Tattoo Cover Ups
A cover-up tattoo design is designed to “camouflage” an already existing tattoo. If done properly it will look like a brand-new tattoo. Tattooists often prefer using designs that contain very dark colors, particularly black, for cover-ups. This is why you frequently see tribal designs used in cover ups for example.
The term “cover-up” can actually be misleading, because the process actually involves “blending” new ink into the old ink. This is why using lighter colors is more challenging. If your tattooist uses a lighter color to “cover” an existing darker color, the darker color will eventually show through. One way to avoid this problem is to match-up (as much as possible) the black line work in the new design with the black line work in the old design. If this can be achieved, then the darkest color black will only need to blend with more black.
So what kinds of designs, besides tribal, can you use to cover-up your tattoo? The answer to this question depends on the tattoo you want to cover as well as the skills of your tattooist. Chances are your “dream tattoo” won’t be possible to implement as a cover-up. More likely, you’ll have to compromise on getting the exact design you want and instead go for something that will simply work well but still look good. The design selection process will take some patience. Many tattooists will suggest finding five-or-so designs that you like so they can each be examined and evaluated against your existing tattoo. If none of them work, you may need to find five more, and so on. Hopefully your tattooist will provide feedback on which designs work and which don’t as you go through this process.
To illustrate why some designs work for cover-ups and some do not, examine the first set of photos below, which show an incorrect choice for a cover-up tattoo: a portrait design. A portrait tattoo will generally not work as a cover-up because there are very few hard black lines in a portrait that can “match up” with the lines of an existing tattoo. Any designs like this that are soft in nature, with large areas of fill or open skin areas (no ink), or are considered "non-organic" (more straight-lined and/or rigid) will generally not work well as a cover-up.
Designs that DO work well for cover-ups are “organic” in nature, such as the snake design in the photos below. Foliage also oftentimes works well for cover-ups in this way. In nature, vines, flowers, trees, leaves, etc. all twist and wind and bend, thus giving your tattooist the flexibility to match the new line work with the old. Fire and water too are very organic in nature and will work well, as well as other designs with lots of visual texture, such as dragons (scales texture), birds (feather textures) and tigers (stripes texture).
Most importantly, a tattoo cover-up requires your tattooist to have the skills to do it, so it’s important you find a tattooist that has a lot of experience in this kind of work. Learn more about choosing a tattooist by viewing our article, “Ten Tips to Finding a Good Tattooist and Studio.”