How To Do Tattoo Cover-Ups

Tattoo fitting and tracing on an arm

Getting a tattoo is an exciting experience where you immortalize a memory, time, or feeling in art. As you get older and wiser, you might decide to bid farewell to that design or faded ink. Maybe it no longer suits you. But where do you start? How much will it cost? Will a cover-up be better than complete removal? Can any tattoo artist do cover-ups?

Whether you’re a seasoned tattoo artist looking to expand your skillset or a tattoo client with regrets about existing body art, you’ve come to the right place. Good Vibrations Ink understands that sometimes tattoos don’t turn out as planned or personal preferences change over time. 

At Good Vibrations Ink, we believe in second chances for your ink. We’re here to answer all your burning questions, from “How do you start a tattoo cover-up?” to “Are they worth it?” and everything in between. Cover-up tattoos are a fantastic alternative for those who want to transform an old tattoo into something they can cherish for years without the hassle and cost of removal.

Our award-winning artists are ready to turn your tattoo dilemma into a work of art you’ll be proud to wear. Whether you’re seeking inspiration, tips on color choices, or guidance on the most challenging tattoos to cover up, we have the knowledge and experience to help you make the right decision.

Key Considerations - How Do You Start A Tattoo Cover-Up?

A cover-up tattoo is a unique piece of body art designed to conceal an existing tattoo. The approach varies based on your goals and the characteristics of the tattoo you want to cover. If you’re looking to refresh a fading design, it might resemble more of a “freshen-up.” But the process gets a bit more intricate when you want to make that old ink vanish.


When you want to cover one tattoo with another, our artists need to check out whether any elements of the existing design can be integrated into the new one. Sometimes, we use shapes, lines, or colors from the previous tattoo, blending them to create something fresh. Sometimes, the previous design cannot be seamlessly manipulated into a new piece of art and the artist must use color to mask it completely.

Colored arm tattoo - Size of a tattoo cover up

In nearly every case, a cover-up tattoo must be significantly larger than the original. Sometimes, it needs to be twice the size to provide full and natural coverage. For instance, if you have a full sleeve tattoo that you want to cover up, your cover-up tattoo will likely need to be a full sleeve as well. Similarly, if you have a palm-sized skull and crossbones tattoo on your back, your cover-up will need to match that size or possibly even be larger.

Size is a fundamental aspect of achieving a successful cover-up tattoo

Here’s why:

  • Coverage and Concealment: The primary goal of a cover-up tattoo is to conceal the existing design fully and naturally. This usually means the new tattoo must be large enough to hide the old ink entirely. Our tattoo artists strategically incorporate the previous tattoo into the new design.

  • Avoiding Ghosting: When a new tattoo is inked over a smaller existing one, the edges of the old tattoo can sometimes show through. We call this “ghosting.” To prevent this, a larger cover-up tattoo allows the artist to seamlessly blend the old and new elements, making the old tattoo disappear beneath the new artwork.

  • Maintaining Proportions: If the old tattoo is small, incorporating it into a larger design makes sure the cover-up doesn’t look forced or awkwardly placed on the body.

  • Artistic Freedom: A larger canvas gives the tattoo artist more creative freedom. It allows us to explore intricate details, incorporate additional elements, and create a more visually appealing and complex design that conceals the original tattoo and makes its own statement.

Color In Cover-Up Tattoos

While size is undeniably important, another consideration in cover-up tattoos is color. The majority of cover-ups typically require the use of color ink. While there are a few exceptional cases where black and grey tattoos can be used for covering, they are quite rare. Many clients often wonder why color is necessary for their cover-up tattoo.

Color can determine the success and possibilities of your cover-up. Here’s why color matters:

  • Color Blending: Cover-up tattoos often rely on darker colors, such as black, brown, blue, purple, magenta, or dark green, to conceal the old tattoo. However, the colors don’t merely layer on each other when introducing new ink over an existing tattoo. They blend together. Dark hues help overpower the existing design, making it less visible.

  • Covering Light Colors: If the original tattoo consists primarily of light colors, our artists can blend in darker shades of those colors to maintain a lighter overall tone.

  • Overcoming Dark or Dense Ink: When the original tattoo has dark, densely colored areas and lines, getting a successful cover-up is more challenging. It requires intricate layering, blending, highlighting, and depth to mask the original tattoo. In some cases, artists will advise the client to consider laser tattoo removal to lighten the original tattoo.

