What are Watercolor Tattoos?

We specialize in a number of tattoo styles here at Funhouse Tattoo San Diego, and one we have seen grow in popularity over the last few years are  watercolor tattoos.

Some might say that this style of colorful tattoos go hand in hand with the beach town personality of Pacific Beach. They often depict waves, flowers, animals, or other objects from nature. They can even be a duplication of an actual watercolor painting that someone wants to memorialize on themselves.

A watercolor tattoo is essentially designed to imitate watercolor artwork in the way the paint is used on paper. In the same way that watercolors can be blended, splattered, mixed, and bled onto paper, we emulate it on the skin to resemble this unique and easily identifiable style of artwork.

However, translating the same qualities from paper to skin can require a high degree of skill that comes from years of developing technique. Our collection of artists have refined their skills and perfected the craft of the applying this relatively new style of tattooing.

How is a watercolor tattoo made?

Contrary to popular belief that watercolor tattoos are made in a completely different way than other tattoo styles, watercolor tattoos are made with the same tools and ink. It comes down to the techniques used to modify the colors of ink and how shading is applied that gives this style of tattoo its unique characteristics.

We use a brush-like magnum shader needle configuration to make the smooth color fades.

The big difference between the styles is that watercolor tattoos apply a heavier use of gradients to blend colors.

The ink is also watered down and distilled to give it lighter qualities. This is done from standard color tattoo ink and can be blended to achieve variations of hues or pastels.

This is a major factor in achieving the desired characteristics of color blurs, bleeds, splatters, fades, and runs. Blends of black and white ink are used to create shades of grey that can give a tattoo depth, definition, detail, and shading. Variations of this are referred to as grey wash and can be applied to other styles of tattooing as well.

Watercolor tattoos most often do not use outlines to define shapes or subjects. This also adds to the unique qualities of this style that differs from others.

What is the process like for getting a watercolor tattoo?

Techniques used to apply watercolor tattoos can vary depending on the artist and their personal style.

Some may choose to start with the darker areas that assist with giving the tattoo its shading and detail. Other artists may choose to start by applying the colors that provide a loose structure for the piece.

The lightness of the piece will also determine the speed the artist applies to the needle to create blends and stroke effects. This is how the artists can imitate the key qualities of a water color painting or duplicate one altogether.

By establishing subtle alterations in contrast, the artists are able to blend the elements for creating a great watercolor tattoo.

How long does a watercolor tattoo last?

Because watercolor tattoos have softer colors and less contrast than other tattoo styles, it is believed that they can fade faster. A big reason why people think this is because the colors aren’t as robust as other kinds of body art, like realism style tattoos for example, and they lose their vibrancy faster because of it.

Although lighter colors can lose their presence over time, the fact of the matter is all tattoos fade over time. Even solid black tattoos.

The key to having a long lasting watercolor tattoo lies in having a good depth of contrast with the colors. This can add to the structure of the tattoo making it easier to retain its artistic qualities.

This will also help give the tattoo better touch-ups down the road if desired.

What causes to watercolor tattoo to fade?

There are a few key factors that play into the longevity of your watercolor tattoo, or anything other type of tattoo really.

Just like with getting any tattoo, choosing the right artist for you is important. At Funhouse Tattoo, we pride ourselves on picking who is best for you, not just who is next. We will work with you every step of the way to select an expert artist from our team to work with you on your watercolor design.

In the same way other tattoos work, it’s important to take care of them to ensure they last longer. Due to the delicacy of the colors, it’s important to be aware of the main causes of what makes a tattoo fade.

Properly managing the tattoo once it’s complete is an important time for for your skin to heal properly. Learn more about the recommended aftercare of your new tattoo here.

Direct sunlight over time can have drastic effects on the longevity of a tattoo. The UV rays from the sun cause the colors to fade and can render a tattoo unrecognizable.

Rubbing or scratching can also have devastating effects on a tattoo. Make sure your watercolor tattoo is in an area that is not prone to rubbing, chaffing, or persistent contact with something.

This should be a major consideration for any tattoo and especially one with vibrant colors.

Make sure to keep your skin healthy and moisturized. Overall maintenance of your skin, which is the biggest human organ, is important to keep your watercolor tattoo flourishing for years to come.

Using fragrance and alcohol-free lotion is critical during the healing process, but should also be applied throughout the life of the tattoo. This will help keep the colors of your tattoo vibrant and detailed.


Watercolor tattoos are relatively new to the world of body art and use both traditional and newly developed techniques to create. Their rise in the tattoo community signifies progression in the range of styles and an evolution of the craft as a whole.

Its ability to resemble the characteristics of a completely different medium of artwork show the dynamic range artists have and how they are constantly experimenting with new techniques.

Working with such a diverse group of people in Pacific Beach has allowed our shop to be at the forefront of the watercolor designs that have quickly become one of our most popular requests.

By having some of the best watercolor tattoo artists in San Diego, we regularly work on designing unique watercolor body art or duplicating them from existing paintings.  

If you are interested in getting a watercolor tattoo, contact us today for a free consultation with one of our world-class artists.