How to Improve Tattoo Shading?

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In this blog post, we will go through the steps of tattoo shading. Tattoo shading is when you use your tattoo artist skills to create texture and depth to further bring your tattoos to life. Any tattoo design can be made better with some careful work on the shaded areas of the design. This skill also gives you the ability to use your tattoo as a major focal point when clients are customizing their own design.

How to Improve Tattoo Shading?

Step 1: Preparation is Key

The most important thing you can do in order to make tattoo shading look great is to prep your client beforehand. If the client is going to be using a new skill set, i.e. creating his / her own design, he should know what kind of structure to work with and how it can be broken up for an optimal finished product. It is also important for them to understand the meaning behind the design so that they know what kind of emotions or meanings are being depicted. Detailed instructions on how this process will go should be discussed as well.

Step 2: Setting Up your Design / Tattoo

This is a crucial step to getting the most out of your design. Once you have prepared the client, you can begin setting up the tattoo. When setting up your design, it is important to choose colors that are complementary to each other. This means that colors that go together will look great when shaded. Choosing shades and tones will create a mood or get across a feeling or idea more effectively. This will help to better complete the message you’re trying to portray on the tattoo.

Step 3: The size, shape, and placement of your design is crucial to creating an effective shaded tattoo

Knowing the exact size and shape of the design gives you a good idea of where to place the tattoo. This will give the most natural look for your tattoo and make it seem as if it were done by nature itself. It will also create depth within a piece that can be difficult to achieve in certain circumstances. Use this step to consider how your client will want their shaded area positioned on their body, as well as how it should be sized and shaped for optimal viewing. This will give a more realistic appearance when viewed from different angles.

Step 4: When you have chosen your colors and design, it is time to get started with the shading.

Shading is all about giving the appearance of depth and dimension to your tattoo. The easiest way to achieve depth is by using a darker shade of the color you are working with. If you are going to use gradients, consider what colors will be best at creating a smooth transition between colors. This can be done by choosing shades of either color that will be highlighted in order to create smooth transitions. This step also brings out the details in your design and makes it seem more realistic as well as adding appeal to the overall piece as a whole.

Step 5: The final step of shading a tattoo is to clean your workup

The last step of creating an effective shaded tattoo is to make sure you clean everything up. Taking care to make sure that the edges are nice and crisp will give your client a final product they can be proud of. This will also make sure that everything is smooth and each layer feels natural when touched. Be sure to give the design proper time to heal after your tattoo has been completed before continuing with any other projects on the piece or another session with this client.

How to Improve Tattoo Shading?
Photo: How to Improve Tattoo Shading?


Tips to Take Into Consideration

Throughout the process of shading a tattoo, you will encounter various problems and challenges. Here are some tips on how to fix the most common issues you could encounter while creating a shaded tattoo.

Mismatched skin tones – If your client’s skin is lighter than the chosen pigment, such as when working with inexperienced clients, mix your pigment with a bit of white to lighten it up. If their skin tone is darker than planned, use a bit of pigment mixed with water to make it darker. This will allow for more natural-looking shading in this situation and if done correctly, should not be noticeable to most people.

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Thick and thin lines – Some lines may be thin, meaning they don’t lay out as well as you would like them to, but will still look fine when shaded. However, some lines will be thicker than others and this can create an unwanted texture that’s not wanted. In order to avoid this from happening, think about how your client prefers their line thickness. Watch for areas where the pigment appears too thick or is split into two colors instead of a single one. This can be easily fixed by simply extending the line so it is the same thickness through its entirety instead of creating two separate lines and blending them together on the part of the tattoo where they meet.

Dark lines – This can be a problem if your client has dark skin and you’re working with a dark-toned tattoo. You might want to consider using an additional light or white shade to even out the color between the tattoo and their skin tone area.

Shading bumps or texture – If you’ve made any mistakes in shading, the texture of your work may be noticeable on certain parts of your client’s skin. If this is the case, try covering these areas with foundation or coverup paint before covering them up completely. This will give a more natural appearance by disguising any problems that may occur while shading in these areas.