When you introduce new ink into skin that's already tattooed, the colors don't just layer on top of each other - they blend.

Sometimes, it’s wise to suggest laser tattoo removal to lighten the original tattoo, expanding the possibilities for your cover-up. Attempting cover-up work without proper color theory and technique can make the original design too visible or overly dense.

Cover Up Tattoo

In essence, a cover-up tattoo involves crafting a new design over your existing, unwanted ink, leveraging elements of the original to create something entirely fresh. This approach suits those who want a new tattoo in the same location or seek to conceal the original.

For example, if you have a homemade stick-and-poke tattoo from your high school days and now crave a more professional look, you can collaborate with a tattoo artist to design something beautiful that incorporates the black ink from the previous tattoo while completely hiding it.

A cover-up tattoo is also ideal for those looking to add a new piece without enduring the multiple sessions that laser removal requires. Suppose you have a faded sunflower tattoo but dream of a large cosmos design on your back. In that case, you can work with a tattoo artist to employ dark ink and a substantial design to cover your original tattoo with fresh artwork.

Tattoo artist at work on a cover up tattoo

Sometimes old tattoos can be raised and have a texture to the touch, scarring. Covering up an old tattoo with a new one can sometimes irritate the scarring from the old tattoo. This will go away. Tattooing over an old tattoo that is RAISED, can actually be beneficial. The tattoo needles will break up that old tissue and the scarring will flatten out.

When you’re dealing with cover-ups that need a few rounds of sessions, things can get even better as those fresh tattoo needles revisit the scarred area. It’s like a little boost for your skin, kickstarting the regeneration of collagen and elastin, which helps your skin heal and get back to its best self.

Keep in mind that you can combine laser tattoo removal with cover-ups. Sometimes, a few laser sessions to fade the original tattoo yield better results for covering it up, providing your tattoo artist with more creative possibilities.

Laser Tattoo Removal

Laser tattoo removal is a process that involves using a specialized laser to penetrate the layers of your skin and target the ink of an unwanted tattoo. The laser emits intense bursts of light that break down the ink particles within your skin into smaller pieces. Once the ink particles are fragmented, your body’s white blood cells gradually absorb and eliminate them.

It’s a technique that works over time with continued sessions. Most individuals typically require 10 to 12 sessions lasting around 15 minutes to achieve complete removal results.

The number of sessions varies depending on the size, shape, ink color, ink type, placement, and your unique skin type.

One of the most common questions is what their skin will look like after laser tattoo removal. For many, laser tattoo removal can leave their skin without a trace of the old tattoo. In some cases, a slight blush of color might be visible at the previous tattoo’s site. However, this residual color is usually so faint that only someone who knew a tattoo was there in the first place would notice it.

How Does Laser Tattoo Removal Work?

Laser tattoo removal is a highly effective and precise method for eliminating unwanted tattoos. It operates on the principle of using advanced laser technology to target and break down the tattoo ink within the skin. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how it works:

  • Laser Energy: The process begins with the emission of high-intensity laser energy. This laser energy is carefully calibrated to target specific light wavelengths corresponding to the colors in the tattoo ink. Different ink colors absorb different wavelengths, allowing for precise targeting.

  • Ink Fragmentation: When the laser energy penetrates the skin, it interacts with the tattoo ink particles. This interaction causes the ink particles to heat up and break apart into smaller fragments. The laser’s energy effectively shatters the ink pigments into tiny, micro-sized particles.

  • Immune System’s Role: Once the ink is fragmented, it transforms into small particles for the body’s immune system to recognize and process. The body’s white blood cells, in particular, play a vital role here. They begin to engulf these smaller ink particles, gradually flushing them out of the body.

  • Healing Process: After each laser session, it’s common to experience some temporary side effects, including redness, swelling, and a sensation similar to a mild sunburn. These side effects usually subside within a few hours to a few days. Proper aftercare is essential to promote healing.

  • Gradual Fading: Over the course of your laser tattoo removal sessions, you’ll notice that the tattoo gradually fades. It may take several weeks or even months to see significant progress, but each session reduces the tattoo’s visibility.
Laser Tattoo Removal On Woman's Shoulder
  • Complete Removal: The ultimate goal of laser tattoo removal is to achieve complete removal or significantly reduce the tattoo’s appearance. While complete eradication is attainable for many, there may be cases where a faint shadow or a slight trace of the tattoo remains, though significantly less noticeable than before.

