There are many great tattoo ink brands on the market, how do you choose the best tattoo ink for your clients? Check out our tips here!
When it comes to choosing tattoo ink, there are tons of high-quality choices. At first glance, these tattoo ink brands might seem almost identical. But if you start experimenting with them, you’ll notice subtle differences in consistency, flow rate, and how they heal.
So, finding the best tattoo ink for you and your clients is all based on preference. But before you spend a fortune testing dozens of inks, check out this basic guide to help find your ideal tattoo ink brand.
When trying to find the best tattoo ink for you and your needs, it helps to consider these five characteristics.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll want to consider color options first and foremost. For instance, if you’re an artist who specializes in black and gray work, focus on brands that are known for black inks, white highlighting pigments, and gray wash sets. Examples of brands like that include Dynamic, Kuro Sumi, and Empire Ink. On the other hand, if you’re a color artist, you’ll want to explore the colors offered by each brand to see which are most suitable for your palette.
Most quality tattoo inks nowadays are vegan-friendly and organic. Choosing inks that are made from organic materials without any animal products (or animal testing) is a smart choice for the environment and integrity of your setup. All artist-trusted brands available on our Web store are vegan-friendly and organic, so you can trust in quality (and ethical) formulas.
Tattoo inks vary in terms of how thick and thin they are. This consistency also impacts the ink’s flow rate. For instance, inks that are too thick might be hard to pack into your client’s skin. On the other hand, inks that are too thin or over-diluted can be runny and hard to work with. Many artists find they prefer a happy medium between thick and thin: that “smooth like butter” sweet spot — but even that sweet spot has some subtle variances, and one artist’s sweet spot may be a little thicker or thinner than the next artist’s.
Tattoo ink consistency is largely impacted by carrier ingredients in the formula. The carrier ingredients carry the pigment into the skin. Common carriers include things like alcohol, glycerin, and witch hazel. Something like glycerine can really impact an ink’s consistency and flow rate. For instance, inks that are higher in glycerine are typically thicker in consistency, while inks that are glycerine-free (like World Famous Blackout) will be thinner and faster flowing.
Speaking of carriers and formulas… most tattoo inks today contain pre-dispersed pigments, which means the ratio of pigment to carrier solvent is pre-determined. Consequently, pre-dispersed inks don’t require any additional mixing or thinning. These are also known as “shake and use” inks. All inks available on our site are pre-dispersed. Stable pigments, on the other hand, require careful blending and mixing before tattooing. Therefore, we only recommend stable pigments for highly experienced and discerning tattoo artists. Finding out what consistency and formula you prefer is all based on experimentation. But you can trust in high-quality formulas with consistencies artists love from any of the brands listed later in this blog.
And, of course, make sure your tattoo ink fits into your budget.
In our Differences Between Tattoo Ink Brands article, we go into even further depth about each of these characteristics. Check it out as an extra guide to help you compare brands against one another.
While many of the top tattoo brands have some overlapping characteristics, that doesn’t mean they will provide the exact same color quality, color selection, and ink performance. Deciding which combination of characteristics you’re looking for is just the first step.
Step two? Checking out artist reviews.
As with shopping for any new product, reading (or asking for) reviews from other artists can be extremely beneficial. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to fill your ink cups with something new, seek tattoo ink brands with artist approval. An experienced tattoo artist will likely have tried many different tattoo ink brands over the course of their career. Consequently, they’ll be able to give you practical, firsthand guidance about how different tattoo inks perform. We especially recommend seeking reviews from artists whose style is similar to your own.
You’ll find plenty of artist reviews on our ink listings. Plus, we’ve taken a lot of the guesswork out of choosing a tattoo ink brand. We have close relationships with the ink manufacturers we carry, and we purchase from them directly to ensure you get trustworthy tattoo ink. Consequently, you’ll have more than a dozen industry-leading tattoo ink brands to choose from.
There have never been more tattoo ink brands and colors to choose from — some have even said we’re in the golden age of tattoo ink. While each of the brands below meets our standards for safety and performance, they each provide a slightly different value and experience.
Founded by artist Lou Rubino, Jr., World Famous Tattoo Ink is vibrant, varied, and bold. Lou Rubino Jr. brings his decades of tattooing expertise to the World Famous formula to produce the best healed results.
Originally formulated in Japan, Kuro Sumi inks are inspired by the rich history of Japanese tattooing. Kuro Sumi inks are known for their intense, vibrant colors and pure blacks and whites.
After years of mixing ink at home for use in his tattoo shops, artist Terry Welker created Eternal Ink. Eternal Ink is one of the most popular and recognizable names in the business.
Artist Mario Barth founded Intenze in 2002 after almost 40 years of tattooing. Intenze inks are aptly named for their vibrancy, giving artist consistent healed results that pop.
Empire Inks was launched in 2012 by Colt Brown, a skilled black and gray portrait artist. Artists around the globe turn to Empire Inks for its expert system of gray wash ink.
Created by tattoo artist Federico Ferroni, Solid Ink is considered one of the best pigments on the market for its bold palette and longevity.
Adam Everett and Next Generation Tattoo Machines have teamed up to bring you Fusion Tattoo Ink, a brand with a higher pigment load than any other major tattoo ink brand on the market for bold, vibrant colors.
While the brands above are our most popular sellers, we carry plenty of other brands to explore and experiment with, particularly if you’re looking for brands that specialize in black and gray inks.
Allegory Ink aims to provide artists with rich, reliable pigments, and their signature Blak tattoo ink has everything an artist could want when it comes to black pigment as does their newest ink, White for white inks.
Arcane is Alla Prima Ink’s pre-dispersed line of tattoo inks, which have a high pigment load specifically for artists who love a bright palette.
Created by renowned artists Franco Vescovi and Jack Rudy, Nocturnal’s special black ink blends aim to recreate the fluidity and evenness of drawing inks for tattoo artists.
Known for its wide selection of black inks, Panthera is an Italian brand that uses molecular technology for pigments that have a remarkable gloss and extra durability against sun fade.
Silverback Ink debuted in 2005 with “The Original” Grey Wash series and since then has expanded to include a full range of black and grey tattoo inks
Tommy’s StarBrite line consists of 170 vibrant colors and has gained a solid reputation over the past 20 years for its variety, consistency, and color vibrance.
Alla Prima is the only stable pigment ink we carry, and it’s widely recognized for its quality, vibrance, and longevity.
Black Buddha specializes in bold, fade-resistant black and gray inks.
Bloodline inks are manufactured by Skin Candy and provide some of the most brilliant, vibrant tattoo ink colors on the market.
Founded by artist Brandyn Feldman, Holdfast takes pride in providing honest, high-quality inks with deep color.
In recent years, ultraviolet (UV) tattoo ink has gained popularity. These unique tattoo inks create “invisible” tattoos or add highlights that “pop” under black lights. Contrary to popular belief, UV tattoo ink doesn’t “glow in the dark” on its own—it requires a blacklight or some other non-visible UV source to be visible. Consequently, UV tattoos are popular with clients who want tattoos but don’t want to display them on a daily basis.
With the rise in popularity of UV tattoos, many artists have wondered whether UV ink is safe. Like all tattoo inks, UV ink isn’t FDA-approved (a possible point of confusion, as some UV tattoo ink has been approved for food-related uses). Unlike other tattoo inks, however, UV inks contain special dyes that fluoresce under UV light. These special dyes have caused a few mild allergic reactions for some clients… but the same is true of traditional tattoo ink.
Keep in mind, however, that even tattoos done completely in clear UV ink may be slightly visible due to scarring and healing. Additionally, some UV inks are more susceptible to fading or discoloration, especially from sun exposure. To avoid turning a barely visible UV tattoo into an unsightly yellow-brown splotch, it’s important to give your clients high-quality aftercare and recommend SPF products to protect their tattoos from the sun.
