People ask us many questions about tattoos each week. The most popular question is nice and simple: “will it hurt?”
The potential for pain is a real turn-off for many people who want a tattoo. To help with the pain, some of these folks turn to tattoo numbing creams.
However, these creams are very controversial in the tattoo community. Before you use any of it, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into. That’s why we’ve prepared a solid guide to what these creams are, how they work, and whether they are actually worth it or not.
Earlier, we mentioned three active ingredients for a tattoo numbing cream. However, all the creams fall into two camps: creams that you use while you are getting a tattoo and creams that you use as part of your tattoo aftercare.
Each kind of cream has its uses, but the practice is frowned upon by many tattoo artists (more on this later). Additionally, the effectiveness of these creams can vary quite a bit.
Will a tattoo numbing cream dull the pain? Yes. Will it dull the pain enough? That’s the big question.
While your pain will be reduced, no numbing cream can perfectly deaden the pain directly at your tattoo area. So if you think this will make everything pain-free, then you’re in for a rude (and painful) awakening.
It’s also worth noting that the FDA frowns on these kinds of numbing creams. It’s their belief that such creams are only effective when administered by a medical professional; unfortunately, you and your favorite tattoo artist probably don’t qualify!
So, the big question: is a tattoo numbing cream right for you? The only real answer is that it depends. If your artist approves of them and you find it effective, then you’ve got nothing to lose but money. Just be aware that not all creams are similarly effective, and none of them can completely remove the pain!
The world of tattooing is a competitive one, and in order to be successful, you need to have passion and be willing to work hard.
There are a number of skills that you need to learn, from the basic operation of a tattoo machine, to art and design skills, to understanding the business end of things.
However, there are some traits that will be necessary to turn your love of tattooing into a full time career…
Tattoo Trait #1: Artistic Ability
Whether or not artistic talent can be taught has been debated for a long time. There’s no doubt however that certain skills and techniques can be learned in order to improve whatever abilities you already have.
Those who are most likely to succeed in tattooing are the people who love art, and view tattooing as their medium. Just as some people choose oil and canvas to paint, the tattoo artist chooses ink and skin. The client’s main concern is going to be what the final tattoo looks like, and those with artistic ability have a better likelihood of having a visually pleasing finished product. (As long as the artist is also comfortable and and has the technical ability to use the tools of the trade to translate the image into a tattoo.)
Tattoo Trait #2: Attention to Detail
Attention to detail might not seem like the most exciting trait needed to become a successful tattoo artist, but it is one of the most important. Tattooing is very exacting work. You must listen carefully to clients’ ideas in order to turn them into pieces of art that fit their desires. The tattoo machine is made of many tiny parts that have to be used and maintained regularly.
Tattooing also requires a thorough knowledge of safety procedures and strict adherence to laws and regulations put in place to keep both artists and customers safe. Remember, “how you do anything is how you do everything”, so never settle for good enough in any area of your life, and you’ll see your tattoos consistently improving.
Tattoo Trait #3: Curiosity
The tattoo industry changes all the time. New tools and techniques are developed that advance both the art and science of tattooing. Trends change as well, with styles going in and out of fashion. Keeping up with these changes and advances makes for a better prepared, and more successful, tattoo artist. Fortunately, there are lots of trade magazines that you can read to keep up on what’s happening in the industry, and trade shows and conventions are not only educational, but also a lot of fun. Someone with innate curiosity will have fun staying informed and continue to become a better and better artist. Following sites such as this one, signing up for our educational newsletter, and reading this far into a post about tattooing already proves you’re the type of person who is curious and diligent enough to do well in this industry.
Tattoo Trait #4: Work Ethic
Tattoo artists work very hard. While there may be a perception that their days don’t start until noon and their nights are full of parties, this is not a true representation of how hard tattoo artists really do work. The truth is that they often work late into the evening, they must find their own clients, and they have to continue to develop new skills and keep up with the industry. Tattooing really does “take over your life.” To get ahead in tattooing you’ll often need to take you work home with you. Fortunately for us, our “work” is painting and drawing, which is fun, and why we love it!
