by Matt Roberts
In an ideal world, everyone would be happy with every tattoo they received for the entirety of their lives. Unfortunately, poorly-executed tattoos, ill-conceived design ideas, changes of heart and many other factors can result in unhappy tattoo owners. Hopefully you never find yourself in the position of being unhappy with a tattoo. However, if you have a tattoo you wish looked better or looked all-together different, you may be asking yourself, “What are my options?”.
Sometimes a poorly executed tattoo can be made to look better. This is usually done using methods that may somewhat alter the look of the piece. Depending on the tattoo, these changes can be a better option than a complete cover-up. Lines can sometimes be sharpened by making them wider, shading can occasionally be made more even, and colors can sometimes be made brighter or darkened to hide errors. It is very relative to the existing design as to whether or not any of these methods are options for improving your tattoo.
Many artists choose not to work on a poorly rendered tattoo done by another artist because it can be so difficult to make it look better. Depending upon the extent of the work that needs to be done, the cost for fixing a tattoo can be almost as expensive as getting the original, if not more!
The next option is getting a cover-up. A cover-up involves tattooing over the existing image with an appropriate design chosen, or created specifically, to hide the old tattoo. A good cover-up should still look like a good tattoo, just a different one from what you had before. Keep in mind, this process isn’t like painting over some graffiti on a wall. Not every tattoo can be effectively covered-up and not every design will effectively cover an old tattoo. Ultimately you will need to work hand-in-hand with an artist who is experienced with cover-ups and willing to put forth his or her best effort. A bad cover-up is often worse than the original design!
What tends to work well as a cover-up design? This will depend on what’s being covered-up. A seasoned tattoo artist can inspect your old tattoo and discuss the options with you based on the design and its location. Generally, a cover-up needs to be roughly twice the size of the original design to effectively hide the old image. This fact tends to shock people more than any other aspect of the cover-up process. A cover-up tattoo done too small often simply looks exactly like a weak attempt to hide a bad tattoo. This tends to only draw attention to the negative aspects of both images.
A cover-up also needs to have pattern and/or texture within the imagery to obscure and hide the existing lines of the old tattoo. Using a large area of flat color (even darker colors) will often result in the original tattoo showing through. Organic subject matter such as flower petals, fish scales, and animal fur tend to work well. If the old design contains color, the new design will have to incorporate that color somehow, or a very dark color will have to be used to darken over it. Again, these are aspects of the cover-up design process to discuss with the artist doing the work.
The last option for dealing with a tattoo that you are unhappy with is laser tattoo removal. This is a process by which a doctor uses specifically determined pulses of laser light to break up the particles of pigment that compose a tattoo. The smaller particles of pigment are then dealt with by the body’s immune system. How successful this treatment can be depends on the colors in the tattoo (black is the most easily removed), how deep the pigment was injected, and the color and thickness of the patient’s skin. Larger tattoos can take multiple sessions and you generally have to wait 2-3 weeks between sessions. These treatments tend to be painful and have the potential for a range of side effects. Also laser tattoo removal can cost from around $500 up to thousands of dollars per session, often far exceeding the cost of the tattoo! That being said, NEVER get a tattoo with the thought “I can always have it lasered off” as there is NO guarantee that the laser treatments will be successful.
If you are a young person with gang related tattoos who is no longer involved with a gang there are several doctors, organizations, and civic groups nationwide who provide free and low-cost tattoo removal services in an effort to help you start over. Many of these programs can be found on the internet or by contacting local law enforcement or local youth support groups.
As a manager at Saint Sabrina’s, Matt has helped many clients refine their tattoo ideas and concepts into designs that are tattooable. While not a tattoo artist himself, Matt’s knowledge and experience about tattooing is extensive making him a valuable resource to clients and the artists alike.
When not busy taming the turbulent hordes of chaotic tattoo ideas, Matt enjoys great food, good beer and playing banjo. In addition, he helms Gold Monkey Metals, where he creates jewelry, relics, and objects of infatuation from metals and debris, precious and otherwise.