When you think of tattoos, you tend to think about strong, dark outlines and expert shading; however, one design style that’s risen significantly in popularity within the last few years is watercolor tattoos.
What Is a Watercolor Tattoo?
A watercolor tattoo is a bright, vivid marking made up of a number of subtle color gradients and techniques that create a more gradual color fade-out. This effect is intended to mimic the characteristics of a classic watercolor painting, which is where the style gets its name.
Because the style of watercolor tattoos is more delicate and fluid than “traditional” tattoos, it’s easy to think that they’re created with different equipment. However, watercolor tattoos are actually created in the same way and don’t require any different set-up. The only difference is that an artist must learn a number of techniques—including blurs, bleeds, fades, and runs—to achieve a watercolor look, which is why it’s important to find an experienced and trained artist.
Of course, just as every tattoo is personalized to the person receiving it, there’s really no “correct” design for a watercolor tattoo. Due to it being based on a watercolor painting, a majority of watercolor tattoos have no outline or, if they do, the colors tend to extend outside of the lines to give off a dripping and drying water effect. Some, though, are unique in how they use the watercolor effect to enhance a design. Keep scrolling to see 20 unique and beautiful watercolor tattoos.
This poppy tattoo is outlined in a purposely sloppy and sketch-like black, giving the tattoo a delicate and personalized feel. The red coloring is applied using a fade technique at the edges, and a few disconnected dots around the edge of the coloring makes it feel like the ink continued to drip off the pen as the artist picked it up—just like a watercolor painting.
While the color in this tattoo is a bit less “drippy” than typical watercolor tattoos, it does still classify as one. The artist appears to have continued the colors outside of the lines using a fading technique, making it seem as though the pigment bled onto the skin. The dots around the edges of color also denote that the ink is continuing to “drip” past where it was applied.
Some watercolor tattoos are created without using any outlines at all. This tattoo was crafted only out of the pigments, emphasizing the watercolor features of the design. By using color to create smaller details like the wing pattern and the outline of the eyes, the tattoo feels more whimsical and more like a painting than permanent ink. The artist also does a good job of mixing colors where the different pigments overlap, just like paint would merge to create new colors on a canvas.
Because watercolor paint tends to merge and bleed, watercolor tattoos typically mimic this. In this Belle tattoo, the artist has incorporated a number of different shades of brown for her hair, yellow for her dress, and pink for her lips. The extra pigment dots and areas around the outer edge of the color also highlight the liquid nature of watercolors; however, there is still a strong outline of the main image.
In this instance, the artist highlights the daintiness and hand-drawn feeling of the thin-lined design by not taking color all the way to the outline of the design and instead fading it out. The different pigment shades also highlight the malleable nature of watercolor, as do the additional color dots outside of the outline. What’s interesting about these additional dots, however, is that some of these small ink additions actually fade around the edges themselves, further emphasize the watercolor design.
Using watercolor as a background for your tattoo, rather than to fill it in, is a unique way to incorporate the technique in your design. Here, the artist doesn’t just blend colors, but actually uses different pigments to achieve both a faded out look as well as a water blotch effect. Just as watercolor paints create darker patches the longer they sit in one area, the artist has made different splotches darker or lighter to denote water-like color movement.
For this tattoo, the artist chose to go with no outlines at all; instead, they use darker patches of color and fine pigment gradients to create a tattoo that looks like it was created by a bleed onto the skin, just like watercolor paint on wet paper. This tattoo highlights a different watercolor style: creating small, tight designs that use the texture of the water. This varies from the usual idea of watercolor, which is a blown-out and vibrant swatch of color.
Another unique way of using the watercolor technique is to make the effect part of the dynamic details of your tattoo. While the main design of this tattoo was the book (created using a mid-thick, solid black line), the electric feel comes from the explosion of color from the pages. The watercolor look starkly contrasts the simplicity of the book’s outline, while a number of elements—the darker patches at the edge of color, the overlapping and merging colors, and the additional color dots—almost exactly mimic the nature of watercolor pigments.
This tattoo combines the idea of large watercolor sections with the delicate, hand-drawn-esque outlines. Because the dancer’s body is crafted using lines that seem to both never intersect and also never disconnect, the artist crafts a very artistic tattoo. Using the watercolor technique only serves to emphasize that by adding on another artistic design element. What’s special in this instance is that, as the color pigments seem to drip from the dancer's waist, so too does some of the black pigment. It’s almost as if the outline is watercolor too if you get it wet, rather than a solid outline around the design.
