Dotwork Tattoos - Designs, Ideas, Meaning & History

Written by: Jason White

With so many tattooing techniques that have made their way into the scene over the years, it can be difficult to choose one for your own pieces of ink.

Some prefer realism, while others love minimalism, or a range of different patterns and shapes to create unusual art.

One particular tattooing technique that has been around for many years, and is only becoming more and more popular with time, is dotwork.

This is a style that takes a little longer to complete, due to the intricate detail that can go into these kinds of tattoos, but the outcome is almost always worth it.

As long as you are working with a professional who knows what they are doing, you can rest assured that you can get your very own flawless dotwork tattoo.

But, what is a dotwork tattoo?

In this guide, we will be looking at everything you need to know about this the dotwork tattoo style, and why it is so popular today.

We will also look at the history of this technique, as well as taking a look at some examples of dotwork tattoos.

So, let’s get started. Here is all you need to know about dotwork tattoos.

Related: Dotwork Geometric Tattoos

Dotwork Tattoo Ideas

What is Dotwork Tattoo?

When it comes to tattooing, dotwork is a particularly well-liked method, and it has been popular for a very long time. 

To produce an image, e.g., a tattoo, many dots are used, possibly in a variety of shades, sometimes alongside fine lines and shading to pull the artwork together. Typically, dotwork is made using only black, white, and gray inks.

This tattooing approach has become popular over the years since it has the capability to produce incredibly intricate images, and achieve a three-dimensional impression that other tattooing methods cannot.

Furthermore, it gives the designer more control over the final product’s appearance.

Dotwork is also the method that the majority of beginning tattoo artists will probably employ. It makes it possible to employ a template effectively without running the danger of destroying the pattern. 

Each dot is created individually using the needle, rather than using a needle to shade in large areas with ink.

Since there would be less needle punctures compared to other methods, this is an approach that is advised for sensitive, delicate skin. 

Take note! Dotwork is not only a tattooing STYLE but also a TECHNIQUE.

The Difference Between Dotwork And Pointillism

Dotwork and pointillism are two tattooing techniques that use a comparable method, but produce vastly different outcomes.

Dotwork, which employs white and black ink and involves putting small ink dots on the skin that are joined to create a design, is a more accurate and subtle technique of tattooing.

The end effect is a more crisp, realistic tattoo that looks nearly three-dimensionally textured.

On the other hand, pointillism takes a more artistic tack. These tattoo designs are made by dotting colored dots onto the skin and integrating them together.

The final tattoo has softened borders and has a more dreamy look, more akin to a painting.

The Difference Between Dotwork And Stipple Shading

Additionally, since both use dots to make a tattoo pattern, dot work and stipple shading are sometimes mistaken. But there are a few significant variations here between these two techniques.

Dot work is a solitary needle machinery method that produces crisp lines and shapes by using identically sized dots with comparable vibrancy. Geometric designs are frequently produced using this approach.

Stipple shading, on the contrary, is a multi-needle production method that employs varying dot sizes and intensity to produce a gradient appearance. The technique is also increasingly frequently employed to produce intricate portraits.

Subcategories of the Dotwork Tattoo Style

While dotwork is a tattoo technique in its own right, there are a handful of subcategories that stem from the style.

They all involve the use of small, similarly-shaped, similarly-colored dots, but they can be used in different ways to produce different styles.

Below, we have listed three of the most popular subcategories of the dotwork technique: mandala, geometric, and portrait.


Tattoos with mandala patterns are fairly common, and they can be made with or without dotwork.

These tattoos have a geometric look to them, but they frequently have a center central focus, such as a floral pattern, or a sun or a moon. Detailed motifs in the center of mandala designs, which are often circular, create the overall pattern.


One of the most well-liked types of dotwork tattoos is geometric. In order to produce organized pictures, this design approach frequently uses abstract patterns and forms. 

Sometimes dots and lines are utilized together, while other times dots are used alone to create the overall design.


Last but not least, this is a fashion that is growing in popularity. While they can be used to create items, scenic views, or other designs, portrait tattoos are usually exactly what they sound like: tattoos of portraits.

