2D to 3D Tattoos / Dimensional Tattooing

Posted by Dragon Tattoo on

Most tattoos are in 2D, (2-dimension). They are flat images in 2D, with no depth in the design. 3D tattoos, (3-dimensional tattoos), are the tattoos that have an extra dimension and that is depth. This type of tattoo gives the illusion of being above the skin or inside the body.

Older cartoons were created in 2-D and were standard animation and common practice, you have probably seen some of the oldies but goodies like Popeye, Tom and Jerry, etc. These 2D cartoons were made of thousands of drawings, shown quickly and in order so that the characters seemed to be alive and moving. In reality, 2D art work is flat. They have only two dimensions; height and width. 3D, or 3-dimensional creates depth and this is game changing.

The unfinished butterfly tattoo posted in the 'Featured image' section is an example of what 2-dimensional looks like in comparison to a 3-dimensional tattoo. On the unfinished left side, the wing doesn't have surface lighting or shadowing, so it looks flat. The right wing, as you can see, has had the third dimension applied by the artist. Having added lighting and shadows to the tattoo, the butterfly is coming to life! Illusion has been made and now there is an appearance of distance between the wing and actual skin. 

Third dimension, or depth, fools the eye into thinking that space exists. It can be done to make the object, (or design), appear closer to the eye or further away. This is the dimension that gives 3D art its “rounded or curved” look. 3D art is created by lighting, shading, shadowing and blurring techniques to create a life-like piece of art.


In making a 3D tattoo, the artists needs to add highlights. These are the areas of “high light”, as if the sun were shining on it. Shading is used to make a rounded figures and shadows create depth and distance. 

The difference in 2D and 3D is the life-like effect of 3D. Third dimensional designs add the appearance realness, it does not change the meaning of symbols if that were to ever be a concern to someone.

3D tattoos create optical illusions by tricking the eye into thinking that part of the skin is “removed”, and showing the muscles and tendons beneath and fooling the eye into thinking another dimension has been there all along. This technique can be used for any number of designs.

Creating a breast for someone that has lost theirs due to cancer is of huge significance. One popular technique for 3D tattoos is to create the illusion that something is sitting on top of the skin. This is done by “rounding” with highlights, shading and adding shadows to both the design, and the skin. Shadowing convinces the brain that space exists and offers a look of reality. For people that have undergone this type of surgery, this can absolutely make the appearance of an actual breast, sometimes in combination with reconstruction, sometimes not.

To make 3D tattoo designs seem realistic, the tattooist should be mindful of  correct lighting. If the shadow and the highlight appear to be created by different light sources, the 3-dimensional effect is lost and it will appear flat.

Using red and blue ink to make a tattoo design may appear sloppy to the bare eye, but with 3D glasses, (the same ones at the movies), they also create a 3D tattoo. This same effect is used in the making of a 3D film.

Tattoo designs in 3D are taking the tattooists art into a new dimension...(see what I did there)! ;)

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  • Thank you for all you’re help and advice gained some much needed information

    Andy Smith on

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