Advanced Tattoo Technique

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Tattoo Shading Styles

Advanced Color

There is nothing better than taking a talent and honing it into something better then you ever thought you could. In this section I want to cover a few advanced techniques to better help you become a true artist. The problem is never seeing it inside your head, just putting it on skin. One of the best ways to improve your skill is to set up in your color work. Custom colors will defiantly make your mark in the tattoo field. Tattoo pigments mix very well together. Play with different color combinations to get some unique colors. Color blending is another technique that will bring your art to life. Currently there are about sixteen million color hues that the human eye can see, use them all. Take a plain old kanji (Japanese calligraphy) for example. Not every thing you do has to be solid black. One of my more popular color combinations is magenta and dark purple. You fill the kanji in with the magenta then wash the purple starting with the bottom as the dark line and work up. This gives an otherwise flat looking image a little more definition. I know I said before not to tattoo the lighter pigment first, but this is another color technique. Once the magenta is filled in, the skin is now open. While you wash shade the purple it will dye the magenta darker. If you wipe upwards into the magenta it will smooth out the color blending. Sort of like rubbing a pencil drawing with you finger to blend the graphite. A few other good colors to do this with is light blue and dark blue, light green and dark green, yellow and red, light aqua blue and dark purple, white and light blue, and magenta with dark green. They can make for some strange color combination, but they look great. Yellow and orange make a gold metallic affect. Some other things to think about with color is to add more. If you are tattooing simple vine work, why just use green? Try light neon green and shade the leaves and vines with a washed dark green for definition. The more colors you can apply the more depth and realism the image will have.


Decaling is another advanced color trick. It works best with bright colors and small tattoos. Do the entire tattoo and when you are done, line the outside line with white. Just like with bold lining only not as thick, just the width of another out line. Don't do any outside lines either. This trick is called decaling because it makes the entire tattoo look like a sticker of a fake tattoo. The image will jump off of the skin. Unfortunately it doesn't work well with black and grey or light color work. It looks cool, but it won't look like a sticker unless the entire inside of the tattoo is bright color.

Color Blending Tattoo

Grey Washed Color

Grey washed color is where you tattoo and entire image in grey wash and then do high detailed color blending. This adds more definition to a tattoo then you can imagine. If it's a larger tattoo then you will have to grey wash it, and have them return once healed for the color. Grey wash and color wash both are hard on the skin; if you spent too much time on it in one shot you will scar them really bad. Only do this in one sitting if the tattoo is small. Use high detailed grey wash and high blended, bright colors. The tattoo will look like it was done by a computer when done right. One of the best artists I have seen in this style is David Bolt. I don't want to display any of his images here out of respect, but I highly recommend picking up some of his flash to see what I'm talking about. He is a pioneer in this style; you can't appreciate it till you see what I'm talking about.

Heal 'n Hit

Heal n' hit is really only a color technique; it won't do too much good with black and grey. You do a nice definition color piece; animal portraits are great for this. You do the entire tattoo with bright and vibrant colors and let the client heal. Once they heal for about a month, have them come back and go over the entire tattoo again. Don't do this more than three times or you will scar them. The layers of color will show through making it brighter each time. After the second or third time, the tattoo will look like an oil painting on the skin. White on the skin will look like a sheet of paper. The down side to this is that in the end it will cost you more because you have to use the supplies each time. It's not very practical but it's amazing how well the colors turn out.

Color Techniques For Tattooing

Negative Image

Negative is a technique that has really gained popularity over the last ten years. It's where you use the skin it's self for the image tattooed. One example is the tattoo above. The smoke along the sides was blood lined. As the tattoo progressed, I filled in and shaded the area as normal leaving the smoke alone. You can do this with any image. It also works well with grey wash. Another piece that comes to mind is the top of a foot I did a while back. The tattoo image was flames going from the toes up to the ankle. In the flames were negative dollar signs. Negative image tattoos don't have to be high detail either. I have seen a handful of negative tribal tattoos lately. Basically, you would line the entire sleeve with tribal work and fill the elbow up to the shoulder black, leaving the tribal its self skin tone. One way to play with is to trace your pattern on tracing paper, then take the image you choose to use for the negative. Lay the tracing paper with the pattern on it over top of the negative image and trace them into the image randomly. Then shade the traced image leaving the negative the color of the paper. Negative image can be outlined, but it looks a lot cooler if you blood line.