Bad tattoos happen, and sometimes we have regrets about even well-done tattoos. Does that mean you're stuck with a tattoo you dislike forever? The answer is no. Cover-up tattoos are always an option for those who don't want to try having their bad tattoos removed. Learn more about how you can cover up a tattoo you no longer love in this week's blog post, Can My Tattoo Be Covered Up?
Unfortunately, bad tattoos happen to the best of us. Maybe you let a novice practice on you and s/he gave you a truly bad tattoo, or maybe you have a well-done tattoo that's of something you no longer love… like your ex's name. Whatever the reason, if you have a tattoo you aren't fond of anymore, a cover-up tattoo may be the best option for you.
Can any tattoo be covered up, even if it's solid black? What kind of designs work best as cover-up tattoos? What do you need to know to ensure you get the best cover-up tattoo possible? Read on to learn how you can cover up a tattoo you don't like with one you're sure to love!
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. The woman whose arm is pictured didn't entirely hate her old tattoo, but she didn't love it by itself either. Plus it was solid black, which can limit one's cover-up tattoo options. She talked to her tattoo artist and they agreed the best way to deal with it was to tactfully incorporate it into a new tattoo. They worked together on a design that included all the elements she wanted in her new tattoo–butterflies and flowers and curling branches–and then her artist created a design around the old one with such skill that it's hard to spot the original tattoo. Any idea what part was the original? Take a close look. It's in the middle of the thickest branch, but it's interwoven in a graceful way that mimics the curves of the butterflies' wings and the swirls in the background, making the original tribal swirl tattoo look like a relatively natural element in this woman's new nature 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.
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 off. Laser removal
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.
The absolute best thing you can do as you embark on the journey of getting a cover-up tattoo is to stay flexible. Keep an open mind about your preferred artist, cover-up design and any factors that may impact its success. If you're too fixed on any one aspect, you may end up just as unhappy with your new tattoo as you were with your old one–or worse yet, still be able to see the old tattoo through the new one.
To get started, pull together a few ideas for cover-up tattoos that really appeal to you and that will have lasting meaning for you, make consultation appointments with a couple well-reputed tattoo artists who have extensive experience doing cover up tattoos, and talk to the artists about your cover-up ideas during your meetings. Ask them which of your design ideas they think will cover up your tattoo best and what edits, if any, they would make to ensure that your cover-up tattoo will be as successful as possible. Look at each artist's portfolio carefully, and decide who you think will do the best job based on their past work and your interviews with them.
Your chosen artist will guide you on things like having laser tattoo removal to lighten your old tattoo if it's really dark or too dense to be hidden by the new tattoo you want, making your cover-up design more intricate to better camouflage aspects of your old tattoo, the ideal cover-up tattoo size and position needed to get the best possible outcome, and what color palette should be utilized in your cover up tattoo. Once your cover up tattoo is complete, your artist can also tell you if you should come back after it's healed and have another layer of ink added to finish the job properly.
If you want to rid yourself of a tattoo you no longer like by covering it up with or incorporating it into a new tattoo, just keep these 4 simple tips in mind to ensure that you get the best new tattoo possible:
Research your tattoo artist well. Find someone experienced who specializes in cover up tattoos.
Choose a cover-up design that utilizes cool, dark colors (purples/blues/greens), shading and lots of fine detail to ensure your old tattoo will be successfully masked.
Be open to suggestions from your artist about size, placement and design changes that will yield the best cover-up tattoo results.
If your artist strongly encourages you to have a few sessions of laser tattoo removal before starting the cover-up process, do it. Also, go back for touch-up sessions after getting your cover-up tattoo if your artist says it's necessary.
Having an old, faded tattoo, a bad tattoo, or a tattoo you're just no longer crazy about covered up can be expensive and time consuming, but it's worth it if it means you'll end up with a great new tattoo that you'll cherish for years to come. You'll have to find the right tattoo artist, choose a larger, more complex design that can cover your original tattoo, and possibly have a little laser tattoo removal and/or a few touch ups to finish the job properly, but the effort you put forth and the investment of time and money you make will be worthwhile if it means getting the best cover-up tattoo possible. When you see a new design you're crazy about emerge before your eyes and it erases the piece of your past you no longer care for, it'll be worth every moment and penny you spent to get a tattoo you really love.
TATTOO AFTERCARE TIPS
Tattoo aftercare is important for the life and longevity of your new body art. Learn more about our recommended aftercare tips.
Congratulations on your new tattoo! Your tattooist has given you a piece of art that you can treasure for a lifetime — If you take good care of your new tattoo, that is. Proper tattoo aftercare will help lock in color and ensure your tattoo stays bold and beautiful for years to come.
What should you do — and not do — to ensure your tattoo continues to look its best? Follow these simple, day-by-day, week-by-week aftercare tips for a tattoo that heals safely and boldly.
Before sending you home, your tattoo artist will likely cover your tattoo with a protective covering like a Dri-loc Pad or Tatu-Derm. Leave the bandage on for the time period specified by your tattoo artist (usually a minimum of 2–5 hours, sometimes overnight). If you're experiencing excessive bleeding, you can ask your tattoo artist if it would be okay for you to change the bandage after a couple hours. If s/he agrees, ask for an extra Tatu-Derm sheet or Dri-loc Pad to take home with you.
If your bandage becomes excessively saturated with blood and you do not have an extra sheet of Tatu-Derm or a Dri-loc Pad, you can use fresh gauze to gently cover your tattoo if it's still bleeding. If you remove your saturated bandage and find that your tattoo is no longer bleeding, you can move onto the next step: Gently cleaning your tattoo.
After you remove the bandage, gently wash your tattoo with cold water and anti-bacterial soap. Do NOT use a washcloth or anything other than your fingers to wash your tattoo. Be as gentle as possible. Your tattoo is a fresh wound; you don't want to irritate it and cause it to start bleeding again.
If you're still bleeding excessively after gently washing your tattoo, call your tattoo artist and ask him or her if you should re-bandage it. It's typically best to just let the skin breathe at this point, but you should follow your artist's advice if you experience any problems after washing your tattoo.
Be very careful about what you apply to your skin during the initial healing phase. Avoid alcohol, because it can dry out your skin. Vaseline can clog your pores and make it hard for your skin to breathe and heal, so that's a no-no, too. The best thing you can apply is a tattoo aftercare balm like Tattoo Goo or Recovery Tattoo Salve. Apply a thin layer 3–4 times per day for the first few days to a week, then switch to a tattoo aftercare lotion like Tattoo Goo Lotion, After Inked, or Recovery Tattoo Lotion. The important thing is to keep your tattooed skin hydrated. Every time your skin starts to dry out, apply another thin layer of lotion.
Here are a few tips for selecting the best tattoo aftercare products and how to use them:
Don't over-apply Tattoo Goo or any tattoo aftercare ointment. You don't want to clog your pores and prevent your healing skin from breathing.
If you have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate Tattoo Goo balm, use Tattoo Goo Lotion from the start instead. Aquaphor is another tried and true tattoo aftercare remedy. Bear in mind that Aquaphor is an ointment, so it may be too thick for sensitive skin.
The Recovery Tattoo Aftercare Kit offers everything you need for each stage of the healing process as well as high-quality cleansers to use in between applications.
During the first week after getting a new tattoo, your healing skin will be itchy, dry, and flaky. That's why it's so important to:
Clean your tattooed skin regularly.
Keep up with your balm applications for the first few days.
Continue moisturizing with a tattoo aftercare lotion on an ongoing basis.
Creams will soothe your skin and reduce the itchiness. Resist the urge to scratch! Don't pick at your tattoo if your skin starts flaking (which is normal, so don't worry!) If the itchiness is driving you crazy, check out our Tattoo Aftercare section for products like Tattoo Salve, Tattoo Lotion, Smelly Gelly, and Hustle Butter, which work as moisturizers to soothe and assuage irritated skin. If you're really desperate to soothe the itchiness, apply a little Zensa Topical Anesthetic Cream or Recovery Numb Cream in combination with your tattoo aftercare lotion of choice. These products contain 5% lidocaine. Lidocaine is a mild numbing agent (also found in Solarcaine, from your local pharmacy, often found alongside the Aloe Vera-based gels used to soothe sunburns).
