Shading is one of the fundamental skills of tattooing. However, a lot of new artists struggle to create smooth transitions from black to skin tone.Because shading is what creates depth, a tattoo without proper shading techniques will look flat.
To help, in this article we’ll be breaking down:
In the video, Brandon chose to tattoo a flower. This is because flowers allow you to practice every shading technique just in a single tattoo.Other designs might require you to stick to one type of shading - either whip shading or pendulum shading, depending on the style. For example, if you're tattooing a traditional piece, you would want to stick with whip shading the whole way through to clearly see all the pepper shading in the tattoo.
Types of Shading
There are four different types of shading:
Also called “filling,” you move the mag in tight circles to completely fill the area.
If you make your circles too big, you're going to be able to see the individual needle marks from the mag. So you want to keep them small and close together. Additionally, it’s important to keep a steady hand speed, since you’ll want to fill in the space completely the first time. Going over an area multiple times can cause problems with healing.
You'll use this method with tribal or any big, dark areas that you want to completely saturate.
Don’t use lining black for packing black ink. Lining black is made super thin on purpose to avoid having your lines widen over time. If you’re going to pack an area of black, make sure to get a black ink that’s meant for packing. It will be thicker and make it easier to pack.
For this type of shading, you'll be putting the mag into the actual skin and whip it out in an ark motion. Increase your hand speed so the area starts dark and then transitions into lighter dots in the skin.
Instead of just putting the needle in the skin and whipping forward, you'll instead use a brushing motion. This lets you slowly build up your tones using a back-and-forth motion.
After that, you can turn your mag and continue the same motion in a different direction (this is called cross hatching).
Cross hatching is not necessarily a shading method, but it is definitely a way to build up your shades.
Cross hatching in multiple directions will smooth out all the dots in the skin and build up more tone.For example, only going one way will leave all your dots a similar pattern. In the traditional style, you want to see those little dots to do pepper shading. Cross hatching, however, saturates the area a little bit more, allowing transitions to look more smooth and clean.
Also called “light shading” or “feather shading,” this method of shading is similar to pendulum shading, except you’ll barely go into the skin. You’re just lightly brushing.
Brush shading works best in areas where you want a bit more shading - without it being super powerful.
Tattoo Using Each Shading Method
With each of these four different techniques, the most important part is your hand motion. it's just a matter of how you're really moving with your hand.
For this video, Brandon used an 11 curve mag. We recommend using curved mags when you are first starting out. Since they don’t have the sharp corners that normal mags have, you’re less likely to over work the skin.
Brandon used standard needles for this design (not bugpins). If you're doing realism, black and gray, or want perfect transitions, you’ll want to use bugpins.
Shading a Flower
Start your shading by filling in areas that need to be completely black.
With whip shading, you want to move from your black line to light, peppery dots.
Do not press too hard in the skin. The mag should go into the skin at the correct depth, and then you work the needle up and out. That's what creates the different tones as you can see.
After you’ve done whip shading in one direction, you can turn the mag to go another way.
Begin Gray Wash
Dip the needle into your darkest gray wash (~6 drops black) and add extra shading in areas in the background that you want to be darker.
To feather out the shading, it’s best to use the pendulum motion. For this, you’ll use a lighter gray wash (~3 drops black) to build off the darker shading.
Brush shading uses the same motion as the pendulum shading, but you only go very lightly into the skin. This lets you build up more subtle tones and add finishing touches.
Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program
Learning when to use different shading techniques 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.
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