Realism Tattoo

Portrait and Realism Tattoos

The term portrait work does not always apply to people. Any tattoo that is photo realistic is considered as being portrait work. If you tattoo a soda can as realistic as possible then you have done a portrait tattoo. As time progresses, more and more clients are wanting photo realism tattoos. It use to be only the best could pull it off but know it's a necessity of the industry. The problem with portrait work is that even the best artist in the world can only work with what they have. If you use a bad picture then you will have a bad tattoo. The picture needs to be clear and close enough to see the detail in the face or of the object. You can only tattoo what you see. If someone brings you a instant Polaroid, then they will have a tattoo of a Polaroid. Old and torn up pictures just will not work. The best to use is any picture taken from a professional photographer. Family portraits only work if you are tattooing the entire family. If you have to enlarge the picture to see the face then it's no good. Several artist do portraits in color, they look nice when they are done but after a few years the color pigments blend together making the portrait blurry. I strongly recommend only doing portraits in black and grey. If you have ever seen the old black and white movies that they add color to later, then you know they don't look natural. Most color portraits come out the same way.

Photo realism is different than just high detailed tattooing. With realism you need to have a picture to go by. High detail is simply adding some shading here and there to make a tattoo look more detailed where in realism you need to pay attention to the true lighting of the subject. Realism tattoos need to be at least three inches high for the main object so you will have plenty of room to apply the detail. The rule of thumb with a persons portrait is that the three inches should be measured from the chin to the begging in of the hair line. To achieve realism you are all but required to use mag for smooth shading and a five or a three for the finer details. You cannot black outline any realism tattoo. Nothing in life has a black outline around it. Only tattoo solid black where you see it in the picture. I strongly suggest blood lining the entire piece. You can grey line if you wish , but most of the time you will be able to see the gray line after the tattoo is healed. If your subject is lighter, or say has grey hair, then you might want to consider applying some kind of back round that's slightly darker then the image it's self. A shadowing around certain sections of the object will do the trick. Make sure to practice the back round on paper before you tattoo it, you have to see what works and what doesn't for each individual tattoo.

To making the pattern you can use a copy machine, but I prefer using a computer scanner, you loose less detail this way. Scan the image in and crop out around the main image only getting what you plan to tattoo in the picture. While you are editing the image in the computer is the time to add any names or dates that the client may want along with it. Size it accordingly and print the image on the highest resolution you can. Print several copies incase you make a mistake, and so you have at least one extra to have for comparison while you are tattooing. Never take an original picture back with you while you tattoo, you will get blood and pigment on the image every time and some pictures your client can't replace. Lay the printed picture down on the stencil paper and trace every line you can leaving only the shading not on the pattern. With a portrait you might want to stencil any solid black areas filled in solid as a reference. If you have a stencil machine, I suggest doing the pattern by hand anyway so you have already drawn in before hand to get a better feel for the image. The biggest trick to tattooing portraits is the making of the pattern. When you are done it should look like a topographical map of the image. You will need to mark the separations or the various hues to function as reference points. Many artist work top to bottom and do the tattoo in a whole going that direction. This means that you would fully shade the tattoo as you move up, instead of blood lining the entire piece and doing the eyes, then mouth or what ever the case may be.

When you have any realism tattoo with solid black words such as dates or names then you need to tattoo them first. Do the blood line work on the main image, then rinse and dry your needle to outline the words. With any tattoo, the outline is first, but in a portrait that may be the only outline. When you do a realism piece, you need to think of your self like a human copy machine, everything you see needs to be in the tattoo. You may want to set an appointment for these tattoos so you have time to work and play with the image before the tattooing. Portrait work is revered as the most difficult act of tattooing, just take your time and don't do them if you are not ready.