During the first couple weeks, while your healing skin is at its most sensitive, it's also important to stay out of the sun. You should also wear loose, soft clothing that won't further irritate your skin, and stay away from germ-infested areas like hot tubs, saunas and even swimming pools. If for some reason you absolutely have to be submersed in water during the first two weeks, cover your tattoo with Tatu-Derm. It's a waterproof antibacterial barrier that will protect your healing skin.
Within 3–4 weeks, and sometimes sooner, your tattoo will stop scabbing and peeling, but your skin will likely stay sensitive for a while yet. The longer you protect your tattoo, the better chance you have of locking in color and ensuring that your tattoo will keep looking like new for years to come. Avoid sunlight for as long as possible, and continue applying lotion regularly, for up to a year or longer. You could stop the regular applications sooner, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice. You invested time and money in getting your tattoo; taking care of it as well as you can afterwards will make that investment worthwhile.
When you do first expose your tattoo to sunlight, make sure you apply a good sunscreen to it, like Tattoo Goo's SPF 30 Renew Lotion.
Some areas of the body don't hold ink as well as others. Fingers are a great example. There just aren't enough layers of tissue for the ink to penetrate. Plus, when a design goes around a finger, the friction of your fingers rubbing together can cause skin to slough off and take ink with it. Don't be surprised or upset if you have to go back for a touch-up or two before your tattoo looks exactly the way you want it to look, especially if your new tattoo is around a finger, toe or other high-friction area.
For more information about tattoo aftercare, check out these resources:
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN GETTING A TATTOO
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, but are unsure of what to expect, you may be anxious. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the process of getting a tattoo, so that you are well prepared and you know what to expect.
If you are thinking about getting, but are unsure of what to expect, you may be anxious. The best thing to do is educate yourself on the process of getting a tattoo, so that you are well prepared and you know what to expect.
The first thing you need to do is find a reputable Tattoo Studio and a good artist who will be able to provide you with the tattoo you have in mind. You can learn more about how to choose a tattoo artist and studio here.
After finding an artist and studio that suits you, you will talk with the artist about the tattoo design, style and plan. You will most likely leave a deposit, and schedule an appointment. Tell your artist if this is your first tattoo so he/she can be sure to give you special instructions, and make sure all of your questions are answered. If you are unsure of the tattoo design, you can learn more about selecting a design here.
The day of the appointment, you will need to check in, provide photo id, your name and phone number and fill out a consent form. You may or may not need to pay before the tattoo, depending on how the shop works. The deposit you left should count towards the final cost of the tattoo. We recommend you ask for a copy of your receipt and the consent form. After your paperwork is done, the artist will show you the outline of your tattoo to make sure you are happy with the final design.
You will then go to the tattoo artists work station and be seated. Often, tattoo studios will have open work areas. If you are okay with an open environment, great, if not you should ask ahead of time if a private room is available. Once seated, your body is now ready for the preparation of the tattoo.
The area of skin you have chosen for the tattoo will be cleaned, shaven and then cleaned again. Even if you aren't particularly hairy, most artists shave the skin because hair follicles can draw dirt and bacteria into the skin.
The next step after the area is cleaned is to transfer the design onto your skin. If you chose a freehand design, the artist will draw directly on your skin. If you provided a design to the artist or he/she has drawn something up, they will use a thermal-fax machine to transfer the drawing onto thermal paper and then using stencil stuff, stencil pro or a similar product will transfer the stencil onto your skin. Your tattooist will then finish setting up his work station, if he hasn't already done so.
Some things you may notice at the artists tattoo station. The tattooist will have ink cups lined with ink; these cups are used to ensure no cross contamination from client to client. The tattooist should be removing new needles and tubes from sterilized pouches. Distilled water will be poured into a cup for cleaning tattoo needles during the tattoo and to change from one color to another.
The tattooist will likely place some ointment over your design for several reasons. Ointment can help keep the design on longer and it can also help the needle glide along the skin. The artist will make sure that you are ready to begin, and usually start with a small line so you can get used to the feeling.
The tattooist will work on the outline of the tattoo. Once the line work is done the artist will then begin to shade and color. Depending on the size of the tattoo, the artist may switch the needle types in between lining and coloring; this is simply because certain needles were meant for shading and others for lining. It is also possible that the artist will switch the machine altogether; this depends on the artist’s preference, machine, experience and style.
It depends on the individual, and the area of the body. Some areas hurt more than others, and this can vary from person to person. The sensation isn't particularly painful, and can be compared to a cat scratch.
Some artists will check in with you throughout the process, and make sure that you are doing okay. If you start to feel lightheaded, let your artist know. You may need a short break, some water, or some candy to raise your blood sugar. Don't forget to eat a healthy meal before your appointment to avoid fainting.
Once your session or entire tattoo is done, the tattooist will clean it up and take a picture (if you have given permission). The tattooist will apply a protective layer of ointment and a bandage. He/She will then provide aftercare instructions both verbally and on a piece of paper (or via email depending on their system). It’s extremely important that you follow proper aftercare instructions. It is your responsibility to stay clean and safe.
You'll remove the bandages in a couple of hours, then wash and care for your tattoo the way you were instructed. Check out Tattoo Aftercare products on Painful Pleasures.
It's important to remember that tattoos are basically an open wound, and you need to keep them clean, dry, and protected to avoid infection or any permanent damage to the tattoo's appearance. Your new tattoo will be a little sore during the healing process, and will probably feel a bit like a sunburn. It usually takes between a few weeks to a few months for a tattoo to fully heal, but again, it can depend on the individual.
Once your tattoo is done and you are happy with the work he/she did, you should say Thanks and tip him/her to show him/her how much you appreciate their work.
YOUR GUIDE TO TATTOO AFTERCARE
Find out how to take care of any tattoo. This is your complete guide to successful tattoo aftercare for great healed results.
Tattooing has become so popular nowadays, it’s almost a rite of passage. You can find talented artists everywhere — there’s probably one close by who can nail a style you love.
But before getting tattooed, it’s important to do your research. That’s because getting tattooed is technically a medical procedure — you’re going to take trauma to your skin (no pain, no gain, right?) So, make sure you’re looking for a certified tattoo artist who follows OSHA-approved, sterile procedures. If you have any health concerns at all, talk to your doctor before artist shopping.
After your tattoo, it’s critical to follow a healthy aftercare process. Being patient with the tattoo healing process prevents infection and keeps your tattoo looking amazing. In this tattoo aftercare guide, you’ll learn exactly how to care for a tattoo so you can get the best healed results.
The tattoo healing process varies from person to person. It all depends on your skin type, diet, hydration, the products you use, any previous skin damage you might have — and, yes, even the weather. It also depends on the size and the placement of your tattoo. You’ll find that a palm-sized banger off a flash sheet heals much more quickly than a full back panel. No matter the size of your tattoo, here are a few artist-recommended tattoo aftercare rules:
Consult your tattoo artist for tattoo aftercare tips.
Hydrate your new tattoo with high-quality aftercare products.
Keep your new tattoo away from direct sunlight for at least one week.
Try not to touch your new tattoo (and definitely don’t scratch).
Avoid submerging your new tattoo in water for at least two weeks.
2–3 weeks after your tattoo, only expose it to sunlight if you’re wearing tattoo sunscreen.
Be patient… the end results are worth it.
Your tattoo aftercare strategy is up to you and your artist. You may decide to use a premium tattoo ointment. On the other hand, you might choose a tattoo aftercare bandage, like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm. Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield have really exploded in popularity these past couple years.
When it comes to ointment versus aftercare bandages, there’s no one right answer. It all depends on what’s best for you and your tattoo. Just be sure to listen to your artist’s professional advice!
You’ll find plenty of premium tattoo aftercare ointments on the market. Recovery Tattoo Salve, help moisturize and protect your tattoo from infection.