Misaligned or color-banded tattoos – Many people may have one or more tattoo that doesn’t seem to be lining up with the rest of their body. This is something to watch out for because it can cause problems when shading and can look very unnatural. If you notice your client has this issue, try shading the parts overlapping the tattoo first and then move on to shading the areas around it. This will give a much more natural result than if you try to shade all of the tattoos at once as described above.

Color banding – The most common type of color banding that can occur is when you are using gradients within a shaded area. The less controlled the gradient is and the more varying the shades are, the more noticeable color banding will be. This is unavoidable and something to be aware of when shading, but it can often be avoided by using a lighter shade for the area you need to shade as opposed to using a darker one, which will make it harder to smooth out later on.

Problems with creating depth or dimension – If your client’s areas of shading don’t lay out well when shaded, try looking at your design from various angles. You might discover that a seemingly accurate image may not look that way when viewed from an angle that is different than your original design looked in the first place. You can fix this simply by using perspective to show dimension. Working from a 3D document such as Adobe Photoshop will make it easier for you to see if your design is angled correctly and if it is, then you can make adjustments in order to have it stand out more.

Shading over outlined designs – It is important that you remember where the lines of your tattoo are located when shading the areas. If the lines are overlaid with an outline that was placed on top of them, then these areas cannot be shaded without covering up the outline and rendering it useless. This is why it’s important when outlining an image with a particular size and shape to remember exactly where the lines should be placed when shading.

Lining up the shading – Make sure that your images are lined up correctly and don’t overlap one another. If they overlap, some of your designs will be covered up and you won’t be able to see what is underneath. This can also create an unwanted texture as well as cause problems with creating depth and dimension for your work.

Watch for color bleed – Small spots of bleeding can occur when applying pigment from the area being shaded to the area around it. Make sure that the color you’re using doesn’t run into other areas accidentally by using a small brush to apply pigment instead of a larger one used for outlining. You can also place a piece of tissue paper or some other thin material on the area to absorb excess pigment that may be accidentally spilled over the edge of your tattoo.

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Be patient – When you feel like you need to re-do something, don’t rush it. Instead, keep yourself calm and think about what you’re working on carefully before moving on. You’ll make fewer mistakes this way and be able to make adjustments without causing additional problems with your designs.

Tattoo Shading
Photo: Tattoo Shading


What Should I Know About Aftercare?

Now that you know how to shade a tattoo, it’s important to know more about what needs to be done after the process is complete. This is something that may vary depending on the client you’re working on and their skin type.

If your client has sensitive skin, then post-tattoo care will be more important because they will be more easily irritated by either the tattoo itself or aftercare products that you use. Make sure that you wash your hands before and after applying any tattoo aftercare products, including ointment. Keep in mind that even using a washcloth or paper towel can cause irritation for people with sensitive skin, so use as many precautions as possible to prevent hurting them in this way.

There are several different ways to care for your clients after they have obtained their tattoos. Here are just a few things you should know about:

Incision – If you’re using an oil-based tattoo aftercare product, make sure that you don’t use it for more than 3 days. After that, the use of the product should be discontinued entirely and a new one used instead. This will help prevent the oil from causing scabs to form along the edges of your design as well as stop skin irritation from occurring.

Moisturizing – This is essential during healing because far too many people make the mistake of forgetting to do it at all. An important thing to remember is that if you’re using a tattoo aftercare product that uses ingredients like aloe vera or Vitamin E, then make sure that you continue to apply them throughout the healing process. After all, these products help keep your clients’ skin healthy, which will allow it to heal properly even faster and reduce the risk of infection.

Applying ointment – Aftercare items such as ointments are important because they help heal the tattoo faster and reduce the risk of infection. If you’re using a product that has a lot of colors or is oily, then it’s especially important to use an aftercare item like Vitamin E or aloe vera.

Breaking contact with dirt – You should be using latex gloves whenever you are applying aftercare products to your clients’ skin in order to prevent them from picking up bacteria at home. Also, make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly before each treatment and in between each appointment.

Keeping wounds clean – It’s very important to keep wounds clean throughout the healing process. This will prevent infection and scabbing, which can cause your clients to have trouble with the tattoo itself.

