The Tattooers Guide to Digital Design: Part 2

by Russ Abbott June 04, 2016 1 Comment

The Tattooers Guide to Digital Design: Part 2

I'd like to welcome our first guest contributor. Ben Reigle (@benreigle) has been a close friend of Tattoo Smart from the very beginning of our business concept. Ben is also a pretty talented and diverse musician and he has graciously As he is a tattooer who is well-versed in digital design, I wanted to invite Ben to share a bit of his personal journey and current digital design process. This blog post continues to cover the subject of hardware and software and gives us a slightly different perspective than I gave in my post "The Tattooers Guide to Digital Design". 
Without further ado, I'd like to introduce my good friend, Ben Reigle. -Russ Abbott


Ben Reigle:

It’s 2016, and we are in the in the middle of a tattoo renaissance. TV and Internet have launched our industry to the mainstream. More artists are tattooing straight out of art school, and the use of digital media to create art is widely accepted. These are realities, and fighting them is a waste of energy.

Personally, I would rather invest my time and energy into maintaining positivity about the changes we are witnessing and use these technological advances to push my art and myself. My motto is “harness technology, embrace tradition and ignite passion.” I believe in building a solid foundation through receiving a proper apprenticeship, learning to be a well-rounded tattooer, and continuing to hone your skills using watercolor, colored pencils, markers, acrylic, and oils. You should honor what came before you, and remind yourself to work with a sense of humility and graciousness—we’re part of something awesome! Respect is the foundation of what we do, and I think our fast-paced, instant gratification culture is wearing away that away.

Left, digital drawing of a bird and branch made in Clip Studio Paint. Right, finished tattoo.

I would like to impart what I—a custom tattooer with 10 years experience in a variety of shops—have learned about the digital side of tattoo preparation. I had only a high school art education and three years of street shop experience when my friend Andy Barrett showed me how to use Photoshop. I had little to no experience with it other than laying out lettering, and even that I was not well versed in.

It was an uphill battle from day one, but I saw possibilities; what Andy and others were creating was light-years ahead of my narrow vision of tattooing. Soon after, I purchased a Wacom Intuos tablet. With some practice, I was able to decently lay out a tattoo, but drawing on a surface with only the screen as your visual guide was a real pain. I created many tattoos using this method, and eventually I was able to render value and color studies and even got into digital painting. I was still in the analog realm, too; I kept painting and drawing. I maintained my traditional artistic skills so that I never fully relied on digital preparation. To me, life is about balance.

Left, digital skull and flowers made in Clip Studio Paint. Right, finished tattoo.

Fast-forward 3 years, and I went down to do a guest spot at Ink & Dagger with Russ Abbott and squad. Russ is obviously a pioneer in many realms, and the digital implementation in his home and shop was impressive (if not daunting). I witnessed him work with Wacom Cintiqs; drawing on the screen seemed so fluid and Clip Studio Paint (CSP) was so impressive that before my plane landed home, I had already ordered a Cintiq Companion Hybrid (discontinued) and downloaded CSP.

The learning curve was not so difficult, and TattooSmart is the place for the resources to help you learn the basics and excel quickly.

I am going to attempt to break things down and show you how you, too, can break into digital preparation and for less than you think. There are different routes you can take; for this blog, I am going to focus on the Clip Studio Paint/Wacom Cintiq/MacBook Pro route. First, you will need a MacBook Pro (buy one new for $1300 or on eBay for $800 or less) if you don't already own one. Jam it full of as much RAM as it can take, and when you can afford to, upgrade it to an SSD hard drive. Get yourself a multi-terabyte external hard drive and back up your files regularly, even use it to run some programs right off it. I am currently working on a 2010 MacBook dinosaur that is ready to die at any moment, yet I consistently create tattoos (from outline to value and color studies) with relative ease. MacBook Pro’s are truly made for artists, and will last for a long time if you take care of them.

Top left, highlighter flow sketch with pencil marks. Top right, vector line drawing in CSP. Bottom left, tattoo stencil. Bottom right, finished tattoo. This analog to digital to analog process is the one I use the most.

Next, you will need to download Clip Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio 5, some licensing issue out of Japan made it so they need 2 names). CSP is created from the Adobe skeleton, so those of you with Photoshop skills can pretty much jump right in. If you’re new to digital drawing platforms, this program is very logically arraigned, and you can be up and running in no time.

The software cost is $50, which is a bargain in the era of expensive monthly cloud based subscriptions. At TattooSmart, we will provide you with a myriad of videos to show you how to get started, and to expand your knowledge of this powerful program. Manga Studio 101 is a great place to start and is available for streaming purchase here on TattooSmart.

Left, David Bowie tribute made in Clip Studio Paint. Right, final tattoo.

The final thing you will need is a Wacom Cintiq. This is where the specs start to get confusing and the price tags get scary. If you are set up in a shop and don't travel all that much, I suggest the Wacom Cintiq 13HD. It tethers off your MacBook and is a great surface tablet for only $800.

For the extra $200, the touch feature is not really worth it if you are working within a budget and can actually be sort of a pain.

This setup takes up 2 feet by 1 foot of table or desk space, so if you are traveling a lot this setup can work, albeit is a bit cumbersome with the wiring and all. I do conventions and guest spots with it all the time, and sometimes wish it were easier to set up and breakdown.

Another option is The Companion 2 ($1600), a stand-alone version that runs off Windows. I personally am very Mac-centric and it would be rough to get back into the more (to put it nicely) convoluted operations of Windows.

From here, the sizes and prices of the tablets increase correspondingly. The ones I have discussed are the cheapest that you can draw directly onto and are made by Wacom. I also own a Yiynova MSP19U. It has a glass top and lacks a way to adjust the pressure settings. It is a fine product, but I am working my way to getting a larger Cintiq and consider this a budget stepping-stone.

Left, personal digital painting for promotional purposes. Right, final tattoo (client requested it after seeing completed artwork).


My home office (MacBook Pro and Cintiq Companion Hybrid).

I decided to share this with you to demonstrate that although the digital world can be a daunting and overwhelming place, it becomes affordable if you break everything down piece by piece. Start this like you started drawing, or painting, or even tattooing. You will find a place for it in your workflow, and will get better with more practice. My process is to sketch with a highlighter or light colored Prismacolor pencil on toned paper, make some refining lines with pencil, scan that into the computer and tighten everything up, make a line drawing, and finally move onto value and color studies.

Sometimes, I work digital from concept to completion; it has organically meshed into my workflow. The ability to make changes to any part of your composition with your client sitting there with you is fun, and really gives clients a sense of ownership in the process. Clients that I would have told “uh, yeah, come back in an hour I have to redraw this” (or worse, rescheduled) are now assuaged in real time, and with precision that would amaze you. I use an iPad on an arm at my station and display a .jpeg of my color study so that color study, reference, and palette are easily accessible while I work.

Harness technology. Embrace tradition. Ignite passion.

To see more of my work, please visit

Here is a video I made from my process from concept to completion. I plan on making an instructional version in the near future, keep an eye out on TattooSmart for that and many more exciting things!



Russ Abbott
Russ Abbott


Tattooer specializing in ornamental and illustrative styles.

1 Response

Ted marks
Ted marks

January 24, 2017

Thank you, brother

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