However that’s AFTER they become professionals. The path to becoming a tattoo artist is full of challenges and hard work. From learning how to hold the tattoo machine to becoming skilled at different styles of shading, every step of the process takes practice, practice, practice! Add to that the likelihood that you’ll be doing a lot of the “grunt” work during your apprenticeship, and you can see why having a strong work ethic is an important trait for someone who wants to become a tattoo artist.
Don’t let this discourage you. I wouldn’t trade the ability to travel the world, set your own hours, and make a career doing something I love for anything. The “juice is definitely worth the squeeze.”
Tattoo Trait #5: Adaptability
Clients will have different ideas about what they want, where they want it, and everything else regarding their tattoos. Some may change their minds many times during the consultation, and even occasionally not show up for an appointment. While you will be the professional who will guide them through what will look the best on their skin, you will still need to be flexible enough to give them the experience they’re looking for with an outcome that reflects well on you.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope it gives you a bit of insight into the traits you’ll need to have outside of the technical aspects of the craft. If you found value in this post please share it with a friend. If you’d like to learn about something not listed in the blog, don’t hesitate to drop me a line here, and finally, if you’d like to stay updated on current events in tattooing and how to become a licensed professional you can sign up for our newsletter here.
Learning how to become a tattoo artist can be intimidating, but the true challenge is in learning it properly so you can make a successful career out of it.
In order to learn how to tattoo at a professional level, we created a list with some of the best tips that you’ll need to keep in mind during your apprenticeship and beyond.
Believe it or not, becoming a good tattoo artist is not as hard as you may think, yet it does require an understanding of the fundamentals, a bit of practice, hard work, and plenty of commitment.
Here are some of the tips and ideas you’ll need.
Educate Yourself First
You can’t learn much about tattooing unless you commit to educating yourself. You need to do all you can to expose yourself to the best techniques and styles in the industry. You will always get to try out some new ideas and techniques. When working in a shop you never know what will be coming in the door. In one day you may be asked to do a more realistic style black and grey piece, to a traditional eagle, to some simple script. While you should specialize and be sought out for a style that you can master, it’s important to be able to do a solid version of whatever may come in the door, especially early in your career.
Sure, you won’t be able to do everything great right from the start, but the more your practice (especially in your sketchbook), and the more you try, the better you’ll get. If you know you’ve done all that you can to educate yourself, have practiced (on paper first!) this type of style, don’t be afraid to take in that challenging piece. Of course make sure you have guidance and assurance from someone more advanced than you, and be honest with yourself. Don’t attempt a realistic portrait when you’ve only ever done one or two average black and grey pieces in your entire career.
You should first just take your time and focus on the educational aspect of tattooing. Drawing, painting, and practicing on fake skin. Take your time. At the end of the day, learning how to become a tattoo artist is as easy as learning any other trade, as long as you have the right focus and work very hard to achieve your goals.
You can learn more about this at EliteTattooPro. This is the world’s most comprehensive online tattoo course. Learn the fundamentals of tattooing from a master craftsman.
Tattoo Safety Essentials
Make sure that you clean up and sterilize all of your equipment, following all cleanliness procedures. The reason is simple, you can easily get and give infections if the items and area are not sterilized. The health and safety of your clients is in your hands. Educate yourself, and even if not required in your state consider getting your blood borne pathogen certification from a reputable place like the American Red Cross.
Make sure you’re using new needles, ink caps, and either properly sterilized or disposable tubes for each tattoo. Of course, make sure that the ink you use is sterile, and suitable for tattooing. Avoid cheap inks coming from China or unknown/dangerous sources. These inks may contain heavy metals and other contaminants and should never be used on a living organism!
Check expiration dates on packages. Inks and needles are sterilized and will remain so (unless opened or damaged) until a certain date. While these materials “should be” fine past that date, it isn’t worth risking your clients safety or your name to save a few bucks. If in doubt, throw it out.
