What Is A Watercolor Tattoo & How Long Should It Last?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 21, 2018
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Watercolor tattoos have recently become extremely popular among tattoo enthusiasts, and in-turn this means that there are naturally many questions that are regularly asked about them. One of the main topics that everybody seems to be interested in is how quickly watercolor tattoos tend to fade.

There are many skeptics who believe that tattoos should never be done in a watercolor style, as they are not robust enough to stand the test of time – but the topic isn’t as simple as that.

What Are Watercolor Tattoos?

Watercolor tattoos are created in the same way, using the same tools as regular color tattoos and black and gray tattoos, with the only differences being the styles and techniques of shading and coloring that are involved in the creation of these tattoos.

While normal tattoos are generally made up of many areas of solid colors that are all merged together to form one larger image; watercolor tattoos are created with much more gradual coloring. These subtle gradients where the merging of colors is much less pronounced helps to create the desired look, which is usually to resemble the characteristics of a classic watercolor painting.

Another noticeable difference is that a large majority of traditional tattoos contain solid outlines/borders, whereas nearly all watercolor pieces have no outline, although there are many tattoo artists that creatively merge traditional styles with watercolor concepts in order to produce a mashup of designs within a single tattoo.

Common themes seen within many popular watercolor designs range from designs of paint splatters right through to full-blown duplicates of watercolor paintings.

Take a look below to see the high levels of work and detail that go into the process of creating a great-looking watercolor tattoo:​

How Quickly Should Watercolor Tattoos Fade?

Many watercolor tattoo critics argue that these types of tattoos will not look good for very long and will fade quickly since they are made up of very soft colors, which lack much contrast.

While this is true, and lighter colors do tend to fade quicker than darker colors, an experienced artist will be able to greatly reduce the chance of watercolor tattoos becoming unrecognizable as they age by applying a good black base layer to create more depth in contrast.

These precautionary steps taken by tattoo artists will enable the tattooed skin to still hold onto its ‘skeleton’, even if the lighter colors do begin to fade.

This means that it will still look much more like a tattoo and a lot less like a blurry patch of faded ink if it does begin to fade at all – and it will also be much easier to touch-up by an artist should you wish to give it another boost of life and vibrancy.

Another argument is that this style of body art is still relatively new, and therefore it hasn’t been around for long enough to determine how older, more aged tattoos will eventually turn out in 20 or 30 years time.

Simply put, all tattoos fade eventually – even solid black ones. Although watercolor tattoos may fade slightly quicker; if the artist does a good job as mentioned above, it shouldn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things as it should be easy enough to apply a touch-up to the well-thought-out tattoo.

Oh, and we’re not talking in a matter of months here. As long as your artist is an experienced professional, your watercolor tattoo should not really fade at all in the first several years as long as you look after it and don’t abuse it (which is covered in the section below).

Several years down the line your ink will then likely begin to fade in a slow, gradual process – just like every other kind of tattoo (except maybe just a little bit quicker due to the lighter coloring).

I’ve even spoken to artists who’ve had customers return 5 years after getting watercolor tattoos, and their skin still looked as colorful and vibrant as they did the day they got their ink – so keep in mind that getting some ink in a watercolor style is not always a tattooing death-wish waiting to happen a few years down the line.

How To Delay Watercolor Tattoo Fading

As with all ink, there are some things that you should definitely do (and not do) to ensure that your tattoo remains in as perfect condition as possible throughout its lifetime.

However, it is especially important with watercolor tattoos to ensure that you take good care of them due to the added delicacy of the lighter inks compared to more traditional tattoos.

Below is a list of things you should look to do (and not do) if you’re thinking of getting a watercolor tattoo – and want it to look great for years and decades to come:

Choose The Right Artist

As already mentioned, in order to ensure that your ink looks the best it can for as long as possible, you should definitely pick a tattoo artist who has plenty of experience with this tattooing style, and who knows all of the techniques required to ensure the body art ends up looking exactly how you want it to.

Don’t just pick the cheapest artist!

A less experienced tattoo artist could easily make a few wrong moves which could eventually lead to the tattoo fading much quicker than it would have done if it was in better hands when first created.

Keep It Away From Sunlight

It doesn’t matter if your tattoo is old or new, watercolor or black and gray – the sun will always be its worst enemy.

Constantly exposing your tattoo to direct sunlight will cause it to significantly fade over time, no matter what color or style it is done in.

faded tattoo
The sun can do a lot of damage to your tattoo over the years

Therefore, as your watercolor is going to be a lot lighter than the majority of most other regular tattoos, it is doubly important to ensure that you keep your ink out of direct sunlight as much as possible.

When you do need to flash your tat when out at the beach in the summer, make sure to use a high-strength sunscreen with spf 30+ containing zinc oxide to block the most dangerous UV rays from zapping your tattoo.

My favorite and most recommended sunscreen for using on tattoos is EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion.

This broad-spectrum sunscreen has all of the attributes required for not only protecting your tattoo amazingly well, but also for helping to keep it bright and vibrant. It’s suitably strong at SPF 50 and is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Most importantly, EltaMD is extremely tattoo-friendly and doesn’t contain any fragrances, oils, or parabens.

Prevent Rubbing

Any area of skin that is likely to be very prone to rubbing such as the tops of your feet and your buttocks should be a no-no when it comes to watercolor tattoos.

Constant rubbing on any tattoo will cause it to fade quicker than normal, so if you want to give your more delicate watercolor tattoo the best chance at standing the test of time then you should seriously think about putting it somewhere that isn’t going to be constantly coming into contact with anything.


In order to keep your skin from sagging, wrinkling and drying out, a good hydrating moisturizer is essential.

Ensure that you use a good quality, skin-sensitive and fragrance-free moisturizer/tattoo lotion throughout the healing process to give your skin/tattoo the best chance of recovering quickly and promptly.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan 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.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.

Continue to use a skin-hydrating moisturizer throughout the life of your tattoo to help prevent fading and to keep it looking bright and vibrant for as long as possible.

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