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Tattoo How To's

Layering Shading: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners

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Last Update on October 9th 2023 By TPS

Layering shading is a versatile tattooing shading technique that revolves around applying multiple layers of ink to construct shading gradually. This method is highly effective for achieving seamless transitions and lifelike textures, making it an invaluable skill for tattoo artists. In this comprehensive guide, tattoo beginners will embark on a journey to master the art of layering shading.


Step 1: Tattoo Needle Selection

The journey to mastering layering shading begins with selecting the appropriate needle:

  • Needle Type: Opt for a round shader or magnum needle for layering shading. These needles facilitate controlled shading and are essential for building up layers effectively.

  • Needle Diameter: Start with a medium-diameter needle, such as 7RS (round shader) or 9RS, to gain proficiency in layering. These needles offer a balanced approach to shading.

  • Quality and Sterilization: Prioritize the use of high-quality, pre-sterilized needles from reputable suppliers to ensure a sterile tattooing environment.


Step 2: Tattoo Machine Setup

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

  • Speed Adjustment: Set your tattoo machine to a moderate speed. A moderate speed provides you with optimal control over the ink application process.

  • Voltage Adjustment: Refer to your machine's manual for recommended voltage settings to ensure stable operation without excessive vibrations.


Step 3: Tattoo Ink Dilution

Prepare your tattoo ink for the layering shading technique:

  • Ink Thinning: To achieve the desired layering effects, slightly thin your tattoo ink by adding a few drops of distilled water. Stir the ink thoroughly until it reaches the desired consistency—thinner than what's used for lining but not excessively watery.


Step 4: Stance, Sitting and Hand Position

Position yourself correctly to execute precise layering shading:

  • Proper Stance: Maintain a stable and comfortable stance, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Position your body to enable full 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: Hold the tattoo machine with a relaxed yet steady grip. Your hand movements should be controlled and fluid to execute the layering technique effectively.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: Layering Technique

Embark on your layering shading journey:

  • Initial Pass: Begin by making an initial pass over the tattoo area with a light layer of ink. This serves as the foundation for subsequent layers.

  • Consistent Layers: Apply subsequent layers of ink with uniform consistency, ensuring each layer is evenly distributed. The gradual buildup of layers creates smooth transitions and realistic textures.

  • Varying Pressure: Experiment with the pressure applied to the machine during layering. Lighter pressure results in lighter shades, while slightly increased pressure adds depth and texture.


Step 6: Overlapping Layers

Ensure seamless and uniform layering shading:

  • Overlap Layers: To achieve a cohesive and even shading appearance, overlap each layer slightly with the previous one. This practice prevents gaps or uneven shading.


Step 7: Monitor Progress

Regularly assess your layering shading work:

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


Step 8: Patience and Practice

Hone your layering shading skills:

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


Step 9: Clean and Sterilize

Complete the layering shading process:

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


Layering shading is a remarkable technique that empowers tattoo artists to create captivating and realistic designs. With dedication and practice, tattoo beginners can harness the power of layering to achieve seamless transitions and lifelike textures unlocking their artistic potential.

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