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How to design the perfect tattoo: A detailed tutorial

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Are you a tattoo artist feeling stuck with the same old designs? Does it seem hard to turn your client's fuzzy ideas into a clear, cool tattoo design? Or are you new and finding it tough to make designs that you like and your clients love too? The big world of tattoo colours, styles, and placements can feel too much sometimes. We get it. Being a tattoo artist is not always easy. You must be original, make your clients happy, and be good at your craft.

That's why our guide on how to design the perfect tattoo is here. We want to help you get your creativity back, get better at designing, and make it easier to understand what your clients really want. Let's turn those unclear ideas into great tattoos.

Techniques on how to draw your designs

Hand-drawing tattoo design

The traditional route of designing a tattoo starts with you sketching out the basic design with a pencil, laying down the overall shape and composition. As you develop the design, you refine it, adding details and adjusting proportions, often using pens or fine-liners for increased precision. You then add depth through shading, using different grades of pencils or techniques such as dotwork or colour gradients.

If your design incorporates colour, this is the stage where tattoo artists would use coloured pencils or markers to add it in. Once you're satisfied, you transfer the design onto stencil paper, which often involves using a lightbox or window, and this stencil then serves as your guide during the tattooing process.

Digital tattoo design

If you prefer a more modern approach, digital design provides greater flexibility and precision. You start similarly, with an initial sketch of your tattoo ideas, but this time using a digital drawing tablet and design software like Procreate, Adobe Illustrator or any AI tattoo generator. Websites and platforms offering a tattoo maker or free tattoo creator can also be incredibly helpful in bringing your vision to life.

 

tattoo artist drawing on a tablet

 

One significant advantage of digital design is the ability to use layers to separate and work on individual elements of your design without disturbing others. Colouring and shading are done with various digital brushes, gradients, and effects, offering a wide field for creativity and experimentation.

Once you're done designing in your own tattoo style, you print it directly onto stencil paper, which guides your tattoo application. Each technique has its own benefits, and the best choice will often depend on your preferred style and creative process.

How to design a tattoo in 5 simple steps

1. Understand the client's vision

As a tattoo artist, your first step is always understanding what your client wants. This may involve discussing their ideas, inspirations, the tattoo's significance, and where they want it on their body. It's crucial to understand your client's vision thoroughly to create a design they'll love.

2 Sketch the basic design

Once you have a clear understanding of what your client wants, you can start sketching the basic design. You can do this either on paper or digitally, depending on your preference. At this stage, you're laying out the tattoo's overall shape and composition, not worrying too much about the details.

3 Refine your sketch

After you have your basic sketch, it's time to refine it. You can add more details, adjust proportions, or correct any parts that don't feel quite right. This step involves a lot of back-and-forth with your client to ensure they're happy with the direction of the design.

4 Add shading and colour

Once you and your client are satisfied with the design, you can add depth by shading and, if applicable, colour. This step is where your artistic skills shine as you bring the tattoo to life. If you're working digitally, you can play with different brushes and effects. If you're working on paper, you can use different grades of pencils, pens, or markers.

5 Create the stencil

The final step is to create a stencil of the tattoo. This stencil will serve as your guide during the tattooing process. If you're working on paper, this will involve tracing your final design onto stencil paper. If you're working digitally, you can print the design directly onto stencil paper.

Rules for designing a tattoo

Foreground, middle-ground centre, and background

Achieving depth in your custom tattoo designs creates a visually pleasing effect. By designing with a foreground, middle ground, and background, you can create a three-dimensional look, adding depth and interest to your design. You can create a natural transition by fading out the background at the edges, like in a landscape tattoo.

Orientation matters

If your custom tattoo design features a figure, such as an animal or a human face, it's generally best to have it facing towards the centre line of the body if it's on the torso or forward if it's on the sides of the body. This can make the design look more cohesive and harmonised with the body's natural lines.

 

Tattoo on Pregnant Belly

 

Fit and flow with the body

A tattoo should not just be a flat piece of art; it should interact with the body's natural curves and muscle structure. Designs that fit and flow with the body's form will look more natural and aesthetically pleasing. Simply transferring a rectangular design onto a curved surface like a person's arm or leg may look distorted or out of place.

Consider the design's longevity

Tattoos age over time. Colors fade and lines blur. When designing a tattoo, consider how it will look several years down the line. Bold lines and high contrast between elements can help a tattoo age gracefully.

Respect cultural symbols

Be aware of the cultural significance of the symbols you incorporate in your designs. Using sacred or culturally significant symbols without understanding their meaning can be considered disrespectful.

Keep the design cohesive

All the tattoo elements in your design should work together to create a unified piece. If you're incorporating multiple elements, make sure they don't compete with each other and ruin the overall design.

Other tattoo designing techniques to consider

Influence of skin hue

Your client's skin tone significantly influences your tattoo design. Clients with darker skin may necessitate bolder designs with black ink like Radiant Ink - Tribal Black and thicker lines to achieve a good contrast. Conversely, clients with lighter skin enable higher contrast, and since they often avoid excessive sunlight, you have the latitude to design smaller and more detailed tattoos.

Impact of aging on color

The gradual fading of tattoos over the years differently affects each colour. Darker colours tend to hold up better, lasting clear and vivid for a longer duration—hence the phrase "bold will hold." Lighter colours, however, might not endure as effectively over time. Consequently, it's crucial to take the long-term durability of your colour selection into account.

MTS Tattoo Balm, a professional tattoo care product for new tattoos

 

Here, using MTS Tattoo Balm  can be particularly beneficial. This product is designed to help preserve the vibrancy and clarity of your tattoo's colours, regardless of their initial darkness or lightness.

Line thickness and aging

Tattoos spread marginally as they age, especially noticeable in line work. Lines positioned too closely may blur into an indistinct mass over time. Selecting the appropriate line thickness can greatly influence the readability of the tattoo as it ages.

The role of negative space and skin breaks

Intentionally leaving parts of the skin blank, known as "skin breaks," can help to avoid your own tattoo design looking too dense or cluttered. These breaks should be large enough to permit shading with a 7-mag needle since tattoos breakdown and spread under the skin with time. Without ample space, the lines might merge, rendering the design indecipherable.

Detail and placement interplay

The location of the tattoo on the body governs the amount of detail that can be included. Smaller body parts like the wrist or calf necessitate less complex designs to avoid detail blurring. In contrast, larger areas like the back can hold more elaborate designs.

What is the next step?

Designing the perfect tattoo is a multi-step process that demands creativity, technical expertise, and a keen understanding of the client's desires. As a tattoo artist, you have the unique opportunity to turn personal stories and feelings into a lasting piece of art.

But as a tattoo creator, your job doesn't end after the final needle stroke. The tattoo aftercare process is equally essential to ensure the tattoo heals properly and maintains its vibrancy over time. Make sure to provide your clients with clear aftercare instructions and be available for any questions or concerns they might have during their healing process.

Remember, every tattoo you create is not just a design on someone's skin but a part of their identity and a piece of art they will carry forever.

 

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  • Mark Joshua Luz
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