If you’re using ointment, first remove the initial bandage your artist has put in place with clean hands. Then, wash your tattoo with a specialty aftercare soap, like Recovery Tattoo Soap. Finally, pat (do not wipe) your tattoo dry, then apply a small amount of your tattoo ointment.
Note: It’s important to apply your tattoo ointment about 3–4 times a day throughout recovery. Be sure to use a small amount. Tattoo artists will typically recommend a pea-sized dose every time you apply. Over-moisturizing can clog your pores and even increase your risk of infection. Your artist will also advise you on how often you should wash your tattoo with aftercare soap.
Using a tattoo aftercare bandage can be just as effective as tattoo ointment. In fact, if you think you’ll forget to apply ointment regularly, a bandage might be your best bet.
Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield lock in all the fluid and natural moisture that comes out while your tattoo heals. A bandage also protects your tattoo from harsh elements or chafing against fabric.
If you’re using a bandage, start your recovery process just like you would with ointment. First, take off the initial bandage with clean hands. Second, wash your tattoo with aftercare soap. Lastly (after patting your tattoo dry), you’re set to put on your aftercare bandage of choice.
Be gentle about applying your bandage and follow the aftercare instructions on the product packaging. With bandage recovery, you’ll keep your tattoo covered 24 hours a day for at least four to seven days. Based on your artist’s recommendation, you may remove the bandage every four to six hours for cleaning with aftercare soap. Change your bandage every time you wash your new tattoo based on your artist’s professional advice.
So, you just got tattooed. First, your tattoo artist will clean your tattoo with a skin-friendly agent like Green Soap or Dr. Bronner’s. After snapping a photo, they’ll wrap up your tattoo with professional tattoo film, plastic wrap, or soaker pads. After that, it’s up to you to stock up on quality aftercare products. Here are just a few we recommend:
Your artist may have some of these items in stock at their shop! No matter which aftercare products you choose, the tattoo healing process is divided into five stages. Check out each stage below.
In stage 1, your tattoo starts freshly bandaged… and a little bloody. You may be excited to show off your glossy new piece but leave the first wrapping on for a few hours. Your artist will advise how long before you can remove it. After you take the bandage off, don’t be surprised by blood, plasma, or excess ink. That’s all a normal part of your skin’s recovery. Just be sure to wash the tattoo site as gently as possible. We recommend avoiding antibacterial soaps like Dial or Dove. These soaps can have a harsh, drying effect. So, stick with soaps that are specifically designed for new tattoos, like Recovery Aftercare soap… Then, pat dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.
If you’re using ointment, it’s safe to apply your first dose about 20 to 25 minutes after washing.t.
If tattoo ointment isn’t your thing, put on your tattoo bandage instead. Derm Shield is light and breathable, which gives your tattoo plenty of air. Ventilation is super important for a healthy recovery. So, let that beautiful body art breath!
How you care for your tattoo during the next two to three days is crucial. You’ll notice redness, swelling, and sensitivity. You may also notice your tattoo looks dull. Don’t worry about any of these symptoms – it’s all just part of the process. The vibrancy will return.
The key is keeping your tattoo moisturized during this stage. So, continue using your preferred tattoo ointment three to four times daily. Remember: You don’t want to over-moisturize the tattoo site.
You’ll also want to continue washing your tattoo with specialty tattoo aftercare soap or unscented Dove soap based on your tattoo artist’s instructions. Remember to always pat your tattoo dry after washing.
If you’re wearing Recovery Derm Shield or another protective bandage, just leave your tattoo alone. Your skin is very sensitive during this stage. It doesn’t want to be touched after, you know, being punctured by needles.
Attention, bandage-wearers: You also may notice ink sacs in stage 1. Ink sacs are bubbles or pockets full of ink and plasma under your tattoo aftercare bandage. They can show up as soon as 45 minutes after you put your bandage on.
This is 100% normal. It’s a build-up of fluid under your bandage during recovery. Most artists will recommend replacing your tattoo bandage if your ink sac gets bigger than a quarter. So, simply remove your aftercare bandage, wash the tattoo site with aftercare soap, and put a fresh one in place.
If it hasn’t already started, stage 3 (days four through six) is usually when the dreaded itch settles in. You’ll desperately want to scratch — but resist the temptation (we know it’s hard). Abrasions and scabbing are common during this stage. If you scratch or pick at a scab, it can pull out some of the color and damage your healed results. You can give your tattoo a slap for some relief if the itch gets really bad.
Also, keep applying your specialty tattoo ointment in small amounts once or twice daily. A good tattoo ointment like Recovery Tattoo Salve conditions the skin and prevents infection. This should make the recovery process faster. Hopefully, it’ll give you some much-needed relief from the itch we all know and hate.
Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield should be removed after four to seven days. So, if you’re wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage, this is usually the stage where you can take off your first one. After that, it’s time to wash with aftercare soap — you’ll notice a lot of built-up lymph, fluid, and ink trapped under the bandage. Scabbing still happens even if you’re wearing a bandage. So, after taking off your bandage, wash gently with aftercare soap and don’t pick at any scabs.
Next, you might have to apply another bandage to finish recovery. You can also switch over to tattoo ointment for the next two recovery stages. Just remember to ask your tattoo artist what’s best for you and your tattoo.
Finally, the scabs start to fall off on their own!
During this stage, days seven through 14, You might still notice some itching. Keep on moisturizing sparingly with your tattoo ointment to prevent infection and ease the itchiness.
If you’re wearing a new tattoo bandage, there will be less fluid build-up in this stage, since your tattoo isn’t as fresh. Stage 4 is typically when you can remove your second bandage (if four to seven days have passed since you put it on). As in stage 3, give your tattoo a good wash with aftercare soap after removing the bandage.
Days 15 through 30 after getting tattooed, your tattoo is mostly done flaking. But while it may look 100% recovered on the outside, there’s more than meets the eye.
The bottom layer of your skin still needs to heal. So, keep cleaning with specialty aftercare soap, and applying your tattoo aftercare ointment for moisture. If you’re still wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage based on your artist’s instructions, this is the stage where you can safely remove it for good.
By the end of the third week after you’ve gotten tattooed, the colors will start to look bright and bold again.
Tattoo care and recovery aren’t all about the five stages. There are also things you can do before your tattoo to make the healing process smoother. We always recommend eating a nutritious meal, staying hydrated, and avoiding coffee. This helps get your body ready for needles, trauma, and well-done body art.
You’ll also want to consider the placement of your new tattoo. For one thing, the right placement can make a killer tattoo even better. For another thing, each part of the body heals a little differently.
Check out our guide for tattoo aftercare by body part below, including tips to bear in mind during tattoo healing.
Heads up — head tattoos can be sensitive, itchy, and delicate. (Scythe tattoo above done by Jake Karamol @jakekaramol)
Aftercare: Gently wash your head tattoo with a cleanser like Recovery Aftercare Soap and sparsely apply tattoo ointment to help any scabs fall. Being gentle is key, because new hair follicles make your new tattoo extra sensitive.
Extra Tips: You might notice dandruff-like flakes coming off your head – this is to be expected. Just stay diligent (and gentle) with your aftercare treatment.
If you recently got a neck or throat tattoo — congratulations, you’re a champion! Neck tattoos are famously painful because the skin of your neck is so thin. (Raven tattoo above done by Bobby Douglas @bobbydouglas)
Aftercare: Consistently apply tattoo ointment or wear a tattoo aftercare bandage. A bandage is a great way to protect your neck and throat from chafing against your shirt collar.
Extra Tips: If your hair is long, tie it up so it doesn’t irritate your tattoo. We also recommend Recovery Derm Shield in black if you’re getting tattooed during sunnier months. The black bandage keeps your neck tattoo safe from sun rays.