Avoiding picking at the design – Aftercare products such as aloe vera or Vitamin E have been specifically designed to be gentle on the skin. The reason for this is that it minimizes the risk of picking scabs or nicking your client’s skin if they decide to pick at their tattoo.
Avoiding over-cleaning – It’s also important not to over-cleanse your client’s skin that has healed from a tattoo no matter what product you’re using. Skin will heal naturally and over-cleaning can cause irritation and redness in the area, which can prevent healing completely.

Tattoo Hand Shading
Photo: Tattoo Hand Shading


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

I have a tattoo for the first time. How do I do the shading?

The shading is applied in two ways at once, either with an ink pen or with a tattoo pen after it has been diluted. Ink pens are very helpful when you are creating small details or filling in large areas of solid color. For larger tattoos, where there is less detail and more solid color, like black and red tattoos or other colors that may not react well to mixing with water-based pigment (i.e. green and blue tattoos) use a tattoo pen.

Is tattoo shading permanent?

Yes, it’s permanent as long as you don’t get it removed by laser or seriously messed up by an infection. You should be able to recognize the tattooed area as your skin but to provide you with some basic guidelines, it’s best to wait at least a year (or longer) before you get tattooed again. Here are some other questions to ask yourself: if your skin is really active, do you really want an active tattoo? if the design makes sense in a year or two, will it still work? A lot of factors determine how much and where you can expect your skin to change.

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What Tattoo Shading Methods Are There?

There are four basic methods for tattoo shading: outline (or pointillism), color repetition, color blending, and splashes.

Outline ShadingAn outline shading is a sharp and precise contour, like a computer-drawn line. The focal point of the tattoo is outlined in detail. The final shading can be a very fine line or expanded in detail to the form of an actual design. This is usually done with a needle, such as needlepoint, skin flicking, or stippling. Tattoo coloration can be boosted with color as well to make the tattoo more intense and vibrant in appearance. This type of shading is also sometimes called pointillism, French for “little dots”.

Color RepetitionColor repetition is a series of strokes that blend smoothly into each other. It’s almost the same thing as an outline, but it goes further; the tattooed area moves back toward the skin’s tone like a rainbow, in layers, from light to dark. Color repetition is sometimes called color blending or color smudging. This method can be done with a needle, as well. Some people like this type of shading for its softness and subtleness; others find its smoothness too easy to get lost in.

Color BlendingTattoo coloring can also be done in a more random spray-on motion, rather than in specific lines. As the needle passes over the skin, it pulls up the pigment that gets sprayed into the air as subtle spots and splashes of color. This tattoo shading method is called a color splash. The technique can be broken down into even smaller colors, so that very small spots or dots of ink are used to create an overall effect of light and dark. This is sometimes called an art dot tattoo or a neotraditional tattoo.

Splash ShadingFor those who want a more aggressive look and a bolder tattoo, the splashes can be bold and full of color. This is another topping on top of the color repetition, where the edges shake and vibrate as if they’re being tossed around by an angry sea. Tattoo coloring is done in a more direct, deliberate motion rather than being flicked or brushed along the skin. The tattooist holds pigment up in the air without touching it. This type of shading is called splashing (more literally speaking) or spraying, and it’s usually practiced with a needle or puncture tip tool to push pigment into place on the skin’s surface. It can also be done with a brush or palette knife.

Is It Deep Enough?

Many people initially want an eye-catching “artistic” tattoo, which either needs to stand out from the skin or needs to be very accurate. But sometimes you don’t want your artistic vision to overwhelm the skin. If you’re not sure about where your lines need to go, ask your tattoo artist for guidance. If you’re working with a beginner or someone who’s new to shading, ask him/her how much distance he/she wants between the light and dark. For many tattooing artists, a 3/8 inch separation is their standard line distance.


When you start tattooing, your first step should be to make the sketch on paper. If you want to outline it or show where the shading will go, that’s OK. Do what works for you and what makes sense for your design. But if you’re working on the skin, don’t spend time quantifying each line; instead, let the artist know what overall image you’re trying to capture and let her rely on her skills and eye to know where to place each detail of your tattoo once it’s done. You can also look at a photo of a similar tattoo so you can see what it looks like finished.