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Instructions to make a tattoo ink gray wash

Updated July 20, 2017

Gray wash is a method of shading tattoos using only black or grey inks. The various techniques of preparing and applying grey wash allow tattoos to have the same depth and shading as pencil drawings. How tattoo artists prepare and apply grey wash is largely a matter of individual style and technique -- some tattoo artists refer to a type of ink as grey wash while for others grey wash is the name of a technique that includes the handling of the machine. You can make a tattoo ink grey wash using a variety of methods.

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  1. Create a series of grey shades by diluting black tattoo ink. Make a series of four ink caps -- drop one drop of black ink into the first cap and then add an additional drop to each successive cap. Fill each of the four caps with clean water, drop by drop. Add one more cap with undiluted black ink for line work. Clean the needle tube in between using different grey tones like you would with different colours. Many professional tattoo artists use a technique like this one; an equal number of professionals believe it is a mistake to ever dilute your inks and use a different technique.

  2. Create a special grey wash ink using vodka, propylene glycol, glycerine and black pigment.

  3. Purchase a premade grey wash from a tattoo ink distributor. Kuri Sumi is one brand of commercially available grey wash; it is suggested to read a tutorial on using Kuri Sumi grey wash (see the Resources).

  4. Work with the black ink by diluting it directly in a cap of water. Dip the needle in the cap of black ink then follow it with a dip in a cap of plain water. Additional quick dips in the water adjust your shade. Set the machine low, and work the skin slowly. Check the colour of your shade on a paper towel before applying. Very few professional artists use this technique.

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About the Author

Joe Capristo began writing professionally in 2005. He has experience in public education, writing documents, lessons and teaching materials for Guilford County Schools. Capristo has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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