A stomach tattoo is a unique placement that can turn out lookin’ fire. Just prepare for some discomfort in the belly. (Stomach tattoo above done by Jesse Smith @jessesmithtattoos)
Aftercare: This is another body part that does really well with a tattoo aftercare bandage. A premium bandage like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm prevents friction between your tattoo and your shirt. If you prefer ointment, be gentle and consistent about applying it. Also, make sure to wash regularly with aftercare soap and pat dry afterward!
Extra Tips: Avoid a lot of bending or sitting. There are plenty of loose muscles and skin folds in the stomach that affect your tattoo when they move too much.
After taking the plunge and getting a lip tattoo, it’s time to watch what you eat.
Aftercare: If you’re rocking an interior lip tattoo, avoid using tattoo ointment, cream, or lotion inside your mouth. Stick to an alcohol-free antibacterial mouth wash instead. Give yourself a rinse after every meal to prevent infection. If your lip tattoo is on the outside of your mouth, it’s safe to use tattoo ointment.
Extra Tips: Sorry, spice lovers. You’ll want to avoid spicy or acidic food that can inflame your new lip tattoo. Stick to milder flavors — and know the healed results will be worth it.
Hand tattoos and finger tattoos are everywhere – just look at any pop celebrity! And they can be beautifully done. But it goes without saying… your hands touch everything. (Bulldog tattoo above by Christian Naccari @christian.tattoo.art)
Aftercare: Be sure to wash your tattooed fingers with something like Recovery Aftercare Soap three to four times a day. This helps prevent infection. You’ll also want to use your Recovery Tattoo Salve, Hustle Butter, or other premium tattoo ointment to keep your finger hand or tattoo moisturized.
Extra Tips: Bear in mind that hand and finger tattoos can spread or become blurry over time. Use sunblock in direct sunlight to slow this process.
It may not come as a surprise to you that butt tattoo recovery can be tricky. This is largely because – well, you’re constantly sitting on your butt. (Butt tattoo above done by Jesse Smith @jessesmithtattoos)
Aftercare: Apply your preferred tattoo ointment regularly and wash frequently with aftercare soap. A bandage is an excellent choice here to prevent friction between your butt and your pants.
Extra Tips: Sitting causes rubbing or chafing, which can irritate your tattoo. Try lying on your stomach as much as possible and wearing loose-fitting pants. This can speed things along – but be patient! Butt tattoos may take a while to heal.
The calf is a great place to show off a new tattoo. Nonetheless, it’s also exposed to the elements. (Skeleton tattoo above done by Autumn Hudson @autumnhudson.tattoos)
Aftercare: Keep your tattooed calf covered with clothing or a high-quality tattoo aftercare bandage like Recovery Derm Shield. This is one of the best ways to protect your body art from dirt, water, or rain during the healing process. If you prefer tattoo ointment, stick to long, loose-fitting pants.
Extra Tips: Avoid walking barefoot and keep away from unsanitary walking environments as much as possible.
Foot and ankle tattoos are easy to show off and just as easy to keep hidden. Recovery for these tattoos can be easy if you do it right. (Third eye tiger tattoo above done by Jake Karamol @jakekaramol).
Aftercare: You can opt for tattoo ointment or a bandage here. However, a bandage might be difficult to apply to the top of the foot or the bony ankle. Go with your artist’s recommendation depending on the size of your ankle or foot tattoo.
Extra Tips: It goes without saying you should avoid walking barefoot, especially outside. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting shoes or flip flops if you can (but avoid direct sunlight!) Ideal environment for foot and ankle tattoo recovery? Feet up on the couch, away from the sun.
It’s edgy. It’s bold. And it’s also extremely sensitive. Not only is the knee painful to get tattooed, but it requires plenty of care during the recovery process.
Aftercare: Consistently wash your knee with aftercare soap based on your artist’s recommendation. And don’t forget to consistently apply tattoo ointment! Knees can get pretty dry, so you’ll want to keep it moisturized.
Extra tips: The skin of your knee is sensitive and thin – and it’s constantly moving. Try not to bend your knee frequently two to three weeks after your tattoo. Lay supine, watch Netflix, and relax.
The almighty quads and thighs! Maybe you didn’t know they’re surprisingly sensitive with soft muscles. (Skull tattoo above done by Harlan Kantner @harlankantner)
Aftercare: Consistently clean your thigh with aftercare soap and use your preferred tattoo ointment according to your artist’s instructions. A tattoo bandage is a great idea to protect your thigh from chafing against your pants.
Extra tips: If it’s summertime, wear longer shorts, skirts, or pants to keep your quad tattoo covered and concealed from the sunlight. You might experience stabbing pains when walking, but if you take good care of your quad tattoo, those will pass. Depending on the size of your tattoo, recovery can be discouragingly slow for the first few days, but don’t worry — it’s worth the wait. You can expect your thigh to take at least a month to fully recover.
The sturdy, strong-muscled forearm is one of the most popular tattoo sites. That’s because it hurts a whole lot less than other arm tattoos, AND it’s a highly visible canvas. (Sparkly whale tattoo above done by Amanda Graves @amandagravestattoo).
Aftercare: Big or small, use aftercare soap and lukewarm water to clean your forearm tattoo for the first three weeks. You’ll also want to use your preferred tattoo ointment at least three to four times a day for the first three weeks.
Extra Tips: The time it takes for your forearm tattoo to recover depends mostly on the size. A flash piece is going to heal much more quickly than a tattoo that takes up your entire forearm.
Back and spine tattoos can be amazing, since there’s so much space for your artist to create a killer design. But this one might hurt. Your back body is hyper-sensitive to pain, particularly in your low back, where your love handles grow. (Full back panel tattoo above by Teresa Sharpe @teresasharpeart).
Aftercare: A tattoo aftercare bandage like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm is a smart option here. Usually, spine and back tattoos are large, and bandages give plenty of protective coverage. You may need to use a few to cover it completely.
Extra Tips: To stay as comfortable as possible, try sleeping on your side or on your stomach if you can. It’s safe to sleep on your back during the healing process, but it might not exactly be a peaceful night’s sleep. We also recommend keeping your back covered to avoid sunlight, especially if you’ve gotten your back tattooed during summertime. That means no walking the boardwalk topless, no matter how badly you want to show off your new piece.
Your elbow is a unique, eye-catching site for your tattoo… it also doesn’t get too much air circulation. (Black and grey floral tattoo above by Christian Naccari @christian.tattoo.art)
Aftercare: The elbow can also be a relatively dry tattoo site, so tattoo ointment to keep it moisturized is a healthy option.
Extra Tips: Wear loose-fitting clothes that let your elbow tattoo breathe – but don’t forget to keep it away from harsh sunlight.
If you’re interested in a tattoo sleeve, brace your outer arms for impact! Outer arm tattoos are constantly subject to friction against your sleeves. (Black and gray realism tattoo by Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez @tattoosbygonzo)
Aftercare: While your preferred tattoo ointment can help prevent infection, a quality tattoo aftercare bandage is a great way to keep your outer arms (and sleeve tattoos in general) protected from sleeve-chafe. Outer arms can be difficult to keep hydrated, so we highly recommend the bandage to retain moisture.
Extra Tips: Be mindful of how much your arms are moving to limit rubbing and chafing through recovery.
Your shoulders cover a LOT of space. A shoulder tattoo can be anywhere from your flat shoulder blades to your front shoulders near the collar bones. (Full sleeve tattoo above by Autumn Hudson @autumnhudson.tattoos)
Aftercare: Tattoo ointment and bandages are equally effective on shoulders. However, a tattoo bandage is especially useful so your tattoo doesn’t rub against your shirt.
Extra Tips: Shoulders tend to heal much more quickly than other parts of your body since it’s a flat canvas that’s easy to keep still throughout the day.
Get ready for soreness and swelling after a rib tattoo. The skin of your ribs is super-thin and chock-full of blood vessels, which is why it’s so sensitive during tattoo recovery. (Tattoo above by Bret Bloom @fullproof.bloom)
Aftercare: You’ll need to apply tattoo ointment at least four to five times a day. Wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage can also protect your sensitive rib skin from the elements — or from chafing against your shirt.
