How to Tattoo Fine Lines

Fine line tattoos are designs made of very thin lines, often done with a single needle. This style of tattoo has become a very common trend after gaining popularity through celebrities like Hailey Bieber and Cara Delevigne, as well as social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. 

As fine-line tattoos gain popularity, it’s important to know how they are done and how they heal differently from “normal” tattoos.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

  • What fine line tattoos are and how they differ from other tattoos
  • How to do fine line tattoos
  • Fine line tattoo design ideas

What Are Fine Line Tattoos?

Fine-line tattoos are subtle, thin tattoos that often include softer shading. While the thicker, bold lines that are common in traditional tattoos have been popular for decades, fine-line tattoos are quickly becoming very popular in the industry. 

In order to get beautifully fine lines, the tattoo artist will use either a small needle grouping or even a single needle. 

Many clients appreciate the delicate nature of fine-line tattoos, and the wide range of design options ranging from simple to very intricately detailed makes this type of tattoo very appealing.

Single Needle Tattoos 

Most fine-line tattoos are done with a small needle grouping (like an 03RL) or even a single needle. Single-needle tattoos have been around for centuries, but are becoming more popular in recent years as people appreciate the subtle, refined look of the very thin lines they produce. 

Skin behaves differently with a single needle, so it’s a good idea to practice fine-line designs before tattooing them on a person.

Fine Line Tattoos vs. Micro Tattoos

Micro tattoos (tattoos about the size of a quarter or smaller) are often fine-line tattoos that use a single needle. 

A fine-line tattoo doesn’t necessarily have a size limit. However, they tend to be small, which is why many fine-line tattoos are micro tattoos.

Healing Fine Line Tattoos

Fine-line tattoos go through the same healing process as tattoos with thicker lines and bold coloring, but they may heal faster. Fine-line tattoos may peel and itch less than normal tattoos because there is less ink packed into the space and less overall damage to the skin.* 

Like with other tattoos, the healing process for fine-line tattoos is just a matter of keeping the tattoo clean, keeping it out of the sun, and following your artist’s aftercare instructions. As with thick tattoos, healing time can depend on the body’s immune system. 

*It is easier to go too deep in the skin and cause a blowout with a thinner needle because there is less surface area resistance. However, when tattooing at the proper needle depth, fine-line tattoos tend to heal faster.

Do Fine Line Tattoos Fade Faster?

Because the lines are so thin and delicate, fine line tattoos may fade faster and need more touch-ups than other tattoos. 

As with all tattoos, too much exposure to UV rays from sunlight can cause quicker fading. Clients should keep their tattoos out of the sun as much as possible and use sunscreen when their tattoos will be exposed.

How to Do Fine Line Tattoos

Tattooing fine lines is hard because even a tiny shake looks huge in a thin line. Below, you’ll find a few tips for tattooing fine lines, as well as maintaining your stability while lining so you can eliminate any shakiness.

Note:

When you’re tattooing fine lines, you might want to use a bugpin needle. For example, using a bugpin 5 round liner will look like a standard 3 round liner, but the thinner needles will allow you to be a bit more precise.

1

Use Less Power

When you’re using a big liner, you need more power. A long stroke and a powerful machine will make it easier to push the line into the skin.

When you’re using a really thin liner, it’s very easy for the needle to go into the skin since there is not much surface area putting up resistance. Because of this, you don’t need to use a lot of power. If you use too much, you’re going to end up slicing the skin.

2

Check Your Cartridge

Sometimes, needle cartridges (especially cheaper ones) will have a little extra “wiggle room” between the needle and the edge of the cartridge. This can cause the needle to bounce around inside the cartridge and make your lines look shaky.

While this can cause problems with a larger liner, it can completely ruin a fine-line tattoo because any shake in a thin line will look really big. 

That’s why it’s important to check and make sure there’s no wiggle at all from the needle when it moves in and out of the cartridge. 

3

Use Three Points of Contact

As mentioned above, even a small shake will look huge when you’re tattooing a thin line. To prevent shakiness, you can use three points of contact.

Elbow

First, you’ll want to either tuck your elbow against your ribs or place it on the massage table. This stops any movement of your shoulders and upper arm from affecting your line work.

Palm

Second, you’ll place the palm of your tattooing hand against the skin. This makes sure you’re stable while you move the tattoo machine. “Hovering” your hand off the skin will make it much harder to control your tattoo machine.

Pinky

Third, you’ll connect the pinky of your tattooing hand to the thumb of your stretching hand. Bringing in the extra help from your stretching hand will allow you to remain stable. You can also use this position to manually control your depth

By placing your ring finger and pinky down on the skin, you can create a barrier that keeps your hand from letting the needle go too deep into the skin.

Note:

One of the hardest parts about tattooing thin lines is controlling the needle. Using three points of contact will make controlling the needle much easier. 

4

Keep a Steady Pace

Avoid stopping in one area too long. It'll really tear up the skin. Instead, try to keep a steady pace while doing all of the line work.

5

Press Lightly

You don’t want to press down on the skin super heavily like you would when shading. You don’t even want to press down how you normally would when lining with a regular liner. You want to just barely press into the skin and pull your line steadily.  

6

Use Whip Shading

When shading a fine-line tattoo, you’ll probably want to stick with the same needle you used for your linework. 

To avoid overworking the skin (and to keep with the light, dainty style of fine-line tattoos), you’ll want to stick with light whip shading or stipple shading.

Fine Line Tattoo Design Gallery

Because of their delicate nature, you’ll see lots of thin line tattoos on places like the fingers, neck, and feet. (A helpful rule of thumb is that small fine-line tattoos look best in areas where you might wear jewelry.) Check out the gallery below for fine-line tattoo ideas.

UFO Micro tattoos
Fine line tattoo of hands shaking each other
Fine line geometric shapes forearm tattoo
Flash sheet of one line tattoos
Fully healed fine line tattoos on Hailey Bieber’s fingers
Delicate butterfly fine line tattoos
Fine line script tattoo
Inner bicep bird tattoo made with very fine lines
Fine line silhouette tattoo
Fine line tiny tattoos of stars
Fine line tattoo of flowers growing from an anatomical hearty
Fine line map tattoos
Fine Line Wolf Tattoo
Delicate lined hand tattoo
Fine line and dot work tattoo
Butterfly tattoo that turns into geometric fine lines
Geometric astronaut body art in black ink
Skull and flowers fine line tattoo in black ink
 body art design made with single tattoo needle in black ink
sun body art design by tattoo artist in black ink
delicate tattoos
leaf body art idea

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult. 

The apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattooers to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers. 

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

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

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AUTHOR
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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