Can a Sleeve Tattoo be Covered Up?

Cover-ups are an increasingly common request made to tattoo artists, by people who have come to dislike or regret some ink that they had done in the past. As the name suggests, a cover up involves the artist coming up with a new design that incorporates the elements of the old tattoo so completely that the initial ink becomes invisible, lost within the new creation. As you may have guessed, to achieve this to a high standard, this process requires considerable skill and experience.


Cover up tattoos can be carried out over existing tattoos of virtually any size, design and color, although certain designs and colors lend themselves more naturally to cover-ups. However, there are some situations where a cover-up may not be appropriate or possible right away. In fact, you may even need laser tattoo removal performed before you start getting your cover-up artwork. One of the best examples of this is with a sleeve tattoo.

The challenges of covering a sleeve tattoo


Whether or not a sleeve tattoo can really be covered up depends on the artist that you choose for the job, and the colors and designs included in your current sleeve. As we now know, it is easier to cover some colors and designs than others. For example, it is particularly hard to mask large areas of solid black ink. Some of the other elements for consideration include the following:

  • How old and faded the original ink is. All tattoos fade over time, and the lighter the existing ink is, the easier it will be to cover it. If your artist recommends that you undergo laser tattoo removal ahead of your cover-up, a paler tattoo should require less sessions.

  • If there are any elements of the original tattoo what you would like to preserve. Many people are keen to completely erase all traces of their old ink, but there may be some part that you want to hold on, and even build your new tattoo into or around it. 

One of the biggest challenges of covering a sleeve tattoo is size. Most cover-ups are larger than the original tattoo so that they can encompass all of the existing outlines, incorporating it entirely into the new design. However, when you have a full sleeve, this may not be possible. Instead, you may need to undergo laser tattoo removal to eliminate some or all of the original ink.

What is laser tattoo removal?

Laser tattoo removal is a fairly simple process. The laser produces a continuous beam of light which is focused at the skin to produce pulses of energy that are absorbed by the tattoo ink. As the ink particles absorb the laser energy, they heat up and shatter into microscopic fragments that pass into the bloodstream and are processed out of the body as waste. The process takes place over a number of sessions and slowly, the tattoos fade from sight.

How easy is it to remove a sleeve tattoo?

Much like getting a sleeve tattooed in the first place, removing a full sleeve also takes time, patience and commitment. It normally takes quite a few sessions to remove any ink and the size and complexity of a sleeve tattoo can mean that you are in for a considerable process – depending of course on whether you are having the tattoo completely removed, or lightened enough so that it can successfully be covered with a new design.


Some of the factors that will affect how many sessions it takes to remove a tattoo using laser tattoo removal include:

  • The age of the original tattoo
  • The patient’s skin type and color
  • The colors that have been used in the tattoo


Unsurprisingly, darker colors and fresher pigment require more sessions to remove them. Your consultant will be able to give you an estimate as to how many sessions you can expect to need, though this will only be a rough guide until they can see how well your body responds to the treatment. Call us at (916)-600-4428 to discuss your options or to schedule an appointment.