Here’s Exactly What Happens When You Have a Blowout

blowout from tattoo
Credit: David Clifton

There are a few nonnegotiable requirements when getting a tattoo: the shop and tools used must be of top hygienic standards (you can and should ask about this before your appointment) and the artist should be talented, at least in a client’s eyes. And while talent is of course of paramount importance, an artist’s experience should be as valuable. Because not only could it lead to a design you’re less than thrilled with, but less experienced artists also often experience something called a blowout.

Simply put, a blowout is defined as when tattoo ink creates a blurry effect around the intended design. According to Whitney Marie Donohue, an artist at Rise Again Tattoo in Billings, Montana, it can “occur when the artist pushes too hard or their machine isn’t tuned correctly. The ink is pushed too far down [into the skin, specifically] the subcutaneous tissue,” spreading and ultimately causing a blowout.This kind of error is often correlated with inexperience, says Donahue, making it critical to do your research in advance to find an artist skilled at doing whichever type of design you’re considering. (And that’s only one of the 13 things you should do before you get a tattoo.)

Above, a classic blowout.

How to tell whether there’s a blowout or not

Don’t freak out if you notice anything looking off while your fresh tattoo is healing. While not common, it’s possible that a newly inked design can appear slightly blurry or foggy. Firstly, it’s important wait before freaking out. You may not notice the blowout immediately, depending on its size, but something may look off while your tattoo heals. On occasion, as a fresh tattoo heals, it can appear slightly blurry or foggy.

In the Facebook group Ask A Professional Tattoo Artist, many members have posted photos of pretty fresh tattoos with what they believe to be a blowout. On a fresh tattoo, a blowout will appear blue and blurry, according to Penelope Tentakles, a co-owner of Peril Tattoo in Melbourne. “They are more common on thin, bony parts of skin such as the collarbones, fingers, wrists and also on super fleshy delicate spots like the bicep,” she says. 

Can it go away?

Arguably the most commonly asked question about a blowout is if it can go away. Unfortunately, the answer is no. A blowout has nothing to do with your aftercare or how well you maintain the area. But there are things an artist can do to correct it.

How to correct a blowout

It’s important to note that you can’t fix one ASAP, even if it shows up right away: Most tattoo artists would suggest you wait before requesting a touch up or cover up, so you can see how the tattoo looks once healed. But nonetheless, it’s never a bad idea to start planning. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that designs with finer lines, which are increasingly popular, have a greater potential for a visible blowout.

When fixing blown-out letters and number—the top culprits of blowouts in the first place—one artist in that same Facebook group recommends adding “a little splash of color” behind them, creating a watercolor effect. Another suggests adding white ink. It won’t stay pure white but “it will tone down the blowout and make it less noticeable.”

Above, a before and after of a watercolor cover up of a blowout.

The more flexible you are with how to hide the blowout, the better; a cover up will always make the tattoo slightly bigger, whether it’s by adding background to the design or thickening its lines. Therefore, it’s important to take an active role in deciding how to cover or distract from it along with your artist.

You can’t plan for everything and even the most famous and experienced tattoo artists are guilty of blowouts. “We are injecting a foreign substance into the body, into one of the most complicated organs, and numerous fat deposits and inconsistencies scattered through the the entire body,” writes a third artist we found in the Facebook group. “It doesn’t matter if the artist is light handed or heavy handed, using coils or rotaries. It comes with the nature of the industry.” Because sometimes, unfortunately, a blowout may just happen.

If you liked our story Here’s Exactly What Happens When You Have a Blowout, be sure to check out 19 Tattoo Terms You Need to Know.

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