Extra Tips: Try to avoid a lot of movement. Stay seated or lay on your back to limit chafing, rubbing, and upper body rotation. If it’s sunny out, keep your shirt on while your rib tattoo heals!
Chest tattoos can be painful, but when they’re done well, they’re amazing to see. For the best healed results, prepare for a longer recovery process, since the chest is broad and flat-planed. (Full chest tattoo above by Teresa Sharpe @teresasharpeart)
Aftercare: Tattoo bandages and aftercare ointment can both be effective during chest tattoo recovery. A bandage can be especially helpful so your tattoo doesn’t rub against your shirt.
Extra Tips: Avoid lying on your chest while your tattoo heals. We also recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing, especially if you have a broader chest where the fabric clings. As with any other upper body tattoo, leave your shirt on when you’re walking out in the sun!
No bones in your ears doesn’t mean no pain… but fortunately, ear tattoos recovery very quickly.
Aftercare: Be diligent about using your tattoo ointment as needed to keep your new piece moisturized and infection-free.
Extra Tips: Ear tattoos can be hard to slap to get relief from the dreaded itch. Avoid scratching as much as possible.
These parts of your body are usually covered, which means they’re often sweaty and full of moisture. That means you have to be super careful during the tattoo aftercare process.
Aftercare: Apply premium tattoo aftercare ointment every few hours to keep the site free from infection. Also, wash consistently with aftercare soap based on your artist’s recommendation. You may opt for a tattoo aftercare bandage, but that could be difficult to lay on your skin, depending on what part of the genitals or pelvis your tattoo lives.
Extra Tips: Avoid sexual activity until you’ve finished the recovery process.
The good news: you get plenty of air and ventilation with face tattoos. It’s also easy to clean face tattoos with tattoo aftercare soap. The bad news: you must be a vampire and stay out of sunlight for at least 24 hours after getting tattooed.
Aftercare: Use tattoo ointment or a tattoo bandage for the first few days and remember to use sunblock… or wear a really large hat.
Extra Tips: It’s not safe to wear sunblock until your tattoo is fully healed, so try to stay indoors as much as possible. When outside, you can also shade your face with a hat.
Armpit tattoos sting, but the healed results can be fire.
Aftercare: To prevent infection after an armpit tattoo, try to keep the site as dry as possible. Wash with aftercare soap, pat with a towel, and use tattoo ointment for nutrients and preventative care. It might be difficult to apply on armpit skin.
Extra Tips: Bear in mind there’s a lot of chafing in your armpits, which leads to irritation during recovery. Your armpits also tend to be sweaty, especially during sunnier months. Some moisture is good, but stay in a cool, well-ventilated area to prevent excess sweating.
.YOUR ULTIMATE TATTOO CONVENTION GUIDE
If you’re thinking about attending a tattoo convention this year, check out our complete guide for getting the most out of your experience.
If you’re looking to kickstart or maximize your tattooing career, attending a tattoo convention is one of the best ways to do it. Tattoo conventions give you the chance to network, boost your skills, increase revenue, try new supplies, and grow your client list. But there are a few things to consider if you’re new to the convention scene.
Consider this your ultimate guide for making the most out of your next (or first-ever) tattoo convention.
First thing’s first: decide which tattoo convention is right for you. To start, a convention that’s close by gives you a chance to experience what they’re like firsthand without too much travel hassle. World Tattoo Events is an excellent guide for finding upcoming tattoo conventions both locally and overseas.
If you’re just getting started with conventions, don’t feel pressure to overbook yourself.
But if you’d like to attend more than one, be sure to find the best tattoo conventions for you. All conventions feature different opportunities, vendors, contests, and attractions. So, maybe the convention closest to you isn’t the one catching your eye. You might find one farther away that interests you more.
To find out, research which conventions have the supplies and event highlights you most want to experience. Also, check out which big-name artists are attending each upcoming convention. Maybe there’s an artist you really admire on the list. This could be your chance to meet and chat with them.
ProTip: Always reach out to a high-profile tattoo artist before the convention if you’d like to network with them. Their books will no doubt be full, so they’ll have to make time in their schedule to link up and chat.
But artist networking doesn’t strictly have to be high-profile. You can always attend a convention with an artist you know and pencil in a collab with them. Artist collabs are great to have on your calendar (but we’ll touch on that more later).
If this is your first tattoo convention, one booth will probably suffice. But maybe you’re offering merch and need more advertising space. Consider how many booths you’ll need months prior to the event (this is why marking your calendar first is so important). Booths get rented out fast, so you’ll want to claim yours in time.
And while you’re at it, make your travel plans at least three months in advance as well. Most convention Web pages advertise local hotels and transportation. Grab a good room while you can and book your flight if you’ll be flying interstate or overseas.
There are plenty of private and public Facebook groups devoted to tattoo conventions. Joining one of these groups not only gives you quick access to event schedules and booking opportunities — they also network you with other artists.
But it’s not just Facebook that can help you plan for your convention year. Follow event hosts on Instagram, such as Villain Arts, for other convention-related news. You can also use Instagram to your own advantage leading up to a convention date. Advertise your booth and location at the venue using your Instagram story in the days and hours leading up to your event. Tag any artists you’ve met or will be collab-ing with. Taking advantage of social media advertising means more eyes on you and your work… which could mean more clients!
The last thing you want is to show up for a tattoo convention without the equipment you need. Here are a few key things you’ll want to pack:
Your portfolio (3D or 2D)
More business cards than you think you need (more details in our packing for conventions guide)
Extra/backup charging cables and blocks for your devices
We touched a little on networking in the last section. Now let’s talk about how networking can boost your revenue, client base, and overall career at the convention.
First, if you take our advice and schedule a collab, advertising it on social media is a sure-fire way to attract new clients. Even without advertising, a good tattoo collaboration can attract a lot of attention.
But you can attract even more attention if you film your collab, take progress pictures, and post them to your Instagram story or TikTok account. Using convention-related hashtags and tags also helps boost your reach on social media. And more reach potentially means more new clients!
Second, it isn’t all about collabs. If you’re not ready to schedule and advertise a collab, conventions are still a great opportunity to meet other artists. Make sure you have free time in your schedule to walk around and talk to artists you haven’t met. You could make new friends or get inspired by a new style; and who knows? You could end up booking a guest spot at a new shop.
Here are a few other ways you can connect with artists at conventions and expand your reach overall:
Geotag your convention’s location on Instagram posts.
Post photos of your work with the name of the convention in your caption.
Advertise any flash you might be tattooing on your Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok.
Third, don’t forget about other vendors. The best tattoo conventions offer a huge variety of unique vendors, selling body jewelry, apparel, and the latest tattoo technology. Usually, tattoo supply vendors offer free samples of their latest tech. So, during your downtime, be sure to browse around, talk to new vendors, ask questions, and try out new technology. You might find a new favorite ink, cartridge needle, or power supply. And you also might find some dope body jewelry either for yourself or your shop’s display case.
Many tattoo conventions offer seminars that can enrich your career and boost your skillset. You’ll find seminars of all varieties, including (but not exclusive to) workshops/lessons in contrast, linework, using Procreate, running a tattoo business, and mental health tips. Most of these seminars are exclusive, meaning they require a fee. So, if you want to take advantage of a seminar at your next convention, be sure to research and sign up when you’re booking your booth and travel accommodations (i.e. months ahead of the game).
Along with seminars, all tattoo conventions feature contests. Contest categories are wide and varied, such as “Best Black and Gray” and “Best Color Work” tattoo contests. Participating in these contests is your chance to flex your skills and connect with other artists. It’s also your chance to potentially win some tattoo technology. Usually, a tattoo convention winner is awarded with brand-name tattoo supplies.
Mark your calendars for 2022 and make sure to use these tips to get the most out of your next (or first) tattoo convention. Be sure to equip yourself with the right gear, including portable tattoo furniture, essential medical supplies, and more. Plus, keep your eyes on your favorite artists throughout the year via Instagram and Facebook.