Using White

The use of white high light can add definition to any tattoo but in a portrait it will bring the subject to life. White is one of the fourteen shades of grey the human eye can distinguish, and should be used, but only if used properly. Too many artists are using white highlighting during black and grey like it's going out of style. Too much white will take away from the tattoo and make it look not nearly as real. White should only go where you see it in the picture. One of the best examples I can tell you is to go for a drive at night. While traveling in traffic, you can see the lights reflecting on the nearby car. Look for a white car, you can see the white paint of the car, then you can see the bright white where the light is reflecting on the paint. This is the same idea. There is white area in a tattoo which should be considered skin tone, but then there are areas that need to be the color white. If you are tattooing a metal object then only apply white where you see it in the picture. If your tattoo is the white car in traffic, then you only want to shade the paint job, and use white where the light reflection is. With use in a portrait, you only want to put white on what would naturally be wet or metal such as body jewelry and the frame of eye glasses. This is how white does its job. In a face you should only have white in the eyes where you see the glare and on the teeth if they are smiling. Anywhere else will just make it look like its glowing in the dark. Realism is based on what is real, not where you think you want the real to be.

You hear everyone say "My skin won't take white". That is wrong. When an artist tells the client that their skin didn't take the white then they are using a crappy white or they don't know how to apply it properly. The down side of white is that being white it has a tendency to take the color of the skin above it after it heals. On an African American you will not be able to see white pigment as well as say a pale Irish completion. I have some American Indian in me so when I put white in myself it looks sort of cream due to the darker tone of my skin. This is the only problem with white. There is no excuse for it to just not show up at all. Artist think that white pigment is a color and should be applied like a color, but it is a shade of grey, or the absence of. To properly apply white when using as a color you need to go a little slower than you would with regular color pigment. If you are highlighting with white then you need to use it as if you were lining with black. Slow and steady. You cannot apply white quickly and expect it to stay. Because white will take on the form of any other color it comes into contact with, it should be the last color you use no matter what colors you're using. Before you dip into the white you should also rinse the machine out more cautiously than any other time. If you have just a small bit of red, then the entire ink cap will be pink the first time you touch the needle in there. Take your time, and watch for color change, I have seen artist use white but tattoo pink without knowing more times then I can count.