  • Safety and Precision: Laser tattoo removal is known for its safety and precision. The laser energy selectively targets the tattoo ink, leaving surrounding skin tissues unaffected. This minimizes the risk of scarring or damage to the skin.

How Painful Is Laser Tattoo Removal?

Now, let’s address the question at hand: Is it less painful to get a tattoo lasered than it is to get one applied? To put it simply, it can be very uncomfortable

While a few brave souls might downplay the discomfort, they are definitely in the minority. It’s similar to the initial pain you felt when getting the tattoo, but here’s the kicker – it doesn’t really go numb. That’s why laser tattoo removal is typically done in small, manageable sessions.

Before each session, it’s highly recommended to prepare yourself, especially if the tattoo is in a sensitive area. Consider having a meal, staying hydrated, and even applying a topical anesthetic an hour before the session to help alleviate the pain. 

laser tattoo removal treatment

A 2015 study highlighted that a whopping 97% of participants experienced reactions following tattoo removal. These reactions included 

  • blistering, 
  • swelling, 
  • crusting, 
  • redness, 
  • and yes, pain. 

Some folks even ended up with permanent side effects like scarring, changes in skin pigment, and texture alterations, which could follow multiple laser treatments. It’s worth noting that dark-skinned individuals may experience hypopigmentation. 

Dark ink, particularly black and dark blue, tends to respond best to laser removal. Colored pigments, on the other hand, are generally more resistant to treatment.

In a 2017 study involving 154 tattoo removal clients, it was found that 84% of them reported experiencing moderate to extreme pain during treatment. While most clients were satisfied with their laser treatment, 15% found their results to be less than satisfactory. 

The effectiveness of the treatment varied depending on the tattoo’s color, with blue and black tattoos responding the best. However, clients often expressed dissatisfaction with remnants of green pigment, which could sometimes look like bruising. Some clients even developed minor scarring. 

Interestingly, many clients initially expected their tattoos to be completely removed without a trace, but those expectations were only partially met as they adapted to more realistic outcome views during the treatment period. So, brace yourself for discomfort if you’re considering laser tattoo removal, but remember that it can ultimately lead to the desired results.

Personal Experiences With Laser Tattoo Removal

There are different types of lasers, and when it comes to tackling those colorful tattoos, the Picosure laser is top-notch – if not the best out there. It’s a color-fading wizard. But here’s the most important part – who’s wielding that laser matters. Make sure the person doing the procedure knows their stuff and has those laser settings dialed in just right. 

Honestly, it’s best to hit up a laser center overseen by a qualified MD.

If those settings aren’t spot on, it can lead to some serious skin trouble. We’re talking about potentially burning a hole in your skin, and trust us, that burning sensation sticks around for years, not to mention the scarring. In some cases, you might even need cortisone injections to ease the pain. 

Never use ice packs directly on your skin before the treatment. It can result in third-degree ice burns or frostbite – we’ve seen (and experienced) this. Always have a barrier like a towel between that icy pack and your skin.

One more thing, don’t even think about slapping on lidocaine after your laser session – that’s a recipe for more swelling and irritation. If you need some numbing action, get it from a doctor before the procedure. Overdoing it on a large area can lead to poisoning, which can seriously mess with your heart and, in extreme cases, even be fatal. 

Taking care of your laser treatment is just as crucial as caring for a fresh tattoo. You might experience some massive swelling and blistering – that’s normal. Elevating the treated area above your heart level after the procedure can help ease some of that pain and pressure.

Factors That Impact Covering a Tattoo

When covering up a tattoo, several key factors come into play, and it’s crucial to consider these elements when deciding. We’ve already covered size and color considerations. Let’s break down the other factors that impact the coverage of a tattoo to help you make an informed choice.

Tattoo Age

As tattoos age, the ink particles in a tattoo gradually break down and disperse within the skin due to the constant renewal of skin cells and the body’s immune response. This natural degradation of the ink leads to a faded appearance, reducing the overall density and vividness of the original tattoo.

For instance, a large, colored ankle tattoo you got 20 years ago might be easier to cover up than a smaller, black tattoo you received just last year. The older tattoo has had more time to absorb, making it more receptive to the new ink.

Your skin’s characteristics change as your tattoo ages. Collagen and elastin, essential proteins responsible for skin’s structural support and elasticity, alter over time. The skin may lose some of its youthful firmness, becoming more pliable. This transformation can be advantageous when considering a cover-up tattoo because it allows the new ink to blend seamlessly with the old tattoo.

