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Standard Stretching Techniques for Tattooing

Updated on February 07, 2016
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Jason Goodrow, or otherwise known as "The Goodboy," is a licensed tattoo artist.

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 skin while tattooing and useful ways that will help you improve upon that necessary skill set.

People come in different shape 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 skin tight—this is done even among artists who have been tattooing for years. It may seem like, in pulling the skin tight, that 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.

Pictures of Improper Methods

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.

Up Close

A Few Pointers

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

  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 equals 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!

Wrapping Up

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 pay off is well worth it.

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

Thanks for reading!

—Gman

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      joe 4 years ago

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

    • jsngoodrow profile image
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      Jason Goodrow 4 years ago from Washington State

      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!

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      joe 4 years ago

      How do u use them to stretch the finger skin out

    • jsngoodrow profile image
      Author

      Jason Goodrow 4 years ago from Washington State

      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.

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      billy 3 years ago

      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

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      Alice 24 months ago

      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?

    • jsngoodrow profile image
      Author

      Jason Goodrow 24 months ago from Washington State

      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.

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