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What are watercolor tattoos called?

Watercolor tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years. As the name suggests, these tattoos mimic the fluid, blurred look of a watercolor painting. But watercolor tattooing is actually an umbrella term that encompasses a few different tattooing styles.

The Different Types of Watercolor Tattoos

There are three main types of tattoos that fall under the watercolor categorization:

  • True watercolor tattoos
  • Watercolor splashes
  • Ombre or blurred tattoos

Let’s take a closer look at each style:

True Watercolor Tattoos

True watercolor tattoos aim to replicate the effect of a watercolor painting. These tattoos use a combination of colored inks blended together using a wash technique to create a softer, more diffuse look. The artist controls the ink flow to allow colors to mix and mingle on the skin, just as if working on watercolor paper.

True watercolor tattoos often feature imaginative designs with swirling colors and patterns. Subjects like animals, flowers, landscapes, and mandalas work well. The colors flow together to create an abstract, artistic piece.

Watercolor Splashes

Watercolor splash tattoos contain areas of solid black line work contrasted with splashes or swipes of color. The artist first outlines the main design in black ink. Then they go back in and add blotches and streaks of color to make it look like paint splashed across the skin.

These tattoos have a bolder, more graphic look than true watercolors. The contrast between the solid lines and loose color gives them visual impact. Watercolor splashes pop nicely on placement areas like arms, legs, backs, and chests.

Ombre or Blurred Tattoos

Ombre or blurred tattoos have soft, blended color that fades from dark to light. They create a subtle, watercolored look with the colors gradually diffusing into each other. The effect looks similar to an ink wash painting.

Subtle shading is used to blend and blur the edges between colors. Flowers, animals, landscapes, and mandalas can all work well as ombre designs. Placement on larger areas like the back, thigh, or chest allows the best effect.

The Origins of Watercolor Tattoos

Watercolor tattooing emerged as a distinct style in the early 2000s, but its roots go back much further. Let’s look at how watercolor tattoos developed over time.

Traditional Tattooing Techniques

Some traditional tattooing methods laid the foundations for what would later become watercolor tattooing. Techniques like:

  • Wash shading – using a diluted ink wash to shade an area
  • Blending colors – manually blending colored inks to create a smooth gradation
  • Ink spatter – flicking ink dots onto the skin to create a textured effect

These methods created painterly effects and a softness not seen in classic bold lining and solid color traditional tattoos.

Artistic Influences

Watercolor tattoo artists draw inspiration from impressionist, abstract, and watercolor painters. Artists like:

  • Claude Monet
  • Georgia O’Keeffe
  • David Hockney
  • Andrew Wyeth

Their distinctive watery painting techniques help inform the watercolor tattoo aesthetic.

Development in the 2000s

Watercolor tattoos emerged as their own style in the early-mid 2000s as artists began experimenting with new techniques. Pioneers like Guy Aitchison, Robert Hernandez, and Nikko Hurtado popularized combining airbrush shading, ink washes, and paintbrush effects to create tattoos that looked splashed with watery color.

The look really caught on by 2010 as tattoos became increasingly popularized in mainstream culture. People loved the artistic, innovative watercolor style and it spread rapidly.

Watercolor Tattoo Styles

While there are some common techniques used, watercolor tattoos allow for a lot of creativity and variation. Some popular styles include:

Style Description
Freeform watercolor A flowing, abstract design where colors mix and mingle
Watercolor realism Realistic subject depicted using watercolor techniques
Geometric watercolor Watercolor fills and fades combined with geometric line work
Minimalist watercolor Simple, sparse designs with delicate watercolor shading
Dotwork watercolor Tiny dots of color blended to create a watercolor effect
Brushstroke watercolor Mimics the look of watercolor brush marks

Common Watercolor Tattoo Motifs

Watercolor tattoos lend themselves well to certain motifs and subject matters. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Flowers – Watery blooms and floral patterns are a classic choice
  • Landscapes – Foggy fields, forests, mountains, skies, and water mimic watercolor painting subjects
  • Elephants – Their weathered hides map nicely to washes of watery color
  • Galaxies – Swirling nebulas and planets enveloped in misty clouds
  • Ballerinas – Delicate figures and billowing tutus enhanced by soft colors
  • Birds – Feathers beautifully rendered with shades diluted and bleeding into one another
  • Maps – Faded vintage maps with routes traced in light watercolor
  • Dreamcatchers – Intricate weavings accented with liquid colors
  • Geometric patterns – Symmetrical or kaleidoscopic shapes filled with ombre gradients

Best Placements for Watercolor Tattoos

Choosing the right part of the body for your watercolor tattoo is key to ensuring it will look its best. Here are some of the top placements to consider:


A watercolor sleeve tattoo allows you to create a cohesive artistic design that flows and wraps around the arm. The lengthened canvas suits the waterfall and misty style.


