Tattoo Instruction Archives

tattoo artist smilingLearning how to become a tattoo artist means learning a lot of different styles and techniques.  While it’s tempting to want to jump in with both feet to try a little of everything at once, tattooing is like any other art form. You need to learn basic skills and them build on them as your abilities and confidence grow.

As you work through your apprenticeship, you will develop skills in all of these areas, not to mention learning about all kinds of fascinating techniques that others are using to make their art stand out and to make their customers happy.

There are great techniques out there for adding light an luminosity to your pieces, or for adding texture that looks realistic, for example.

But first, the aspiring tattoo artist will want to learn the basics:


Outlining, or lining, is the technique used to create a basic shape on skin.  Usually done with a round group of needles, lines can vary from very thin to quite thick.  Sometimes, tattoo artists choose to “build up” lines by using multiple passes very close together to make a  thicker line.

While lining is certainly a basic tattooing skill, it is also a very important one.  Even lines are necessary for a smooth, professional tattoo.  They also give important definition to the design.  Lining doesn’t only have to be done with black ink, like the outline in a coloring book.  You can also use color with your round liner to define a particular area of a design.


Coloring is the term used for filling in areas of the design with color.  This may or may not include using black ink, although some artists refer to all blank ink work as ‘shading.”  Depending on the effect you want with your coloring, you may choose from a variety of techniques.  Sometimes you may choose to use a series of small overlapping circles to fill in a space.  In other cases, you may choose to sweep the needle across the skin with varying pressure to create more of a shading effect.

Coloring is usually done from darkest to lightest, rather than working from one side of the tattoo to the other.  This is done for a couple of reasons.  First, this keeps the darker colors from accidentally mixing with the lighter ones.  Also, the needles, tube, and tips will have to be cleaned between colors, and you wouldn’t want to have to do so every five minutes.


Tattoo Shading is one of the things that can really make a tattoo artist.  Someone who is good at shading creates images that have depth and are interesting to look at.  Shading is usually done with black ink, and there are different techniques you can use to create darker or lighter shadows.  For example, you can start with heavier pressure at the beginning of a stroke, lightening your touch as you lift the needle off the skin at the end of the stroke.

There are other methods for creating a lighter shade, too.  Some artists will add white to black to make a custom gray.  Others choose to add more water or other fluid to their black.  Of course, the shade matters, but so does the artist’s understanding of how light falls and how to translate that into a tattoo.


Many people are interested in tattoos that include words, so being skilled at lettering can be a major bonus for a tattoo artist.  Trends change, but something that seems to remain fairly constant is the desire to include names or quotations into tattoos.  Creating nice tattoos that incorporate lettering requires you to understand concepts such as the spacing required to lay words out in an attractive way, as well as the form and function of the letters themselves.

A word to the wise when it comes to lettering: use a dictionary!  Too many times, someone leaves a tattoo shop thrilled with their new ink only to have the next person they see point out that something in the design is spelled wrong.  In addition to using a dictionary, have the client sign off on the spelling before you put the needle to skin.

These are just a few of the styles and techniques that a tattoo artists needs to become familiar with, but they do provide a good foundation upon which to build other skills.

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Tattoo ArtistWhen it comes to tattoos, everyone is hoping for the perfect execution.  The client wants a beautiful piece of work that will last a lifetime.  The artist wants the skill and talent to show through.

In order to get create the perfect tattoo, take keep these six steps in mind…

#1: Really Listen to the Client

Whether he or she is looking for a reproduction of a piece of flash or wants something completely original, it is important to hear what is being said.  Getting the design to fit the customer’s vision while representing you as an artist takes some serious skill, but in doing so, you are already on the road to the best possible tattoo.  There’s a reason that tattoo artists spend so much time practicing their drawing and shading skills.  By putting the design on paper first, you can ensure that everyone has the same vision in mind.

#2: Pay Attention to Placement

It’s really common for a customer to have a pretty good idea of the design he or she wants, and it seems they almost always have a specific place they want it.  As the professional, you need to be able to look at the design and the desired location and determine if it’s a good fit.  In some cases, creating a better fit can be as simple as scaling the design up or down in size.  In others, though, you may need to make the client aware that the design really doesn’t work.  Show them how it will appear warped from a different angle, how it interacts with other tattoos already received, etc.  In the end, if you are able to advise the client for a better fit, it will reflect well on you and make for a far better piece of art.

#3: Consider Techniques in Advance

Sure, you will want to make decisions on the fly when you’re inking someone, but having a game plan in advance gives you the opportunity to really think through the best approach.  For example, you may determine that you’d like to create some bloodlines in order to develop some nice boundaries for color without having  to outline them completely in black.  If you were simply sitting down and doing the tattoo without having thought it through in advance, you may have overlooked the possibility of improving the design by using this technique.

#4: Know your Equipment

From the tattoo machine to the pigments and beyond, being experienced and comfortable with your equipment and tools of the trade is incredibly important for the overall quality of the work you will produce.  Of course, you will want to try out other machines and to experiment with new inks, but keep in mind that you want to have a good feel for your favorites.  Each will have its own qualities and quirks, so using those that you know well means that you will have much more control over the finished product.

#5: Be Realistic

A good tattoo artist needs to be aware of his or her limitations and to accept them.  That’s not to say that you don’t want to keep practicing and learning new techniques, but biting off more than you can chew is not going to result in the quality of tattoo that you want to represent your work.  In addition to not choosing to do tattoos that are beyond your skill level, it’s also good practice not to choose to do a design that you object to for some reason.  Again, you would not want it out there representing who you are and what you do.  Additionally, you may inadvertently not do your best work because you don’t actually like the design.

#6: Educate Clients About Aftercare

Most tattoo shops will have a standard “aftercare sheet” with a list of “DO’s and DON’Ts” when it comes to caring for their tattoos in those first few days and weeks.  No matter how much work the tattoo artist puts into the design, it’s just not going to hold up if the client doesn’t follow through on his or her end.  In addition to simply handing the clients a sheet of instructions, take time during the tattoo process to talk about how tattoo ink works and to let them know what they can do to protect the color (staying out of the sun, not submerging in water, avoiding picking the scabs, etc.).  When this conversation happens during the tattoo process, the client sees it as valuable insight coming from a professional, rather than just being instructions on a handout that can be ignored.

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