Tattoo Touch-Ups 101: How to Refresh Old Tattoos

Is your tattoo looking a little worn? Perhaps you got the ink decades ago, but you don’t want a cover-up tattoo because let’s face it,​ first tattoos are allowed to be sort of generic and they can hold a special meaning. Not everyone wants to erase all the traces of an old tattoo. But everyone deserves a second shot—and that includes you and your tattoo. If you’re embarrassed by your design circa 1999, then follow these expert-approved tips—courtesy of Mira Mariah and Dillon Forte—for modernizing it and bringing it back into the future.

Keep reading for our guide to maintaining and modifying existing tattoos.

When to Get a Tattoo Touch-Up

There are a few reasons why you might want to get your tattoo updated. According to Mariah, these include being unhappy with how it’s healing or experiencing fallout (aka fast fading)—which is common on thinner tattoo lines. “If your skin has rejected some of the ink or if the tattoo has faded over time, there are some artists who can do a great job bringing some of the integrity and color back to its vibrant look,” adds Forte. So whether you’re looking to brighten old ink or update its design, there are a few ways to do so:

  • Throw in some color: Freshening up the color in an old tattoo will instantly make it look newer and more vibrant. Today, artists have a huge selection of bright and bold tattoo inks, so book an appointment with a trusted tattoo professional and allow them to enhance your old tattoo through new hues.
  • Go bigger: Perhaps you still love your classic rose tattoo but it’s looking a little small and dingy in comparison to today’s larger body pieces. You can keep your original tattoo design and ask your trusted tattoo artist to enlarge it, perhaps by adding some more petals to the bloom if it’s a rose. If you’re happy with the original design concept and placement of the tattoo, enlarging it is a simple process that can help to modernize it.
  • Get it detailed: Maybe a snake tattoo curled up on your shoulder blade has lost a bit of its charm. But a talented tattoo artist knows the most important and attractive parts of a tattoo are always in the details. If it’s not detailed, you could add shading, reshape the snake’s eye, or even draw a scene around it. There are endless ways an old tattoo can benefit from a few well-placed design additions.
  • Add verses: Script tattoos are some of the most requested tattoo styles. Adding a simple verse or a quote to your existing tattoo will help update the look and even the style of your design. If you have a cross tattoo, consider a Biblical psalm. If you’re wearing a heart tattoo, you might want to add a quote about love. Whenever you opt for a script tattoo design, make sure you select an artist whose handwriting you actually like. There’s almost nothing worse than an illegible or botched verse tattoo, which is why you always want to double, triple, and quadruple-check the spelling, too.

To prevent fading, cover your tattoo with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or above whenever you go outside.

Do Tattoo Touch-Ups Hurt?

Unless you’re averse to pain or your tattoo is made to fade, it’s going to hurt. How much exactly will depend on the kind of touch-up you get (think: shading vs. outlining) and the amount of work involved. According to Forte, “It really varies from person to person, but typically it feels the same as when you first got the tattoo. That said, touch-ups usually take less time than the original design, so it’s a shorter span of time to “feel the needle.”‘ Mariah agrees: “It will only hurt as much as your regular tattoo. It will likely be a lot less involved, as well.”


How Much Do Tattoo Touch-Ups Cost?

Tattoos can cost a pretty penny but what about tattoo touch-ups? “If you go back to the artist who gave you the original tattoo, it may be free if it was recently done,” says Forte. Mariah specifies that this grace period can be within the first year or two after getting inked. “If time has passed, they may charge their usual hourly rate or a reduced fee since they originally inked you. If you go to a new artist for a touch-up, expect to pay the typical hourly rate or a set fee for the work if it’s a small job,” adds Forte.


How Long Should You Wait Before a Tattoo Touch-Up?

Once you’ve determined that your tattoo warrants a touch-up, you’ll need to make sure that it’s the right time to do so, meaning: “For initial touch-ups, I would wait at least four weeks on small tattoos and a couple of months on larger pieces. For tattoos that you have had for years or even decades, find the right artist who understands your design and how they can touch it up, or even expand it,” Forte tells us. Mariah emphasizes that you’ll definitely want to make sure that your tattoo is completely healed before getting it touched up—and then wait some more (read: an extra month). By that time, the ink should be settled, she adds.


How Long Do Tattoo Touch-Ups Take to Heal?

Healing time for a tattoo or touch-up will vary from person to person and depend on certain factors like tattoo placement and color saturation. According to Mariah, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month for a touch-up to heal. “Touch-ups usually heal quicker because less space on the skin has been affected,” says Forte. “If you had line or dot work style ink touched up, that may take the full time, which can be weeks or even months,” he adds.


The Final Takeaway

If you’re going to take the time to update your tattoo and enhance its design, it’s crucial you find the right artist this time around. Look at portfolios, and see if they show off their new or cover-up work. Ask them questions about how they can change your old tattoo by making a few design enhancements.

While covering up an old tattoo is somewhat the more popular solution, many tattoos can survive a lifetime just by giving them a little more attention. So freshen up all that faded ink, add a few intricate design details, and don’t forget to triple-check all of the changes before inking them the second time around.


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