloring.

Tattoo ink isn’t quite like paint, which you can put over a layer or two of primer and just continue with your work by applying new layers of color. Even if the artist uses the whitening technique, it’s quite likely that the overlay tattoo will require retouching after some time as the glimpses of an old tattoo might appear on the surface of the skin.

In Kelly’s case, she had vivid blues and reds in her old tattoo – which are difficult to cover with whitening. In addition – she didn’t exactly want a solid-black tribal over it.

This is where the magic of the laser tattoo removal comes, by breaking the particles of the old ink to the extent that the skin is prepared for a cover up. The Quanta Q-Plus C laser with its 3 wavelengths incorporated into one machine has the preciseness that enables the specialist to target a full range of colors, even the reds that are traditionally difficult to break.

By using a method of gradual lightening, a client is enabled to view the progress of tattoo removal after each session and decide together with their cover-up artist on when is the best time to do the new tattoo on top of the faded old one. The necessity for laser tattoo removal and the number of sessions depends on

  • the age of your old tattoo
  • how dark the colors are in the original tattoo
  • what colors you want included in your cover up tattoo
  • the complexity of the cover-up design.

When covering up an old, faded tattoo, you might end up with just one or two laser tattoo removal sessions. Likewise, if your cover up tattoo design is intricate and includes colors that are darker than those in the tattoo being covered, you may have just a few sessions of removal. Your artist will be able to advise you best on this matter. In the end, although you might come across opinions that lasers are a costly solution to getting rid of unwanted ink, by being able to see for yourself when is the best time to do the cover-up, you end up saving money and precious time – and most of all, your skin is properly prepared for the new ink.

Fortunately today with a whole variety of very sophisticated lasers we can get the ink lightened and create conditions for remodeling the appearance of your tattoo. Some clients will want just a partial removal without the laser affecting the surrounding area. What matters the most in this process is to successfully incorporate the new design into an old one and not to damage the sections of the old tattoo that one wants kept.  Take the best example – tattooing names of your kids as they come into this world – naturally you’ll want all the names to have the same size and that they are nicely placed one next to another, which can sometimes be a challenge if the skin surface for tattooing is limited. However, by fading some elements of the old tattoos (eg. graphics that often go around the name), an artist can intertwine the letters and add another name, or nicely position a new tattoo so it goes in harmony with the first one. The process requires blending, shading, detail and depth of color applied with skill, which is why it’s worth taking the time to find an artist who specializes in cover up tattoos.

WHAT MATTERS IN A TATTOO COVER UPS DESIGN?  The best thing you can do as you embark on the journey of getting a cover-up tattoo is to stay flexible. Keep an open mind about your preferred artist, cover-up design and any factors that may impact its success. Just like with unrealistic expectations when getting fully rid of the unwanted tattoo with laser removal treatments, clients who are fixed to their own idea of a flawless cover-up, are at risk of ending up just as unhappy with your their new tattoo as they were with their old one – or worse yet, still able to see the old tattoo through the new one.

  • To get started, pull together a few ideas for cover-up tattoos that really appeal to you and that will have lasting meaning for you and pay a visit to a couple well-reputed tattoo artists who have extensive experience doing cover up tattoos.
  • Ask for their opinion on your preferred design ideas, see what they think will cover up your tattoo best and what edits, if any, they would make to ensure that your cover-up tattoo will be as successful as possible.
  • Look at each artist’s portfolio carefully, and decide who you think will do the best job based on their past work and your meetings with them.
  • The cover-up artist of your choice will guide you on stages like having laser tattoo removal to lighten up your old tattoo if it’s really dark or too dense to be hidden by the new tattoo you want, making your cover-up design more intricate to better camouflage aspects of your old tattoo, the ideal cover-up tattoo size and position needed to get the best possible outcome, and will advise you on what color palette should be utilized in your cover up tattoo.
  • Once your cover up tattoo is complete, your tattooist will also advise you if you should come back after it’s healed and have another layer of ink added to finish the job properly.


Having a tattoo you’re just no longer crazy about covered up can be expensive and time consuming, but it’s worth the effort if it means you’ll end up with great new ink whose on your skin  and you’ll cherish for years to come.

When going thru the journey of a cover up, keep these 4 simple tips in mind to make sure you get the new tattoo that you’ll be satisfied with:

  1. Put time in finding the right tattoo artist. Find someone experienced who specializes in cover up tattoos.
  2. Choose a choose a larger, more complex design that can cover your original tattoo, preferably one that utilizes darker shades (purples/blues/greens) and lots of fine detail to ensure your old tattoo will be successfully masked.
  3. Be flexible when it comes to suggestions from your artist about size, placement and design changes that will yield the best cover-up tattoo results.
  4. If you are advised to have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal before starting the cover-up process, make sure to find a reputable tattoo removal specialist to do the job properly.

The Laser will be your best friend in preparing the canvas of your skin to get new artwork. Also, after having the cover-up ink, go back for touch-up sessions if your artist thinks it’s necessary.

Covering up an old tattoo requires a lot of work, but the effort you put forth is worthwhile if it means erasing the piece of your past you no longer care for from your skin and replacing it with a new design that you will really love.

SKIN RENEW…Where truth and transparency meet