35 Best Watercolor Tattoos and Cool Design Ideas for 2020

I once saw a watercolor tattoo IRL and bet my friend five bucks that it was actually a temporary design. Like, it really, truly looked as though it were painted with actual paint brushes, with realistic paint splatters and perfectly blended colors. Fact: I lost five bucks that day, and since then, I’ve become legit obsessed with all things watercolor tattoos. So if you’re lookin’ for tattoo inspo and wanna know more about this soft, fluid style, keep reading to hear what tattoo artists who specialize in this style have to say about watercolor tattoos, followed by all the design inspo you could ever need.

What is watercolor tattooing?

As NYC-based tattoo artist Amanda Wachob explains it, a watercolor tattoo lacks the black outline of traditional tattoos, in order to highlight and emphasize the color in a design. The result? A tattoo that looks much more realistic and less cartoon-like. But even within the style of watercolor tattoos, you’ve got different sub-genres to choose from. “Some artists are more expressive with their work, adding brush strokes and color splashes and sketchy lines,” says NYC-based tattoo artist Bryan Gutierrez. “Others do a more refined look, using more pastel and muted-down colors to make it look softer, like a real watercolor painting.”

Do watercolor tattoos fade easily?

Ah, yes. The million-dollar question of how watercolor tattoos age, and if they fade or blur over time. So what’s the consensus? Gutierrez and Wachob agree: All tattoos will fade and age. “Time marches on regardless of the style of tattoo or the color in it, and tattoos with black outlines don’t stop the aging process of a human being,” Wachob says. “Black tattoos get thick, gray, and fuzzy, while colored tattoos will lighten and soften over time.”

If you notice some fading, you can get a touch-up (which is when additional color is applied) to keep your tattoo looking almost as good as the day you got it. But you might not even need to. Think of some watercolor tattoos like a hair color that grows out nicely: “Some watercolor paintings tend to have blurred edges, undefined details, and softer colors, so I think the natural aging of the tattoo can work really well with the initial design,” Gutierrez adds.

How long do watercolor tattoos last?

Tattoos are permanent, but just like the rest of your skin, if you don’t take care of it, it isn’t gonna age well. Protecting the tattoo from the sun is *so important* for preserving the color, so always use sunscreen to protect it from UV rays and take care of your tattoo when it’s healing. “With proper care and proper application from the artist, even the lighter colors should last a good amount of time,” Gutierrez says.

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Fully convinced you need a watercolor tattoo? I knew you would be, so I gathered all the inspo for you below.

1

Watercolor Lightning Bolt Tattoo

When it comes to watercolor tattoos, you’re not limited to what design you can choose—although flowers (Gutierrez’s specialty) do look amazing with this style. If you don’t want a straight-up flower tattoo, incorporate a floral pattern into your design, like this one.

2

Pretty Paint Strokes

While some people might prefer a traditional style of tattooing with bold outlines, others might be drawn to an artsier style, like that of a watercolor tattoo. If I hadn’t already lost a bet before, I would think this piece was actually painted on the skin.

3

Watercolor Tattoo Flowers

Also a big fan of flower tattoos, Wachob says, “floral and botanical designs work great, as we rarely see the color black in an actual flower or a plant.”

4

Watercolor Paint Splatter

If you want a color-forward design, try a realistic-looking paint spill, splatter, or splash. It’s a unique idea and another great example of a tattoo that just wouldn’t have the same effect with a black border around it.

5

Watercolor Rosebud

One way to take a classic tattoo design, like a rose, and make it your own is with a watercolor technique and your unique color palette.

6

Marigold Flower Tattoo

Things I will never comprehend: How this marigold flower isn’t a painting and how people this talented exist in the world.

7

Watercolor Beta Fish Tattoo

If you’re not a flower kind of person, Gutierrez says portraits and animals also work great with this style of tattooing. See above for proof.

8

Psychedelic Tattoo Design

With a watercolor tattoo, you also have the freedom to not be so literal with your tattoo. A colorful, abstract design like this is one you’ll never get sick of.