Design Complexity

The complexity of the design of your old tattoo also affects the cover-up process. Detailed and intricate designs can be more challenging to conceal than simpler ones. Sometimes, the cover-up tattoo may need to be just as detailed to mask the old design effectively.

For example, covering a portrait of your pet with a simple tribal line tattoo would be challenging. However, going the opposite direction by incorporating a simple line tattoo into a new, detailed portrait can be a more achievable option.

The Expertise (and Freedom) of the Artist

Your tattoo artist’s experience level and specialties are critical in deciding who to work with to get your cover-up. Even if you’ve found someone whose work you love, work with someone who has experience doing cover-up tattoos specifically. 

You may have found an artist who does beautiful full-color floral designs and wants to work with them to cover up an ex’s name on your foot. But, if this artist hasn’t done cover-ups before, they may not understand how to choose an ink composition and color that will effectively hide your old tattoo. You could end up with a beautiful garden that has a name showing through it!

Artistic freedom cannot be overstated for a cover-up tattoo as it empowers the artist to utilize their expertise and ensure a successful transformation. By allowing your artist creative liberty, you tap into their valuable insights about the tattooing process and its long-term aesthetic considerations.

When you’re looking for tattoo artists to work with, don’t be afraid to ask for cover-up examples from their portfolios so you can see the work they’ve done. Also, think of questions you’ll ask beforehand to ensure they’re a good fit. These could include:

With over fifty years of cumulative experience, our professionally trained and licensed artists at Good Vibrations Ink are dedicated to creating top-tier tattoos. Whether you’re seeking a new masterpiece, an enhancement to an existing piece, or a cover-up, contact us for a free consultation.

How Do You Start A Tattoo Cover-Up?

Learning how to cover up an old tattoo with a new one completely and creatively takes time and effort. As with any other aspect of tattooing, doing it well requires hands-on practice, experience, and coaching by artists who’ve done it before.

Every tattoo and every cover-up are different and require a slightly different approach.

We’re providing a short, step-by-step walkthrough of the basic steps of Good Vibrations Ink’s cover-up process to give you an idea of what to expect at each point.

Step 1: Discuss The Project With The Client

We start by discussing the tattoo you’d like to cover up and what you’d like to cover it with. As described above, some clients want to alter, embellish, or intensify an existing design rather than cover it completely. Some clients envision a cover-up that would be difficult or impossible based on the original tattoo.

This conversation is the first step in helping you (and us) set realistic expectations for what a cover-up could be and look like—which is especially important given that some clients have strong emotions around tattoos they’re trying to get rid of. It’s also an opportunity to discuss the process, including costs, number of sessions, scheduling, and anything else you may need to know before agreeing to work with us.

Step 2: Tracing, Brainstorming Designs, and Presentation

Cover-up tattooing is more complicated than standard tattooing because we’re not working with a blank canvas. We may need some time to experiment with the existing design and come up with creative ways to achieve the intended result.

We’ll need a copy of your tattoo. This can be taken with stencil paper, where we trace the major features and structural elements we’ll need to deal with. With your permission, we will also take photographs of the tattoo for reference.

Tattoo fitting and tracing on an arm

With an outline of the existing tattoo, our artists can start experimenting with possible designs that accommodate the shape, size, and specific elements of the old tattoo. During this process, we work through what elements can be repurposed and what elements need to be covered completely.

The color and composition of the original tattoo will affect the possibilities of the cover-up. The composition and details of our new design are intended to help draw attention away from the original.

We’ll present it to you once we think we’ve hit a winning design. Good Vibrations Ink artists explain our decisions and thoughts about the design, including sizing, shape, and color. At this point, you’ll have a better idea of how many sessions the job could take. Once you approve, we can start covering up or scheduling future appointments.

Step 3: Transfer The Design And Start With The Darkest Areas

Now, we carefully set the new design over the existing one, making sure that the angle and placement correspond to the cover-up plan made on paper. Sometimes, things don’t align or sit exactly as we expected. In these cases, slight tweaks and adjustments will be made.

When covering up a tattoo, it’s best to start with the darkest areas first.

Often, the areas of greatest overlap with the original tattoo set the baseline for color gradients and highlights in the rest of the design. This is where we determine the density of color required to obscure the original successfully.

If the cover-up will require multiple sessions, the time between sessions allows the ink in these areas the most time to settle. Sometimes, a fill that looked solid at first will reveal a bit of the original after healing.

