How to Get Smooth Color Blends | Fireside Technique | EP 16

Videos by Jake Meeks –

Writing By Daniel Pushcarich - 

Topics: Tattoo Techniques, Shading, Color Tattoo, Fireside Techniques

This episode was made possible thanks to the help of our affiliates. Use code “Fireside” to get discounts on the stuff you are already buying at the links below

Neuma Tattoo, S8 Tattoo, Reinventing the Tattoo, Raw Pigments, TattooNOW

“...I’m really paying attention to the skin here… you can see if it’s being evenly irritated, if it bleeds evenly. If you’ve overworked something, it shows really quickly…”
- Jake Meeks

It's crucial to generate smooth color transitions when tattooing. If your blending isn't clean, it will look splotchy and jagged in comparison to other tattoos. There are a few methods you can use to make transitioning smoother, from concentrated gradients to different color effects, and even different needle configurations. This episode touches on a few key tricks and tools that you can add to your tool kit so that your blends come out looking smooth as butter.

Color Transitions

image Color transition

“I started with a medium tone… I’m working kinda medium to dark, rather than working dark to light.”
- Jake Meeks

It's all about getting the transition points correct when it comes to achieving smooth color transitions. I find that placing the highest saturation points where those transitions are I'm able to avoid muddy and confused colors. Experiment with the order in which you're packing your colors too. Going from light to dark, or from mid tones, to dark, to light will result in distinct effects, so play around until you find something that works for you.

Layering Colors

image of Layering colors

“Guy Aitchison mentioned something once when I was listening to him talk about how to think of packing color over color… it’s not like you set a color on top of another color…”
- Jake Meeks

A common misunderstanding when we’re putting one color on top of another is that it’s being layered on top of the old one. In reality, rather than just overlapping it’s being blended into the existing tattoo pigments. The two colors both remain in the skin, mix, and alter the color you're putting in. The same goes for tattooing over black as well. Any color you add will blend with the black tattoo pigments and be shaded respectively.

Using Multiple Shades of a Color

Multiple shades of a single color

“Whenever I move to the backside of the sleeve here, I change the temperature of green. I went to a more seafoam green…”
- Jake Meeks

Another tip that may not seem that important is using a variety of the same color in your piece. Instead of just tinting the color darker or lighter with black, try muting the color with it’s complementary or changing its temperature to slightly warmer or cooler. These small changes will greatly affect the entire outcome of the piece and make a noticeable difference in creating depth.

Feeling Color Saturation

Feeling color saturation

I'm really slowing down, and I'm paying attention to the vibration in my off-hand…”
- Jake Meeks

The more you practice, the better you'll get at judging color saturation by feel. When I say "by feel," I mean that when you're stretching the skin during a tattoo, pay attention to how it vibrates under your needles. Comparing that sensation to the visual results will help train your brain so you can instinctively tell when you're packing in enough color.

The Final Tightening of the Session

final tightening pass of the session

“Don't be afraid to pull your line out at the end of your sessions and build your textures…”
- Jake Meeks

Don't be afraid to return to your liner at the end of a session. This will allow you to finish off your work with the attention to detail your client will appreciate and leave the tattoo looking clean, and your colors feeling confidant. Check for any gaps in consistency where your color is approaching a line and look for any imperfections. When you look back and notice how those little modifications make the piece really pop, you'll be amazed!


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The Fireside Tattoo Network is home to the Fireside podcast, Fireside Technique video series and our Fireside Weekly blog.

The Fireside Tattoo podcast is hosted by veteran tattooer Jake Meeks, check out our episodes where we discuss, argue and wax philosophical, from tips for all levels of artists to trends in the tattoo world. Many guest artists have sat down for interviews and in-depth conversations and many more are planned…check back often!

Our Fireside Technique video series offers short, detailed how-to videos geared towards helping artists improve their work. We often take some of our more technical topics from our Fireside podcast and film an in-depth, narrated, time-lapsed video showing exactly how Jake or our featured artists handle certain issues.

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