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Tattoo How To's

Dotwork Shading: A Step by Step Guide for Tattoo Beginners

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Last Update on October 9th 2023 By TPS

Dotwork shading is a captivating tattooing shading technique that relies on the use of tiny dots to create shading, texture, and unique visual effects. This intricate method is often showcased in mandala tattoos and designs that demand exquisite stippling. In this comprehensive guide, tattoo beginners will embark on a journey to master the art of dotwork shading.

Step 1: Tattoo Needle Selection

The initial step in mastering dotwork shading is selecting the appropriate needle:

  • Needle Type: Opt for a round shader or round magnum needle for dotwork shading. These needles are designed to deliver precise, controlled dot placement.

  • Needle Diameter: Begin with a smaller-diameter needle, such as 3RS (round shader) or 5RS, to gain confidence and precision in dotwork. Smaller-diameter needles are ideal for intricate dot placement.

  • Quality and Sterilization: Prioritize the use of high-quality, pre-sterilized needles from reputable suppliers. Maintaining a sterile environment is paramount for safe tattooing.


Step 2: Tattoo Machine Setup

Prepare your tattoo machine for the intricate process of dotwork shading:

  • Speed Adjustment: Set your tattoo machine to a moderate speed. A moderate speed allows for better control when placing individual dots.

  • Voltage Adjustment: Consult your machine's manual for recommended voltage settings to ensure stable operation while preventing excessive vibration.


Step 3: Tattoo Ink Dilution

Prepare your tattoo ink for dotwork shading:

  • Ink Thinning: To achieve the desired dotwork effects, slightly thin your tattoo ink with a few drops of distilled water. Thoroughly mix the ink until it reaches the ideal consistency—thinner than that used for lining but not overly watery.


Step 4: Stance, Sitting and Hand Position

Position yourself correctly for precision in dotwork shading:

  • Proper Stance: Maintain a stable and comfortable stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position your body in a way that allows optimal control over the tattoo area.

  • Sitting: When sitting, it's essential to position yourself aligning your body and tattooing hand with the tattoo area. This not only provides better visibility and control but also allows you to use your free hand effectively.

  • Hand Placement: Grasp the tattoo machine with a relaxed yet steady grip. Ensure that your hand movements are controlled and fluid for precise dot placement.Your free hand can be used to gently stretch the client's skin, creating a taut and even canvas for tattooing. This additional support from your free hand helps ensure precise and consistent tattooing while minimizing discomfort for the client.


Step 5: Dotwork Technique

Embark on the dotwork shading journey:

  • Dot Placement: Begin by placing individual dots closely together to establish the foundational layer of shading. Ensure that the dots are uniform in size and spacing.

  • Dot Density: Control the density of your dots to achieve varying degrees of shading. Closer dots result in darker areas, while wider spacing creates lighter shading.

  • Consistency is Key: Maintain consistency in dot size and spacing throughout the shading process to create a polished and visually appealing result.


Step 6: Overlapping Dots

Ensure seamless and uniform dotwork shading:

  • Overlap Dots: To achieve a solid and even shading appearance, overlap each dot slightly with the previous ones. This practice eliminates gaps or irregular shading.


Step 7: Monitor Progress

Regularly assess your dotwork shading:

  • Frequent Checks: Pause periodically to step back and assess your dotwork shading. Ensure that the dots align with your artistic vision and maintain uniformity.


Step 8: Patience and Practice

Hone your dotwork shading skills:

  • Regular Practice: Mastery of dotwork shading comes with patience and practice. Dedicate time to practicing on synthetic skin or practice pads to refine your dotwork technique and build confidence.


Step 9: Clean and Sterilize

Complete the dotwork shading process:

  • Post-Shading: After finishing your dotwork shading, carefully clean the tattooed area and apply any necessary ointments or dressings. Dispose of used needles appropriately and ensure thorough sterilization of your equipment for future tattooing sessions.


Dotwork shading is a mesmerizing technique that allows for intricate and captivating tattoo designs. With dedication and practice, beginners can harness the power of dotwork to create stunning works of art, be it in mandala tattoos or other intricate designs that demand meticulous stippling.

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