Lining & shading techniques for tattooing

Updated July 20, 2017

Most tattoos cannot be created without both a liner needle and a shading needle. Flat and round needles are available for both lining and shading, depending on what type of tattoo is being created. Using shading in a tattoo is one of the hardest techniques to learn when starting out. Perfecting the use of even a liner needle takes time and effort, but will certainly pay off.

Liner Needle

A liner needle is the first needle used when tattooing. It is used to outline the tattoo. When tattooing with a liner needle, the dial of the contact screw should be adjusted so that the distance between the front spring and the needle is about 1.25mm, or the thickness of a dime. When using a liner needle, voltage should be set to six or seven volts. Outlines should be done fluidly with little to no stopping of the gun.

Flat Magnum Shaders

Flat magnum shaders have multiple needles arranged in two rows. For any shading needle, the contact screw dial will need to be adjusted so that the distance between the front spring and needle is about 1.85mm, or the thickness of a nickel. Always shade in a linear movement. Shading in circles will rip the skin, leading to scars and even blood poisoning. Machine voltage when shading should be adjusted to eight or nine volts.

Round Magnum Shaders

Round magnum shaders have multiple needles that are arranged in a circle. This needle is generally used for smaller areas to apply detail. It is especially useful when shading at different values. For light shading, dip the needle in water before tattooing in order to dilute the ink and create a smoother application. You can also add drops of white if an area of shading has become too dark. Unlike flat magnum shaders, round magnum shaders can be shaded using a circular movement. A single area can be filled in with three circular movements of the needle.


Adding too much depth to a needle can result in the needle's puncturing the skin too deeply, which can damage the skin and may ruin the tattoo. Always check the distance between the front spring and needle. Never reuse a needle, sterilise the tattooing area and tattoo gun, and apply green soap to wash away blood and tattoo ink without irritating the skin.


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About the Author

Alec Cunningham writes for the entertainment section of two newspapers located in Knoxville, Tenn. She also writes a biweekly photography column for a famous Australian photographer's website. Cunningham began writing professionally in 2010 and is currently working on her bachelor's degree in journalism at Tusculum College.