How To Shade A Tattoo

Shading a tattoo is an advanced technique that separates the skilled from the unskilled. Shading offers an artist the ability to bring depth into their work and bring an image to life. It is the difference between a two dimensional tattoo and a three dimensional tattoo. An un-shaded tattoo can look old fashioned or unprofessional, while a shaded tattoo will really “pop” and come to life. If you want a reputation as a great tattoo artist you will definitely have to learn to shade.

Where To Learn?

Learning to shade through an apprenticeship is the most common way for an artist to get schooled in the techniques. Within this relationship you can watch repeatedly how it is done and get a chance to experiment with your mentor watching over you. This will prevent you from having to practice on someone without guidance. It is best to learn all you can about shading before beginning your apprenticeship to save time and make it an easier process. There are shading tutorials available online as well as books on shading. This is a good place to start.



Shading can be applied to both color tattoos or black and grey tattoos. Black and grey tattoos are a traditional style of tattoo that some think began in prisons. Because color pigments were not available to create contrast, artists learned to use shading as a way to give depth to their work. This early form of shading consisted of varying degrees of ink being applied, ranging from dark black to light grey. Needle depth and ink consistency were, and still are today, the tools for shading.

Steps To Shading.

Today, shading is done with a tattoo machine and follows these steps: First dip the machine into your black or colored ink. If a lighter shade is needed for a particular section of work, dip the needles into sterile water before applying. A mixture of approximately 50/50 ink and water will generally give you a medium grey color. An artist can choose to mix ink with water or even witch hazel beforehand, to create a grey color.

To create great shading, the needles of the tattoo machine are best applied at an angle – tilted and used like a paint brush. The slower the movement the darker the shade and in turn, the faster the strokes the lighter the shade. Lotion can be applied to the skin beforehand to assist in getting a nice even glide when shading. Needle depth can be adjusted according to the shade desired as well. The darker areas are injected deeper while the lighter areas require less depth.<.p>

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