Tattoo Shading Like a Pro: 12 Techniques for Aspiring Tattoo Artists

A man with braided hair and body covered with tattoo.

Research shows that 37% of Americans aged 18 to 24 years old have one or more tattoos. And 62% of millennial parents have tattoos as well.

If you want to become a tattoo artist, tattoos are still very much in demand. To do this, you will need to understand the basics, such as tattoo shading.

Tattooing is truly an art and takes plenty of practice. These tattooing tips will help you understand the shading techniques and how to use them.

Keep reading to find out how to do tattoo shading the right way.

Why Is Tattoo Shading Important?

When you learn to tattoo, one technique you will learn is shading. This is very important when it comes to tattooing techniques.

One of the most common tattooing mistakes people make is not knowing how to shade. Shading is very important in the majority of tattoo designs that people choose.

A stand-out tattoo design is going to have depth and complexity. This is often achieved by using different shading techniques to make the tattoo pop.

To understand this, you have to think of traditional art. For example, you cannot sketch a realistic portrait if you don’t have shading to define the features.

The same rule applies when you are creating tattoos. Shading helps to create a realistic design that is more detailed and complex.

This is why some of the more complicated tattoos use different shading techniques. This creates a stunning visual that the client will love.

Do All Tattoos Need Shading?

You may be wondering if tattoo shading is necessary as a tattoo artist. The good news is that not every tattoo design is going to need shading.

Some people enjoy more minimalistic tattoos that focus on standard lines. One example of this is the very popular infinity symbol that people often get as a tattoo.

This is considered to be a minimalistic line tattoo that does not include any shading. But it is important to realize that most clients will want shading.

Most people want to tattoos that are unique and stand out. This usually involves at least one or two different shading techniques to achieve this look.

This is used to make the tattoo look realistic or to even give it a 3D appearance. Because of this, tattoo artists do need to learn how to shade their work.

This is a basic tattooing technique that will come up very often.

Tattoo Shading Techniques You Need

Now that you know more about tattoo shading, what are the techniques? There are several tattoo techniques you could use depending on the desired effect.

Some techniques create a unique effect, while others have a different process. It is a good idea to practice tattooing with all these shading techniques.

This will give you an idea of what works best for you and what technique you prefer. Although, you will most likely need to use several techniques when you become a tattoo artist.

Here are some examples of the basic tattoo shading techniques you will be expected to know.

1. Whip Shading

A common kind of shading is whip shading. This is when you gradually move your tattooing tool upward as you apply the ink.

This will create a gradient effect, with one area being darker and the other lighter. Experts described this as creating a flicking motion with the needle.

Whip shading is one of the more beginner-friendly options. It takes some practice, but once you know how to do it, it comes naturally.

The hardest part is making sure you are controlling the needle when making the flicking motion. You do not want to drag it too far or create too extreme of a gradient.

2. Pendulum Shading

Another common option is the pendulum shading technique. This helps to create a dark mark on the skin from the ink with lighter gradients around it.

This is because the most pressure is being applied at the center with less pressure on the sides. Because of this, more ink is being applied at the center.

To use this technique, you will need to swing the tattoo needle back and forth. Think of how a pendulum moves and try to imitate that with your hand.

Many experts use this technique to create a feathered edge look. This creates a bold and dark center with softer edges around it.

3. Packing

Tattoo shading provides many options if you are just starting out. One of these options is called the packing technique.

This is when you create small and tight ovals on the skin to create a solid fill. Using this technique allows you to create solid areas of ink for a very dark shade.

This prevents gaps in your shading and helps you to create more dimension. It is very easy to do, being one of the best techniques to try out as a beginner.

4. Brush Shading

Another shading technique to try is brush shading. Brush shading is often used for portrait tattoos that require extensive blending.

Blending can be quite complicated, especially if you have minimal experience. You will need to use a long taper needle, moving it like a pendulum.

This is very similar to pendulum shading, but it is often used for different kinds of tattoos. You will move the needle at an angle, allowing the shade to grow darker.

The brushing motion and the pressure helps you to create an even shade. This helps you create a balanced and even look if you need large areas of the same kind of shading.

