How to Draw Flames and Smoke

Flames and smoke are classic tattoo design elements that you’ll want to have in your arsenal as an artist. They can help you easily improve the flow of any design. If you struggle with drawing realistic-looking flames and smoke, use this tutorial to get yourself started.

In this article, we’ll explain how to use Procreate to design tattoos with flames and smoke, including:

  • Choosing the right brushes
  • Drawing realistic flames
  • Drawing and tattooing smoke

Flames and Smoke Tattoo Tutorial

You’ll want to use different layers for the different steps in this design.

Drawing Flames

Flames flow nicely into each other, so you don’t need to worry about perfectly straight lines. You’ll want to focus more on creating a realistic shape for the flames.

Choose Your Brushes

For flames and smoke, choose brushes that allow you to create flowing lines and shapes. We like the Murder Weapons set by Dave Tevenal. The set comes with a collection of particle smoke brushes that give flames a realistic look. 

The harder you press down with the brush, the thicker your lines will be. If you’re using a thin brush or pencil, you will need to gauge how thick you want your flames to be, and draw two lines to outline them. With the particle smoke brushes (or a similar set), you can use thick single strokes. Later, you’ll come back and use the edges of your thick lines to create an outline.

Consider Body Shape

The shape of your flames will depend on where on the body you are tattooing. Consider the natural flow of the body, and what direction your flames should go. 

For example, on an arm tattoo (pictured above), your flames and smoke will need to follow the shape and flow of the arm. Your design will also need to be narrower than a design for a larger area, like in a back tattoo.

Tips for Shaping Your Flames:

  • Create a layer with guidelines for you to follow based on the flow of the body
  • Turn down the opacity on your guideline layer
  • These lines will help you decide where to put your flames and how to shape them

Draw a Basic Sketch

Create a new layer for your sketch. Using your guideline layer, create a natural, flowing shape for your flames. This layer doesn’t need to be perfect– you’ll go back over it later to create a final outline.

Erase and edit this layer as many times as you need to until you feel happy with your design. The more you go over your lines, the thicker and darker they will be.

Finalize Your Flames

Hide your guideline layer and turn down the opacity on your sketch. Create another layer on top of your sketch for your final design of the flames. 

Using a thinner brush, outline the flames with strokes that flow together. Try not to use perfectly straight or disjointed lines.

When you are satisfied with the outline, you can hide your sketch layer so that the only layer visible is the final design. You can then add a top layer to color and shade your flames.

Drawing Smoke

The process of drawing smoke is similar to drawing flames, but when tattooing, the two are very different. You can use the same guidelines you used for your flames– smoke will follow the same general shape and flow.

There are two things that separate smoke and flames when designing tattoos:

  • Negative space
  • Depth

Use Negative Space

When drawing smoke, follow the same steps we outlined for flames. Choose your brushes, create guidelines, draw a basic sketch, then outline your final design as a stencil.

When it’s time to tattoo the design, you will tattoo the negative space in your stencil. Instead of tattooing in between the two lines of your outline, you’ll shade outside the lines (see images below).

Shading is added outside the stencil to create a smoke effect.

Smoke can take up as much space as you want. You can use it to fill in space on a larger tattoo, like a sleeve.

Add Depth

Smoke wafts all around, rather than being confined to a certain area like flames. You can add a realistic touch to your smoke by putting some behind other objects in the tattoo. Above, you can see some smoke floating behind the candle– this adds depth to the tattoo.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

Learning how to draw tattoo designs is an important step in your journey, but it can also be pretty eye-opening to how difficult tattooing can be. Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to level up your skills and become a professional tattoo artist. 

However, finding the straight-forward information you need to progress is difficult. And with so much out there online, it’s hard to avoid picking up bad habits from incorrect and outdated resources.

This is one of the biggest struggles new tattooers face, and too many talented artists have given up their goal of getting into tattooing because of the years it would take to unlearn their bad habits. 

That’s why aspiring artists are learning to tattoo with the Artist Accelerator Program’s structured course. As a student, you learn every step of the tattooing process from professional artists with the experience and advice you need to build your skills and create incredible tattoos. 

With the Artist Accelerator, you can stop wasting time searching through incorrect information. You just get the clear, easy-to-understand lessons you need to start improving fast… along with support and personalized feedback from professional artists in our online Mastermind group.

Over 2500 students have already gone through the course, with many of them opening up their own studios. If you want to join them and learn the skills you need to start tattooing full time faster…

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

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Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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