Dotwork in tattoos | 10 Masters

Tattoo techniques: dotwork

All the tricks you need to know about Dotwork in tattoos

22 December 2022


Dotwork is one of the most popular techniques, and a preference for many, both clients and tattoo artists. And it's not just dots. They are somewhat more complex and there are different techniques.

Interestingly, this style emerged a long time ago in fine art and has been transferred into tattooing in wonderful ways.

This technique is one of the most popular, as well as one of the most demanding of experience and thoroughness. Keep reading to know why.

What is dotwork?

Dotwork is a technique that consists of drawing through dots to achieve volumes, shadows, and reliefs. The literal definition of “Dotwork” is work by dots, and it refers to a drawing style that is actually very old.

Pictorial Dotwork emerged approximately 130 years ago in France, at the end of the 19th century, when Georges Pierre Seurat unveiled his work made with this technique.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, was perhaps one of the most important works of that century, since the author presented with it a completely new technique that was highly recognized by the most prestigious critics.

This made many artists copy this way of painting through dots and generate an optical illusion that, when seen at a considerable distance, seems to be solid colored surfaces. Actually, it’s a conjunction of infinite dots close to each other.

This technique expanded so much that little by little it was adopted by visual artists of all fields, thus managing to reach the tattoo world.

The dot-by-dot technique

Originally, Dotwork began to be done literally dot-by-dot, where the closeness or distance between them will determine the distinction between light and shadow. This technique, specifically in tattoos, is also known as Dotwork.

If you choose to tattoo in this way, you must have a lot of patience and be very rigorous. You must give yourself time because if you rush, instead of dots you will achieve dots and dashes in very irregular ways.

As its name implies, dot by dot the design is defined. The effect of lights and shadows will be defined by the amount and the distance between dots. The closer and more quantity there is, the more darkness and, on the contrary, the more light.

It is highly recommended to start with the darkest areas of the design and create a gradient. But remember, this requires extreme patience!

The needles to use are the low calibre RL-type to achieve neat and slim dots, which is the important thing, since in this way it is much easier to dominate the lights and shadows.

These tattoos, in addition to being done with machines, can be done through the Handpoke technique, where the inks are injected dot by dot at different speeds and ways.

The inks used for this type of work cannot be pure inks in the case of Black & Grey, but they are usually diluted to generate other effects for the dots not to be strongly marked.

Whip shading

These are Black & Grey style tattoos and stand out for their very subtle finishes and shadows.

Due to the way this technique is done, it is usually faster to tattoo than the previous one, since the dot effect will be determined through light strokes.

For this type of tattoo, it is necessary to use low calibre line needles, 3RL or 5RL are generally the most used.

The use of this needle allows you to be more versatile in the designs and details to generate truly fascinating results. In addition, they are less harmful to the skin, so they are less painful than solid strokes.

Therefore, the healing process is normally shorter than in other styles.

The needle must be inserted from the side, that is, slightly inclined, and the stroke has to be performed quickly so that the needle creates the dot effect on the skin.

This is essential when tattooing. Otherwise, it may result in continuous lines, and this is not the expected effect.

In this type of tattoo, contour lines are usually made first and then filled in with the shadows.

When making the stencils, tattooists often transfer only the lines and then delimit the shadow from them directly when they’re tattooing but not in the stencil.

However, the designs and styles can vary and the ways to make them change depending on the preferences of the tattoo artist and the client. There is no general rule for all the cases.

For this sort of work, it is vital to start filling from the darkest parts to the brightest ones.

This way, the gradient in the shadows will work very well. It is also easier to start in this way and not the other way around, due to the type of technique used and how the needles work.

Just like in Dotwork, whip shading requires a lot of experience to achieve neat and excellent finishes.


Dotwork proposes several interesting resources to develop and can be adapted to very different styles, such as Blackwork, Micro-Realism or Geometric Dotwork, among others.

Above all, Dotwork is not for you if you just want to finish the session as soon as possible as one of the factors for an excellent Dotwork tattoo is to do it very carefully

As in all styles, by specializing, learning from the best artists, dedicating time and being persistent, you will be able to achieve excellent results, undoubtedly.

Do you tattoo with this technique? What styles appeal to you the most? Drop us a comment!


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