How To Shade a Tattoo for Beginners? 7 Easy Steps Guide

Want a complete guide on how to shade a tattoo for beginners? There are many aspiring tattoo artists, and most don’t know where or how to start.

Shading is a basic tattoo skill that makes tattoos more tri-dimensional.

That’s what I discuss in this beginner’s guide to tattoo shading.

Key Takeaways

  • There are four main types of tattoo shading: whip, packing, brush, and stipple shading.
  • Practicing on paper prepares you for the next stage.
  • Practice on fake or pig skin before trying human skin.
  • The needle you choose is critical to the type of shading.

What Are the Different Tattoo Shading Types?

Tattoo artist businesses grew by 7.9% in the past year alone (1). That’s a lot of people wanting to learn how to tattoo.

But before you know how to hold tattoo gun, you must know the different tattoo shading techniques.

Here are the common tattoo shading types.

1. Whip Shading

Whip shading is a modern technique that involves moving the tattooing needle on the skin in a whipping motion.

The tattoo starts with a darker shading before finishing with a lighter shade when you flick away the machine. This technique needs an experienced tattoo artist to execute it correctly.

Here is a video of how to do whip shading.

2. Packing

Color packing involves moving the needle in a circular motion over the skin to draw a solid color. It consists of moving the shader needle in tight oval motions to “pack” in the tattoo ink on the skin.

Here is a video demo of the packing technique in action.

3. Stipple Shading

Stipple shading needs you to move your hands at a faster speed than with other techniques. It is perfect for tattoo styles that require a stippled shading effect.

The speed for shading is as important as the tattoo machine’s voltage. High voltage will need keen attention to speed. The key here is to distribute dots with varying pressure.

A slower speed spreads the dots longer over the skin, as this video explains.

4. Brush Shading

In this technique, you move the needle over the skin following a pendulum movement to angle the ink distribution.

Long needles are the best for this shading technique. Here is a video showing how to do brush shading, also known as pendulum shading.

If you have tattoos and want to keep them looking vibrant while also getting a great tan, be sure to check out our article on the “best indoor tanning lotion for tattoos.” I’ve got you covered with all the information you need to keep your skin looking and feeling its best!

How To Shade a Tattoo for Beginners?

Before you shade a tattoo on human skin, it’s better to start with artificial or fake skin.

It’s wise to only transition to human skin after perfecting your tattoo designs on artificial skin. Pig skin is an excellent substitute for actual skin since it’s almost similar in thickness (2).

Step 1: Prepare Sketching Pencil Drawings on Paper

Sketching your tattoo on paper first is like creating a master plan for a house you plan to build. On paper, use your artistic endeavor and draw intricate shading thanks to the huge margins of error.

Work on your speed and wrist movements critical in the shading process you want to try. Also, craft templates of the beautiful tattoos you’ll want to draw.

See this tutorial for more help on pencil sketch tattoos.

Step 2: Transition to Practising on Pork Belly or Fake Skin

As I mentioned, pig skin is the closest you can get to human skin for practice. Try the basic tattooing techniques on pork belly to prepare.

Get the best tattoo pen kit for beginners and practice the different types of shading.

See how this person does it.

Step 3: Select the Proper Needle for the Shading Process

Shading with round and magnum tattoo needles is the best option. The video below will show you how to select the proper shading needle.

Step 4: Sketch the Client’s Tattoo

Before you can tattoo the client, it’s essential to sketch the tattoo down first. This step is where you’ll create the tattoo design for drawing on the client’s skin.

Check how this tattoo artist does it.

Step 5: Prepare the Tattooing Machine for the Shading

This is where you set the machine to a proper distance between the armature bar and the contact screw. A good beginner tattoo machine won’t trouble you in the setting up. For shading, the ideal space is 2mm.

See how to do it here.

Step 6: Prepare the Client’s Skin

Wash and clean the area you plan to tattoo. Also, shave off any hair for a smoother tattooing process.

This video will guide you on how to do it well

Step 7: The Tattoo Outline

Outline the tattoo you plan to draw. The tattoo outline will guide your shading. See how to do it here.

Tuning your tattoo machine is an essential part of the tattooing process. If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on how to tune a tattoo machine, check out our article for detailed instructions and helpful tips to ensure optimal performance.


What tattoo needle is best for shading?

Magnum and round needles are the best tattoo shading needles.

What voltage should I run my tattoo machine at for shading?

8 to 10 volts should be perfect for shading. You’ll have to use a different voltage for the lining, though.

Can you shade with a liner needle?

Yes, you can. But that will depend on the comfort and design of the tattoo you are shading.


Knowing how to shade a tattoo for beginners can appear complicated. But enough practice and determination can help you master it.

Shading is an acquired skill you can make better with time. The important thing is to start.

a men guiding on how to shade a tattoo for beginners

Have any other tips on how to start shading as a beginner? Share your tips with us in the comments down below.


  • 1. IBISWorld – Industry Market Research, Reports, and Statistics [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from:
  • 2. Fujita AKL, Rocha RW da, Escobar A, Nardi AB de, Menezes VSB and PFC de. Correlation between Porcine and Human Skin Models by Optical Methods [Internet]. IntechOpen; 2018 [cited 2022 Oct 28]. Available from:
About Edith Russo

Edith is a self-made entrepreneur with a keen business sense that others admire and a total “can-do” attitude. She’s always coming up with new ideas to anticipate her readers’ needs and help solve all their toughest beauty and skincare problems. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES. FOLLOW HER on Linkedin and Twitter. Learn more about her HERE.

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