5. Stipple Shading

If you need to create dotted lines, stipple shading is the technique you need. This is used for a variety of tattoo styles for a unique shaded look.

To do this technique, you will need a three-round liner needle that has a long taper. You will need to use a whip or brush shading emotion while using this needle.

You need to make these motions very quickly, depending on where you want the shading dots. For dots that are far away, move the needle as fast as you can.

For dots that are closely packed together, move the needle slowly. This will take some practice as your first tries may come out looking a bit sloppy.

But once you gain experience, this technique is one of the more unique options. It also allows you to create a gradient shade that adds more depth to tattoos.

How to Practice Shading

Now that you know about tattoo shading techniques, what about practicing tattooing? To understand these techniques, you need to learn to tattoo by experience.

This is where it can get a bit complicated since practicing tattoos isn’t always simple. You can’t necessarily start practicing on people since tattoos are permanent.

The good news is that there are certain ways you can start to gain this skill set. Here are some examples of how you should practice tattooing before moving on to the real thing.


Something that the majority of tattoo artists do is draw. Drawing with pencil and pen is a great way to gain artistic skills.

After all, drawing is very similar to tattooing when it comes down to the basics. It isn’t exactly like tattooing actual skin, but it will help you to learn the aspects of shading.

Try using these techniques with a pen or a pencil in place of a needle. This will give you an idea of how these shading techniques feel and how you should be controlling the needle.

This is also a great way to simply understand art itself. As a tattoo artist, you will be drawing designs with a needle on people’s skin. Because of this, many of the skills you learn while drawing will come in handy later.


Another thing you can try doing is painting. Painting is obviously very different from tattooing, but it is still an artistic skill.

You can think of the paint as being similar to the ink you tattoo with. Try using these techniques to see how you are able to control the paint.

Like drawing, this will give you a physical example of how you should be controlling a needle. You may also be able to learn some of the basics of what makes a good shading technique.

Tattooing Pig Skin

If you want to prevent tattooing mistakes, practice is necessary. As helpful as painting and drawing are, it is still very different from actually tattooing.

Once your skill set becomes better, you want to start to do the real thing. One way to practice real tattooing is to tattoo something similar to human skin.

There are all kinds of materials out there that people can tattoo on it. One of the more affordable and convenient options is pig skin.

Pig skin is surprisingly similar to human skin and how it reacts to ink. You should invest in good quality tattooing tools so that you can practice on pig skin.

This is going to be the most effective way of understanding how tattoo shading works. It still won’t be exactly like real tattooing, but it will allow you to work with the right equipment.

How to Learn to Tattoo

You may be a beginner when it comes to tattooing. If this is the case, it is hard to know where you should start to become more skilled.

There are a lot of things that you need to understand about tattooing to become a professional. You also need to make sure you have the experience to get hired.

The good news is that there are different routes you can take when learning how to tattoo. Here are some examples of the ways you can do this to become a professional faster.


The main way to gain experience as a tattoo artist is to practice. We have already discussed the method you could use to practice, which is very helpful.

As you become better at tattooing, you may even be able to move on to humans. You may have family or friends who are willing to let you create small tattoos for them.

Any practice is good practice if it is helping you to polish your skills. This is especially true when it comes to shading, which takes quite a bit of time and effort.

Work Under Someone

Another great option to gain experience is to work alongside another tattoo artist. You may be able to intern at a tattoo parlor or observe other tattoo artists.

Depending on the business, you may be able to get some hands-on work for practice. Or they may be able to instruct you on what they are doing as they are doing it.

Go to Tattoo Academy

The best way to learn how to tattoo is to go to a tattoo academy. The Florida Tattoo Academy provides essential tattoo courses that cover all of the basics.

You will have access to instructors who will be able to help you throughout the process. You may also get access to a tattoo apprenticeship ship to help you gain more experience.

Tattoo Shading 101

If you want to become a tattoo artist, there are some techniques you need to learn. One of these techniques is tattoo shading, a very important tattooing skill.

There are different tattoo shading techniques that help you create different effects.

Are you interested in learning how to become a professional tattoo artist? Contact us today at Florida Tattoo Academy to schedule a school tour.