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How To Shade A Tattoo

A good tattoo is determined by how well it is shaded. As a tattoo artist, mastering a tattoo shading technique is indispensable if you want to make those jaw-dropping tattoos while satisfying your clients; possibly getting more referrals. A few tips on how to shade a tattoo are herein to help you jumpstart your tattoo shading experience.


Appreciate the art in tattooing: Light and shadows play and important role in a tattoo’s appearance and ultimately how you shade. It is, therefore, necessary for you to know the effect of light and shadows for you to be good at shading. If necessary, take an art class for this.

Plan and practice: Confidence is built in trying. When you set out to shade, it is worthwhile to try tattooing paper. This gives you a feel of how the actual shading will be and gives you the confidence to do it. Furthermore, it gives you and the client an impression of how the tattoo will look like and the two of you can make changes if need be.

Set up – the machine, the needles, and the tattoo area: Before you embark on shading, it is necessary to get the right tools for the job. The right machine goes a long way into ensuring ease of work. A large tattoo area requires a machine with more coils to provide the power needed to run the larger needle groupings. Shader bars are often preferred to round liners when it comes to the needle selection. This is because they cover larger areas in one run than round liners would.

Since shading is done after outlining, stencil marks and excess ink are often on the tattoo area. It is therefore recommended to clean up the entire area first.

Start with the line work: Line work generally comes first when tattooing. This is important to prevent the darker ink used in outlining from messing with the shading. It is a good practice to have some time (at least 15 minutes) between the line work and shading. More often than not, artists do the line work and shading in two different sessions.

Set the right speed: The speed on your tattoo affects the gradient transition of your shading. In as much as this is a personal preference, most artists find it better to use a higher speed for shading as it makes the tattoo smoother.


Work in a circular motion: The actual shading is done in a circular manner to blend different ink tones; tilt the needles while at it. Start with darker regions of the tattoo and be sure to dip your needles in distilled water to dilute the ink black pigments into gray pigments as you head towards the lighter regions.

Change the pressure: Different tattoo regions will need you to apply different pressure. Be sure to press harder when shading darker parts and ease off on the pressure as you transition to lighter areas.

Shade before you color (start with darker colors): If the tattoo has multiple colors, make sure you know your colors beforehand and arrange them to the order of application. Start with darker colors as you head to lighter and warm ones. It is why shading comes after outlining in the first place.

Cover up: After shading the important parts, be sure to relevantly shade over areas that you may have made a mistake e.g. extra outlines.

Inspect and clean: Be sure to check the tattoo for any faults and make any corrections as may be necessary before concluding the work. Clean off any extra ink from the tattoo area as well as your tattoo needles and machine.

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