A solid tattoo outline is the foundation of any tattoo. Any mistakes you make here will become further visible when you shade and color the tattoo.
First, make sure to use a stencil. Free-handing an outline is a surefire way to end up with uneven lines and a distorted image. The human body isn't a flat canvas, so the stencil ensures that your outline contours with the body appropriately. The stencil also gives your client the opportunity to get a realistic idea of the placement, so there are no surprises when you've already committed ink to skin.
Make sure your lining machine is in good repair and all the working parts are indeed working. Before you turn on the machine, dip the needle in the outline ink and ensure the color cup is filled. Anytime you need to refill the color cup, dip the needle in ink to make sure it doesn't dry up in the interim.
Select an appropriately sized needle for your art and experience. Smaller needles are harder to master and are best used for portraiture or other fine detailing. Avoid selecting a gauge too small, as you will need to trace over the same area multiple times which increases complications in the healing process. Ensure you are stretching the skin flat as you go along. Do not over-stretch as this will lead to a distorted image and you increase the potential of scaring.
Start to line the tattoo from the bottom and work your way to the top. Never start a line in the middle, as this will create uneven lines. You want a smooth clean contour for your outline.
Go slowly. If you try to trace your stencil too quickly, you may out-move the needle resulting in a dotted line. You want a solid line the first time around. Make sure that you are lining only with the tip of the needle. If the needle penetrates the skin too deeply it will ultimately fade and scar. Position the lining machine so that you are always lining sideways or forward. This ensures there is a constant flow of ink coming through the machine and into the skin.
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