Tattoo Techniques Needed for Tattoo Shading

Tattoo Technique Guide 2023-Stigma Tattoo

A clear, long-lasting tattoo piece essentially requires good technique to work.
Tattoos Shading or gradients make a tattoo design look more realistic or deeper than a tattoo made up of only lines. Tattoo artists who specialize in shading create images with depth. Most shading techniques are based on using black pigment at the lowest point of the design. This does not mean that shading can only be done with black ink; in realism, colored pigments are often used to create depth and shaded surfaces that make the final design look pleasing to the eye.

Tattoo artists often choose to do shading in the following ways:

  • Whip Shading

Whip shading is accomplished by inserting a needle into the skin and rotating the hand away from the entry point of the needle on a circular axis. If the needle does not enter the skin fast enough to create a solid line, then you are doing whip shading correctly. A fast-moving hand creates a stippling effect that becomes less saturated as the hand is rotated farther along the axis.
How to do whip shading: Touch the needle to the skin. Then drag it across and gently pop the machine away from the skin. When moving the needle down, make sure you are straight down with the tattoo machine.
Suggested Use: 3 round linerWhip Shading|Stigma Tattoo
  • Brush Shading 

Gently rock their elbow from side to side with a soft wrist, moving slowly in one direction.
How to do brush shading:
 Making needle pendulum movements, go the needle down at the center of the swinging motion and up at the end of the swinging motion. Leaves a smooth gradient on the skin with a "feathered edge"
Suggested Use:  Long taper needleBrush Shading|Stigma Tattoo
  • Packing Shading

Moving in small concentric circles. As the ink flows, continuously expands the tattoo shading area you are working on. Slow down your machine and let the ink really settle into the skin. Do not leave the needle on one spot for a long time.
How to do packing shading:
 Move the needle at a 45 degree angle over the skin in a small, controlled, tight circular motion. Make sure that the pressure on the side of the needle is not heavy. 
Suggested Use:  Magnum or round shader
Packing Shading|Stigma Tattoo

  • Opaque Gray Shading

Opaque gray wash is used for the tattoo shading treatment, balancing pigment load and workability. The result is a smooth ink flow that saturates well on the skin and heals solidly and brightly. The opaque gray wash normally will fade by 30% as it heals, using opaque gray settings to build contrasting gray tones, using soft strokes to gradually form smooth shades of contrasting gray from light to dark.
How to do opaque gray shading:
 Mix some white and black ink together in proportion to produce smoother blends and more shades of gray.
Suggested Use:  At Least 7 Magnum

  • Stipple Shading

For most stipple shading, you need to perform the precise motion used for whip shading or pendulum shading. 
How to do stipple shading: Create a dashed effect using a whip action or brush action. In this technique, voltage and the speed of hand movement are very important.
(When your machine is running at a low voltage, you will move your hand quickly. This means you will not get solid lines. Instead, you get a bunch of dots because there is enough time between each downward movement of the needle for you to leave a "space" between the ink dots. Gently brush these dots into the skin. Because you will be at a deeper needle depth when you start the whip shading motion, those dots will be darker. When you pull out the needle, the dots will lighten.)
Suggested Use:  3 round liner with a long taper
Stipple Shading|Stigma Tattoo

  • Trail Shading

The antithesis of whip shading. Instead of drawing circles or whipping, the artist moves the tattoo machine linearly (in a straight line), and the farther you go, the less pigment is left on the skin. The result is a smooth gradation.

Shading is used to highlight and/or recess parts of a design to give it a three-dimensional appearance. Tattoos on the skin are two-dimensional, and proper shading gives the impression that the design stands out in the light and looks more realistic than it really is. The art of shading is more like the contrast between black feathers and lines. It is the science of light and shadow. Where there is a lot of light, there is white. Where there is no light is black.
For the best tattoo needles for coloring, Stigma offers specially designed needles that are a great tool. When using shading on a tattoo you can get very good results and make the tattoo artist unique. The most popular are Magnum needles, round liners and round shaders. Click here to learn more about tattoo needles.