xxx = Tips for Tattooing Darker Skin Tones Fireside Technique EP 37 Tips_for_Tattooing_Darker_Skin_Tones__Fireside_Technique__EP_37 Fireside Tattoo Network

Tattoo Techniques: Tips for Tattooing Darker Skin Tones Fireside Technique EP 37

Tips for Tattooing Darker Skin Tones

| Fireside Technique | EP 37

 “It’s the same rule with anyone no matter the skin complexion. Usually inner arms, inner forearms, shoulders are going to be lighter than outer arms in general, so it just gives you a place to start when you’re designing.” –  Jake Meeks

Creating dynamic tattoos for dark skin can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. In this short episode, we offer a few tips to help get the most out of your designs for dark complexions.

Some of the main thing’s we’ll get into are; simplifying your value range, taking extra care for body placement, and utilizing larger, more well defined shapes. Tattooing darker skin is really no different than tattooing any other skin tone, you just have to take a little more care and consideration with your design for the client.

This episode was made possible thanks to:

Video by Jake Meeks – 

Writing by Daniel Pushcarich - 

Topics: Tattoo Techniques, Dark Skin Tattooing, Composition Techniques

Pushing Contrast

Limiting Your Value Range

jake meeks value range

“…when you’re dealing with darker skin tones we’re already working within a very limited value range which means that we need to push our contrast even further.”

– Jake Meeks

When working with darker skin tones, limiting your value range down to about 3 or 4 shades of grey is going to be more beneficial. Because the darker complexion limits the value range, we should be more deliberate in our decision making, pushing the contrast to its furthest extent.

When tattooing, we always want our work to be readable from a distance. This is of utmost importance when the client has darker skin. In these cases, it's best to choose designs with thicker lines and high contrast or bright colors. Steer clear of too many delicate shadows, gradients, lots of finer lighting details.

Simplifying Shapes in Tattoo Designs to Read Clearer on Darker Skin

“… that’s the goal, simplifying the shapes because what we want when this thing is settled in and he’s lived with it for a couple of years… you want the shapes themselves to be super clear, super easy to read and draw you in so that... so you want to look closer.” – Jake Meeks

Making large, bold shapes is more important than ever when working with darker skin tones. Because we have such a limited range to work with in our transitions, we need to make sure our shapes are very clear and visible to help boost their structure.

Making Deliberate Decisions

decision making deliberate

“And the mistake I think that’s most common to make is…  you’ll tend to want to come through and really add all these subtle little transitions and lights and darks, and what that tends to do is flatten the image out over time…” – Jake Meeks

Unintentionally, we can make the piece more flat if we're not careful with our value decisions. We can avoid flattening out over time by defining our lights and darks clearly first, subtly adding transitions as needed will prevent the work from flattening out over the life of the tattoo.

Another thing you should consider is limiting the amount of planes you’re working with. This doesn’t just apply to darker skin, but simplifying to just foreground and background can make readability better on ALL skin tones.

Placement On The Body

Paying Attention to Different Values of the Tattoo Clients Body

“…typically outer forearms are the darkest part of anyone so when you’re planning say, a sleeve, you would want to avoid putting all of your finest detail work, or the star of your composition, in the areas where you have the least value range.” – Jake Meeks

The outside forearms are typically the darkest areas of a person's body, owing to it having the highest sunlight exposure. Because they are continuously exposed to the elements, consider structuring your designs around that concept. Avoid putting the most detailed elements of your composition in these outer regions, allowing for the most robust possible value range.

Also, consider that the forearms are what the audience might see first on ANY client. Utilizing a simpler, more robust value range in these areas will not only garner more longevity out of the tattoo, but also increase readability from greater distances.

Optimizing The Design to Fit the Body jake meeks skin tone dark skin tattoo comparison

“…if we were working just on the forearm and Cedric wanted a portrait or something that requires something where I had to have really soft transitions, I would likely move to his inner forearm where the skin’s a little bit lighter than the outer forearm.”

– Jake Meeks

Remember to keep the body parts and forms in mind while developing your tattoo designs. Planning around these different aspects might be a lifesaver for your design. Allowing a wider range of value in your lightest, most detailed regions, as well as bigger shapes with a lower value range where the sun may touch or the eye might catch.


You also might consider checking out our Optimizing Tattoo Colors For Skin Types Deep Dive Page Here



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Check out our Tattoo Techniques catalog HERE!

Transcript can be found here. All Transcripts can be found here


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-lapse video showing exactly how Jake or our featured artists handle certain issues.

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