Tattoo Tips for Artists: Texture, Highlights, Lining & More

The tattooing process is very detailed. However, if you’ve read any step-by-step tattooing articles, you’ve probably found that there’s still a lot missing. That’s because, most of the time, new artists are looking for the broad strokes of tattooing.

But what about those little details that only professionals can fill in for you?

This article will help you fill in the gaps that other online resources leave out. We’ll be walking through the entire tattoo process, giving you the extra tips and tricks you only learn from years in the shop.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • Our best tips for checking needles and making good stencils
  • Techniques to add texture, blend to skin tone, get thicker lines, and more
  • How to add highlights and keep lighter colors bright

Part 1: Pre-Tattoo Reminders

Tip #1:

Being self-aware lets you improve as an artist.

No reputable tattoo artist looks messy after a tattoo appointment. Wear clothes in dark colors to hide excess ink that gets on you (and to keep from ruining your clothing).

Tip #2:

Check Your Needles to Make Sure They Aren’t Burred

Occasionally, you’ll get a tattoo needle that is damaged. Use an eye loupe to check out your needles before using them. 

The most common things to look out for are bent (burred) or upside-down sharps.

new tattoo needle that is burred

Using an eye loupe can help you see that the tops of these sharps are bent.

Burred Sharps

If one of the sharps is curled up, it is “burred,” and will act like a fish hook in your client’s skin. This not only makes the tattoo more painful, it can also make the tattoo heal badly.

Upside-Down Sharp

If the manufacturer soldered the sharp onto the needle bar upside-down, tattooing with the blunt end will cause your client to bleed and scar a lot more.

Tip #3:

Spray Feet with Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

Feet stink. If your client decides on a tattoo placement that requires them to take their shoe off, you can spray down the entire foot with Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol before the tattoo session to keep it from smelling. 

If your client asks why you’re spraying the whole foot, do not say their feet smell. You can say that you need to make sure the entire area is sterile so that the tattoo can heal properly. This won’t offend them.

Tip #4:

Use Deodorant Instead of Stencil Stuff on Practice Skin

A lot of stencil printers off Amazon offer you a more cost-friendly option than what you’d see in a tattoo shop. However, they tend to come with thinner stencil paper. If you’re using liquid Stencil Stuff to transfer a design from thin stencil paper to practice skin, it tends to glob up and look blurry.

To prevent this, you can use a roll-on deodorant (like Old Spice or Speed Stick) as an alternative to Stencil Stuff to get nice, sharp lines.

Part 2: During the Tattoo Process

Tip #1:

Use a Round Shader or Mag for “Powerlining”

If you’ve ever seen a tattoo artist create really thick lines, there’s a good chance you’re looking at a “powerlining” technique - and you don’t need a giant liner to do it. Here’s a quick breakdown:

tattoo artist using lining technique
tattoo artist powerlining body art technique
tattoo artist using different tattoo styles
tattoo artist using lining technique
tattoo artist powerlining body art technique
tattoo artist using different tattoo styles

Tip #2:

Tattoo Your Dark Colors First

If you wipe excess dark ink off the skin over an area that is already tattooed with a lighter color, the dark ink will stain the light ink. This is what causes a color to look “muddy.” 

However, if you wipe light ink over dark ink, you won’t be able to see it. This is why you always want to start with your darkest color and work your way up. 

We recommend adding colors in the following order:

Additionally, to keep colors from looking muddy, you can:

  • Wipe away from the tattoo
  • Put a thin layer of Vaseline over tattooed skin to protect the color
  • Put plastic wrap over finished areas with lighter colors

Tip #3:

Blend Out to Skin Tone Using Foundation Flesh

If you want to blend a color out to skin tone, don’t dilute the color with distilled water. This will make colors look dull and faded when the tattoo heals.  

Instead, choose a flesh tone close to your client’s skin tone and use the flesh tone ink to blend out the color. This will keep the color looking vibrant after healing.

This technique should not be used for black and grey tattoos.

Tip #4:

Create Texture Using 3 Tones

You can create texture by tattooing a circle in a midtone, adding a shadow in black, and adding a highlight just outside the midtone in white. 

new tattoo tip for beginner tattoo artists working in tattoo parlors

Tip #5:

Wait to Pour White Ink Until the End of the Tattoo

White ink dries very quickly. It’s best to wait until you’re almost done with the tattoo - and you’re ready to add in the final highlights - to pour your white ink. 

We recommend using a 7 Round Shader for adding highlights. Because white ink dries so fast, it can easily get clogged in a liner. 

Additionally, using a plastic tube instead of a steel one prevents any filings from getting into the white ink and turning it grey.

If you do not have an autoclave, do not use steel tubes. Use disposable plastic tubes.

Part 3: Aftercare Instructions and Photography

Tip #1:

Tattoo Aftercare Tip

Every artist has their own recommendations for healing a new tattoo. However, different clients will run into different problems during the healing process. Here’s a few tips on tattoo healing:

Wrap the Tattoo Every Night to Protect the Scab

A tattoo that isn’t done healing can stick to a person’s bedsheets and rip off the scab in the morning. Either wrap the tattoo every night or use silk sheets that don’t stick to the skin.

Wrap the Tattoo if You Are Going to be Around Dirt and Debris

If your client has a job that requires them to be around dirt or debris, they should wrap the tattoo while working and change the wrap every 2 hours to prevent infection.

Too Much Aftercare Cream Makes Healing Take Longer

Only a small amount of aftercare cream* should be applied to a tattoo, and it should not be applied at all for the first 48 hours after a tattoo session. Applying aftercare cream too often - or too early in the healing process - keeps the body from forming a scab.

*Most aftercare creams are scams. We recommend using Sorbolene, Lubriderm, or Aquaphor.

Tip #2:

Tattoo Photography: Clean Background and Great Lighting

Make your tattoos stand out online by taking these three steps:

Get Rid of Skin Irritation

Get rid of redness caused by skin irritation by covering your client’s tattoo with a paper towel and dousing it in Witch Hazel of Bactine. This will soothe sensitive skin and your picture will look better without the extra redness.

Make Sure You Have a Professional Background

To take the picture, make sure you have a clean background. Most of the time, getting a client to stand in front of a plain or brick wall will be enough. Some tattoo shops or individual artists will even have a branded background for clients to stand in front of so their name is attached to any pictures of the tattoo online.

You can also use a paper towel or the wrapped massage table as a background. Avoid having any clutter in the background of your image to keep the focus on the tattoo.

Use Extra Lighting

Making sure your picture has great lighting will make it easier to show off your work. Even a simple ring light can make all the difference. Do not use Photoshop to brighten up your colors or make any changes to your tattoo.

Prepare for a Tattooing Career with the Artist Accelerator Program

Learning extra tips like the ones in this article is important to leveling up your career, 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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