How tattoo shading works

Tattoo shading is vital to achieving a standout design full of textural complexity and beauty. Tattooists spend years perfecting their shading techniques and those who’ve conquered their art are in hot demand. 

The pain level

It’s a common question to ask, ‘what hurts most about getting a tattoo done?’ There are mixed reports depending on who you ask, the outlining or the shading. Shading isnt always necessary so you might be skipping this step for your piece, but general consensues is if you’re up the shading section you’ve made it through the worst of it! If you are really worried, your artist can supply numbing cream to help with the pain if required and you can always ask your artist to take a break for a few minutes if you feel that you need it and the discomfort is building up too much.

There are many benefits of using numbing cream for tattoos. It can give you relief from intense pain during the healing process. It can also reduce the risk of scarring after the procedure.

Learing to shade a tattoo is a major part of an artists craft, and it takes years of dedication and hours of practice and master this skill. Videos or online tutorials are not enough, so if your artist has a “degree in YouTube Tatto Tutorials” it’s time to run. Here are 9 ways how you can tell a master shader from an amateur:

  1. A master tattooist will likely ink the line work for your chosen design during your first session then book you for a separate shading session. This is because allowing the ink to dry completely stops the dark outline from leeching into the rest of the colours and creating a muddy looking confusion. Also, the whole tattoo area should be cleaned with soapy water to remove any excess ink stencil marks or sticky residue.
  1. Tattoo studio artists who know what they’re doing will use different tattoo guns for inking and shading – the latter is generally a 10-coil (for smaller areas) or 12-coil machine with a higher speed to get a smoother result. By contrast, shader bars are great for large format tattoos because they feature needles lined up in a flat row that create solid transitions and can cover more space during a single pass.
  1. When adding shade to a black and white design, the artist can either dip the needle in water to dilute the black pigment and create different greys or use specific full-strength grey inks. Tilting the needle and applying in a circular motion will blend the different tones in seamlessly, while shallower pressure creates the illusion of a fading gradient. This creates a more detailed shading effect.
  1. An expert will test the colour of the ink against your skin to make sure the shading suits your complexion. There’s nothing worse than having a stunning body art made to look hideous because its colours aren’t complementary to the wearer’s natural skin colour.
  1. Experienced tattoo artists decide on shading colours first. Because dark inks muddy lighter inks, colour shading needs to be completed in a particular order – for example, whites, yellows, pale greens go first followed by medium colours like reds and darker greens then finally dark purples and blues.
  1. Good shaders always clean everything carefully between each colour to ensure the inks don’t mix. This includes needles, tubes and tips (and it makes for better hygiene too, of course!).
  1. Consistent light is another marker of someone who knows their medium. If the light source changes throughout the shading process, it’s too easy to make a mistake with the gradient leaving you with a less than stellar ink.
  1. Master tattoo artists know their colour theory. You want your tattooist to be a bonafide artist whose medium just happens to be skin. Having a handle on complementary and contrasting colours makes shading less flat and more realistic, giving you a 3D effect that really pops!
  1. If your tattooist suggests brush shading, they’re at the top of their game. A hard technique to master, brush shading takes a lot of practice but its’ worth it – the effects are extraordinary. The technique uses a sweeping wrist movement with a low power machine – and it’s the envy of all tattooists who aspire to be the best at what they do.

Great shading is an acquired skill. It can make or break the look of your tattoo, so it’s important to know how it works. If you want a tattoo shop that knows its stuff, get in touch.

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