When you’re learning how to become a tattoo artist, you will need to acquire some proper equipment. When you’re just starting out it’s ok to have some “cheap” equipment. This allows for practice on fake skin, the ability to take apart your machine and learn the mechanics and geometry, and really “run it hard” to find the limits and get comfortable with the equipment. Your first car likely wasn’t a Mercedes, and you likely didn’t take care of it as best you could.
Just like everyone else that first “tool” was something to learn in and not worry too much if you dinged it up. As you progress you’ll be able to afford that nice “Mercedes” tattoo machine of $400-$700+ and know you’re able to take care of if anything were to go wrong since you practiced on your cheaper machine and learned the basics in the early days (more on machines below). Tattooing for beginners is less about machine secrets, and more about nailing down the fundamentals. On your journey it’s important to stay well rounded. Focus on your drawing and design skills just as much as how to properly use your tools.
After your machine, you will need to purchase tattoo needles. Some professionals work with a single one, others want more to suit different tattoo techniques and styles, up to 14-18RL (round liner) in some cases.
You’ll need to purchase a power supply for your tattoo machine. As with the tattoo machine, something cheap but reliable in the beginning will get you through the early stages of your apprenticeship. The main thing you want to look for in a power supply is something compact, durable, with a steady/clean supply of power to your machine. Having something too cheap can however give you extra headaches, such as inconsistent “surging” of the machine which leads to broken/choppy line work.
Next you need to focus on finding some good tattoo inks. As we mentioned earlier, avoid Chinese inks, homemade inks (for now), and anything you can’t trace back to a reliable source.
Depending on your shops policy, you may need to get your own gloves, disposable razors, and some antibacterial or “green” soap. The key is to stay sterile, and stay safe. Don’t focus on being too fancy with your equipment in the beginning, you have to crawl before you can run.
Modern tattoo machines tend to use electromagnetic coils which move the armature bar down. Although many, if not most, artist are switching over to rotary machines it’s still important to learn the basics on a simple coil machine. This includes knowing how to assemble and repair things like broken springs, grounding, tuning, etc.
Some different variations on the tattoo machine include:
Pneumatic machines are powered by an air compressor. What makes them very distinct is the fact that they are super light, and that does offer them a very good quality and impressive power. Something to keep in mind here is that they use pressurized air in order to power the machine and drive the needle up or down. The drawback is of course need an air compressor, hoses, clamps, etc. This makes them inconvenient for travel.
Coil machines are the oldest ones out there. Originally created from a door bell mechanism, little has changed in the basic design since the early 1900’s. Coil machines have between 6 and 10 wraps around two separate coils. When these coils are energized they attract the armature bar down, driving the attached needles down, and into the skin. I’ll post pictures soon to further illustrate this, and we go over it in depth on the inside.
Most artists, myself included, typically still use a coil machine for lining and a rotary for shading. Although it’s important to learn how to properly use any type of machine (start on coils!) as you never know what your career and travels will bring.
Rotary tattoo machines are somewhat newer and there are many versions coming out all the time. The basic design is an electric motor sitting in a housing. On one end is a cam, which offsets the drive of the motor and drives the needle. Again, I’ll post pictures soon to further illustrate this, and we go over it in depth on the inside.
Shader machines are designed in two different ways and can be either rotary or coil. One to be hard hitting and pack in solid color and more traditional look, while black and grey shaders have a shallower depth and are built to accommodate multiple passes necessary for softer black and grey or color blends.
Liner machines are of course set up for single pass lines. There are fine liners which are used from 1-5RL (round liners), and the more “slappy” type machines that are typically used for larger groupings, say 9-15+RL.
Tattoo Needle Types
There are multiple types of tattoo needles, and each one of them has a different way of entering your skin, and producing a desired result.
Round liners (RL) are the most used as most tattoos that come in will require some type of outline, depending on the style of course. Everything from super tight single needle to loose 14+RL are available.
