How to Improve Linework for Beginners

Being able to create professional-level linework means having good saturation, perfect needle depth, and no shakiness. If you can’t tattoo good lines, it is impossible to reach the next level in your tattooing. 

If you’re struggling to create perfect linework, you’re not alone. That’s why, in this article, we’ll be breaking down how to:

  • Hold and angle your tattoo machine correctly
  • Stay stable while you’re tattooing to avoid shakiness
  • Make sure you’re always hitting the right depth in the skin

How to Improve Your Lining Skills

Whether your lines are shaky or you’re struggling with other linework problems, here are a few near-instant fixes that can help with your lining:

While the type of tattoo machine you have might change how you hold your machine slightly, the technique is mostly the same. 

Place your middle finger right underneath the cartridge. This is where the majority of the weight of the machine will rest. Your index finger and thumb will be around the sides of the grip, and your ring and pinky fingers will rest against the skin. 


Use Three Points of Contact

Your tattoo machine vibrates, and your own body is going to shift a bit as you’re tattooing. With so much movement happening, you need to increase your stability to make sure your lines don’t look shaky.

The best way to do this is by using 3 points of contact:

  • Tuck your elbow into your ribcage
  • Place the side of your palm on the skin or massage table
  • Hook the pinky of your tattooing hand to the thumb of your stretching hand

You can think of it as a tricycle vs. a unicycle. The more points of contact (wheels) that you have touching the ground, the more stable you will be. 

Because your pinky is hooked to your stretching hand, which is holding the skin, you are able to better stabilize yourself. Once you get comfortable tattooing, you don’t have to connect your pinky to your stretching hand.


Even if you’re working on a flat fake skin, make sure to practice stretching the skin.


Understand Depth Control

It is easier to see your linework when there is a small space between the tip of your cartridge and the skin. However, that means it’s easier to accidentally go too deep in the skin.

The best way to manually control your needle depth is to use your ring and pinky fingers as a guard. If you keep them tucked under your machine, you can keep it steady and make sure you don’t go too deep in the skin. Your goal is to stay about 1-2mm deep in the skin, depending on which body part you’re tattooing. 

On fake skin, you can still tell if your depth is off, even if you can’t cause blowouts on it. If your lines look light or scratched in, you’re too shallow. If you flex the fake skin and can see that your needle cut the skin, you’re too deep.


Your pinky will need to glide along the skin to keep the needle depth consistent. This can be difficult if you’re pulling long lines. In order to make sliding easier, you can put some Vaseline on your glove over your pinky finger.


Practice Line Work Drills

A quick way to get better at lining is to practice tattooing perfectly straight lines. Print off a full sheet of straight lines, some S's, and some perfect circles. Transfer them over to fake skin and just practice on that. 

After practicing perfectly straight lines and getting comfortable being able to do that, you’ll feel more confident when it comes to daggers and things that need perfectly straight lines.

For example, tattooing a nautical star requires you to do all perfectly straight lines. If you mess up one line, you're going to clearly be able to see that it was a mistake. Focusing on trying to tattoo those perfectly is going to help you improve quickly.


Push Big Needles

When you push your lines (instead of pulling them with the needles going backward with your hand), it’s easier to get cleaner lines. This is especially important when you’re using bigger liners, like the 14RL Brandon is using in the video.


Tattoo at the Right Angle

When you’re tattooing, you don’t want to hold the machine straight up on top of the skin. Instead, tilt your machine back a bit (into your hand).

Pro Tip:

If you’re using a big liner, you’ll need to move the machine a little more into an “upright” position to make sure all the needles go into the skin. If you hold it at too far of an angle, some of the needles won’t be able to reach the skin.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

examples of students own tattoo

Learning how to do perfect linework 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?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
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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