How to Practice Tattooing

Most aspiring tattooers know they can’t just pick up a machine and start tattooing right away, even if they are already talented artists.

Why? Because tattoo machines are heavier and harder to control than pencils or paint brushes, and tattoo designs have a different set of rules to regular drawings. Plus, unlike paper, skin stretches and bleeds, making it a difficult medium to work with. 

This is why it’s so important to first practice drawing tattoo designs and learn how to use a tattoo machine before taking on clients.

In this article, you’ll learn how to practicing tattooing by

  • First, drawing tattoos on paper
  • Then, learning on fake skin
  • Finally, moving to tattooing on real people

That way, you'll feel confident when you take on your first real tattoo client.

Learn to Draw Tattoos on Paper | Understanding Design

While you’ll need to master using tattooing equipment to become a tattoo artist, the most important first step is to level up your drawing skills. You’ll need to be at the top of your game in order to design tattoos that make you stand out as you develop your own style. 

Draw Constantly

The first piece of advice you’ll get when you search how to practice tattooing without a machine is to draw…and draw constantly.

This is because your ability to draw is the ceiling of your ability to tattoo. The more time you spend drawing, the more potential you will have as a tattoo artist. 

That being said, there are ways to shortcut the process when it comes to learning to draw tattoo designs. Check them out in our article, How to Tattoo for Beginners. It’ll explain how to develop your own style, triple your drawing speed, and design world-class tattoos.

Use a Weighted Pencil

This is the best way to practice tattooing with a pencil. 

Tattoo artists need to have strong hands to support a tattoo machine for hours on end while still remaining steady. You can start building this strength by putting a pencil in the tattoo machine.

When you draw with the added weight of the machine on your pencil, you’ll not only get a feel for the machine’s size, you’ll start building the muscle memory you need to tattoo like a professional way faster. 

Bonus: Practice Drawing Temporary Tattoos on Friends and Family

A huge part of learning to tattoo is knowing how to work with the curves and contours of the body. If you’re not ready to leave behind a permanent mark, you can practice drawing tattoo designs directly onto the body using a Sharpie. This is also a good method for how to tattoo yourself with no lasting ink.

While this doesn’t train you to use a tattoo machine or how to get the right needle depth, it will prepare you to design tattoos that flow with the shape of the body and learn to steady yourself without a drawing table or desk (a luxury you’ll always have when drawing on paper). 

Fake Skin, Fruit, and Friends - What to Practice Tattooing On

designs on tattoo practice skin

Drawing on paper or using a marker on skin can only get you so far. To learn to tattoo properly you’ll need to practice using your machine on fake skin so you can get used to the vibration of the machine, understand needle depth, and learn the basics of tattooing: lining, packing, and shading. (If you’re not sure how to do these three things, visit Tattoo Techniques for in-depth explanations.)

When it comes to fake skin, there are a few different things to practice tattooing on:

  • Synthetic skin
  • Fruit skin
  • Pig skin

Synthetic Skin: Our #1 Choice

Synthetic skin (our favorite brand is ReelSkin) is a sheet of silicone that looks and feels like human skin. Synthetic skin can lie flat on your work area, which makes these first “tattoos” much easier. 

Note: If you overwork the skin on a real person

The tattoo will heal patchy or may even scar. If the practice skin is cut or has chunks missing from it, then you’ve overworked it and have caused too much trauma to the skin.

How to Practice Tattooing on Fake Skin:

  1. 1
    Make sure you have a sanitary setup. Even though you’re not at risk for any diseases while working with synthetic skin, it’s important to build up good tattooing habits.
  2. 2
    Apply the stencil to your practice skin
  3. 3
    Let the stencil dry (the longer, the better).
  4. 4
    Line the tattoo first. You’ll want to use round liners (RL needles). 
  5. 5
    Use a round shader (RS) or mag (M1) to pack in black ink or color.

Pro Tip: If you’re confident with your depth control, “float the needle” while you’re lining. It will give you more accuracy. However, you’ll want to be careful with this method because floating the needle increases your chances of blowouts and overworking the skin.

tattoo machine floating the needle

Fruit Skin: A Cost-Effective Option

Practicing on fruit, especially at the beginning of your tattooing journey is more difficult than synthetic skin. However, if you’re on a tight budget, it’s cheaper than fake skin. Additionally, fruit has curves, bumps, and creases like human skin. 

