Watercolor Tattoos

Watercolor tattoos are usually beautiful, organic, graceful plays of color that use the skin as a canvas. Rather newly founded, the trend has since seen a lift due to artists that continue to push the aesthetic, methods and concepts to new heights of ingenuity. In this guide, we research the origins and techniques found within the Watercolor style.

Watercolor Tattoos

The Origins of Watercolor Tattoos

The actual type of painting Watercolor tattoos stem from is practically primitive. In ancient times all pigments for painting were made from organic materials including earth substances like plants, minerals, animals, charred bones and the like. The first examples of watercolor painting may actually be traced to paleolithic cave paintings, however the first refined use of the medium is often thought to be the Egyptian papyrus scrolls. Later used for the Illuminated Manuscripts in the Middle Ages, watercolor painting did not see consistent and widespread use until the Renaissance.

Watercolor Tattoos

The Techniques of Watercolor Tattoos

Although most tattoo artists used the watercolor medium to paint their flash, the stylistic differences between traditional artists and Watercolor tattoo artists is immediately recognizable. Of course, the affectations and predilections of each artist will naturally guide their personal aesthetic, but the use of foundation or lackthereof varies between the two styles.

Watercolor Tattoos

Issues of Aging

Whether freehand, abstract, botanical portrayals, or perfect emulations of famed paintings, Watercolor tattooists rely on the use of color and fluid technique for their work. The lack of black however, is worrisome to many tattooists who maintain that the use of black outlines keeps color pigments from spreading and dispersing. The main issue with Watercolor tattoos to be short, is that they are say not to hold their shape and crispness as well without this foundational black outline.


Some Watercolor tattooists have settled the debate by simply using a black “skeleton” as an “underpainting” which helps keep colors in place. Others maintain that tattoo touch-up is completely normal for any tattoo, watercolor pieces included, and that it really isn’t an issue.

The reality is that traditional tattooists use a black outline on their work because the ink is carbon based. Once injected into the skin, the black carbon based ink becomes a ‘dam’ or wall for keeping colors in place, so the concern of spreading ink becomes a non-issue and the color stays put. Without that black carbon wall, colors used within the watercolor tattoo style tend to fade and disperse more quickly than that of a traditionally-applied piece.

In the end, it’s a matter of personal choice, and what the collector wants.

Regardless of the argument, the beauty of the aesthetic and designs is often hard to ignore.

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