How to Tattoo Stippling Shading

Stippling is a style of shading that uses “dots” of ink in the skin to create the illusion of shading. 

Stipple shading has become more popular recently, with tons of people wanting to get designs that use this style.

However, if you’re new to tattooing, figuring it out on your own can be frustrating. Which is why, in this article, we’ll be breaking down:

  • Different tattoo shading techniques for stippling
  • How to pick the right needles and machine voltage
  • How to move your hand while you’re stipple shading

How to Set Up Your Machine for Stipple Shading

Stipple shading is very different from most other tattoo techniques. This means you’ll need to set up your machine differently, too.

Use Small Liner Needles

You need to make sure that you're using small enough liners to be able to make small punctures in the skin. The smaller the ink deposits in the skin, the easier it will be to get that “smooth” shading look. 

Using a three or a five round liner is your best bet.

Run Your Machine on a Low Voltage

When you’re stipple shading, use a machine that can run on a super-low voltage. Not all machines can do this, and you might have to “bump-start” your machine (explained below).


Run your machine on a four or a five voltage so it’s easier to get smooth blends. This voltage is way lower than what you would use for any other technique. You do not want to try to do linework when your machine's running this low.


This voltage is on a rotary-style machine. It will be different on a coil machine.

Rotary with a Soft Hit

Ideally, you’d want to do this style of shading with a rotary that has a soft hit. Most of the time, rotary machines are direct drive machines, meaning they have no “give” to them. 

However, you don’t want your machine hitting too hard. For example, an Inkjecta with a super-soft bar on it (pictured above) will make it easier to get all the smooth transitions needed for this style. 

Bump Start Your Machine

If you have a machine that does not run on a super-low voltage, all you have to do is bump the back part of your machine or the actual cam. This should start your machine up. 

If you need to, you could always turn your voltage up before turning it back down to get the machine to start in the first place. 

As long as you can get the machine to start running at this low voltage, it will continue to run. 

How to Move Your Hands While Stipple Shading

For most of your stipple shading, you’ll want to do the exact motion you would use for whip shading or pendulum shading. 

You’ll be moving your hands quickly while your machine is running at a low voltage. This means you won’t be getting a solid line. Instead, you’ll be getting a bunch of tiny dots because there is enough time between each down motion of the needle for you to leave a “space” between ink deposits. 

The goal is to lightly brush those little dots into the skin. Because you’ll be at a deeper needle depth when you begin the whip shading motion, those dots will be darker. As you whip your needle out, the dots will be lighter. 

Whip Motion vs. Pendulum Motion

For most of the tattoo, you’ll just want to use a whip shading motion, especially when the shading is coming out of a corner, like this:

However, on a bigger area, you might want to use the pendulum shading method. This works well for bigger areas that need to be shaded in a way that looks more like a “solid” fill. You’ll still want to move your machine quickly for this method. 

You can slow your hand speed down a bit if you’re trying to get a more saturated/darker area. In this case, you’ll go over the saturated area slowly and then speed up as you go: 

This will give you more transitions and add more definition and depth to your tattoos.

Muscle Memory

Stipple shading feels very different from any other type of shading you’ll use in your career. This is mostly because it is way faster than any other technique. That speed can make it hard to catch onto at first.

It’s highly recommended that you practice on fake skin until you:

  • Get used to moving your hands quickly
  • Build muscle memory
  • Learn to build up tones with stipple shading

Stipple shading has become incredibly popular in the industry. Once you build up muscle memory and master this style, you won’t have any issues finding clients that love it.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Learning how to do stipple shading is an exciting 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
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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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