I used to LOVE doing cover ups. The satisfaction of turning a tattoo that was either old, badly done, or something the client simply wasn’t fond of anymore was extremely satisfying. Reactions like “I don’t even see it anymore!” Or “How did you do that?” really fed my ego. Yup, I was pretty good at cover ups if I did say so myself. That is, until I would see them once they healed with the old tattoo clear as day in the middle of my work.

A cover up tattoo of a Hibiscus flower.
One of my earlier cover ups. Had I dulled the black down first, I could have had the entire flower be a soft bright colour.

What I Learned


What I learned is that colours heal at different depths in the skin. Which is why contrary to logic, white is one of the only colours (I know white isn’t a colour, cut me some slack) to cover black with; because white heals more shallow in the skin, whereas black heals deeper, so the white ink is essentially on top of the black ink. What’s also deceiving is when a cover up is fresh and your artist tattoos over a dark colour with a light colour. It looks like it covers it…until it heals, and your old ink overpowers the new ink.

A before picture of a name tattoo that will be covered up.
This is one of my first cover ups…
The after picture of a name after being covered up with flowers and waves.
Notice how you still see the letters through the waves, and how dark the center of the tattoo is? I wish I had known what I know now about laser…

Outlines…don’t even get me started. Thick, bold, black lines are nearly IMPOSSIBLE to cover. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when you see a tattoo with random lines going through it that have NOTHING to do with the design. 95% of the time, a tattoo artist will be able to see if your tattoo is covering an old one. And I’d say 50% of the time, regular, ordinary, non-artists (you know, the rest of you) can tell that something isn’t right about the design.

A cover up tattoo of a skull and roses done by Robin Labreche.
One of my more recent cover-ups. Had we not removed the lines, you would have seen them through the petals of the roses.

Laser to the Rescue


Enter the revolutionary technology that is… Laser tattoo removal! I had always been skeptical about laser. After all, the only examples of tattoo removal results I had seen had left their hosts with gnarly scarring. And my personal experience with laser didn’t ease my nerves one bit. We had a guy come to the shop once a week with his ‘laptop’ laser (in the industry that’s what we call a laser you can carry around with you). I was curious, so I decided to have him do a pass on a small tattoo I have on my shin… All I remember was blood splattering from the sensitive skin on my shin, which almost wasn’t as bad as the smell of burning flesh in the air. The one session took me more than eight months to heal. So yeah, laser wasn’t something I was going to be recommending to my clients.

A progress picture of a ship having undergone 4 sessions of laser removal so far.
A cover-up on this tattoo would have been nearly impossible without laser.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Let me tell you, it’s good to be educated. After I asked my fiancé and business partner (who also has her PhD in Neuro-pharmacology, no big deal) to do some research into lasers. We really learned the importance of having the proper technology. If your laser technician can pick up his or her machine and walk out with it…it’s DEFINITELY going to scar you.

3 warning signs if you’re considering laser tattoo removal

A cover up tattoo of a rose after having 4 sessions of laser tattoo removal.
My beautiful wife’s hand piece… This cover-up would have been impossible without first dulling down the dark lines.

Lasers have become SO advanced that you can target the ink exclusively while leaving the surrounding cells unaffected. This is why it’s absolutely crucial to do your research and find the best establishment to treat your tattoo. There are probably only a handful in your city, so do your research.

A cover up tattoo of an angel and a lion after undergoing 5 sessions of laser removal.
Ironically, I refused this client’s project over 10 years ago but he did it anyways. He came to us recently to dull it down and have me redo it.

What You Should Take from This


Why am I talking about this? Because as a tattoo artist, I can say with confidence that laser removal is an essential tool for almost every cover up project. Being able to effectively lighten or remove a tattoo before attempting to ink something over it gives both the client and the artist exponentially more options. Depending on the artist and the style of tattoo you get as a cover up, you don’t even need to remove the tattoo in its entirety. Simply lightening certain areas or colors is all some projects need.

So don’t buy into the hype that all lasers are bad, or will only leave you with scars. While it’s true that most lasers will scar you, if you take the time to do your research, you’ll find the few establishments near you that have the right technology

5 tattoo removal tips to make your New Year’s resolution a reality

If you have a tattoo that you’re planning to cover…give laser some SERIOUS thought! The results will be worth it!

Have you had a cover up done? Are you happy with it? Did you use laser to dull your old tattoo first? Let us know in the comments below. 🙂


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