xxx = Covering Dark Ink With Light Fireside Technique EP 26 Covering_Dark_Ink_With_Light_Fireside_Technique_EP_26 Fireside Tattoo Network

Tattoo Techniques: Covering Dark Ink With Light Fireside Technique EP 26

Covering Dark Ink With Light | Fireside Technique | EP 26

Sometimes diving back into old tattoos can be a challenge. In this episode of “Fireside Technique” we go over different techniques to help with reworks and cover-ups.

This episode was made possible thanks to:

Video By Jake Meeks —

Writing By Daniel Pushcarich —

Topics: Tattoo Cover-ups, reworking tattoos, Old tattoo, healing tattoos.

Tattoo Cover-ups Are Really Just Deceiving The Eye

“These particle of ink are kind of being pushed into the skin and they all live in the dermis together, so optically they intermingle [with the old tattoo pigments] and then we blend them with our eyes”

- Jake Meeks

We’ve talked about cover-ups a couple of times on the show, but the information bears repeating. Cover-ups are a little bit tricky because the term implies one thing, but what’s actually happening is something slightly different.

All tattoo pigments are held in the dermis, new and old. Some of the older tattoo pigments have been removed by the body so something that looks like fading has occurred, but the pigments that remain are still in the dermis of the skin. When you add new pigment into the skin, some of it sits in the top layer (epidermis) and some of it will get deposited into the dermis and mingle with the old pigments. 

The Pigments in the epidermis will look very bold and pronounced, but that’s really a deception. Eventually as the tattoo heals the pigments in the epidermis will slough off, and the healed skin underneath will be what the tattoo really looks like, which will be a blend of old and new tattoo ink.

So you’re really never covering up the old tattoo, it’s more or less trying to push and pull with what’s there to make the eye perceive something else.

Strengthen Contrast In The Tattoo By Adding Blacks

“I’m going to push contrast by putting my darkest darks in the foreground. I’m building up the edges to kind of lift the foreground images forward a little bit”

- Jake Meeks

This particular situation isn’t exactly a cover up but a lot of the same principles hold here. Sometimes one of the best things to do is make sure your light sources and shadow shapes look correct. Pushing contrast in those areas can help to reduce the amount of work needed in some of the other areas. 

If the tattoo you’re trying to rework looks a little flat or messy then there’s a problem with your hierarchy of shapes, values, and colors. Pushing contrast in the foreground can really help to pull the subject forward. Bumping up lines or edges and darkening or redefining some of the shadow shapes can really help to define the image more clearly for the viewer.

Playing With Tattoo Elements By Manipulating Lights and Darks

“I’m coming back with my lightest lights, and putting them in the light side of the turtle just to push that contrast and create texture to kind of pull that head forward a little bit.”

- Jake Meeks

Warm to cool transition patch up

Let’s talk about temperature for a little bit. How it generally works is warm colors push out or forwards towards the viewer and cool colors recede back. So what’s going on in the tattoo above is the warmth of the background is grabbing more attention than the foreground subject.

A little trick you can use is blending in a cooler version of that warm tone to sort of dampen and push that warm background away from the subject. Conversely adding in some warmer versions of the cool colors in the foreground can really help to pull that subject matter up front.

A couple other ideas to neutralize a strong color is by adding in a little bit of the complimentary of that color. So if you have a really warm red, adding in a little bit of green can help to gray that out a little and drive more attention towards the subject. You can also add in some brighter highlight areas to the cool foreground to help trail the eye even more.


Improve Quality & Extend Life of Old Tattoos by Pushing Contrast

“In 5, 10, 20 years how much of that red pulls back out? How much will the darks in the turtle kind of mute out? Does the turtle fall back in the distance? Only time will tell.”

- Jake Meeks

Everyone knows that when you do these types of reworks or cover-ups seeing it fresh can be a bit deceiving. Generally you’re going to be able to bump something up or back about 10-20% at a pass so just be aware that when you’re diving back into old tattoos that what the client walks away with isn’t necessarily going to stay that vibrant or fresh. Sometimes colors will push back forward like really warm reds, so reworks can take a little bit of extra time to really push those elements into a better direction.

six months healed

It’s always good to make sure you’re in good contact with the client to get updated pictures so that you can see what might need a little more attention. Even if you do get the chance to jump back in and really do some finishing adjustments, be aware that you might only get about a 50-60% difference in the final result.



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Transcript for this video can be found (here). All transcripts can be found (Here)

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The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.

The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!

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