10

Watercolor Sunset Tattoo

Gutierrez also recommends sceneries for watercolor tattoos, like mountains and trees. This solid-colored tree tattoo is cool on its own, but the watercolor backdrop absolutely makes it, IMO.

12

Watercolor Hummingbird Tattoo

Hummingbirds are known for their bright, cool colors, so if you don’t want to dominate the design with dark, bold lines, skip ’em. The blurred lines of this tattoo only makes it look even more realistic, like a hovering hummingbird.

13

Watercolor Abstract Designs

If you love the look of freehand painting, try a tattoo with a ton of different abstract designs and interesting color combinations—it’s at least sure to be a tattoo you know nobody else has.

14

Simple Leaf Tattoo

Since black outlines rarely exist in nature, why throw them in a nature-inspired tattoo? This blue and green leaf design looks cool on its own.

15

Watercolor Butterfly Tattoo

What’s cuter than two dainty watercolor butterfly tattoos, you ask? Literally nothing, that’s what.

16

Watercolor Whale Tattoo

There’s truly no better way to depict a narwhal (aka the unicorn of the sea) than with a rainbow watercolor tattoo. Proof: this rib tattoo.

17

Watercolor Ankle Tattoo

This ankle tattoo is equal parts subtle and bold, thanks to the combination of delicate strokes and bright ink.

18

Watercolor Bird Tattoo

A blend of blue, violet, and black ink gives this watercolor bird tattoo a cool galaxy-inspired touch.

19

Pink Watercolor Tattoo

The soft, diffused strokes on this pink floral tattoo make it look like an actual watercolor painting.

20

Tiny Watercolor Tattoo

There’s something extra tempting about a teeny-tiny tattoo, especially when it’s rendered in the prettiest watercolor hues.

21

Tiny Fairy Tattoo

If you feel like a black outline would detract from your design idea, don’t force it. This behind-the-ear tattoo of a little bitty fair feels even more whimsical, thanks to the watercolor technique.

22

Watercolor Thigh Tattoo

Bright colors not totally your vibe? No prob. This watercolor hip tattoo gives you the same soft, freehand strokes but in a totally subdued color palette.

24

Wintry Watercolor Tattoo

Beach tattoos are fun, yes, but if you’d much rather be snowboarding than surfing, go with a snowflake watercolor tattoo design instead.

25

Watercolor Sunflower Tattoo

There’s nothing *not* to love about this sunflower tattoo, but the oil-painting-esque shading on the petals is beyond cool.

26

Watercolor Dragonfly Tattoo

This dragonfly tattoo is fairly simple in design, but the bold background colors give it some nice edge.

27

Watercolor Back Tattoo

This watercolor tattoo—which sits a few inches below your neck—will look so sick peeking out of a tank top this summer.

28

Pretty Pansy Tattoo

If you love the soft, pretty look of plants and flowers, carry that theme through your artwork with a delicate, diffused watercolor technique.

29

Watercolor Heart Tattoo

This itty-bitty heart design has a defined outline, but the watercolor detailing in the center makes it perfect for anyone wanting a colorful tat.

30

Watercolor Foot Tattoo

31

Watercolor Watermelon Tattoo

I never thought I’d consider tattooing a watermelon onto my arm until I saw this insane watercolor design. Like, wouldn’t you just smile every time you looked at it?!

32

Single Stem Tattoo

Usually the flower petals get all the attention, but I can’t stop staring at the subtleties of this soft stem, thanks to the paint-like strokes.

33

Watercolor Rosebud Tattoo

Not down for a full bouquet? This little rosebud tattoo gives you your floral fix without going overboard.

34

Watercolor Spine Tattoo

If you’re brave enough to sit through a spine tattoo, it might as well be for a ridiculously pretty outcome, like this diffused watercolor flower stem.

35

Watercolor Cherry Tattoo

The bright-red ink in this dreamy cherry tattoo is so vibrant, but the design is simple enough that you’ll never get sick of it.

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