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Standard Stretching Techniques for Tattooing

The 3-point stretch.

The 3-point stretch.

Stretching Techniques and Tattooing

In this article, I will be talking about the various ways to stretch the skin while tattooing and useful ways that will help you improve upon that necessary skill set.

People come in different shapes and forms, and the skin types of these forms vary as well, making stretching the skin a key component of tattooing. Here, you'll learn the standard 3-point stretch technique. Believe me, it is key to train yourself on this technique early on in your career. It will save a ton of frustration, wasted time, and crappy work.

Improper Stretching

First, I want to show you some examples of improper techniques I have seen used.

  • The most common mistake used is the wrapping of the hand around an arm to pull the skin tight—this is done even among artists who have been tattooing for years. It may seem that by pulling the skin tight, you are still using your tattoo hand. However, this is actually putting pressure on the same stretch of skin you are working on. So, as you begin to work toward that unevenly stretched skin, you will begin to have issues. This includes bubbles in your lines or very faint lines turning into suddenly very fat and thick squiggly lines.
  • The other improper way to stretch skin tight is generally referred to as the ”pull-stretch.” This is when one takes their hand, places all four fingers near the area of the tattoo, and pulls downward on the skin to pull it tight. Again, as you begin to move into that area of skin, you may or may not get the ink to go in. If you do, it still might not have the results you expected, as I mentioned above.

The 3-Point Stretch Applied

In my experience, the 3-point stretch has yielded the best results.

  1. The 3-point stretch will generally consist of your forefinger and thumb. They will spread apart from each other on the skin to help pull it tight first.
  2. Then, with the ball of your tattoo hand, machine in tow, you will place your hand strategically to finish the stretch. Now you can tattoo the area you are working on.
  • A longer line done correctly is what you are striving for. However, if this stretch is done correctly and you need to build that confidence first, then by all means start small and do shorter lines. To this day, even I usually will work some of the shorter lines to warm my hand up, making sure to stretch that skin tight.
Close up

Close up

A Few Pointers

I wanted to mention specifically how important again it is to properly stretch the skin tight as you are tattooing. The main issues for so many beginners are:

  1. A two-finger stretch and not utilizing the hand as the third point on the 3-point stretch.
  2. Using the “pull-stretch” technique and not utilizing the hand as a second or third point on the 3-point stretch.
  3. Gripping around the arm/forearm to pull skin tight.

These are the three main issues I have addressed time and time again. All of these are related to improperly stretching the skin. That being said, here are a few tips for working on stretching techniques:

  • Work on a flat solid surface. It's always a good idea to have something to rest an arm or leg on, if possible. I work with an armrest for most arm pieces. If I am doing any leg tattoos, I always rest them on a table—easy access to the tattoo, good stretch, plus the client is very comfortable. All of these variables equal a great experience all around.
  • Use A&D original ointment. It is less oily than Vaseline, and when applied, it is easy to still stretch the skin.
  • Use a paper towel. If the muscles in your hands get tired from stretching, keep a paper towel folded in your non-tattooing hand and use that to help grip the skin with a little more ease. Bonus: it can be used to wipe excess ink from the tattoo.

Flat Surface Pointers

Working on a flat surface makes stretching the skin much easier

Working on a flat surface makes stretching the skin much easier

This is how working on a flat surface helps achieve giving a great tattoo.

This is how working on a flat surface helps achieve giving a great tattoo.

Hi guys!

Hi guys!

Practice Makes Perfect

I know that this is a ton of information to process, and I want to express again how important this is if you are serious about pursuing this as a career, or you just want to get better, period. You need to start off with good habits. The payoff is well worth it.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reply below.

Thanks for reading!


Questions & Answers

Question: Why does my tattoo needle sometimes get snagged?

Answer: A few reasons: the needle could be hanging too far out, not running enough power, or the spring tension is not strong enough and would need to be adjusted.

Question: What does the ball of your “tattoo hand” mean?

Answer: The ball of your hand would be understood as where you might put a golf ball and hold in your hand hence the "ball of your hand."

Question: What do you use to clean the area you will be tattooing in at the beginning?

Answer: For people working at home, I use Lysol wipes and saturate the area heavily and clean it. I repeat this two times more times before I set up. If you are setting up a shop I use Cavi wipes to clean the area you will be using as your station.


Jacob Thyberg on February 01, 2020:

Hey there I'm new to tattoo and I've done a few tattoos on family and one on a stranger but on myself I've finished one upper leg and front shin and other upper leg I'm wanting to start my arms but how do i stretch my own skin if I can't use the hand of the arm I'm tattooing. Also was wondering Do you critique peoples tattoos

Nancy on March 14, 2019:

Thanks for the advice. I have another question. What about streching the skin for my partner when he is tattooing a part of his body that he cant strech himself....what would be the best technique? Thnx

Bri on August 10, 2018:

Thank you for this it wa actually really helpful

Andre on December 17, 2017:

Can you stretch the skin as hard with a rotary as you do coil?

Jody on June 29, 2017:

Hey man, I am an apprentice and I have a hard time tattooing fatty areas, such as underarm, and hips. Some people are so large I have trouble stretching the area properly. Any tips on heavy weight people?

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 03, 2015:

Sounds like a lot things could be wrong in general... primarily though it sounds like your not getting the depth right as you are lining and shading.... making sure that the machine you are using whether it is rotary or your standard tattoo machine is set up correctly is very critical in whether the tattoo sticks or not... also the quality of the ink...

check out the rest of the lessons see if they help answer your other questions.

Alice on April 03, 2015:

I have tattooed my sister with my rotary machine and she's been scabbing but it looks like pieces are missing and that has happened once before and the tattoo just disappeared? What do you suppose I should do?

billy on September 15, 2013:

hi what's the best way to stretch the skin to practise on my own forearm, iv dun 6 tattoos on other now and want to practise shading on myself first, its basically the only thing im not confident at yet, I just can't seem to get it to work

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on February 20, 2013:

I will post a hub about this subject to further help you. In essence the skin on the finger is tight, the paper towel or what ever you use pushes the skin tight which makes it tattooable.

joe on February 19, 2013:

How do u use them to stretch the finger skin out

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on February 19, 2013:

There are a few techniques used, I myself have used paper towels wrapped under the finger, but I have seen pencils used, gloves if nothing else was readily available. Use things that make sense in a sterile environment. Hope this helped and thanks for reading!

joe on February 19, 2013:

What's the best way to stretch the skin on a finger