Standard Stretching Techniques for Tattooing
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 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.
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 MethodsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The 3-Point Stretch Applied
In my experience, the 3-point stretch has yielded the best results.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- A two finger stretch and not utilizing the hand as the third point on the 3-point stretch.
- Using the “pull-stretch” technique and not utilizing the hand as a second or third point on the 3 point stretch.
- 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
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!
Questions & Answers
Why does my tattoo needle sometimes get snagged?
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.Helpful 2
What does the ball of your “tattoo hand” mean?
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."Helpful 2
What do you use to clean the area you will be tattooing in at the beginning?
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.