Although this tattoo uses a lot of the same elements of a typical watercolor tattoo—fading color gradients and additional dots around the edges—it also uses two new ones. First, the color is significantly darker in the middle. Secondly, the color is done in patches, rather than sections; there is not color all over the design. Instead, the ink fades out in certain areas and isn’t even applied in some spaces. These two elements mimic the intense bleed of watercolor pigments on wet paper.
This is a very unique watercolor tattoo because of the way that the artist utilizes pigment. While watercolor tends to be drawn outside of the lines to give it a paint-like appearance, this tattoo keeps its colors tight in the lines. The reason we can consider this a watercolor tattoo, though, is the overlap of colors, the blotches of light and dark ink, and the splotchiness of the color.
Instead of using the watercolor technique to fill in a section, why not use it to fill one out? This tattoo uses watercolor to actually create the outline of the main design by adding the pigment to the area inverse to the actual image. In turn, this creates a splattering effect, which features the water-like aspects even more heavily. The fading and overlapping colors serve to do the same as well.
This tattoo juxtaposes the bold outline of the wave against the smattering of blue. Because the colored areas are done in blotches, it appears as though the color just dropped onto the skin, like watercolor paint on a page. Here, the color is used to add detail to the design, but the focus is still heavily on the black ink of the wave.
If you're not a fan of the vibrant hues of typical watercolor tattoos, there's always the option of using warmer, more natural tones in your design. Here, the colors make the tattoo feel more life-like by using skintones and layering on the color. The ink itself takes on a watercolor quality because of the fade out on the edges, the color reaching over the outlines, and the blotchiness of the color.
Watercolor tattoos are a great way to create designs that benefit from the look of slight shakiness or imperfection. Here, the color is used to fill large areas that don't have an outline but are confined to the pigments. Gentle color gradients are used to achieve the watercolor look, and the blurred edges make it feel as though the colors were allowed to wander around a wet canvas.
If you want a colorful watercolor tattoo that's not too overly flashy, considering getting a tattoo where the splatter of the ink is the whole tattoo. Just from first glance, the tattoo is obviously paint, and you can tell it's specifically watercolor due to how the colors create a gradient as they meld into each other. The artist is an expert in watercolor tattoos, which allows such a minimalist tattoo to truly shine.
Watercolor tattoos can be used as a background for script or word tattoos as well. Here, a few colors easily transition into each other to give the tattoo a blended paint look. Also, the edges of the tattoo "splatter"—in both large and small areas—giving it a look as if someone had just dropped the pigment onto the skin.
Rose and Lily
Much like the previous tree tattoo, this rose tattoo heavily mimics the bleeding nature of watercolor paints; as though someone simply placed their brush on wet paper, the ink seems to fade out from a central point. This accounts for some of the blotches and areas without color, which makes the tattoo feel even more like real watercolor.
The watercolor effect is a great technique to use to denote movement in tattoos as well. Here, the trail of the airplane is done in a watercolor style, with the colors effortlessly bleeding into each other despite their contrast. The dots outside of the bounds of the design also add to the paint-esque feel.
Another interesting twist on a watercolor tattoo is to make the idea of paint the whole tattoo. Here, the artist uses a number of techniques to give this a watercolor effect while still keeping tight lines. The stroke fades as it moves downwards, just like the color gradient as it reaches the sides of the design. There are also a few outlying dots to give the effect of sloppy paint. And, while the colors are deeper and dark, there's still obvious color overlap.
How long do watercolor tattoos last?
Watercolor tattoos are permanent, however because they often don’t have solid black outlines, they may blur or fade more quickly than traditional tattoos. Make sure you go to an experienced tattoo artist who can use techniques to help your tattoo last. Also, make sure you keep it covered with sunscreen as the sun can make your tattoo fade faster.
Do watercolor tattoos hurt more than traditional tattoos?
Everyone has different pain tolerance, but watercolor tattoos don’t hurt more than traditional tattoos. In fact, they may hurt less as less ink is used so your skin isn’t punctured as many times. Some tattoos require more shading than others, and that can also affect the pain tolerance as more shading means more skin punctures.
Are watercolor tattoos recommended for darker skin tones?
Watercolor tattoos look beautiful on darker skin tones, however make sure you go to a knowledgeable tattoo artist. It is important that the right shades are used to help the vibrant colors stand out. For example, peach or turquoise colors will stand out better than orange or blue on darker skin tones.