How to Practice on Fruit:

  1. 1
    Make sure you have a sanitary setup.
  2. 2
    Choose a “good” fruit for tattooing. Bananas, oranges, and grapefruit tend to be the best options.
  3. 3
    Wash the fruit thoroughly. You want to go through the entire stencil process with any fake skin. This includes using a sanitizer to strip the skin of oil, which keeps the stencil from sticking well. However, you’ll want to do a more thorough wash first for fruit, since it will be more likely to have dirt or debris on it that can clog the needle than synthetic skin. 
  4. 4
    Apply the stencil to your fake skin. 
  5. 5
    Let the stencil dry (the longer, the better).
  6. 6
    Line the tattoo first. You’ll want to use round liners (RL needles). 
  7. 7
    Use a round shader (RS) or mag (M1) to pack in black ink or color. 

Peel the skin of your fruit after tattooing.

If you practice on fruit with “thick skin” like a grapefruit, your needle should not make it all the way through the skin. If they are, you’re going way too deep.

Pig Skin: The “Real” Skin Option

If you’re really wanting to practice on “real” skin but you’re not ready to tattoo yourself or a family member, you can try tattooing pig skin. The best way to get pig skin is to ask a local butcher, who might give it to you for free. 

You should use gloves and sanitary equipment for every practice tattoo. However, when dealing with real skin like this, you must make sure those safety measures are in place. 

How to Practice Tattooing on Pig Skin:

  1. 1
    Make sure you have a sanitary setup.
  2. 2
    Apply the stencil to your fake skin. 
  3. 3
    Let the stencil dry (the longer, the better).
  4. 4
    Line the tattoo first. You’ll want to use round liners (RL needles). 
  5. 5
    Use a round shader (RS) or mag (M1) to pack in black ink or color. 

Tattooing Human Skin | Who to Tattoo First

experienced artist holding a tattoo machine and clip cord

This step should only come after you are confident working with practice skin. That being said, if you are going to be learning how to tattoo yourself or another person, you must have an understanding of the health risks and get your Bloodborne Pathogens certification. Keeping a sanitary tattooing station is more complicated than it might seem, and in most states, it is illegal to tattoo another person without this training. 

Tattoo Yourself

Most artists begin by learning how to tattoo on themselves. Tattooing your thigh (as opposed to an arm) allows you to use both hands and practice getting a good stretch on the skin. This gives you the best practice because you will be using both hands while tattooing other people. 

Additionally, thigh tattoos are also easy to cover. If you’ve practiced enough, you’ll be ready to tattoo human skin, but your first tattoos won’t be your best work. You’ll probably want them in a place that isn’t visible at all times.

Tattoo Friends and Family

Of course, the space on yourself is going to be limited. Once you feel comfortable, giving small tattoos to friends and family will let you sharpen your skills by tattooing more often. 

Pro Tip: There will be mistakes in your first tattoos.

For anyone who wants to learn to tattoo, there will be mistakes in their first. Some of those mistakes can be hidden if you do the right tattoos. Check out this video tutorial on The Best Tattoos for Beginner Artists to learn which designs give you a little margin of error while you’re learning to tattoo:

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

Having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. However, for decades, getting the practice and help you need to become a professional tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult.

The traditional apprenticeship process requires aspiring tattoo artists to work 50-60 hours a week without pay for 2-4 years. That, combined with the toxic culture of abusing apprentices, makes getting into the industry almost impossible for newcomers.

That’s why we created the Artist Accelerator Program. Our online course provides a simple, structured way of learning to tattoo that has been proven to work by over 2500 successful students, with many of them having gone on to open their own shops all around the world. 

Inside the program, we’ll take you through every step of the tattooing process in 9 clear, easy-to-follow modules and support you along the way within the Tattooing 101 Mastermind online community.

In the Mastermind group, you’ll collaborate with other students, get answers to your questions, and receive personalized video feedback on your artwork and tattoos from professional tattoo artists. With this friendly community of both new and experienced tattoo artists, you’ll never be stuck again. 

When you join the Artist Accelerator Program, you’ll have instant access to the full course and the Mastermind community, as well as our 30-Day Flash Challenge and recorded interviews with tattoo artists from all over the world. 

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
Kaleiarassy Sk

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