There’s also the round shader as well as the texture round shader. These can be used for lining, but be careful as they often don’t look that crisp after healing. They’re used more for filling in tighter areas where your mag can’t get in, as well as other “specialty” uses.
Magnums are used for packing in solid color as well as blending colors and doing black and grey. You also have the bugpin magnum, and the curved magnum as well. Just like liners there are so many options available for every type of tattoo. This is where it comes back to education and learning as much as you can about the industry and the incredible assortment of tools available to you for each tattoo. Don’t get overwhelmed, while there is much to learn just take it one thing at a time and we’ll get you through it.
Types of Tattoo Inks
We mentioned inks briefly above, but when you’re first starting out you should just stick to a reputable ink manufacturer, such as the ones offered here. Our partner inks have been around for more than 30 years and are in the tattoos of some well known celebrities such as Sylvester Stallone. Shameless plug, I know, however it’s the easiest way when you’re first getting started. As you progress we’ll get you into the hand made inks, blending and mixing inks, and even creating your own washes.
A very basic tattoo setup isn’t too complex. Your number one priority should of course be working on a clean environment with sterile equipment.
Getting a starter kit and setting it up is maybe the best option for beginners. While we aren’t recommending you get one of our kits and start tattooing your friends, these kits will let you get comfortable with the equipment, practice on fake skin, and have something to show a shop owner when you go in trying to find an apprenticeship.
Once you have the setup ready, you obviously want to make sure that you practice as much as you can. No enthusiast becomes a professional without the right amount of work. First start on paper, as Boog said “if you can’t get down on paper, you can’t get down on skin.”
Next you’ll want to pick up some fake skin. While this skin is pretty good for practicing your line work it isn’t very realistic when it comes to shading. As your first few tattoos will be mostly line work or solid color (black), this practice skin is perfect for just starting out.
Next you should head to Chinatown and pick up some pork skin. I know, I know, gross. However, this is the closest thing you can get next to tattooing humans and will let you get a feel for a client with the absolute worst skin.
All the above are fine for the practice inks that came with your kit. However once you’re ready for the fourth step, tattooing yourself, you’ll want to switch over to our proven and sterile inks. Most tattoo artists start out tattooing anywhere they can hide and reach. Yes, it’s difficult to tattoo yourself (when it hurts you can just stop!), however if you’re a responsible and considerate artists this is the best way.
Tattoo Stencils 101
The Tattoo Stencils are an outline of the tattoo design that is created before the artist starts working on the skin. Why do you need Tattoo Stencils? The reason is simple; you can’t create what you don’t have a blueprint for.
A stencil is a carbon copy of the line work, which occasionally can include some blueprints for the shading, but that comes at a more advanced level.
The most common way is to use a thermo-fax, or stencil machine to make a quick copy of your line work. Although if you’re just starting out you can simply tape your design to some transfer paper, and trace over it with a ball point pen. The pressure will provide a carbon copy for you to use, no machine required! Just a bit more of your time. Check it out here.
Another way is the sharpie method that we describe here. You’ll need 3 different colors of varying darkness. I like to use yellow, mint green, and red.
With yellow I do my initial sketch directly on the skin, just the rough outline, as I would do my initial sketch in red pencil.
Next, with the green, I’ll start to get some more exacting shapes. Finding the lines I actually want to use and darkening them.
Finally I’ll use my red sharpie to pick out the EXACT lines I want to tattoo, using solid lines for hard lines and dashes for washed lines or shaded areas.
Keep in mind these lines, just like the carbon stencil, are just “guidelines” and aren’t always followed with laser precision. This whole process is described in detail here.
After you have a stencil on it’s important to focus on producing a clean, solid outline. One of the most common questions I get is “how do I get good line work?”
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor was “focus on the beginning and end of a line, the middle will take care of itself.” I’ve expanded on this with a driving analogy.
When you drive a car you don’t focus on what’s immediately in front of you. Meaning you aren’t hyper focused on what’s inches in front of your bumper at all times. If you did you’d be swerving all over the place every few feet.
