There are many factors to doing a brow tattoo right. From mapping, to color matching, to application depth. But a very important micro-skill you have to master is how to stretch the skin while doing the strokes or shading.
The so-called three point stretch is the go-to method of doing this. It’s taught as part of training, but it’s not an easy thing to learn how to use in practice. Some artists pick up this skill immediately, while others need some trial and error.
So, let’s get you familiar with this term if you’re at the very beginning of your PMU journey, or help you get it right and achieve a perfect stretch for every client.
In this article, we’ll discuss the three point stretch, and even look into the two point stretch as an alternative for machine shading.
Why Is It Important to Stretch the Skin While Tattooing Brows?
The skin is elastic and it has its creases. When doing any type of brow tattoo, whether it’s strokes or shading, you need a flat, taut surface that will allow you to place pigments exactly where you want to, at the right depth.
This is achieved by stretching it and holding it firmly in place.
If the skin isn’t taut upon pigment application, several issues emerge:
- It moves with the blade or needle and you can’t place pigments with enough precision
- The blade or needle can’t reach the proper depth, so the pigment isn’t placed deep enough and retention is poor as a result
- There’s more trauma
- The strokes of microblading aren’t crisp enough
- The pattern of the shading is disrupted and ends up patchy
A stretch as tight as possible is, therefore, a must, especially when working on mature skin which has fine lines in the brow area.
But achieving a good stretch can be tricky. After all, it’s a very small surface and you have to place your fingers in such a way that gives you enough space to maneuver.
The three point stretch emerged as the most practical method. So let’s look into it.
Image source: Instagram @bebeautifulbar
The Three Point Stretch
The three point stretch means using the middle and the index finger of the hand that’s not holding the tool and the pinky of the hand holding the tool to stretch the skin in 3 opposite directions, which creates a flat, tight surface.
The most common finger placement is:
- The index finger of the hand not holding the tool is placed above the brow arch (depending on the position of your client’s face, the side of the fingertip applying pressure and pulling away.
- The middle finger is placed under the brow arch, in line with the middle finger, the side of the fingertip applying pressure and pulling in the opposite direction.
- The pinky of the hand holding the tool is placed adjacent to the fingers of the other hand, close but far enough to leave space for the tool to move. The side of the fingertip applies slight pressure, lightly pulling the skin sideways.
- Your ring finger will naturally rest on the pinky and this gives you enough support for holding the tool.
- You work on the brow in sections and move your hands and fingers as you go, replicating these three points on different sections of the arches.
- When working on the heads and the tails, the 2 points of the hand that’s not holding the tool will go sort of sideways, not above/below the arch, and the pinky will be the lowest pressure point. It’s okay to switch up the placement of fingers in relation to the brow, but their configuration in relation to each other should stay the same.
This hand and finger placement takes some getting used to.
You will have to try different distances and adjust the positioning of the ring finger on top of the pinky to figure out the most comfortable position.
Note that the brow area is a 3D surface, so you’ll have to adjust the placement of the pressure points according to your clients’ bone structure.
Let your hands find the best position naturally. While the general placement of the pressure points is what we’ve just described, there’s room for intuitiveness and modification, as long as you get a good, tight stretch.
Here are a couple of extra things to bear in mind:
- Make sure your hold doesn’t let up on either side as you’re working. Train your hands to keep the pulling force consistent so you keep the depth of the strokes or the shading even and consistent.
- The role of the pinky is more to stabilize, but for more lax skin, you can increase the pulling force.
- Some artists prefer to use the thumb and index finger for the 2 points above and below the arch, the knuckle of the middle finger resting flat against the client’s forehead and providing the 4th point. Try this too and see what’s more comfortable.
The Alternative Two Point Stretch (Better for Shading)
As the three point stretch is sometimes tricky and doesn’t feel comfortable (especially for artists with more petite hands or short fingers), or it doesn’t give enough space, many artists lose the pinky and use the two point stretch.
The two point stretch works like this:
- You work on the brow arch in sections, moving your hands along the brow and stretching only the portion you’re working on.
- The thumb of the hand not holding the tool is placed at the lower point of the section (assuming you work sort of from the side of your client’s face; if not, adjust finger positioning).
- The side of the fingertip lies flat against the face and applies pressure to pull the skin away.
- The index finger is placed opposite the thumb, the side of the finger lies flat against the face and pulls the skin away from the thumb.
This is more or less the norm for machine shading, but it’s also an option when microblading.
Here are a few extra pro tips to make your shading easier:
- Rest the pinky of the hand holding the machine on top of the thumb – this gives you stability and provides enough space for the motions of the shading. If you rest your pinky directly on the client’s forehead, your motions will be constricted and your needle will go in at a slanted angle.
- With the two point stretch, you really need to focus on keeping the stretch consistent. While working without the 3rd point may make things easier in terms of space, you’re missing the counterpoint, so the 2 remaining points need to do all the work.
A Quick Chat on Pre-Numbing
What does numbing have to do with the stretch, you wonder?
Well, certain pre-numbing formulas make it harder to achieve a crisp surface, as they might soften the skin and make it more rubbery. This is more of a problem in the case of microblading, as, if the skin is softened down, it’s hard to achieve crisp strokes.
If this happens, even the firmest stretch can only do so much.
So, we advise you to choose your pre-numbing formula carefully. What many artists are doing nowadays is skipping primary numbing altogether for the first pass, and going straight for secondary numbing once they open the skin.
Just like any aspect of PMU, figuring out the stretch takes practice. While you have to know the technicalities of the three point stretch, it’s okay to make some adjustments to make it work for you and to make the finger positioning comfortable. Just make sure you’re working in smaller sections so you don’t go outside of the outline.
Cover image source: Freepik