Should a Tattoo Artist Charge for a Touch Up?

A properly drawn tattoo is beautiful and usually conveys some sentimental significance to the bearer or it’s gotten just for the esthetics of it. For whatever reason you get one of these beauties, after your skin heals or over a longer period of time, you notice some imperfections or that the colors are not popping as bright as they did initially. When this happens you need a tattoo touch up and this is better carried out by a professional tattoo artist.

What is a Tattoo Touch Up?

Simply put, a tattoo touch up is the process of tattooing over an existing tattoo to fix a problem. These “problems” include but are not limited to; time dependent fading/ loss of color, healing imperfections, uneven shading, dull lines.

Touch ups are different from getting a new tattoo or changing a pre-existing tattoo by tattooing a new design over it, which is a cover up. A touch up involves the addition of a little bit of color and small touches to the existing design. They are usually of short duration and do not take nearly as much time as getting a new one or a cover up.

Why Does Your Tattoo Need a Touch Up?

In a perfect world, tattoos are meant to be permanent works of art drawn on the skin making use of a needle and different ink colors. But, as we know, our world is drowned in imperfections and hence, these permanent works of art lose their initial shine over time due to various reasons, even if they are carried out by the best tattoo artists.

These flaws can greatly affect the details of a tattoo which are extremely important to the overall esthetics and quality of the tattoo. So, routinely after your initial tattoo has healed, your tattoo artist recommends you come back for a touch up to get rid of imperfections that may have occurred during the initial healing process. Proper care of your tattoo during the healing process can greatly influence the need for a routine touch up. The tattoo artist usually gives detailed aftercare instructions.

Prolonged sun exposure particularly without a high SPF sunscreen or clothe covering can lead to the fading of your tattoo. The ultraviolet rays in the sunlight break down the tattoo ink which accelerates its loss of vibrance. Swimming or taking prolonged baths immediately after getting a new tattoo can leach the ink off of the tattoo shortening the lifespan of the tattoo increasing the need for a touch up. Rubbing the tattoo area during the healing window also has negative impacts on durability.

With all this said, following all the preventive measures would only delay your need for a touch up, not completely eliminate it. Your tattoo would lose its vibrance over a period of years due to natural skin changes  associated with age and unavoidable cumulative sun exposure When this inevitably happens, a tattoo artist can make it better in a matter of minutes.


How Do You Know if Your Tattoo Needs a Touch Up?

A lot of individuals may not realise that their tattoo is way overdue for a touch up after healing completion. This takes an average of 1 month for total healing. The time frame is affected by factors such as the size of your tattoo, the intricacy of the tattoo design, individual variations in speed of skin healing which may be affected by your nutrition, genes, exposure to the sun, etc.

In some cases it is obvious to the bearer when it’s time for a touch up. In these cases the tattoo appears faded or watered down, lacks patches of color where there should be some.

In other cases, it may not be so obvious to you, the bearer. Generally, you should let the artist decide if your tattoo needs a touch up or not. This is because you may not notice some of the details or minor color changes in the tattoo.

It also advised that you visit the artist about two weeks after the new job for an assessment on if it needs some extra work. If it doesn’t, your artist might tell you to come back in a couple of months to get an extra touch up.

Will a Tattoo Artist Touch Up Someone Else’s Work?

It depends on the reason for going to the other artist. How frequently do you see the original artist? Are you now living in a different city than the original artist that it’s become inconvenient? Are you on good terms with the original artist?

If you are a long way from the original artist or you are no longer on good terms, then you can definitely get a touch up from another artist. No matter how much we try, there’s situations we can’t avoid and this would require a change. Also, if it’s been up to three years since the original tattoo, there really isn’t an obligation anymore.

Other factors like, Is the artist now out of your price range? For instance, if the artist has gained more experience, recognition and awards than when you initially got the job done, you may no longer be able to afford them. Also, Did the artist do a low quality job and refuse to fix it? If so, the chances of doing a touch up are pretty low.

The main advantage of getting your tattoo touched up by the original artist is that it is usually done for free, apart from the tip. And, the original artist had an original vision on what the piece should look like. The other artist, no matter how skilled, may not share the same vision.

With all that being said, if you feel the artist jeopardized your safety, health or seemed unprofessional, then by all means you should look for another artist. It’s your body after all.

How Much Does a Tattoo Touch Up Cost?

Most tattoo artists are confident about their skills and would guarantee the durability of their work. This means that a touch up would cost nothing if the need for one arises. Ultimately, the final cost of a touch up depends on the amount of touch up needed, time frame from when you got the original tattoo, client’s level of compliance to aftercare instructions and the tattoo parlor’s touch up policy.

Minor touch ups on small tattoos could cost as little as nothing, which is the most common case as long as the touch up is carried out by the original artist within a specified time frame decided by the parlor’s policy. Also, if it is obvious that you ignored the aftercare instructions, the artists are well within their rights to decide if and what they charge for a touch up.

If the window for free touch ups decided by the parlor is closed and you’re making a budget, it is best to make a budget of >$50 or at least half the price for the original tattoo. A poll conducted on Reddit showed that a touch up of an average sized shoulder tattoo cost from nothing to about $60 (range of $40-$80).

Should You Tip a Tattoo Artist for a Touch Up?

There is no hard and fast rule for leaving tips after getting a touch up, even the free ones. The choice of if and how much to tip ultimately lies in the hands of the client.

That being said, it is considered good etiquette to leave a tip for your tattoo artist (or any service provider) after a touch up even though it was “free” as they are expending time, energy and supplies (ink, sterilizers, needles) which cost money. It also shows that you think the artist did a good job.

A 10-15% tip is considered a good starting point in most industries. If you were very satisfied with your work and feel the artist went the extra mile for you, an additional 5-10% tip is not unreasonable.

How Often Should a Tattoo be Touched Up?

The frequency of touch ups varies greatly amongst individuals and is determined by a number of factors including the tattoo size, location, aftercare, level of detail and how fast your skin heals. Most people wait 6-12 months after the original tattoo before getting a first touch up.

Subsequently, the brilliance of the colors and sharpness of the lines would tell you if you need a touch up. This inspection is best carried out by a trained tattoo artist as they can better identify intricate blemishes. Obviously, if it’s been decades since your last touch up, you may definitely be in need of a touch up.

Tips to Reduce the Frequency of Your Touch Ups.

These tips would greatly reduce the need for frequent tattoo touch ups and have health benefits.. They are usually included in the aftercare instructions given by the artist.

  • Practice sun safety. Avoid prolonged sun exposure and in cases where it is inevitable, make sure you use sunscreen with high SPF or protective clothing.
  • Avoid swimming soon after getting your tattoo.This can cause leaching of lots of ink out of your skin.
  • Do not pick at or scratch a healing tattoo no matter how strong the urge is. This may affect the healing process, leaving your design flawed and uneven and increases the chances of getting an infection.


Touch ups are a mandatory part of an apparent long lasting, brilliant tattoo. When you decide to get a touch up, it is preferred to be carried out by the original artist, who in most cases, charges nothing. In addition to your adherence to aftercare instructions, time elapsed since the original tattoo and the size of the touch up,the tattoo artist ultimately decides if they should charge or not.

It is always a good idea to tip your artist after a good job, even though the touch up was free of charge.