Cover-Up Tattoos & Laser Lightening From A Tattoo Artist’s Perspective

tattoo artist j michael taylor

Not everyone comes to Dr. Tattoff to remove a tattoo. We have many patients looking to lighten an existing tattoo so that they can get it covered up with a new tattoo. Typically, these patients start by going to a tattoo artist and asking for a cover-up, and the tattoo artist refers them to Dr. Tattoff for some laser lightening work first.

Because we are experts at tattoo removal and not tattoo application, we decided to ask J. Michael Taylor from Black Amethyst Tattoo Gallery in St. Petersburg, Florida, to educate our readers on his perspective regarding cover-up tattoos.


By Guest Blogger J. Michael Taylor

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. I haven’t been tattooing quite that long, but I have logged thousands of hours staring at, thinking about and adorning the largest organ – your skin. My job has been to work closely with people in order to enhance the dermis with vibrant color (my specialty) and perfect black lines, culminating in wearable art meant to last a lifetime. (I love my job!)

But maybe you didn’t come to see me in my shop. Maybe you made a left turn instead of a right, and found yourself getting a bad tattoo.

Or maybe, since you weren’t in my tattoo gallery, someone tattooed a name on you, the name of someone who’s no longer, um, tattoo-worthy? Had it been me, I would have discouraged you from making that mistake.

Or possibly, just perhaps, in the decade since getting that first tattoo, your taste in music, energy drinks or animated diversions has changed! In fact, I’d put money on it.

So what to do? You have options, and you have options-within-options.

1. You can get a cover-up that will work with your current tattoo.

2. You can get a few laser tattoo removal sessions to lighten the ink and then get a cover-up.

3. You can have your tattoo completely removed.

If you want another tattoo to replace the one you regret, one choice is to utilize the latest in laser technology to lighten the old ink that you hate, in preparation for some new ink you’ll love.

When clients come to me for a cover-up, I often suggest this route because it opens up my options as an artist. If they’re unwilling to do so (and most are because they are impatient), then I’m stuck working around the existing art, trying to make lemonade out of lemons. This usually means I can’t give the client exactly what they want, and they end up settling (and I do too) for something that is better than what they had, but nobody is thrilled.

I like laser tattoo removal because it works kind of like a magic eraser. The laser’s high intensity pulses of light are targeted to destroy the pigment of your tattoo, lightening the appearance of the ink with each session.

Here’s an example of a tattoo from one of my clients that was lightened before I refreshed, corrected, and lightened it. As you can see, by doing a few laser removal sessions beforehand, I was able to update and enhance her ink without compromising the quality or style of the art. You can’t even tell that there was a second layer of ink added, or that two artists worked on  the same tattoo.

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When it comes to laser tattoo lightening, black and red pigments are the easiest to fade because they respond to the full laser spectrum, which is ideal since they can also be the hardest colors to cover with new ink. Other colors require specific wavelengths, and usually take longer (more sessions with the laser) to fade.

By lightening your tattoo before getting a cover-up, you’ll give whoever your tattoo artist is, more freedom to create something unique, especially if we’re dealing with something like a tribal tattoo with a large concentration of heavy-handed ink. If you have a black tattoo with medium or thick lines and you’re not open to undergoing a few treatments to lighten it, we’re going to be challenged to come up with artwork that can cover it.

Using laser treatments to lighten unwanted tattoos helps lay the groundwork for a fresh, better tattoo – like prepping the walls you are about to paint in your house. Except you don’t spackle and sand, you laser and lighten!

Life’s too short to wear a tattoo that makes you unhappy. Laser renew, and let me re-do. You’ll be really glad you did.

I guarantee it.

This post was written by J Michael Taylor. J Michael Taylor is an artist and owner of Black Amethyst Tattoo Gallery, a St. Pete Tattoo Shop