What Does It Really Take to Cover a Tattoo?

Photography by Getty Images

We asked an expert all our burning questions about repurposing unwanted ink.

Natalie Michie

Date July 13, 2021

Art is subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder — but what do you do when your body art no longer feels beautiful or meaningful to you? Or worse, triggers negative emotions? Do you take the route of Ariana Grande and cover it with makeup for special occasions, or do you repurpose the design altogether? When Rihanna recently hit the streets of NYC with boyfriend ASAP Rocky (in a high fashion look, we might add), the internet couldn’t help but notice one of her tats has been covered with a redesign. On RiRi’s ankle, a crown tattoo sat where the shark design she got to match former boyfriend Drake in 2016 once did. Fans were quick to notice the change and reminisce on the romantic and musical duo that was once AubRih.

While covering body art with a redesign may not be the ideal situation, sometimes it can feel necessary, especially when it comes to moving on from a relationship. On the topic of tattoo redesigns, we spoke to Lee Roller, founder of Burlington-based Custom Tattoo Design, a company that provides custom body art designs for customers from all over the world. Here’s what you need to know about covering up your ink, along with some tips on how to avoid tattoo regret in the future.

How common are tattoo cover-ups and what do they entail?
Tattoo covers are more common than you may think, and make up around 20 percent of Custom Tattoo Design’s business, Roller says. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he reports that the most common type of tattoo people get covered are names of exes. When it comes to covering a tattoo with a redesign, customers submit a photo of the ink they currently have, and it’s up to Roller’s team of artists to create a design that either masks it or builds on it.

“We take someone’s design, and we work with it to make it beautiful,” he says. This often means enlarging the tattoo to some degree. “In order to make sure no one can see it, it probably has to be almost four times the size. Because if it just covers the name, unless that design is absolutely perfect, you’re always going to see the name through it. [By enlarging it, we] pull the eye in a different direction, and make something really vibrant somewhere else,” he says.

How much does it cost to redesign and cover a tattoo?
Roller’s business charges a minimum rate of $60 to design a tattoo, but depending on the desired design and the size of your current tattoo, the price varies quite a bit. When commissioning tattoo art from Custom Tattoo Design, customers correspond directly with an artist and can request design revisions as needed. And keep in mind, that’s just the cost of the design, not the price of getting re-inked.

If you are looking to cover a tattoo, Roller says you’ll get the best results if you go through the design planning process in advance instead of getting it done on the spot in a tattoo shop. “It could end up being just a muddled mess,” he says. “You have to be an expert in order to make a cover.” While his team draws the re-imagined tats, it’s then up to a separate tattoo artist to execute the design. Since tattoo artists charge by the hour, extensive cover-ups are consequently more pricey.

How can people avoid regretting tattoos in the future?
Whether it’s through a bespoke tattoo design business like Custom Tattoo Design or sketching the tattoo yourself, Roller says the most dependable way to avoid future tattoo cover-ups is by getting your initial ink designed ahead of time. “The best thing you can do is actually know what you want to get before you get it,” he says. “I have over 50 hours of tattoos on my body, and only the ones that I’ve not had designed [prior to getting tattooed], I’ve had either removed or covered.”

According to Roller, about 40 percent of his customers never go through with the tattoo they get designed. This is because the design process allows people to envision actually having the tattoo, and some realize that they simply don’t want it at all. With tattoo pre-planning, regretting ink in the future is less likely. No shade to you, Rihanna, we love your ankle crown re-design regardless.