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

Watercolor tattoos have recently become extremely popular amongst tattoo enthusiasts, and in-turn this means that there are naturally many questions that are regularly asked about them. One of the main ones that everybody is interested about is how quickly watercolor tattoos 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 it 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.

watercolor tattoo

Whilst 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 as they begin to age due to being primarily made up of very soft colors, which also generally tend to lack any great amounts of contrast.

Whilst this is true, and lighter colors do tend to fade quicker than darker colors and blacks, a good artist who is experienced in creating watercolor tattoos should be able to greatly reduce the chance of watercolor tattoos becoming unrecognizable as they age by applying a good black base layer, and by creating much 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. Whilst 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.

This watercolor tattoo healed really well and has hardly any noticeable fading over the space of a whole year

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 as best as possible 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 a tattoo over time

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 sun lotion to block the most dangerous UV rays from zapping your tattoo.

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) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching and irritation.

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.

watercolor design

100 Beautiful Watercolor Tattoo Designs & Ideas

What would a watercolor tattoo article be if it didn't show off some of the beautiful art ever created in this style?

Take a look below to check out 100 of the most amazing watercolor tattoos that I'm yet to come across:

Watercolor ink

Beautiful & vibrant hummingbird watercolor tattoo

A watercolor tattoo designed in the style of a color explosion coming out of a wristwatch

Stunning tulip tattoo made in a watercolor style

A huddle of cats creating some sort of watercolor magic - why not!?

Watercolor tattoos of cats and other animals can look amazing if done by experienced watercolor artists

Watercolor panda

I don't really know what this tattoo is of but it still looks pretty darn cool!

A beautiful watercolor butterfly tattoo

watercolor paint splatter tattoos have become very popular in recent years. Be aware though that the colors can fade quite quickly on these types of tattoos if the artist doesn't take enough care or isn't experienced enough.

Cool origami tattoo

Paint streaks done in an effective watercolor style

Watercolor flower tattoos are probably the most popular type within the style

Portrait tattoos done in this style can also look very effective

Watercolor unicorn tattoo

A soft and warm watercolor guitar tattoo

Vibrant feather watercolor tattoos have become very popular lately

Another beautiful cat tattoo

Turtle tattoo with a watercolor shell 

A superbly done 3D watercolor tattoo

An extremely effective watercolor lion tattoo

A huge watercolor leg tattoo done extremely well

Watercolor tattoos of trees are very popular and can look amazing

Watercolor foot tattoos can look great but beware of quicker fading if the tattoo rubs against footwear regularly

Watercolor travel tattoos are also very popular

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