Dotwork Tattoos

Dotwork tattoos have risen in popularity in recent years and have since become a much sought-after style. As artists play around with this technique, it’s often combined with other tattoo styles to create an intriguing piece. Dotwork can be used to bring together a full image, or it can be used for the shading of a tattoo design.

Where did this tattoo style come from and what are some common designs? We’re going to find out.

What Is a Dotwork Tattoo?

Dotwork is a technique that requires the artist to tattoo multiple dots to create an image or visual effects. The technique is often used to create entire images, even portraits, or for the shading. When used in shading, the artist will often use black, grey, dark blue or even red ink.

A tattoo artist can create dotwork tattoos using a regular coil machine or hand-poking technique. Hand-poking technique is also commonly known as a “stick and poke” tattoo. 

Many people prefer hand-poked tattoos, as they feel more organic or personal. It also allows the artist to be more precise since they aren’t dealing with a vibrating machine.

Dotwork tattoos create a unique appearance for almost any image.

History of Dotwork Tattoos

Tattoos can be dated back to the Iceman, a frozen mummy that’s 5200 years old. Moreover, female mummies from ancient Egypt have also had a display of various tattoos.

What all of the ancient tattoos have in common is the dotwork design. The Iceman had various dots and patterns with dots on different parts of his body. Researchers suggest that tattoos were often used as a therapeutic technique to alleviate pain.

In ancient Egypt, tattoos were almost exclusively for women. Some believe it was a way for them to mark prostitutes or protect women from sexually transmitted diseases. 

However, further research has found dotted artwork around the abdomen, thighs and breasts—indicating that dotwork tattoos were used to alleviate pain during pregnancy and childbirth.

This isn’t to say that people today get dotwork tattoos to alleviate pain, and you certainly shouldn’t get inked when pregnant. This is mostly due to the risk of contracting an infection, such as HIV or Hepatitis B.

In saying that, dotwork tattoos are among some of the most pleasurable tattoos to have done, according to the public. This is because the execution feels soft and less direct compared to traditional tattoos. Maybe, in some ways, this technique can help to relieve certain aches and pains.

Pointillism and Dotwork Tattoos

Dotwork tattoos draw inspiration from the popular painting technique, pointillism. This method, similar to dotwork, uses multiple tiny dots to create a dynamic image.

The painting technique or style was first made popular all the way back in 1886 as a branch of impressionism. The first two artists to use pointillism were Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. Later on, Camille Pissarro and Vincent Van Gogh, among others, also utilized this interesting technique.

Modern tattoo artists will use the same technique of creating multiple small dots that look solid from a distance—but as you close in, you’ll notice the incredible pattern of dots.

Common Dotwork Tattoo Designs

The dotwork technique is commonly used in geometric, mandalas, spiritual or religious tattoos. However, the technique can be used in any tattoo style.

Mandala tattoos are composed of a pattern of circles. The dotwork method is usually used to create a soft center and shading within the mandala.

Geometric tattoos are based on different shapes that create a simple yet intriguing design. Dotworking is commonly used to create depth and shading within the shapes. Some geometric tattoos are made entirely using tiny dots, which you can see if you look closely. 

Many artists use dotwork for shading, also known as stippling, which helps any artwork come to life. Dotwork is also often used in blackwork tattoos and more recently, has become popular in negative space tattoos.

Negative space tattoos don’t have anything to do with outer space or NASA. This type of tattoo plays with reverse images where your skin tone is used to create the lighter shades of the design.

The dotwork technique works particularly well with negative space tattoos as it allows the artist to create depth to the image using shading.

Handmade Dotwork Tattoos vs Machine-Made

Handmade dotwork tattoos, also known as stick and poke, have gained popularity over the years. Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus’ sister Noah Cyrus has a number of stick and poke tats, as well as Kesha and Debby Ryan.

The hand poking technique has had somewhat of a bad reputation, with people viewing it as prison tattoos. However, when a professional tattoo artist is behind the needle, the technique can create amazingly detailed designs. The method allows the artist to be more precise with their work and create every little detail imaginable.

In saying that, most artists prefer to use coil machines over hand poking, as the latter may not last forever. Machines are a safer option as well as faster and more consistent. It will also be less painful since you’ll be able to get the tattoo done quicker.

Skills and Techniques Required

Making a dotwork tattoo doesn’t require any specific skills since most artists already use this technique for shading. However, if you’re looking to get a more detailed dotwork tattoo or portrait, you should find an artist who specializes in this.

If you’d like a handmade dotwork tattoo, it’s essential to find a licensed professional artist who specializes in this. 

Some artists use special machines that replicate handmade dotwork tattoos. These are generally safer options since machines tend to be cleaner than handmade tattoos.

Tips for Picking a Suitable Design

Deciding to get a tattoo is a big decision since it will stay with you forever—unless you get it removed using painful laser surgery. Here are a few tips to help you find a design for you:

  • Find a suitable artist: For dotwork tattoos, it’s a good idea to find an artist that has a good experience with this style. You can even ask to see their portfolio of works to find inspiration or something you like.
  • Size: Do you want an image or a simple design? Knowing how big of a tattoo you’d like will help you to find a suitable design. If it’s your first tattoo, start small, you can always add to the design later on.
  • Area: Do you want the tattoo to be hidden? Choose the ribs, neck or behind an ear. If you want your dotwork tattoo to be on display, choose an arm, finger, back or chest.


Do Dotwork Tattoos Hurt?

The soft shading and light dotting are actually considered to be one of the least painful tattoo techniques.

In saying that, many things play a factor when it comes to the pain of a tattoo. Your pain tolerance will be the deciding factor on where you’ll place dotwork tattoos on a pain scale.

The area of the body also plays an important role since the ribs, shoulder and inner arm tend to be more painful. 

What most people mention when describing a dotwork tattoo is that the pain is very localized. Meaning, you feel it where the dot is being done, whereas, with regular tattoos, the pain will usually radiate throughout the area.

Another factor is time. The dotwork technique does require a longer time compared to regular tattoos. This is because the artist has to make multiple tiny dots and not full lines or blocks of color.

This also means that if you find it uncomfortable, you might find it painful after a while.

How Is the Aftercare of Dotwork Tattoos?

The good thing about dotwork tattoos is that they don’t require any specific aftercare. Simply follow your artists’ advice and keep it moisturized. After all, the ink in any tattoo remains under the skin.

Do Dotwork Tattoos Cost More?

Since the duration of the appointment plays a significant role in the price, you can expect dotwork tattoos to be more expensive. Dotwork generally takes longer than regular tattoos.

Do Dotwork Tattoos Age Well?

Simply because tattoos are a permanent deal, it doesn’t necessarily mean every tat ages well. This is an important consideration that many fail to think about when choosing their design.

In general, the kinds of tattoos that age the best are those lined with black—this will help to keep the color or tattoo from spreading. 

Dotwork tattoos made using smaller needles or more faded designs are unlikely to age well. However, if you opt for a combination of thicker dots and lines, your tat should last for longer. On the downside, opting for thicker, bolder lines could interfere with your chosen design, especially if it’s a delicate minimalist piece.

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