Step 4: Add Details

Enhancing the level of detail and incorporating well-placed highlights can be a game-changer. We divert attention away from the underlying original tattoo by strategically introducing intricate elements and embellishments to the new design. This added level of detail contributes to the overall aesthetic appeal of the cover-up and plays a vital role in concealing the previous tattoo effectively.

Intricate patterns, subtle shading, or fine linework can be skillfully woven into the new tattoo. These details captivate the eye and create a visual focal point that shifts the gaze away from the old ink. Well-placed highlights can create a sense of depth and dimension within the cover-up, further distracting from the previous tattoo and making the new artwork stand out.

Step 5: Schedule A Touch-Up

In most cases, you’ll want to schedule a touch-up with your artist after your new tattoo has fully healed. During the healing process, colors settle and fade slightly, potentially revealing elements of the original that you intended to conceal. A touch-up helps ensure that the final product looks exactly as you and the artist intended for years to come.

With creativity, patience, and practice Good Vibrations Ink’s eye-catching cover-ups will change how you feel about your tattoos completely.

Schedule a touch-up with Good Vibrations Ink

How Do You Start A Tattoo Cover-Up?

If you’ve got a new tattoo that looks nothing like what you imagined, you may want to run immediately to the nearest cover-up artist. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait until your tattoo has fully healed before arranging a cover-up design. New tattoos are open wounds, and while the top layer of skin will heal in two to three weeks, you may need to wait months before your tattoo heals fully at all skin depths. 

To be safe, work with an experienced cover-up tattoo artist like those at Good Vibrations Ink if you’re thinking of covering up a newer tattoo. They can help ensure you’re healed and ready for your new piece.

Taking care of your new cover-up tattoo is similar to caring for a “fresh” tattoo

The most important care elements include: 

  • Cover your new tattoo with the bandage for as long as your tattoo artist suggests
  • Clean your new tattoo with clean water and fragrance-free soap
  • Apply moisturizer as directed by your tattoo artist
  • Be sure to keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight
  • Avoid scratching or picking at your cover-up piece

You can download our detailed tattoo aftercare instructions and read about how to get the best tattoo results on our blog.

Covering up a black tattoo with any color other than black is difficult. Other dark tones like navy or brown might work, but lighter colors won’t effectively cover up an original black tattoo. If you want to get bright new colors in your new tattoo, you may be a good candidate for laser tattoo removal to fade your original black design.

Artists can use many colors to cover up tattoos. The right colors for you depend on the existing tattoo’s color and the eventual design you want to achieve. We can use darker versions of the same color in a cover-up.

For example, we could cover up a formerly hot pink tattoo with a red one. We also can mix different colored inks with the ink that is already there to create a new color. For instance, blue ink combined with a red tattoo will create purple.

While artists can use many colors, the ink that works best for a tattoo cover-up is often black. We advise that you work with your tattoo artist to discuss your color goals and what’s possible, given the colors and designs of your original tattoo.

The cost of a cover-up tattoo varies as much as the cost of “normal” tattoos. Cost depends on various factors, including the desired tattoo size and color, level of detail, and placement on the body. All of Good Vibrations Ink’s tattoos start at $100 and vary depending on these factors.

Keep in mind that a cover-up tattoo might cost more than the same design on a fresh patch of skin. This is because the artist will need to strategically plan the design and the types of ink they used based on the original tattoo, which will take more labor and more time.

Transform Your Ink with Good Vibrations Ink

If you’re considering a tattoo cover-up, you’re in the right place. At Good Vibrations Ink, our expert team with over fifty years of cumulative experience is dedicated to turning your tattoo dilemma into a work of art you’ll be proud to wear. Whether you’re seeking a new masterpiece, an enhancement to an existing piece, or a complete cover-up, we have the knowledge and skill to guide you through this exciting process.

Our artists will carefully assess your current tattoo and brainstorm innovative ways to achieve the desired result. Our commitment to detail and well-placed highlights ensures that the new design captivates the eye and effectively conceals the previous tattoo. We understand that each tattoo and cover-up is unique, and we work closely with you to set realistic expectations, considering costs, number of sessions, and scheduling.

So, whether you’re looking to start fresh, enhance an existing tattoo, or completely conceal the past, reach out to Good Vibrations Ink for a free consultation at our International Drive locations in Orlando, Florida. Let us guide you toward your tattoo transformation today.