Tattoo Outlining and Line Work Guide

Tattoo Outlining and Line Work Guide

Outlines and line work are two of the most critical and complex aspects of a good tattoo and are considered the foundation of tattooing. Outlining a tattoo requires careful attention and focus. A well-done outline will confidently demonstrate your professionalism and highlight that you have a solid foundation.

Choosing the suitable needle for outlining a tattoo

There are variety kinds of tattoo needles made up of a number of small needles that are bounded together in various shapes and with varying degrees of tightness.

Choose tattoo needle type and size

Round liner tattoo needles are simply pins that are soldered in a circular pattern around a central area. They usually come with a liner label (RL = round liner). Round lines are great for technical parts, such as small lines and details, because they pack very tightly.

When you want to complete a thicker and bolder outline, you may want to consider using a loose round liner to get a crisp, strong line. Using more needles reduces the stinging sensation. For back work, use three or five needle outliner for contouring rather than a single stitch to get a thicker, smoother line. 

Choosing tattoo needle taper

The lower the taper length, the more ink flows into the skin at one time. A higher taper measurement means that the ink flows more slowly into the skin. This makes those higher tapers ideal for working with blacks and grays, as you have more time to work with the skin before the color is fully filled.

Choosing a taper size is a personal preference. If you are unsure, use the Bug Pin taper. Most process of choosing a tattoo needle, preference comes with experience.

ST = Short Taper
Used as surface needles, for filling large areas.

MT = Medium Taper
Suitable for thicker contours and for filling coloured areas.

LT = Long Taper
All-rounder, ideal for contours as well as shading.

XTL = Extreme Long Taper
Mainly intended for contours.

BP = Bug Pin (The most suitable taper type for line)
Roughened surface transports more colour into the skin. Especially suitable for line work.

Keep the stencil on good and tight

Make sure your stencil is dry before you start. Use a good transfer solution with a fast drying time to keep the transfer time fast and clean. There is a good alternative - Stigma transfer paper allows you to instantly turn your design into a stencil. The thermal facsimile paper is applied and activated by heating. These methods allow you to create designs directly on the paper without having to copy the design. Perfect for creating a solid base for tattoos.

Press a clean wipe over the stencil (do not slide it or it will stain the stencil) to remove excess stencil ink. You may need to repeat this operation several times ...... pressing gently and using a clean wipe each time (otherwise you will double the stencil).

To begin lining, start at the bottom. If you are right-handed, wipe down (away from the stencil) and to the right (as you will start at the bottom right corner of the tattoo and work up and through it). If you are left-handed rub (again, away from the stencil) and to your left (because in this case, you will start at the bottom left corner of the tattoo and work up and across it).
Do not use Vaseline to paint the entire stencil, just a light touch on the area you will be underlining. Do not erase excess ink with large strokes.Tap the excess ink and gently erase it (bottom/right or bottom/left). Dry erase when making lines. Wet erasing, even when wet, will erase the stencil.

How To Outline

  1. The first real step is to fill the reservoir of the machine tip with black tattoo ink. To perform this operation correctly, the machine should not run and the tip should be gently dipped into the ink cap containing the black ink. Now run the machine on a paper towel to test the ink. If the machine ejects and spills out ink. Stop to make adjustments.
    Always tattoo with the machine forward or sideways. Outlining and shading both is done this way. In this direction, the needle has a slight backward pressure on the skin, which keeps the needle at the bottom or in the tube where the ink is located. The rubber pointer controls this position, and tattooing in this direction allows the needles to work where they belong.
    The outline is done from the bottom up. Because sweat, blood and ink will run down, it makes sense to start at the bottom to avoid smudging while working because continuously wiping the area while tattooing removes the stencil, and starting at the bottom position prevents this from happening.
  1. When injecting ink into the skin, the machine should make a subdued sound when the needle touches the skin. This is called a "chokmgdown". If it doesn't sound like this, the machine is probably running too fast, try to slow it down a bit.
  1. When you are on line B, you want to pull the needle out of the skin and over the point where you want the lines to meet. This will lighten the line at the end of it. Then do the same thing in the opposite direction from C to D to lighten the final line. The two lighter parts will combine to form a solid, single, darkened line. So, if point A to D is 100% black, and part D to B in the first stroke is 50% black. Then from C to B and so on, then the part between D and B would be 50% + 50% = 100%, the perfect width and darkness all the way through. Because the skin will absorb the pigment like a sponge, allowing you to pace yourself. If you line slow, then your line will be thick and you will eat up the skin causing scars. If you go too fast, then your lines will be thin and most of them will disappear as they heal. You need to find a happy medium speed. Once you have found your speed of movement, you will want to use that speed on every tattoo. That way, if you have to retouch a tattoo, you don't have to fish at the right speed in order to match the line work. Over time, you will know what feels right and what doesn't. When done right, the lining feels smooth. It feels just right. When it's too light, the lining will be loose and unstable, and when it's too stiff, you'll fall over, just as if your machine is choppy or running rough.