Manual vs Machine Techniques

December 03, 2020

Manual vs Machine Techniques

What is the difference between tattooing, microblading, micro-shading, combination and ombré? An overwhelming question, especially to someone new to semi-permanent makeup (also known as SPMU). Even those working in the field find the terms are frequently used interchangeably or wrongly. However, when doing anything permanent or semi-permanent to your client’s face or body, its vital to be clear exactly what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what tools you should be doing it with.

But first, a brief history lesson…

Tattooing is an age-old practice. Techniques have developed over the years to become safer and more versatile to the desires of clients but most of all it has become largely synonymous with the use of the tattoo machine.

Using a machine allows artists to cover large areas of skin with colour in a short amount of time, as well as injecting the ink deeper into the skin for lifetime permanence. However, it falls wildly short when tasked with fine detailed work like would be required drawing realistic eyebrows. Tattoo ink is also different than the pigment that SPMU artist’s use, more saturated and designed to produce richer, brighter and sharper colours to make impressive artwork. However, it is more prone to discolouring over time and it stains much more.

There are many kinds of specially designed SPMU pigment with different merits. However, they are always made without “cool” colour tones as bases so they won’t fade into the blues and greens. They are less saturated, have natural shades and are more kind to mistakes. Finding the right pigments for you and your purpose is just as essential as having the right tool. At Microblading Emporium, we stock only the best. You can get them at great prices here:

So, with many people loving the idea of permanent makeup that could stay flawless day after day, but tattoo machines and ink producing painful, inadequate and irreparable results lacking detail or precision, something needed to change. Thankfully, some 25-30 years ago in Asia a new technique designed to combat these issues surfaced to meet the demand of the people: Microblading. It made a name for itself as unprecedented speed. It is still sometimes stated as the fastest growing part of the beauty industry.

Even now since it emerged, microblading has given birth to several subgenres of eyebrow artistry such as micro-shading and combination.

What’s the difference then? Let’s outline them briefly:


Tools & Technique

Effect Produced


Machine & Ink

Beautiful pictures, writing and illustrations but NOT for SPMU!


Fine Manual Blades and Pigment

Realistic eyebrows, hair by hair.


Manual tool or machine tool

A powdered-brow effect, as if covered in makeup.


Manual tool & maybe machine tool

A mixture of realistic eyebrow hair and makeup undertone.


So, when should you use machine techniques in Microblading, Micro-shading and Combination?

Microblading is always done with manual tools for perfect accuracy as you sculpt each eyebrow hair one at a time. The handle grip, angle and size of blades will change as you draw long, short, curved and straight hairs differently and a large amount of choice is left to the artist’s preference as well. Choosing the right blade is important and we have a whole article about it you can read here:

In short, Curve Flexi (CF) needles are good for drawing straight lines. The higher the number of the blade shows greater thickness and allows for thicker, longer lines to be drawn.

U-shape blades, however, are good for drawing curved lines and are recommended for experienced Microblading Artists only.

It is vital that whatever blades you use, they are sterile, sharp and strong. They must only be used once before disposable because the blades are so fine and delicate it is impossible to make sure they stay in good condition and clean for more than one treatment. All our needles are sterilised in individual blister packs with a LOT number and expiry date.

With handles there is a little more choice. Technicians can opt to buy disposable hand tools where the all-in-one blade and handle are disposable.

However, buying single-use microblading “pens”, aka needle holders, allows you to use much more well-made, aesthetic and sturdy equipment for the procedure.

Micro-shading is a technique achieved by placing many, many tiny dots of pigment on the skin of the brow to produce a powdered-brow affect. There is no need to pay special attention to the placement and angle of individual hairs so the limitations of precision in a machine tool are much less prevalent. All the same, great skill is still needed to precisely and safely apply those dots to achieve the right tone and gradient of colour.

Microblading technicians can choose if they want to apply sparely for a subtler look or densely for a darker shade. Clients often want a lighter shade in the centre of the face that darkens as the brow thins outwards. Manual tools are better for lighter shades and tone changes as they allow for greater accuracy and control by the technician as they build the texture exactly how they want it.

Electrically powered machine tools similar to the tattoo machine are uniquely useful for creating bolder “Instagram brow” looks. These require fresh “cartridges” of needles and regular cleaning to ensure sterility also. The machine also allows the treatment to last longer as the pigment is injected deeper into the skin. Once again, the experience and preference of a well-practiced technician plays a key role in choosing the right tool for the job.

Shading blades are different from the blades used in microblading, even if they are both manual. You can find some good Micro-shading needles and pens specially designed to hold them here:

Finally, combination brows use the techniques and tools of both of the above eyebrow techniques. It’s more expensive but the best of both worlds can achieve uniquely natural and makeup effect looks that some clients are dying for.

In conclusion, machine techniques are traditionally attributed to tattooing but it is sometimes used in SPMU to achieve the specific effect of micro-shading, powdered brows or ombré brows. Micro-shading and machine techniques are also better for persons with oily skin who might not take as well to delicate microblading work. Even within micro-shading, the style you are trying to achieve will affect the tool you need so it’s vitally important to undergo proper training and plenty of practice before starting on the brows of a client.

Try practice skins here:


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