Learning how to run tattoo lines is more like learning a dance step than anything else. In the end all it takes is lil practice and good ink flow.
I learned how to tattoo from a lot of different artists over the years. I always felt my lines could be better no matter what I did.
So each time I would work with a new artist, I would ask them to re-teach me to line.
Turns out there’s a billion and one ways to run a tattoo line. The general consensus is that there is no right or wrong way. We pick up habits from various influences, and we use what works best for us.
So we set out to find a universal way to teach linework that would help everyone get better no matter how you like to line.
We believe that no matter what style, machine, cartridge, ink or technique is being used: If we are getting proper ink flow, our lines will run consistent and clean. If we are not getting good ink flow, let the frustration begin.
Understanding these steps, always gives us the confidence to execute linework that both the clients and the artist are happy with. These steps are a compilation of almost 10 years of advice from dozens of artists, all creating very different styles of tattoo work.
No matter what problem we feel we are having with our lines, if we do these steps in order, we always pull a nice clean line.
It gets us out of our head and allows us to focus on the task at hand.
This guide will get you good ink flow from the ink cap, up into to the cartridge, and down into skin.
First: Set the ink flow gap.
Believe it or not, it doesn’t really matter how far out the needle hangs out when lining.
It’s more of a personal preference. Needle hang and throw are determined by the stroke of the machine being used. A 4.0 stroke will have a longer hang & throw than a 3.5.
But the important thing is the ink flow gap will be set up the same for both.
The ink flow gap is the gap between the tip of the needle configuration and the cartridge tube tip.
A larger ink flow gap will allow more ink to flow out while lining. This allows the artist to set the amount if ink flow to suit their needs and personal preference.
Vantage Black, from Raw Pigments, is a goopy formula that doesn’t run all over, saving the stencil and increasing visibility. It’s amazing for designs with detailed linework, and it requires a slightly larger ink flow gap to handle the thickness of it.
Pitch Black is a faster, silky ink that we run with a smaller ink flow gap to keep this fast lining black from getting away from us. Some artists don’t like to use more than one black but we think otherwise. We find a simple ink flow gap adjustment is enough to allow us to use any black we want.
We do like to leave “a little extra” sized ink flow gap than we think we need at the start, to account for a little plasma which may build up on the needle cartridge tip. Not letting enough ink through can cause issues which can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of. Having a lil extra might feel a tiny bit too loose at the start, but it gives us some headroom on our ink flow.
Ultimately, these 9 things continue to finally give us confidence and satisfaction in our linework, each time we tattoo.