Designing a tattoo around your scar can be a challenge. But, it can also make an exceptional and meaningful tattoo design. When you’re creating a design, you need to work with your scar’s unique boundaries to find something that fits. Another important consideration is the difference between scar tissue and normal skin. Scars hold ink differently than normal skin, and that means your tattoos may turn out differently.
The Tattoo Design
This is the most fun and creative part of the whole process. Each scar is completely unique, and your task is to find a design that will suit your scar’s unique contours, as well as your personal artistic taste. We spoke with Maxine, tattoo artist and owner at Lucky 13 Tattoos in Toronto, and she offered a number of tips on how to come up with a tattoo design for a scar. Her main point was that it’s “better to go with a tattoo that has texture and depth to it, in order for the scar to blend into the tattoo. Ideas that work well would be flowers…leaves, trees, fish scales, snake skin” or “any type of intricate pattern.”
Your first step is to decide on a tattoo style; some work better with scar tissue than others, so it’s an important consideration. Usually, it’s best to avoid styles that require solid black lines, like tribal tattoos or American Traditional tattoos. Scar tissue abides by its own rules, and the way it holds ink is often very inconsistent. Opting for a realistic or water color style, allows for more organic, flowing boundaries. Your next step is to find a design, say an animal or a plant, that can mimic the shape of your scar or fit around it. Think of something that’s personally meaningful to you, and see whether it will work.
What Kind of Scar is it?
The specifics of your scar will impact how your tattoo is designed and inked, so make sure your artist knows what they’re dealing with while they’re designing your tattoo. Maxine reiterates this point, explaining “We also have to consider the severity of the scar itself, as every scar is different…You want to avoid tattooing over scars that are new and still healing, as the skin will still be irritated and you could cause more damage to the area by irritating the scar tissue”.
Some things that the artist should know are: How severe is it? Is it a burn scar? From a cut? Is it raised? How deep is it? What color is your scar? How big is it? Is the scar fully healed? Do you get keloids? Each of these factors plays a part in how your tattoo will ultimately turn out, so informing your artist of the details before going to the inking appointment is really helpful.
Work With Your Artist
You don’t have to cover up your scars with a tattoo, incorporate them into the design. As Maxine says, “You don’t always have to have a tattoo design that covers over every single piece of the scar, the idea is to work with the shape of the scar, as well as the placement on the body”. Embrace the scars that you have and how they made you who you are! Your artist should know that “At the very least, the tattoo should have enough texture to disguise the scar and make it less noticeable, especially if it is big, or there are many scars in one area”. Don’t just assume that black ink will cover, because you’ll be disappointed, “If you put a large area of solid color or black over it, the scar underneath will be very visible through the solid area”, according to Maxine.
Working with a company like Custom Tattoo Design keeps you involved in the whole process. You’ll get a first draft, and if you want to make any changes just let your artist know. First, though, send your artist a picture of the scarred area, so they can properly design in and around the scar pattern and tissue. Give them an idea of what you have in mind, and they can go from there.
It’s important to ask questions with any tattoo, but especially don’t hold back if you have any queries about how your scar tattoo might turn out. Most tattoo artists feel honored to be able to be apart of this kind of journey, “It’s nice to be able to help someone better a part of themselves they may not be entirely comfortable with. Everyone has a different story for their scars, whether they are self harm scars or that one time you fell off your bike”.
Ask about color, how it will hold, what you should expect, and anything else you might be curious about going into your tattoo appointment. You want to feel like you know what’s going to happen, and know exactly what you should be expecting after you leave the shop, so you don’t experience any disappointment if the ink isn’t taking like you hoped it would. This can be a risk with scar tissue tattoos, so again, be prepared and ask what you want to know!
Keep Size in Mind
Even if you’re careful, you never really know how tattooing over a scar will turn out. Scar tissue can take ink sometimes, and sometimes it can’t. Since it’s unpredictable, it’s better to start with a smaller design, to see how the ink holds. Once you see how your tattoo turns out, you can always build on your design.
The Tattoo Process
Photo: Bored Panda
The process for tattooing over or around scars is the same as any tattoo for the most part, it’s just the end result that might be slightly different. The fresher the scars, the more sensitive the nerve endings in the scar tissue, so that might mean a more painful tattoo experience if the tattoo goes over top of that scar. Scars can hold ink differently than healthy skin, so that particular area might be slightly off color from the rest, but that can be worked into the design as well. Maxine explains:
From a client perspective, it can also be significantly more painful to tattoo over scars then over undamaged skin. The area is usually much more sensitive and the client should be prepared for more discomfort with the tattoo. It is also possible that some tattoos covering scars will need a touch up after they are healed, because the ink will not heal in the skin the same way it normally would. Some scars can be significantly more raised, meaning they still need time to heal, or will just be a harder scar to hide with a tattoo, because it will still be raised even with the tattoo over top of it.
Aside from those specific considerations, the tattooing process itself is no different than getting any other tattoo.
The risks aren’t serious, but mainly have to do with the final appearance of the ink, and how it will settle once the tattoo heals. Make sure that if you have a keloid scar, or if you’re prone to them, that you don’t get ink directly over scar tissue, as this could develop into further skin issues.
If you’re not keloid-prone and your scar is old enough, you’re good to go. As mentioned, the most important consideration is what your tattoo will end up looking like. Sometimes, patches of tattooed scar tissue can look slightly more blurry than normal. Other times, since scar tissue is so tightly woven, it can completely reject ink particles, leaving behind blank sections of skin. If this happens to you, you might need to see your tattoo artist again, to have them go over your skin repeatedly to improve the patchiness.
If, at any point, your scar reopens, make sure that you go see your doctor immediately for medical advice. These cases are rare, but it’s always best to play it safe.
Best Scar Tattoo Ideas
Tattoo designs with organic, flowing shapes and flexible boundaries are ideal for inking over scars. Scar tissue holds ink differently than ordinary skin: it’s much less porous, and sometimes the tissue is so tightly woven, ink particles are rejected. That’s why getting tattoo designs with fluid boundaries is your best option; you never know which parts of the scar will take ink, so you want a design that will look good either way. Here’s a list of the best tattoo design ideas that will work well with any scar:
This colorful, swirling interstellar cloud of dust makes a stellar scar tattoo design. It has open-ended boundaries and dark colours that can cover up any scar really well.
Photo: Next Luxury
Flowers and floral patterns offer winding, organic shapes that are great for masking scar tissue. Some tattoo artists have even used scar ridges as the stem of the plant, a creative way to integrate some texture!
A classic Native American symbol, the feather is an awesome scar tattoo idea. It’s wispy edges and curving stem can work beautifully around scar contours.
Photo: Bored Panda
Much like the stem of the feather or flower, the tree branch has just the right shape to fit inside a scar line.
Animals have a lot of cool textures and shapes that you can work with, and they make great scar tattoo designs. Check out this porcupine, whose spikes are made of scar ridges, and this flamingo, whose posture fits right into the scar boundaries!
A number of scar tattoos are done to cover up self-harm markings. If you want to conceal these, pick a style that uses a lot of lines, emulating a pencil sketch.