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How to Make Your Shitty Tattoos Look Better

Don’t sweat that chrome butterfly tramp stamp

“Laser tattoo removal feels like burning oil straight from the frying pan,” says Marcus Lundqvist, a heavily-tattooed friend of mine (with an epic collection by world-famous tattooers). “I hate it.”

Lundqvist knows what he’s talking about, since he’s currently suffering through the process of removing several regrettable tattoos. “I got a few shitty tattoos when I first started,” he explains. “I didn’t spend enough time finding decent artists.”

So far, Lundqvist has effectively erased a sketchy umbrella, an ironic “bromance” banner and a few small scratcher tattoos (tats from someone who taught themself how to tattoo—usually poorly—without the help of a professional mentor). Many of those lasered areas have since been filled with new-and-improved artwork.

In addition to being extremely painful, laser tattoo removal is also costly: Since it can take several treatments to complete—depending on the size and color of the tattoo—the total cost can range from $1,000 to $10,000 (or more). Large, dark tattoos may require as many as 20 excruciating treatments before they’re completely removed.

If “agonizing and outrageously expensive” doesn’t seem like an ideal pairing to you, there’s a cheaper and less painful method (the catch being, it’s less thorough): Cover up the regrettable tattoo with another, less regrettable tattoo. Carmen Monoxide, who tattoos at Purple Panther Tattoo in L.A., is all-too-familiar with this process. “I once got a goofy astronaut tattoo on my upper arm from a dude who had just started tattooing,” she explains. “People would tell me that they liked it when I wore short-sleeve shirts—but I didn’t like it, and they were forcing me to look at it and think about it!” Monoxide eventually had the goofy astronaut covered by a colorful unicorn. “He did a bomb job,” she says of Dillon Eaves, the tattooer who did the deed. “If the tattoo is small enough, blasting over it is rarely an issue.”

Sadly, the same isn’t true of covering up big, dark tattoos. Large cover-ups require skill on the part of the artist and flexibility with the design on your end (tattooing directly over already-tattooed skin comes with limitations—as the area is already heavily saturated with ink, the cover-up must be larger and darker than the old tattoo).

Still, you can find tattooers who specialize in cover-ups, such as Jeremy Swan, curator of Broken Art Tattoo and featured tattoo fixer on the TLC reality series America’s Worst Tattoos. Artists like this are more than capable of helping you forget your regrettable past—just be aware that cover-ups can sometimes be more expensive than tattoos on a blank canvas.

If both the above options are out of the question, learning to love (and flaunt) your shitty tattoos—something Monoxide has become adept at—may be the way to keep the haters at bay. “I have a tattoo of my ex-boyfriend as a cowboy-themed pin-up girl,” Monoxide explains. “The tattoo was actually selected to be done on a TV show, which was a weird and embarrassing experience. Of course, the show didn’t air until after we broke up.”

Since then, the tattoo was featured in BuzzFeed’s23 Tattoos And Piercings You Will Literally Regret Tomorrow.” But while Monoxide admits that it was a “bad decision,” she continues to flaunt the tattoo. “I wear socks that are low enough to show the tattoo,” she emphasizes. “I think it’s funny that he looks like a sexy chick from far away, when he actually has hairy legs and a mustache.”

According to Monoxide, the haters simply can’t hate if you wear your past with pride. “I also have a pot leaf on my ankle,” she laughs. “That’s my relationship with tattoos—they represent something that I liked at one point (or still do). That’s the fun part.”

And if you can’t learn to love your past, Lundqvist has a different approach: “Put a sick tattoo next to it,” he recommends.

On to the next one, so they say.