Cover-up tattoos are an alternative for those who aren’t happy with their body art but don’t want it removed. Learn more about how to cover up tattoos here.
As a tattoo artist, you always want to aim to provide your clients with high-quality art that they will be happy with for many years to come. But sometimes artists make mistakes. Sometimes clients trust untrained or inexperienced artists with a job that is beyond their skillset. Sometimes people change their minds about a tattoo for personal reasons, or their tattoo fades significantly over time. And sometimes people just get bad tattoos. Does that mean they have to be stuck with them forever, or pay a lot of money to have them removed? Not necessarily.
Cover-up tattoos are an alternative for those who aren’t happy with their body art but who don’t want to have it removed. While the same general tools, principles, and processes are used for cover-up tattoos as for standard ones, cover-up tattoo artists need some specialized skills, strategy, and experience in order to turn a regrettable design into a high-quality piece of body art.
A cover-up tattoo is one that is specially designed to mask a previously existing piece of body art. How that is done depends on the client’s goals for the cover-up, as well as the shape, size, color, and specific design of the tattoo to be covered up. If they’re looking to refresh an aging design or one that has faded due to UV exposure or other external factors, it’s possible the “cover-up” will be more like a “freshen up.” But for designs that they want to disappear, the process is a bit more complicated.
When a client wants to completely cover up a tattoo with another tattoo, artists must assess whether any components of the existing design could be incorporated into a cover-up design. In some cases it’s possible to use shapes, lines, or colors from the previous tattoo, blending the two designs together to create something new and natural. In some cases, however, there’s nothing salvageable from the previous design, and the artist will need to use color to completely mask the existing design.
Another crucial factor to keep in mind when thinking about cover-up tattoos is size. In almost every case, a cover-up tattoo will need to be significantly larger than the original design—sometimes up to twice as large—in order to cover it fully and naturally. But the most critical consideration when it comes to cover-up tattoos is color since the possibilities for a cover-up are largely determined by the specific colors and the density of color used in the original design.
When you inject new ink into skin that’s already been tattooed, the new ink doesn’t just sit on top of the old ink and cover it up—the two colors blend together, creating something in the middle. Even if the original tattoo design is many years old, the colors will blend. That means cover-up tattoos generally have to be composed of fairly dark colors (black, brown, blue, purple, magenta, or dark green) to be successful. If the original design is composed primarily of light colors, a cover-up design may be able to stay relatively lightly colored by blending in darker shades of the original colors. But if it consists of any dark, densely colored areas and lines, a cover-up will require a lot of layering, blending, highlighting, and color depth in order to successfully mask the original.
In some cases, it may be best to advise a potential client to get some laser tattoo removal in order to lighten the original design, broadening the possibilities for their cover-up. Before trying to perform cover-up work for yourself, it’s important to observe and learn from a skilled cover-up artist. Without the proper color theory and technique, it’s entirely possible to make a client’s bad tattoo even worse by leaving the original design too visible or by filling the cover-up too densely.
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 and experience, as well as coaching by artists who’ve done it before. It’s critical to keep in mind that every tattoo and every cover-up are different and will require a slightly different approach. Below we provide a short, step-by-step walkthrough of the basic steps of the cover-up process in order to give you an idea of what to be thinking about at each point.
Start by having a detailed conversation with the client about the tattoo they’d like to cover up, and what they’d like to cover it with. As described above, some clients actually want to alter, embellish, or intensify an existing design rather than cover it up 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 the client 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 the client may need to know before agreeing to work with you.
Cover-up tattooing is more complicated than standard tattooing in that you’re not working with a blank canvas. You’ll probably need a good chunk of time to experiment with the existing design and come up with creative ways to achieve the intended result. To do that, you’ll need a copy of it. Using stencil paper, trace the existing tattoo. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should capture all the major features and structural elements you’ll need to deal with. You should also take photographs of the tattoo for reference.
With an outline of the existing tattoo, you can start experimenting at the light table with possible designs that accommodate the shape, size, and specific elements of the old tattoo. During this process, think about what elements could be repurposed and what elements need to be covered completely. Consider how the colors and composition of the original will affect the possibilities of the cover-up, keeping in mind that the composition and details of your new design should help draw attention away from the original. Use the client’s hopes for the final product and reference photos from the internet to generate creative ideas and solutions.
Once you think you’ve hit a winning design, it’s time to present it to the client. Be prepared to explain all of your decisions and thinking about the design, including sizing, shape, and color. At this point, you’ll also have a better idea of how many sessions the job could take. Once you have the client’s approval, you’re ready to start covering up.
Carefully set your new design over the existing one, making sure that the angle and placement correspond to the cover-up plan you made on paper. Sometimes things don’t align or sit exactly as you expected based on the two-dimensional design. In that case, be prepared to make slight tweaks and adjustments.
When covering up a tattoo, it’s best to start with the darkest areas first. Often, these are the areas of greatest overlap with the original tattoo, so the density of color required to successfully obscure the original in these areas will help set the baseline for color gradients and highlights in the rest of the design. Additionally, if the cover-up will require multiple sessions, it 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.
Adding greater detail and highlights to a cover-up helps draw attention away from the underlying original. In addition to the details you planned on, be sure to check your progress as you go and judge whether any additional details embellishments might help make the cover-up more successful overall.
In the majority of cases, you’ll want to schedule a touch-up with cover-up clients after their new tattoo has had time to fully heal. In 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 client intended for years to come.
With creativity, patience, and practice you’ll be designing eye-catching cover-ups that change how your clients feel about their tattoos completely. But you’ll also need supplies! To find the most trusted tattoo brands at some of the best prices you can find online, be sure to shop with PainfulPleasures for tattoo ink, tattoo needles, tattoo machines, and all of your other tattoo supply needs.
The growing popularity of tattoos in recent decades has produced a massive global tattoo industry that is only continuing to expand. That expansion means greater access and opportunity for aspiring tattoo artists, but it also means greater competition. As any experienced tattoo artist will tell you, getting your footing in the industry can be challenging, especially if you’re trying to do it without following the right steps or seeking the right education, opportunities and support.
If you’ve daydreamed about making a living practicing an art and craft that you love, tattooing might be for you—but it might not! Here is a list of what to do and expect as you work toward becoming a professional tattoo artist.
Tattoo artists don’t have to be Picasso, but they do need to be able to draw well and understand fundamental principles of art and graphic design such as line, shape, value, shading, color, space, balance, texture and perspective. You can get training in these principles and their application at a traditional college or art school, but these days there are also plenty of educational resources for artists available online. Drawing, painting, portraiture, and even calligraphy classes will all give you some essential building blocks for inking great tattoos.
If you think you want to become a tattoo artist but you aren’t already in the habit of making art every day, that should be your first goal. There is no replacement for practice when it comes to developing your drawing skills and techniques. Developing strong draftsmanship is one of the most valuable things aspiring tattoo artists can develop their tattooing skills. Start by focusing on clean, clear line drawing with varying line weights. Then practice inking your sketches with drawing pens over a lightbox to develop smooth, clean lines. You can also practice with flash art, which will help develop your command of traditional designs and shapes, as well as provide insight into the work of skilled tattoo artists.
Finally, you should practice drawing on contoured and uneven surfaces like oranges or bananas. Although they’re far from what it feels like to tattoo on skin, this early practice will help give you a sense of how two-dimensional designs transform when transferred to a three-dimensional surface. You can even practice on your own skin using a skin marker to trace over a stencil transfer of one of your designs.
Every artist needs to understand their tools’ uses and capabilities, and tattoo artists are no different. A tattoo machine is the tattoo artist’s primary tool, so knowing how they work and how to adjust them is a critical part of training to be a tattoo artist. And just as a painter must know what brushes and paints a project requires, a tattoo artist must know what tattoo needlesand tattoo inks to use for specific tasks and effects.
