The best course of action for masking your old tattoo depends on a few different things, like the colors in your original tattoo, how old/faded it is, the subject of the cover-up tattoo you want, and whether or not any components of your old tattoo are salvageable. For instance, the top-left photo is of a different sort of cover-up tattoo that worked around an existing tattoo and hid it in plain sight rather than trying to blot it out of existence.
Key is working together with your Artist, on a design that included all the elements that you wanted in a new tattoo.
More often than not, when someone wants to cover up an old tattoo, they want it covered. A workaround like the one shown above isn't always an option, but it is worth at least considering, particularly when you're dealing with darkly-colored tattoos. Tattoo ink isn't quite like paint, which you can put over a layer or two of primer to hide a color palette misstep from your past, like the black walls you chose for your bedroom as a brooding teenager. It takes about 3 coats of primer and 2 coats of a new color to cover up black walls, so how on earth does a tattoo artist cover up an old black tattoo? It isn't easy; it requires blending, shading, detail and depth of color applied with skill, which is why it's worth taking the time to do careful research and find an artist in your area who specializes in cover up tattoos.
What Matters in a Cover-up Tattoo Design
In addition to finding a good artist, you have to choose the right cover-up tattoo design and be open to modifications that will allow it to completely hide your old tattoo. When considering your cover-up tattoo design options and going through the process with your artist, keep these things in mind:
The more complex your cover-up design is in terms of fine details and rich shading, and the more solid, deep colors it has in it, the better your cover-up will turn out. For instance, elements like layers of scales on fish, variegation in flower petals, and swirls of hair in different shades may aid in the cover-up process. Also, deep purples, blues, greens, and other dark, cool colors with lots of black shading will cover up an old tattoo best, particularly when the original tattoo is dark. By contrast, warmer colors tend to be less successful at covering an old tattoo. The design being covered will determine whether or not any warm colors can be used in your cover up tattoo.
The cover-up tattoo shown to the right is a great example of one utilizing deep colors and lots of shading and detail to successfully cover up an old, darkly-colored tattoo. Your new design will need to be larger than your old tattoo, so that it provides more than sufficient coverage. The shape of the new design and the way it's angled over top of the old one will play a role in how much larger your cover-up tattoo needs to be to successfully mask your old tattoo. Don't be surprised if your artist suggests making the new design twice as large as the original one, if not larger. Your artist may suggest that you have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal to lighten your old tattoo before attempting to cover it up with a new one. The necessity for laser tattoo removal depends on the age of your old tattoo, how dark the colors are in the original tattoo, what colors you want included in your cover up tattoo, and the complexity of the cover-up design. When covering up an old, faded tattoo, laser tattoo removal usually isn't necessary. Likewise, if your cover up tattoo design is intricate and includes colors that are darker than those in the tattoo being covered, you may not need to have laser tattoo removal first. Your artist will be able to advise you best on this matter. Be prepared to have anywhere from one to three touch-up sessions after getting your cover up tattoo. Once the ink has settled, the old design may peek through somewhat, but a few more passes should take care of that problem, if it arises.