How to Shade a Tattoo?

Are you new to the tattooing world? Looking to make your career in this industry? Or have you already become a well-experienced tattoo artist? Well, there is no boundary to learning new things. The quality of a tattoo depends on perfect shading. Perfect shading will allow you to cover up errors. Even to get a 3-dimensional look, you have to depend on ideal shading.

Many artists take years to learn “how to shade a tattoo perfectly.” If you are already an expert in the tattooing industry, don’t expect you will learn PRO-level shading within a short time.

I have created this article keeping in mind both professional tattoo artists and beginners.

In this article, I am going to share information on “how to shade a tattoo.”

Let’s start the following step-by-step process on making a perfect tattoo shade.

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Photo: MAX PMU Wireless/Cordless Brow Machine

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Dragonhawk 2pcs Brass Coils Tattoo Machine Straight Shader Circle Liner
Photo: Dragonhawk 2pcs Brass Coils Tattoo Machine Straight Shader Circle Liner

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Mast Tattoo Machine Traditional Handmade Shading Coil Machine (Shader)
Photo: Mast Tattoo Machine Traditional Handmade Shading Coil Machine (Shader)

How to Shade a Tattoo?

Method 01: Preparation of the Tattoo Shade

Step 01: Practice using paint or pencil

Practice using paint or pencil
Photo: Practice using paint or pencil

Shading a tattoo artwork. To enhance your confidence, it is significantly essential to do practice before starting a tattoo design. Tattoo shading is nothing more than a shadow of life. You need to be comfortable in creating shading on the skin, even if you are an experienced tattoo artist.

  • Do practice with different levels of pressure. Because based on the different level pressure, you will get a different level of dramatic shade.
  • Also, to get a different type of artwork, practicing with different strokes is similarly essential.

Step 02: Do practice on the pork belly to get a realistic feel

It would be best if you can get a realistic feel while practicing. Consider purchasing a pork belly from your nearest grocery shop or online because pork belly will give you a realistic feel.

This way, you will be able to understand how much pressure you need to give. As well as you will understand what level of strokes is required to get a gorgeous tattoo.

Following this method, you can get a precise understanding of pressure and stroke level.

Step 03: Pick the right tattoo machine and needle size

Best Wireless Tattoo Machine
Photo: Best Wireless Tattoo Machine

Do you know you will get different effects using different shader needles? Yes, different shader needles will offer you different effects.

Such as, if you use a large shader needle, you will get a softer shade. On the other hand, a smaller shader needle offers a more coloring effect.

Make sure the needle is not more than 1mm (0.039 inches) wide for shading purposes.

Step 04: Fine-tune the tattoo machine based on your tattoo effect

Be remindful; you will get a softer shade if you provide slower speed on the human skin.

And faster speed will give you a darker shade.

Firstly, learn what type of shade your customer is looking for. Depending on that, adjust the machine speed.

Step 05: Preparation of the tattooing area

An excellent tattoo shading impressively relies on the preparation of the tattooing area. Before making the shading, it is crucial to prepare the tattooing area for creating shade.

For this, you need to use antibacterial soap, warm water, and a razor or blade.

Give a thorough wash to the tattooing area using antibacterial soap and warm water. Shave the area using a razor or blade.

Ensure you have cleaned all the stencil marks, any adhesive dregs, or any other types of greasy residue that may create problems during the shading session.

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Method 02: Tattoo Planning

Step 01: Learn customer’s requirement in terms of designing the tattoo

Before starting, always ask your customers how they want to show off their tattoo. Even if they say, you can follow your techniques. And they don’t have any preference, and they have full trust in you. It would be best to keep them in the loop of the decision-making process.

Step 02: Light and shadow factor

Tattoo shading is not only about art; it is also about technique. Give your customer an approximate lighting idea of the tattoo.

  • The estimated light source should always be the same during your shading. The shade should not look like it is incomplete. If the upper part of an arm is illuminated, the lower portion has to be darker.
  • Try to make the shade using harmonizing color if you have the plan to use color. Grab the colored wheel and get the harmonizing color you used for the lining. This way, your tat will get a pop look.

Step 03: Draw and show the tattoo sketch to your customer

Tattoo Sketch
Photo: Tattoo Sketch

It is a natural curiosity that the customer would love to get an idea of the tattoo. And can assist you in determining how to sketch it by sharing his/her opinion. Draw some practice sketches to make the design right.

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Method 03: Tattoo Shading

Step 01: Turn on your tattoo machine

Make sure; you are using the right tattoo machine which is specially made for shading. Also, using the ideal needle and needle size with the tool is considerably crucial. Besides, speed adjustment on the power supply is similarly vital.

Many tattoo professionals advised the lower speed is suitable for shading instead of lining.

Step 02: Give the design a rest between shading and lining

Tattoo Shading and Lining
Photo: Tattoo Shading and Lining

It is totally unnecessary to start doing shading just after completing the lining. You should give 15 – 20 minutes’ rest between shading and lining. Thus, the tattoo will get some time to dry.

Many tattoo artists recommend making 2 separate sessions for lining and shading.

This way, your tattooing task will be much more comfortable, and you can take mental preparation for the shading session.

