What You Need To Know About Cover Up Tattoos

  • Written By Dan Hunter on August 17, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Cover-up tattoos are a type of tattoo used to ‘cover up’ an old one. This may be done for a variety of reasons. However, it’s not as simple as slapping the new design over the old one and, everything is done and dusted. 

Certain designs can’t be covered easily, nor can certain colors. It’s important that you understand what can actually be done with your old design, and we’re here to help you with that.

Here’s everything you need to know about cover-up tattoos:

  • Cover-up tattoos are often done because of poor-quality designs
  • Black/dark tattoos are difficult to cover up
  • Light tattoos are far easier to cover up
  • It’s important to speak to a tattooist about any potential designs
  • Take care of a cover-up tattoo as if it were new

Why Do People Need Cover-Up Tattoos? 

In one survey of 600 people, it was found that 78% of the group regretted at least one of their tattoos. 

There are many reasons a person might regret getting a tattoo:

  • They got tatted on impulse and now regret it
  • Former partner’s name
  • Low-quality tattoo from a not-so-great tattoo parlor

When people end up with a poor-quality tattoo that fades far faster than they expected, what can they do? 

There are two main options:

  • Laser removal
  • Cover up

Laser tattoo removal is an expensive process that, over a series of sessions, breaks down the tattoo. It’s a complicated process and shouldn’t be relied on as a quick solution, especially as you often won’t actually end up with total removal of the ink.

Cover-ups, on the other hand, are simply putting a larger — and hopefully better — tattoo over the old one.

What Types of Tattoos Can Be Covered?

There are certain aspects you need to consider when looking for a cover-up:

  • Size
  • Color
  • Age
  • Design


Obviously, smaller tattoos are easier to cover up than large ones. A dinky little dolphin or four-leaf clover, especially one in a nice and light color, can practically disappear like magic under a larger, darker tattoo. 

If your tattoo is a large image or design, though, there’s the option of incorporating it into a new design, rather than trying to hide it. In this case, the tattooist may also be able to touch up and improve the original one. 


Heavy black tattoos are harder to cover than ones with light, soft colors. This, generally, goes for other dark colors, too. Light colors, especially those that fade more easily anyway, will be far less of a bother. 

This is still dependent on what color you’re trying to put over it, though.

Some tattoos, particularly those big dark ones, will likely need to go through a few rounds of laser treatment first, to allow a little fading. We’re talking only a few sessions, as opposed to a full course of laser removal. 


If you have an older tattoo, it could be easier to cover up. Over time, the ink in tattoos breaks down, dulling the color. This occurs far faster with a vibrant color like yellow than it does with black. 

Older tattoos that are in areas that are regularly in contact with clothing or are frequently exposed to the sun will have more fading, too.

The Design 

You also need to consider how exactly you want the cover-up to work — is the ‘new’ tattoo going to be a part of the old one, or is it going to cover it completely? 

This is really something you need to consider because if you already regret the first tattoo, imagine how you’ll feel if you regret the cover-up, too! Make sure you’re 100 percent sure of the design you want.

It would be a wise idea, when you’ve found the tattoo parlor you want to use, to have a chat with the artist. Someone with plenty of tattooing experience will be able to tell you what your limits are and whether your new design ideas will work. 

Keep an open mind on potential cover-ups, as you may not be able to get exactly what you want. 

How Does It Work?

You may think that applying a cover-up tattoo is simply a matter of ‘painting’ over the old one. But you’d be wrong in doing so.

This isn’t paint on a canvass. The ink is in your skin, and the new ink will mix with the old ink, thus creating a new color. 

For ease, tattoo artists will often recommend black for the cover-up, as this is the color that most easily dominates another color. This is also why black is the hardest color to cover — it’s likely to show through the new ink. 

If you aren’t a fan of black ink, the tattooist can use other dark colors or simply a darker shade of what you already have. If you have a very uneven-looking lime-green tattoo, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to cover it with forest green, for example. 

The tattoo artist will need to discuss this with you, as certain colors can only be covered with certain other colors. You don’t have complete freedom in this aspect. 

When it comes to the actual process, the tattooist will use tracing paper placed against your tattoo to highlight the predominant features of the old design. They will then place another piece of tracing paper over the top and begin work. 

How Do I Find a Good Tattooist? 

If you want a great tattoo cover-up, you need to find a great tattoo artist — it’s not rocket science, is it?

The number one thing to look for is reviews. Find the tattoo place online and look for feedback. Nowadays, they’re likely to have several social media accounts, so you can look at a variety of sources. Beware anonymous reviews, however, as these can sometimes be vindictive.

A tattooist should also maintain a decent level of hygiene. When you arrive, take a look around. Is it messy? Is the tattooist wearing gloves? Is their workspace cluttered? If yes, walk away. Protect your health. 

Another obvious thing to look for is the artist’s previous tattoos. Ask for a portfolio, or if you know someone who’s had a tattoo from them, get a good look at it. How does it look? Your eyes will tell you all you need to know. 

What Happens After?

After you’ve got your cover-up, you simply need to take care of it the way you did with your original tattoo. 

There may be a temptation to have the tattoo constantly covered because you’re paranoid about infection; however, the tattoo needs to breathe, so let it get air. 

Keep it clean, don’t expose it to direct sunlight, moisturize it — but don’t drown it in moisturizer! — and don’t soak yourself in water — take showers, not baths.

After cleaning, just add a bit of tattoo lotion to keep the skin hydrated and nourished, and your ink should heal beautifully.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

Remember, if something seems to be going wrong, or if the ink seems to start fading immediately, contact the tattooist. They should be more than willing to help. 

And Finally

Tattoos are on your body forever. If you weren’t happy with your ink the first time around, there are options for you that don’t involve expensive laser treatment. You can still have the stunning tattoo you want. Tattoos were meant to be flaunted, so you need one worth flaunting!

Although there may be some limitations because of your original design, you can work with it. Maybe you can even work it into your new design? You might want to remember your original tattoo, even if it wasn’t as pretty as you’d hoped. Speak to a professional tattooist to get an idea of what exactly you can do in terms of a cover-up.