The broad blank space of the back makes an excellent backdrop for a large watercolor tattoo. Artists can take advantage of the skin real estate to paint swirling colorful patterns.


Thighs provide ample room for watercolor designs to cascade down the leg. The shape also enables vertically-oriented compositions.


Chest and breast tattoos pop brightly against the pale skin in these areas. The central placement draws the eye to watercolor ink flowing across the chest.


Shoulders offer another easily visible spot that tends to be less sensitive to tattooing. Watercolors can splash across and down the tops of shoulders.


Forearms give watercolor tattoos visibility in daily life. Just keep in mind the thinner shape limits wider designs.


Slender calves allow for vivid vertical watercolor compositions that can extend down the leg when needed.

Watercolor Tattoo Color Palettes

Watercolor tattoos encompass a huge range of possible color schemes. Some examples include:

  • Vintage botanical – olive greens, burnt umber, dark emerald, ochre yellow
  • Stormy sunset – fiery oranges, pinks and purples dissolving into gray blue
  • Tropical waters – shades of sea glass green and blue, sunny yellows and dandelion puffs of white
  • Autumn forest – rich crimson, amber, ginger, with inky pools of black
  • Galactic – deep navy accented with pops of violet, hot pink, turquoise and traces of stardust white

Color choice depends on elements like the tattoo design, intended mood, personal preferences, and skin tone coloring.

How Watercolor Tattoos Age Over Time

While all tattoos will fade to some degree over time, watercolor tattoos do come with their own unique aging concerns. Here’s what to know about how they hold up:

Color Fading

The light colors used in watercolor tattoos, especially pastels, yellows, oranges and pinks, tend to fade the fastest. Over 5-10 years, they may lose some vibrancy.

Color Bleeding

Closely packed colors can end up bleeding together, causing the tattoo to look muddier. Proper outlines help separate color blocks.


Blurred and shaded areas can get progressively less defined over time. Outlines and darker colors help provide structure.

Ink Splatters

Tiny dots and ink splatters used to build texture can disappear as the tattoo blurs.

Line Work Fading

Because watercolor tattoos often lack solid dark outlines, the existing line work can fade and make the design lose clarity.

Going with an experienced watercolor tattoo artist reduces the chances of poor aging. And proper tattoo aftercare and sun protection helps colors stay truer.

Maintenance for Watercolor Tattoos

To keep a watercolor tattoo looking its best, the two main maintenance steps are:

Touch Ups

Plan to get touch ups every 3-5 years. This enhances fading colors and keeps lines crisp. Touch ups should be included in the original tattoo pricing.

Sun Protection

Apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen daily to protect from UV rays, the biggest cause of tattoo fading. Sun protection helps preserve the vibrant colors.

Beyond that, general tattoo aftercare like avoiding sunburns, exfoliating gently, and moisturizing daily helps watercolor tattoos heal well and retain their splashed-with-paint look.

Cost of Watercolor Tattoos

Exact pricing depends on factors like:

  • Tattoo size and placement
  • Complexity of the design
  • Amount of color used
  • Artist’s skill level and experience
  • Shop minimum prices
  • Geographic location

However, you can expect to pay in these general ranges:

Tattoo Size Average Price Range
Small (1.5 x 1.5 in) $50 – $150
Medium (3 x 3 in) $150 – $500
Large (full sleeve) $500 – $1500+

Reputable shops and artists will price according to the complexity and artistry involved, not just size. Be wary of dirt cheap deals, which often signal subpar work.

Tips for Your First Watercolor Tattoo

Ready for your first watercolor tattoo? Here are some tips to make the experience go smoothly:

  • Find an artist experienced specifically in watercolor styles. Look at healed portfolio examples.
  • Pick a less sensitive spot like arms, thighs, or calves for your first tattoo.
  • Start with a smaller, simpler design to see how you handle pain and healing.
  • Ensure you fully understand the maintenance involved so you can properly care for it.
  • Communicate your vision clearly to the artist and allow them creative input.
  • Book a consultation ahead and be sure you’re comfortable with the artist.
  • Eat a meal before your session and stay hydrated during.
  • Follow the artist’s aftercare instructions dutifully during healing.


With their artistic style and visual impact, it’s no wonder watercolor tattoos have surged in popularity. The soothing blended colors and liquid look allow for endless creativity. By picking the right artist and placement, caring for your tattoo properly, and scheduling periodic touch ups, you can enjoy your unique watercolor body art for years to come.