Watercolor Tattoos

Image of poppy and coneflower watercolor tattoo

Trends in tattooing come and go, but a new trend to hit the scene in the last few years is the watercolor tattoo. These soft, colorful works of art offer bright designs and aren't limited by the constraints of a traditional tattoo. But will they hold up to the test of time?

Understanding the Style

Watercolor tattoos often lack the traditional black outline and flow along the skin, giving it a soft, fluid appearance. They are reminiscient of artwork by Van Gogh or Frank Webb.

While watercolor has been around for a long time, creating tattoos in this distinctive, fluid artform started to become popular about seven years ago. This recognizable style features soft lines and colors, color blooms, and puddling color drips. It gives the tattoo a flowy, blended appearance as if it was brushed on the skin.

How It's Done

Since the watercolor tattoo doesn't have the black outline of a standard tat, you might be wondering how it is done. The process for creating these tattoos can depend on the artist. Some artists might freehand the tat based off an image that the patron has brought into the shop. Other artists might use a stencil to provide a rough outline for working with.

From there, the artist will create the tattoo, working from the darkest color to the lightest, just like in a watercolor painting. Depending on his or her own personal style, the type of needle used can vary, but a mag shading needle is common.

Should You Get a Watercolor Tattoo?

While you might be thinking about getting a tat like this of your own, there are pros and cons that you should consider before settling on this type of tattoo.


First, it is important to look at why this style is so popular.

  • The style of this tattoo is very eye-catching. The lack of an outline makes it appear as if the work was painted right on your skin. Additionally, the black doesn't cancel out the vivid colors.
  • The colors on this type of tattoo can range from soft and wispy to bold and vivid.
  • Given the free flow of this design, no two works are ever the same.


Now, you need to understand the problems that some artists find with this type of piece.

  • The main con for getting a watercolor tattoo are that many artists believe that watercolor tattoos don't have the ability to stand the test of time. All tattoos fade and bleed as they get older. But, since these tattoos don't always have a distinct outline (or skeleton) and are made of soft colors, as they begin to fade you could lose the essence of the piece.
  • Touch-ups can be harder. Touch-ups are commonplace after a few years for any tattoo; however, on a watercolor tat, you may not have a strict outline to follow. Therefore, touch-ups may change the work dramatically.
  • Additionally, the softness of the tattoo can bleed and fade faster than a traditional one. Some tattoo artists do note that you can combat this fading by creating tattoos with richer colors like blacks, reds, and blues rather than yellows and pinks. Since sun can also shorten the life of a tattoo, keeping your watercolor work out of direct sunlight and wearing sunscreen can extend the longevity of your tat.

Unique Styles of Watercolor Tattoos

One of the reasons that watercolor tattoos have become so popular is due to the uniqueness of the designs. Take a look at the following tattoos for inspiration.


This intuitive owl exemplifies the watercolor tattoo. With the use of the soft, fluid purples and the lack of outline, it shows how the ink mimics the blooming and floating of the pigment into a soft design. It also demonstrates how the layering of pigment creates depth and dimension within the image. Creating the soft feel of this tattoo and the lack of outline will require a bit more space to work with to create the depth and shadows of the owl; therefore, you'd want to look for a relatively flat and large area like the shoulder blade or upper thigh.

Photo of an owl watercolor tattoo


The butterfly is a popular symbol in the tattoo world. It can represent beauty and honor as well as luck. It is also a versatile tattoo that can fit pretty much on any area of the body. Adding the soft color of the watercolor style gives the image a soft, gentle look on the skin. The coloring technique makes it look as delicate as the true creature in the wild. While this watercolor does have a partial black outline, the softness of the colors and how they bleed and drip out of the outline make it a great example of the watercolor technique.

Watercolor butterfly tattoo


This skull tattoo offers a nice example of how the bleed of colors looks like it was painted on. The colors are bright and flow around the design like a painter worked the water into the pigments. This design offers a solid outline, but the splash of colors really dominates this original candy skull. While this tattoo can work in smaller areas, placing the candy skull in a larger area helps to maintain its intricate details.

Woman with watercolor sugar skull tattoo


Watercolor tattoos are also great for cute designs that almost look animated. This little elephant offers a sketch-like outline and vibrant colors that seem to dance off the skin. The way that they bleed through the lines softens the piece, adding to the childlike feel of the artwork. While you could choose to do something like this as a larger piece or as part of a larger watercolor motif, the sketch-like quality of this adorable little watercolor tattoo might work best as a smaller design. Additionally, given the heavy outline and soft coloring, it might look best on a visible flat area like the chest, shoulder blade, or abdomen. However, you might even be able to fit this little guy very effectively on the top of your foot.

Photo of cute watercolor elephant tattoo

Crescent Moon City

This large design shows how the watercolor pooling and blooming effect can add to a larger black piece. You can see how the overlapping purple blooms add a smooth rippling effect that imitates clouds. This, with the moon, adds to the overall effect of the city floating within the sky. A piece of this caliber will have intricate details and typically take a large area like the back or upper thigh. It could be made into a smaller piece but some of the detail will be lost.

Fantasy crescent moon city watercolor tattoo

Art Imitating Art

Watercolor tattoos are taking the tattoo scene by storm. They offer unique design options and can be very diverse in terms of size. Some artists may be concerned with the permanence of the tat due to lack of a black outline which can make the design unrecognizable when it fades. However, there are ways to combat this. Ultimately, the choice is yours if you want to give this type of tat a try, because whether you are painting on a canvas or etching it permanently onto your skin, art is art.

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