Moreover, your customers also can come up with an idea regarding how they want their shading to appear.

Step 03: Apply Vaseline all the way through the shading process

It is essential to keep the skin protected and lubricated during the shading process.

Applying Vaseline will be the right solution in this regard.

So, don’t hesitate to apply Vaseline all the way through the shading process as much as you need.

Step 04: Follow circular motion system

Start making tattoo shade from the center of the design. Following the circular motion system, you can complete the tattoo shade process without any hassle. It is obvious; darker areas need more pressure than lighter areas. This requires a lot of concentration and feeling. So, you have no other choice except practicing about controlling pressure levels.

  • Making tattoo shade following circular motion is much gentler than going to and fro.

Step 05: Wipe off if there is any excess ink on customer’s skin

If any excess tattoo ink is available on the customer’s skin, clean it. Use a soft wet towel to do this. While cleaning, be careful not to make any contact with the tattooing area.

You need to learn how to examine your work. If you give an intent look at the tattoo shade, you will find some inconsistent shading in different areas. In this case, you need to go back to fix this issue. Change the shade to eliminate any inconsistencies in the specific tattoo.

  • Make sure you have removed all remaining ink once the shading process is finished.

Step 06: Alter the complexity of the shade by fine-tuning the weight of the tricks

Basically, your brushwork should be “light to heavy.” As I stated earlier, to get a darker shade, you need to give more pressure, and to get a lighter shade, less pressure is necessary.

For sure, you are not looking to get a gradient tattoo shade look. So, following this transition, you can get a smooth tattoo shade.

Step 07: As per requirement, dilute the ink

Do you want to get a grey pigment? Dip the needle tip into distilled water and effortlessly dilute black pigment to your required grey pigment.

Following the below technique, you will get a natural-looking gradient.

This process is beneficial as changing the needle becomes unnecessary. This way, time is saved.

  • Tilt the needle in a circular motion to effectively blend the tattoo tones as you apply the ink.

Step 08: If necessary alter the ink capacity in the needle mouth

Undoubtedly, shading a tattoo is a time-consuming method.

However, if you apply pressure using a needle, it supports if you are uncomfortable with the capacity to create gradients by controlling pressure.

If this is the reality, you have no other way except to alter the ink capacity.

Step 09: Don’t forget the clean the needle

Before you move to a lighter shade from a darker shade, make sure you have cleaned the needle with running water. The needle needs to get a good rinse; otherwise, you will end up in a mess with your shading process.

Considerations And Ideas For Tattoo Over Scars

Tips and tricks

  • Consider admitting yourself to an art class. Learning the basics of art will give you an advantage while doing tattoo shade.
  • There is a saying, “Practice makes a man perfect.” To become skilled in tattoo shade, do practice, practice, and practice.
  • Be patient in learning the tattoo shade technique.
  • Shading is a great way to cover up a mistake. Previous shading mistakes can easily be hidden by doing a new tattoo shade.

Proper Way of Bandaging the Tattooing Area

Bandaging
Photo: Bandaging

As you have already completed shading a tattoo, now you have to disinfect the stained area. It means you need to clean up the tattooing area and bandage it, which is now an open wound on your customer’s skin.

You must keep all the used equipment separately after completing the shading session. And you mustn’t use this equipment on another customer until you sterilize them properly.

Depending on the size and placement of the tattoo, you need to choose the material to bandage the shading area.

But general supplies are:

  • Antibacterial soap.
  • Soft towel.
  • Surgical tape.
  • Medical bandage.

Once you complete the shading process, give the tattooing area a rest for 10 – 15 minutes. Using the soft towel blot the plasma and blood from the wounded area.

After blotting the blood and plasma, wash the whole shading area using the best tattoos antibacterial soap. During this time, you can give an intent look to learn whether you have missed any spots or not.

Then take the best tattoo numbing cream or any ointment, apply it to the shading area, and use a medical bandage to bandage the wound.

If you have designed a larger shading area, the best practice is, take a paper towel, fold it to make the paper towel double-layered, place the paper towel on the designated area and use surgical tape to cover it gently.

Moreover, using a proper medical bandage is a common and widely used fruitful practice.

You will get different sizes and shapes of medical bandages in the market. And they are compatible in covering any sized tattoo.

The medical dressing comes with an adhesive option on one side. So, simply take away the back and put it over the tattooing area.

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Frequently Asked Question

  • How much pain do I need to bear during a shading session?

It entirely depends on a few factors. First of all, you need to know how much pain you can tolerate. The least fat areas are the most sensitive areas, and you should not get a shaded tattoo in these areas.

For the required shading portion, apply the darker shade. And for the highlighting areas, use lighter shades.

  • Is it normal in getting fine lines on freshly made shading tattoos?

If you are getting fine lines on freshly made shading tattoos, be noted this way the ink is drying. Don’t scratch the area. Let the area heal naturally.

Wrap Up

Learning how to shade a tattoo is not a complicated task. I have said several times in this article, which is, do practice; without practice, you can’t get a beautiful-looking shade tattoo.

If you have a dream and you love tattoo design, nothing can stop you from achieving your dream.