Once you’ve spent a good amount of time practicing tattoo drawing and learning about tattoo equipment, you might be ready to invest in your first tattoo machine. Tattooing on people is not something for a beginning artist to try right away, so it’s a good idea to practice on fruits or tattoo practice skin in order to get a feel for the machine, needle depth, and how to use your skills on skin. Practice tattoo skin comes in different sizes, colors, and shapes that mimic the human body in order to help you gain comfort with various tattoo sizes and locations.
Beyond those core tattoo supplies, there are cleanliness and hygiene supplies you must be familiar with to tattoo safely and cleanly. Knowing how to set up your tattoo workstation with the proper gear, as well as sanitation and tattoo aftercareproducts are all part of the trade that beginning artists must learn.
This is just the beginning though. There’s a lot to learn before you’re ready to tattoo on paying customers or operate a tattooing business.
As you practice your art and tattooing skills, you should build a portfolio of your work that you can use to demonstrate your style, skills, and commitment to tattooing. A quality portfolio will be invaluable later when you’re looking for tattoo apprenticeships and jobs. According to artist David Evans, a good portfolio should contain “concise drawings” in “a range of sizes” with “a good variation in line weights.” Though you might want to present only a selection of what you feel are your best pieces, Evans believes “it’s important to have a large range of items in your portfolio, even just sketches right out of your sketchbook,” in order to give prospective mentors a good idea of your style and your range of abilities.
In addition to all of the above, you should look for information and training about tattooing wherever you can. The internet is an incredible resource for beginners to learn tattooing – a quick search on YouTube or our PainfulPleasures blog will produce tons of educational tattooing information. But for those who are truly committed to becoming a professional tattoo artist, the most reliable path to success is through a tattoo apprenticeship.
A tattoo apprenticeship consists of working for and with an experienced artist who can teach you the tools, techniques, and business of tattooing. It can be difficult to secure a tattoo apprenticeship, but it provides invaluable experience, knowledge, and mentorship.
Where to look: There are plenty of tattoo shops out there, but if you’re looking for a worthwhile apprenticeship, you should look for shops that are clean, reputable, well-established, and that you already have or would like to be tattooed in. This is important because tattooing isn’t only about art — it’s a craft that requires deep knowledge of its tools and health practices, as well as a business. If you wouldn’t want to get tattooed there, you shouldn’t seek an apprenticeship there, either.
Approaching shops or artists: Once you’ve identified the shops or artists you’d like to apprentice with, approach them as you would approach any other professional job interview or application. Make sure you’re clean and presentable when you go to the shop, and have a copy of your portfolio with you. According to Jake Meeks, tattoo artist and founder of the Fireside Tattoo Network, “It’s probably not a bad idea to introduce yourself to everyone in the shop, let them know what you’re trying to do,” since you’ll be working with everyone there, not only your mentor. Additionally, Evans says, “leave [your portfolio] for more than an hour or two…to give the entire shop a chance to look at it. You may get some votes in your favor that you didn’t know you had.” Make sure to leave your name and contact info when you come to retrieve your portfolio.
Be persistent and open to feedback: Tattoo artist, Amy Nicholls says that in your search for an apprenticeship, you’re “going to get a lot of nos.” It’s not uncommon that shops or artists aren’t looking for apprentices at a given time, or that they think you need a bit more practice before they’re willing to take you on. Evans says that one of the most important things a prospective apprentice can do is “get used to people critiquing your work.” If artists see that you’re serious and persistent, he adds, “they might [point you to] shops that they like and that are reputable…or they might say ‘stick around, we might have room later,’ just having [you] come back and actually [have] your work critiqued more than once. You might find that the artists at that shop get a little more familiar with you and actually want to take you on.”
That’s how it worked out for artist Kelsey Kansas. “I was determined,” she says, even though the shop she wanted to work in was not taking on apprentices when she first contacted them. “So I kept bothering them and getting tattooed [there],” she said until they told her they might hire her for one day per week in a non-apprentice position. “I called them every day for two weeks, got an interview, called again for two weeks, got the one day a week spot and started scrubbing tubes for the shop.” Shortly after, the shop’s counter person quit and Kansas began to work full-time. “I ran the shop for six months, taking on every responsibility I could before I was apprenticed.”
Getting an offer: Once you do get an apprenticeship offer, know that your work has just begun. It will likely be months before you actually get to practice tattooing on another human, and in the meantime, you’ll be doing a lot of observation and tasks around the shop to learn about tattooing equipment and procedures, as well as health and business practices.
Kansas says that her apprenticeship included everything from responding to emails and ordering inventory to jewelry and piercing sales, to cleaning the shop and running errands, to building needles and tattoo machines, to actually shadowing artists and having her drawings regularly critiqued. When you receive your offer, be sure to sign a contract that clearly states the terms of your apprenticeship, including any costs or compensation.
Because tattooing entails possible bodily harm, it’s also necessary to learn about basic first aid, bloodborne pathogens, and lab safety. You’ll need your first aid certification so you know how to respond if and when a medical issue arises—a client passing out or having an allergic reaction, for example. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also requires all tattoo and piercing shop employees to have bloodborne pathogens certification, which teaches how to reduce the spread of illness and avoid incidents like accidental needle sticks. Lab safety education may seem odd for tattooing, but tattoo studios and labs actually follow similar cleanroom standards. Learning about sterilization methods and how to safely maneuver in a lab setting will only make your life as a tattoo artist easier. When you keep a sterile and clean workspace, you not only protect your clients’ health and your own—you also help yourself avoid potential legal and regulatory trouble.
Like other professions that include operating potentially hazardous machinery or performing procedures on other humans, tattooing requires certification or licensure (in addition to any permits or licenses required to operate a business at all). Unfortunately, the laws governing licensure for tattoo artists vary from state to state, or even from county to county. That means you’ll need to conduct your own research into license requirements in the location you plan to practice tattooing. Start by checking with your state or local board of health to see what requirements exist for tattoo artists and businesses within their jurisdiction, and then follow the appropriate course of action to obtain the documents and licenses you need to practice tattooing professionally.
After your apprenticeship is complete, you’ll need to find a job and start making some money. How much you will earn is hard to say, since variables such as location, experience, demand, and broader economic conditions all impact tattoo artists’ income. According to Indeed, the average annual income for tattoo artists in the U.S. is about $55,000. It’s rare for brand new artists to earn that average, but it isn’t impossible depending on where and who you are. Striking out on your own might allow you to make more money, but new artists typically benefit more from the established reputation and built-in clientele they gain access to by working in a shop.
If you’re lucky, the shop you completed your apprenticeship in will ask you to stay on and become a resident artist, but that isn’t always the case. Your teacher may have some suggestions for you or pair you up with friends at another shop, but you may have to hit the pavement again. When you do, make sure you take your portfolio, contact cards, and a letter of recommendation from your apprenticeship teacher.
In order to make a good living as a tattoo artist, you must actively build your reputation and maintain your brand. That’s why the internet and social media are tattoo artists’ best friends. Create professional profiles on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and any other social media you use. There you can post photos of your work, make announcements about special events or studio residencies, share tattooing tips–anything you think will engage people who are interested in tattoos. You should also create a dedicated website to host your portfolio online so that anyone can find and contact you.
But don’t neglect in-person brand-building either. Attending tattooing conventions and shop events is a great way to build connections with other artists and prospective clients. If you can afford it, print some high-quality, full-color flyers that feature your work and contact info to pass out at such events. Get creative! There are so many ways to promote yourself. As long as you pursue a few of them and you’re a decent tattoo artist, your client base should grow steadily over time.
As you can see, it’s not easy to become a professional tattoo artist. It takes skill, focus, thousands of hours of practice, and years of dedication. But for those who feel called to the trade, it can be one of the most rewarding personal and professional experiences of their lives. PainfulPleasures is proud to support aspiring and accomplished tattoo artists around the world by providing industry-leading tattooing supplies at some of the best prices you can find online, as well as an online communitythat provides education, support, and the latest tattoo industry news.
For all those just starting their tattooing journey—good luck! We hope to see you in the studio soon.