How to Shade Tattoo Designs

Written by michelle renee
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How to Shade Tattoo Designs
Tattooing has become a contemporary art form. (tattoo man image by MAXFX from

Tattooing has been a cultural tradition for centuries and in modern times, has become a contemporary art form. There are many different techniques used by tattoo artists worldwide, and there are proper ways to shade tattoo designs.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • A tattoo machine
  • Sterile needles
  • Sterile water
  • Desired colours of ink
  • Damp cloth

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Dip the tattoo needle in the ink. The type of design you are creating will determine what colour or colours to use. If you are trying to achieve a vibrant shade or dark black shading, apply the non-diluted ink to the skin. For lighter and more subdued shades, lightly dip your needle in sterile water or witch hazel to minimise colouring.

    How to Shade Tattoo Designs
    Shading a tattoo brings it to a three-dimensional level (tiger tattoo image by Dmitri MIkitenko from
  2. 2

    Hold the needle at a sideways tilt. For neat and accurate shading, the tattoo gun needles should be moved across the skin as if you were painting. The darker the colour desired, the slower the needle should be moved. For lighter-coloured shading, move the needle faster.

    How to Shade Tattoo Designs
    Colors can be blended by shading tattoo designs. (tattoo woman image by ennavanduinen from
  3. 3

    Adjust the depth and pressure of your needle. The tattoo needle must be applied with pressure levels corresponding to the desired effect. Darker shading requires slightly deeper penetration, while lighter shading calls for a lighter amount of pressing.

    How to Shade Tattoo Designs
    Darker shades call for more pressure on the needle. (tattoo image by no-Face from
  4. 4

    Clean off the flesh before re-dipping your needle. When shading tattoos, a considerable amount of excess ink will be left at the surface of the skin. In order to clearly see your outlines, be sure to wipe the skin with a damp cloth periodically throughout the tattooing process, and before each time you dip the needle in fresh ink.

    How to Shade Tattoo Designs
    Frequently wipe ink from the skin to enhance visibility. (tattoo image by shime from
  5. 5

    Add white ink to create highlighting effects. Adding a small amount of white ink to other tattoo colours can help to bring out the shading effects of the artwork. A small amount of white ink to black shading may add grey effects; adding it to coloured shading may brighten or lighten the artistic effect.

    How to Shade Tattoo Designs
    White ink is often used to enhance tattoo shading. (tattoo image by shime from

Tips and warnings

  • Holding the skin taught and stretching it slightly helps in creating neater and cleaner lines and shading. Always use clean sterile needles and equipment and provide a sanitary work area.
  • Never re-use needles or tattooing equipment without exercising proper sterilisation procedures.

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