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  • Alberto
    How to outline realism tattoo?
    9 years ago
  • Susanne
    How to add definition to a tattoo?
    9 years ago
  • sebastian huber
    How to blend from one colour to another when tattooing?
    9 years ago
  • Erkki Rajala
    Do dark blue tattoos look nice?
    8 years ago
  • sayid
    When doing a portrait tattoo what machine is best to do the wash?
    8 years ago
  • omar kelly
    How to blend black and grey when doing color work?
    8 years ago
  • kimberley
    What shade of grey wash so it shows up through coloured tattoo ink?
    8 years ago
  • milla
    What does it mean to say, "dry your needle" ?
    8 years ago
    Do tribal tattoos look good when done outline only without shading?
    5 years ago
  • lucie
    Does blood comes out in shading tattoo?
    5 years ago
  • bruna
    How tattoo shading works with pictures?
    5 years ago
  • mateusz
    Can you add color later to a black and grey tattoo?
    5 years ago
  • caradoc
    How does color blending tattoos work?
    5 years ago
  • Marcus
    What grey shading on tattoo is like when first done and healed?
    5 years ago
  • Sami
    How to blood shade a tattoo?
    5 years ago
  • Pirkko
    What should I do to become professional tatoo makers after 2 in india?
    5 years ago
  • abdullah
    How to improve tattoo filling blacker then blacker?
    5 years ago
  • Iida
    Can you tattoo blue over green?
    5 years ago
  • dirk bar
    Can you tattoo if you cant do realisim?
    5 years ago
  • dalila giordano
    What is it called when your black & gray tattoo has a little bit of red on it?
    5 years ago
  • Vincenza
    Does it take awhile for tattoo colours to show fully?
    5 years ago
  • delinda
    Can you add gold ink for teeth in a black realism tattoo?
    5 years ago
  • Ursula
    How to use white wash in portrait tattoo?
    5 years ago
  • Marja
    How to improve on small tattoo work?
    4 years ago
  • aatifa
    How to tattoo bright colors?
    4 years ago
  • Milo
    What is black and gray with red tattoos called?
    4 years ago
  • melba
    How they achieve shading in tattoos?
    4 years ago
  • james
    How to blend tattoo color dark or light first?
    4 years ago
  • mustafa senay
    How to do smoke tattoo shading?
    4 years ago
  • adonay
    How to tattoo gray color and white, yellow method?
    4 years ago
  • Karly Muir
    How to fix the color and definitions of a tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • Sophia
    How to fill colour inside a tatoo?
    4 years ago
  • marja
    What colors will easily cover a light blue/grey tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • iggi
    What to put ın tattoo yellow ınk to make ıt brıghter?
    4 years ago
    What does whitewash in tattooing mean?
    4 years ago
  • savannah
    How to improve tattooing realism?
    4 years ago
  • david
    How to make yellow tattoo look golden?
    4 years ago
  • sophia theissen
    How can I blend a dark tattoo and a light tattoo into one sleeve?
    4 years ago
  • Fre-qalsi Medhane
    Do grey and black shading on tattoos change as they heal?
    4 years ago
  • ines sanger
    When tattooing color should you use darks or lights first?
    4 years ago
  • eden saare
    How to improve combination in tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • mike
    When can you come back to get a Tattoo shaded in?
    4 years ago
  • Dalia Fiorentini
    What are the tattoo colours required to draw a colour portrait?
    4 years ago
  • tristan
    Do coloured tattoos get brighter after they heal?
    4 years ago
  • elizabeth collins
    Why there comes out too much blood when i am filling a tattoo with white?
    4 years ago
  • monika
    How to make blood wash tattoo ink?
    4 years ago
  • bisrat yonas
    How can I shade inside tatto?
    4 years ago
  • Peony
    What can I do to make a smooth black and gray tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • lukas kalb
    How to color tattoos techniques?
    4 years ago
  • mikaela
    How to make my tattoo bright pink?
    4 years ago
  • dian
    How to do full dark shade of tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • Theresa
    How to shade potrate image in tattooing?
    4 years ago
  • hannes weckstr
    How to do a coloured portrait tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • enrica sal
    How to give smoke depth in a tattoo?
    4 years ago
  • susanne
    What is the tatto style when its not blended together?
    4 years ago
  • essi hakola
    How to blend photo realism tattoo with heavy line tattoo?
    4 years ago
    How do they make the tattoos look nice and dark and smooth when finished?
    4 years ago
  • judith
    How to color in tattoo techniques?
    4 years ago
  • gaudenzio
    How to make tattoos come out brighter in one time?
    3 years ago
  • Christin
    How to do a heal and hit tatoo technique?
    3 years ago
  • Samuel
    What colors do u mix to make smoke tattoo?
    3 years ago
  • temesgen
    Which method is best for tattoo to look dark?
    3 years ago
  • nadine
    How to add colour to a dark pink tattoo?
    3 years ago
  • fedro
    Can gray cover up green tattoos?
    3 years ago
  • benilde
    How does grey show on a tattoo?
    3 years ago
  • giorgia
    How to make colour tattoos more vibrant?
    3 years ago
    Can white be added to finished tattoo?
    3 years ago
  • antje
    When do you put white highlights in when tattooing?
    3 years ago
  • jan
    When tattooing a portrait do you do the teeth in white ink?
    3 years ago
  • Giselda
    Do white highlites in tattooing last?
    3 years ago
  • Boyd Bell
    What is the smoke like shading in tattooing called?
    3 years ago
  • Wiseman
    How to colour blending techniques when tattooing?
    3 years ago
  • mackenzie
    Do portrait tats look better shaded or solid?
    3 years ago
  • pervinca banks
    Can you add detail to dark shaded tattoo?
    3 years ago
  • felicita garden
    Is it possible to add color to a black and white tattoo?
    2 years ago
  • alberto trevisano
    Do grey wash tattoos take more time?
    2 years ago
  • virginio
    Is adding highlights in tattoo worse?
    2 years ago
  • Henry Macleod
    How to add color to a large dark purple tattoo?
    1 year ago
  • abrha
    How to do realism tattoo in more than 1 sitting without reapplying stencil?
    1 year ago
  • sebhat
    How to do realism tattoo stencils?
    8 months ago
    What is it called when you want your tattoo shade dark?
    7 months ago
  • awet
    How to highlight your color tattoo?
    7 months ago

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