Need to know how to shade a tattoo with a tattoo gun? When it comes to tattooing, shading is an important technique that can create depth and dimension in a tattoo. There are various ways to shade a tattoo, and the best way to do it depends on the design of the tattoo and the skin tone of the person being tattooed. 

Generally speaking, darker inks are used for shading, and the tattoo artist will use different techniques to create the desired effect.

Four Tattoo Shading Methods

One of the skills to master if you’re a novice tattoo artist who wants to learn how to make high-quality, attractive tattoos is shading. This enables you to add additional volume and realism to the tattoo. It is employed in a variety of artistic genres, including 3D, watercolor tattoos, realism, and more.

The most common shading methods, their applications, and their distinctions are described below.


Packing Tattoo Shading Methods

Used for: primarily for regions with solid colors

Can be carried out with: a round shader or a magnum.

How to use: move your arms in small, controlled circles at a 45-degree angle.

Be cautious: Never keep the needle stationary for an extended period of time. It might be traumatic.

Whip Shading

Whip shade tattoo

Used for: It may be applied to practically any tattoo style. The most popular applications are for applying sketches of animals and flowers. It gives the impression that it is a pencil drawing.

Can be carried out with: your preferred needles (tattoo artists usually use 3 round liner)

How to use: With the tattoo machine in an almost vertical position, quickly move your hand in the shape of a curve while releasing pressure as you go.

Brush Shading

Brush Shading Tatto

Used for: excellent for portraits and gentle blending

Can be carried out with: a long taper needle is preferable.

How to use: Keep the tattoo machine in its current location. Move in a pendulum motion as you descend, enter the skin and then emerge again.

Stipple Shading

Stipple shading Tattoo

Used for: produce a dot effect

Can be carried out with: 3 round liner with a long taper

How to use: This technique can be applied in a variety of ways, including brush or whip motions. Voltage and hand movement speed is crucial in this approach. The voltage you select determines how quickly you must move your hands. The dots will be farther distant as you move your hand more quickly.

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Tattoo Shading Techniques

We advise against practicing shading techniques on the body if you are just learning them because doing so increases your risk of getting hurt. The techniques listed here are a fantastic way to learn to shade.

Method 1: Experiment with Paper, Pencil, Paint, and/or Marker.

Stipple shading Tattoo

Drawing sketches on paper will assist you in figuring out your preferred shading technique in greater detail, practicing the movements and their speed to achieve the desired effect, as well as learning how to distribute the shadows in the drawing correctly to create a sketch from which you can create an irresistible tattoo in the future.

Method 2: Experiment with Pigskin or Fake Skin.

Techniques for Tattoo Shading

Practice on pigskin or imitation skin is the next stage to perfecting the shading methods.

Pigskin is the skinned animal that is most similar to human skin, making it the ideal material to experiment with pressing pressure, voltage, needle selection, and hand and tattoo machine movements to achieve the ideal shading.

The silicone skin is another excellent choice for practicing shading because it comes in a variety of sizes, thicknesses, and body parts for a lifelike experience.

Getting Ready To Shade A Tattoo

Before you begin shading, make sure you have the right tools and a sketch. Additionally, you will learn in-depth details about each step of the preparation process.

1. Deciding On The Needles

Deciding On The Needles

Round tattoo needles and magnum tattoo needles are frequently used for shading. We’ll go into more detail about each of these needle categories below.

Round tattoo needles

Round liners (RL) and round shaders (RS) are two types of round tattoo needles. Round liners are ideal for lining work, intricate shading, fill-in, and other tasks since they are closely clustered and arranged in a circle.

For shading, transitions, and coloring, needles in spherical shaders are an excellent choice because they can be placed more flexibly.

We advise using needles that are no wider than 1 mm for shading.

Magnum needles

Two rows of magnum needles are set up. The needles with denser tips are known as “stacked magnums” (M2), whereas those with more freely-woven tips are known as “magnums” (M1).

Both braided and stacked magnums are effective for color packing and shading, however, weaved magnums work better in larger spaces.

2. Putting A Tattoo Machine In Position For Shading

  1. You must leave around 2 mm between the armature bar and the contact screw in order to achieve shading.
  2. The tattoo machine should have a needle and tubing attached. The tube must be chosen in line with the needle chosen, and the needles must be chosen based on the shading technique you intend to use.
  3. It is good to set the tattoo machine’s speed slightly lower for shading than for line. The best alternative is to tune the tattoo machine by ear to a speed that is comfortable for you (the buzz of the tattoo machine should be deeper than when it is tuned to the lining).

3. Making A Drawing

The production of a sketch in accordance with the client’s requests is one of the most crucial components. Consider ahead of time and incorporate shadows, their transitions, and intensity on the sketch if the customer wants a tattoo that has shading.

Choose the shades of color for the shading if the tattoo will be colored.

Common Shading Mistakes

Common Tattoo Shading Mistakes

These are the shading methods used in tattoos. Let’s talk about the typical errors you might make when implementing them.

Use of An Incorrect Needle Type, Stroke, or Diameter

The smoothness and healing of your shades will suffer if you do any of the aforementioned things. So, let me give you a little bit of information to help you with this.

Needle Type

  • For black packing and tribal patterns, use M2 stack magnum needles. They form angular, tight lines.
  • M1C curved magnums would be ideal if you needed needles for soft portraits. You will receive gentle hues. There won’t be any sharp edges or edges.
  • Use 3RL thin liners for tiny details on the brows, nose, lashes, and eyes.


  • Keep your short strokes between 1.8mm and 2.5mm in length. Create a layer of gray and black. Multiple passes are permitted without chewing out your skin.
  • The range is between 3.0mm and 3.8mm for a medium stroke. Continue using all-black packaging.

Note: You can pack and shade ink if the size is 3.5mm and you only have one tattoo machine.


  • Choose bug pins (#08 and #10) for soft portrait designs that require a diameter of 0.25mm to 0.30mm. When they add layers, they are gentle on your skin.
  • Get yourself some standards (0.35mm, #12) for larger spaces where you require additional coverage to complete solid blackwork.

2. Tattoo Not Sufficiently Dark

Gray and black hues lighten by up to 30% following complete healing. That is particularly relevant if the tattoo is on a body part like the ribs, inside bicep, etc.

Your blood will soak through your skin as the tattoo is being done. So the tattoo artist will use less ink since the shades will appear darker than they actually are. The tattoo will therefore fade more quickly than it would have if the artist had used more ink.

3. Patchy or Uneven Tattoo Healing

Here are some issues with healing that mostly affect tattoo artists. They develop as a result of modest adjustments to your tattoo shading methods. Watch them closely.

  • Your circles’ empty areas are the blame for the tattoo’s uneven healing. When the rings are really huge, it occurs. Keep them small and tight as a result when working on them.
  • Circular needle movements made quickly will hinder the healing process. While packing the ink, go slowly.
  • If your mags are not angled correctly, the needle barbs can slick your skin like razor blades, overworking your skin and leaving an uneven tattoo. Now, it’s obvious that’s not what you want.

Other Crucial Elements For Tattoo Shading

Other Crucial Elements For Tattoo Shading

Needles For Shading Tattoos

You must become familiar with the appropriate shading needles in order to use any of the tattoo shading techniques discussed above. The best shader needles for tattoo shading are, of course, spherical ones.

Like other needles, these needles have unique code names that indicate the type of needle, how many needles are in the group, etc. RS is the standard code for round shaders.

Magnum needles must also be included because they are excellent for creating shading effects. Magnum needles can stack between 7 and 11 pins and are stacked in two rows to produce a common shading effect.

Magnum needles that have been weaved will produce a more free-appearing shading effect than those that have been stacked for a denser shading.

Magnum needles that are stacked work incredibly well for both color packing and shading. But we advise using the woven Magnum needles if you need to shade or color large areas.

The Tattoo Gun’s Shading Settings

Without first preparing your tattoo gun specifically for the shading approach, you cannot begin shading a tattoo. What you must do is as follows;

The contact screw and armature bar must be separated by 2 mm.

Naturally, the ink tube and needle must be fastened to the actual cannon.

Depending on the intended effect or shading approach, use the appropriate needle.

The tattoo machine needs to be tuned, which means the ink will need to be distributed more or less quickly. Make sure the machine is not too rapid, but also adjust the speed to your comfort level.

Be sure to limit your shading to 10 volts.

Aware of When To Shade

When it comes to tattoo shading, a common novice mistake is to start shading immediately after the tattoo outline is finished. That is a serious error that can result in a tattoo with messed-up lines.

The best procedure is to finish the tattoo’s outline, let the ink dry and set for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, and then continue with the shading and coloring. This will make shading much simpler and result in a tidy, hassle-free tattoo.

Understanding the Shading’s Duration

Another typical error in shading is keeping the needle in the same place for an excessive amount of time. Beginning tattoo clients think that the longer a needle remains in one spot, the greater the color payoff and final result will be. That is wholly incorrect.

You are causing unnecessary harm to the skin by doing this, and in addition to the client feeling extra agony during the procedure, the tattoo won’t turn out nearly as well as you had hoped.

If you’re unclear about how to move the needle, you can always go in a circular motion to reduce trauma and skin injury. This frequently occurs in techniques where the needle must go back and forth.


FAQs About Shading On A Tattoo

Shading On A Tattoo

Should I Shade My Tattoo?

Shading, in contrast to outlining, is not required for every tattoo. Simply said, line work lacks the dimension that color and shading do. Contrary to popular belief, many people claim that the shading of the tattoo hurts considerably less than the outlining.

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What Tattoo Needle Is Best For Shading?

The most frequently used needles for shading are magnums. Most ink may be stored in needle clusters of this type. As a result, they rapidly absorb and transfer a lot of color into the skin. More ink may be applied to the skin in one pass, swiftly covering vast areas.

How Many Volts Do I Need For Shading Tattoo?


Voltages of 7v to 9v are typically used by most artists for lining (8 should be a suitable starting point) and 8v to 10v for shading.

Can You Add Shading To A Tattoo?

For shading purposes, make sure the needle sticks out no more than 1 mm (0.039 in). To achieve the desired result, set your tattoo machine’s speed at the proper level. Slower motion makes it easier to establish a foundational shade. Darker shading results from moving at a faster speed.

How Long Does Shading A Tattoo Take?

It would probably take the tattoo artist less than an hour to create a simple palm-sized tattoo using only black ink and a very straightforward pattern. It can take two to three hours to do a tattoo that size that is intricate, shaded, or colored.


That’s all! You now understand how to shade a tattoo correctly and successfully. You just need to start practicing, that’s it. You won’t be able to build a sense of shade without experience.

You also won’t learn how the needle should move, at what angle, and how to distribute the ink differently for various shading effects. Practice, use all the resources at your disposal, and, if you’re an apprentice, constantly talk to your mentor. The mentor is there to assist you and direct you through every step of the tattooing process.