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Tattoo Shading Techniques: Understanding the Difference between Stipple and Soft Shading

Two popular methods for adding depth and texture to tattoos are stipple shading and soft (Or Magnum) shading. Both techniques create unique visual effects and are chosen based on the desired outcome of the tattoo. Let’s dive into the differences between these shading techniques and the tools used for each to help you decide which technique you'd like in your new tattoo!

Tattoo Shading Technique: Stipple Shading

A technique that involves creating a series of dots to form shades and tones throughout the tattoo. This method gives the tattoo a granular appearance and can produce a striking gradient effect. It can add a sense of depth and texture that mimics pencil sketches. Stipple shading is often achieved using single needles that allow the artist to make precise dots. These needles are finer and require a steady hand to maintain the consistency of the dots. Examples of this technique may be used for small/medium sized tattoos or tattoos that require a lot of precise detail.

Tattoo Shading Technique: Soft (Magnum) Shading

Using magnum needles, this shading process uses broader strokes and a larger needle. This technique is ideal for filling larger areas with gradient which creates a smoother and more blended appearance. Mag shading is commonly used in realistic tattoos and larger pieces where extensive shading is necessary. Magnum needles are arranged in a flat configuration that can cover a wider area. They come in various sizes, with more needles in the configuration allowing for broader and more saturated shading. These needles make it faster to fill in large spaces smoothly and efficiently. These needles are commonly used for large realistic tattoos.

Cross Rose and Butterfly Tattoo Design
Tattoo By Tom Fitch

Choosing between stipple shading and mag shading depends largely on the design of the tattoo and the effect you and your artist wants to achieve. Stipple shading offers a textured, detailed look, while mag shading provides a smoother, more consistent blend. Understanding the difference in techniques and needles can help clients and artists decide about their tattoo projects and the final outcome.

By Tom Fitch- Tattoo Artist @ Enigma Studios


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