Dotwork portrait techniques, which can be used to tattoo images of people, creatures, or landscapes, employ dots to produce a more lifelike impression.

History of Dotwork Tattoos

Dotwork tattoos have been in existence for eons, and were first thought to have been utilized for body art, including tattooing, by many civilizations.

This technique is thought to have its roots in the Australian Aboriginal artistic expression known as ‘dot painting’, which employs dots of various colors and sizes to produce patterns and shapes.

This method was employed by the Aboriginal people to preserve their heritage, and share stories.

When Polynesian seamen with tattoos came to Europe during the late 1800s, dotwork followed them.

Dotting was used to produce the elaborate geometric designs on these tattoos. Numerous people across Europe got tattoos as a result of the prominence of this fad.

In the hundreds of years that have since passed, dotwork has maintained its appeal and is currently one of the most prominent tattooing trends.

It frequently combines with other tattooing methods to produce distinctive and attractive artwork, such as mandalas and geometric patterns.

Dotwork Tattoo Designs

Now that you have learned a little about dotwork tattoos, and what they are all about, you may want to take a look at some examples to take inspiration from.

Below, we have listed 10 examples of other people’s tattoos that involve dotwork, including mandala, geometric, and portrait designs.

First in this list, we have a great example of a mandala dotwork design.

From a distance, this would appear to be a simple mandala piece, and it is only when you view it up close that you notice the tiny, individual dots that make up the image.

This fantastic portrait is almost entirely made up of miniscule dots, aside from the small amounts of fine line that have been used for the particularly darker areas, e.g., the hairline. Otherwise, this piece is constructed entirely of black and gray dots.

We can only imagine how long this piece must have taken to complete, but one thing is certain: the amount of time spent on this tattoo was definitely worth it.

It would be impossible to count how many dots make up this geometric mandala design!

Again, we imagine it would have taken multiple session to complete this intricately detailed sleeve.

The detail is impressive enough, but it is made even more so when you notice the ‘shading’ created by placing some dots closer together than others, to create a 3D effect.

From a distance, this design would appear to be a snowflake stencil, sprinkled with snow, and then removed. The detail involved creates a three-dimensional illusion which is incredibly impressive, and so detailed.

This tattoo contains a lot of black area around the sides, and some shading inside the eyes, but otherwise, it is an image that is entirely created using tiny dots.

It is so impressive how most people wouldn’t even notice that this is a dotwork design unless viewed up close.

Next up, here is another mandala design constructed of dots. The smaller, darker details on the corners appear to be completely filled in black, but when you look a little closer, you will notice that even they are made up of closely-packed dots.

This tattoo starts off, at the top, with a large portion of the image being filled in black. As you move your eyes downwards, the image separates into tiny dots, creating an incredible pattern using the dotwork technique.

This design is the dream of any Star Wars fan. Since Leia’s face is pretty small in scale – as we can see, compared to this person’s forearm – we can only imagine how much effort and precision went into creating this perfectly constructed tattoo.

Last but not least, this is an incredible design that gives off the illusion of being three-dimensional.

It’s hard to believe that no fine lines, or any lines, have been used in this image; only dots, spaced close together or further apart.


So, there we have it. Dotwork is a beautiful technique that has been utilized for many, many years, through many kinds of artwork.

While it can be a time consuming process to get a tattoo done with a dotwork technique, the outcome will definitely be worth it.

On the plus side, while it may take some time to complete, most people claim that this technique is less painful than other methods, as it involves a single poke of the needle each time, rather than using strokes.

If you have decided that you’d like a dotwork-styled tattoo, you will need to think about what kind of design you would want.

Perhaps you’re a fan of mandala designs, or maybe you’d prefer a unique, intricate portrait of someone you love.

No matter what style you choose, you will want to make sure that you have researched your chosen tattoo artist beforehand, checking reviews and ratings to ensure that they are the best, and safest, person for the challenge.

Also, as usual, we cannot express enough how important it is to maintain the proper aftercare following getting a tattoo.

The more you care for your fresh piece of ink, the longer it will remain vibrant and flawless.

We hope you found this article helpful.

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