Instead you keep an eye on the horizon and your surroundings which produces a nice, smooth ride.
The same is true for tattooing. Hopefully you’ve been practicing with the pen method on paper, your machine and practice inks on fake skin, and have developed the confidence in your muscles and mind to pull clean lines.
If you have proper machine control (holding and using your equipment correctly), are well practiced (on paper and fake skin), then you’ll build confidence in yourself as time progresses.
Don’t be discouraged, I’ve worked with a few celebrity tattoo artists who can only do small, one inch lines at a time. The important things is to be able to cleanly “pick up” and “join” your lines seamlessly to keep that smooth look and feel in the piece.
Color work can vary from solid black, bold/bright traditional work, to smooth and blended layers depending on the design of the tattoo. If you’re just starting our I’d recommend solid black or solid colors.
Machines set up for black and grey tend to have a shallower depth, and are used in conjunction with bug-pin needles. This allows for less trauma to the skin, meaning you can do more layers without overworking. Just don’t try to do solid color with a set up like this.
What To Do After Tattoo Is Done?
Tattoo care is as important as making sure that the tattoo was done properly in the first place. The more you invest in a good aftercare routine, the better the results will be in the end. So, the bandage needs to be kept at on at least until the client gets home and is able to shower.
Advise the client to take the bandage off while in a warm shower to ease the removal of any tape holding the bandage on. While in the warm shower let the water hit slightly above the fresh tattoo. While using a mild antibacterial soap use the palm of your hand to gently wash off the dried blood and grease.
Gently pat the design dry with a clean paper towel and allow it to air dry.
For the first few days I just let that tattoo get as much air as possible, meaning don’t put any heavy creams or lotions on it that could clog pores and prevent air from getting to the skin.
After the first few days, when it starts to scab up and get itchy, you can use a thin coat of unscented lotion or tattoo ointment as we’ve detailed here, and available here.
Remind the client not to pick the scab, soak in water (tub, ocean, pool), and to follow up with you if there’s any concern in the healing.
At the end of the day, it’s not too complex to become a tattoo artist. These 13 steps will get you started and thinking about what you’ll need to pay special attention to. It’s an incredible opportunity to become a tattoo artist, and one that will return any effort or extra work that you put into it. At the end of the day, you have to realize that practice makes perfect, so the more you put into it, the better the results will be.
Again, there is always something to learn, but that should be exciting instead of daunting. Just focus on one thing at a time, and before you know it you’ll be a professional artist. We’re always here to help, and if you didn’t see something listed or want to know more drop us a line here, and be sure to sign up to our newsletter to stay on top of tattoo news and specials!
Getting your tattoo license is one thing if you want to become a tattoo artist, but the reality is that you also need to learn how to tattoo living flesh BEFORE you get a client in the chair. Even if you have friends who are willing to let you “practice” on them, you should have already tattooed lots of practice skin, and then yourself, before putting them through some of your early work.
All of us that are passionate about tattooing and wanted to learn the “fast and easy way.”
But the reality is that this is more than just a way to put some symbols on your body. Tattoos have a great meaning, and they allow you to express yourself. They are a whole lot of fun to have, although getting a tattoo is a process that does tend to imply quite a bit of pain.
But most of the time, this pain is very well worth it since you get to have some amazing, one of a kind, pieces of body art that will impress.
Learning how to become a tattoo artist means learning a lot of different styles and techniques. While it’s tempting to want to jump in with both feet to try a little of everything at once, tattooing is like any other art form. You need to learn basic skills and them build on them as your abilities and confidence grow.
As you work through your apprenticeship, you will develop skills in all of these areas, not to mention learning about all kinds of fascinating techniques that others are using to make their art stand out and to make their customers happy.
There are great techniques out there for adding light an luminosity to your pieces, or for adding texture that looks realistic, for example.
But first, the aspiring tattoo artist will want to learn the basics: