Follow-Along Tattoo: Neo Traditional Molotov Cocktail

As a new tattoo artist, it can be easy to get lost in a tattoo design. Understanding how to progress through a tattoo will make it much easier to get quality practice.

That’s why, in this article, we’ll be walking through a tattoo from start to finish, step by step. We’ll break down:

  • What you need to follow along with this tattoo
  • How to keep your line work consistent
  • How to improve your color tattoos by mixing ink in the tube

How to Tattoo a Molotov Cocktail

Set Up Your Station

Even when you’re practicing on fake skin, you want to act like you’re working on real skin. This includes:

  • Covering your table with plastic barriers.
  • Putting Vaseline down so your ink caps don’t tip over.
  • Stenciling your design and letting it dry so you don’t wipe it off.
  • Having Vaseline, paper towels, and a rinse cup at your station.

Any time you’re doing a color design, you’ll want a rinse cup to make sure you keep your cartridges clean and avoid mixing colors in the tube. You can also touch the needle against a paper towel after rinsing it to make sure all excess water and ink is gone.

You should also clean your needle before you switch to a new needle. That way, if you go back and use it again it will not be clogged up with dried ink.

In this design, you can see how the design follows a natural “S-shape” that will flow with the body. This is a huge part of drawing good neo traditional designs. 

Line Work

Like any tattoo, you’ll want to do all your line work before doing any shading or color. 

Pour Your Ink

Pour your black ink for lining. If you are outlining the flames in red (like Brandon does in the video), then you will need to pour red ink as well.

We recommend waiting to pour your other colors to avoid them drying out while you’re doing your linework.

Pro Tip: 

If you haven’t tattooed for a while, make sure you shake up your ink bottles so that the pigment is mixed well. If it’s not, your tattoo ink might look light or feel thick.

Stay Consistent

One of the most important parts of lining your tattoo is being consistent. This way, your lines will look crisp and dark for the entire tattoo. 

  1. 1
    Full black

We recommend floating the needle so that you have more visibility while tattooing. However, if you’re very new to tattooing, you might want to ride the tube to make sure you don’t go too deep in the skin. 

If you want to ride the tube, you’ll hang your needles out ~2mm and then touch the cartridge directly to the skin. If you want to float the needle, you’ll hang your needles out further and manually control your depth so that there is a small gap between the cartridge and the skin.
  1. 2
    Hold Your Machine at an Angle

You always want to hold your tattoo machine at a slight angle. 

This will make it easier to see where you’re putting ink in the skin. It will also help you get darker lines because each ink deposit will overlap. (If you hold the machine perfectly up-and-down, you’ll be able to see each individual ink deposit, which will make your lines look lighter.)

  1. 3
    Move at a Steady Pace

Part of having consistent lines is making sure you’re moving at the right pace for your voltage. If you move super slow and then speed up later, your lines will look inconsistent. 

It is easier to move at a steady pace if you apply a thin layer of Vaseline over the skin. This makes it easier to slide your hand across the skin.

  1. 4
    Whip Out to Join Your Lines

If you have to stop part way through a line, make sure to “whip out” the line where you are going to pick up your machine. 

This keeps you from having a clear stopping point in the middle of the line. Then, you can just pick back up with your line work where you left off, and the whole line will look consistent.


Make sure you are not accidentally lining any part of the smoke.

  1. 5
    Have a Pivot Point

There are a lot of curves in this molotov cocktail design. 

Because of that, you want to make sure your hand is in a position to create a full curve and still remain steady. For example, using three points of contact can help keep you steady. 

Use Different Line Weights

For the outline of the design, you’ll use a bigger liner. However, when you’re ready to outline details, you’ll want to move to a smaller liner. 

Using different line weights is one of the major things that separates neo traditional from the American traditional style.


To add color to your design, it’s best to switch to a mag needle.


At this point in the tattoo, you’ll pour the rest of your ink colors. We recommend pouring them from darkest to lightest, as that’s the order you’ll be applying them in.

Gray Wash

Use gray wash (Brandon uses a 3-drop gray wash) to add in all your shading. When it comes to the smoke effect in this tattoo, you’ll be shading outside the lines on the stencil so that the smoke appears lighter than the background. 

Be careful not to go too dark with your gray wash. Instead, keep things lighter, and then you can always go back in and build up your tones.

Pro Tip: 

Dip into your white ink before dipping into your gray wash to get a more toned version of your gray wash.

Blending Colors in the Tube

To create more tones and depth, you can combine colors in the tube by dipping into two colors. 

For example, in the video, Brandon goes back and forth between the two green tones to show lighter and darker areas inside the bottle.


You can make the orange in the flame by mixing yellow and a little bit of red in the tube. Normally, you would tattoo orange before yellow, but because you are creating the color in the tube, you will add the orange after tattooing pure yellow.

Pro Tip: 

Yellow makes it easy to overwork the skin because it doesn’t show up well against skin tone right away. When you’re practicing on fake skin, try to get all your yellow in with just one pass. 

Angle Your Mag

You can angle your needle to fit into smaller areas in the tattoo design. This can also help with cross hatching your gray wash. 

However, be careful that you don’t turn your mag to the side. You do not want all the sharps in the needle to line up and slice across the skin all at once. This will cause damage to the skin.  

Use Your Liner to Add Texture

You can dip your clean liner into your color ink to add little details to your design. 


Wherever light would reflect off the bottle, you can go back in with a liner with white ink. 

Pro Tip: 

Be careful not to go overboard with the highlights!

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

In the past, learning in the shop through an apprenticeship was the only way aspiring artists could learn how to tattoo alongside a professional tattoo artist. Today, however, artists are skipping the apprenticeship to learn on their own time at home with the Artist Accelerator Program.

The world’s oldest and largest online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program’s easy-to-follow, 9-step framework lets anyone go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist without the year of grunt work or hazing. 

Inside the program, you’ll be taught everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship by professional tattoo artists and receive feedback on your art and tattoos in the program’s private online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator Program’s 9-step framework to break into the tattoo industry, with many opening their own studios or working in shops around the world. 

If you’d like to see the framework they used, 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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