Learn to Tattoo Yourself at Home With a Tattoo Gun

If you’re new to tattooing and wondering how to learn to tattoo yourself, it only takes a few minutes of research to realize that the process is more complicated than it seems. 

However, making sure you know how to keep yourself safe and learning the correct technique is much easier if you have a guide.

To help, we’ll be breaking down:

  • How to protect yourself from bloodborne pathogens
  • Which supplies you need to have
  • What to do to help the pain of tattooing yourself

Unspoken Rules for Tattoo Artists

Before you practice tattooing, there are a few unspoken rules you need to know:

RULE 1

Know the Difference: Tattoo Machine vs. Tattoo Gun

professional tattoo artist holding tattoo machine

Now, the title of this article was a bit of a trick. Your tattoo machine is not a gun by any means. Any time you're talking about tattoo machines, make sure you are calling them machines.

Saying “Tattoo Gun” Can Cost you a Job or Tattoo Apprenticeship

Some artists won't care if people say “tattoo guns.” But a lot of tattoo artists out there will get offended by it. In fact, if you're trying to get a job or tattoo apprenticeship in a studio, and you say “tattoo guns,” they're going to show you the door really quickly. Generally, the term is just frowned upon in the tattoo industry.

RULE 2

Who to Tattoo First

The appropriate way to learn to tattoo is to begin on practice skin, then tattoo yourself, then tattoo other people. Tattooing yourself first before you ever tattoo another person is considered a “rite of passage” that every professional tattoo artist goes through. 

Tattooing Yourself First Protects Your Reputation

Tattooing yourself first also keeps you from doing a really bad tattoo on a client. For example, if you try your first tattoo on human skin on yourself and it turns out bad, you know that you need to go back to practice skin and learn more. If it turns out great, then you can be confident tattooing another person. However, if you jump right to tattooing a client, you’re risking your reputation on something you’ve never done before, tattooing human skin.  

Prepare to Tattoo Yourself

Your first tattoo isn’t something you want to do without planning it out in advance. Here’s the three things you need to do to prepare for your tattoo:

PREP 1

Get Your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification

The first thing you want to think about before you start tattooing any real people - including yourself - would be whether you have the knowledge to do it effectively and safely.

If you haven't taken a blood borne pathogens course, you should do that before touching a tattoo machine at all. There are lots of courses you can do entirely online in just a few hours. It'll teach you a ton of things like how to keep everything safe, how to appropriately go about sterilizing equipment, and other info you need to know before you begin tattooing.

Even if you have done research on how to tattoo safely or had safety training in a tattoo school, you still need to take a blood borne pathogens course. If you plan to work in a tattoo studio, they will need to see the course certificate as proof that you took the class.
PREP 2

Decide if You’re Ready to Move to Real Skin

professional tattoo artist using tattoo machine

To become a tattoo artist, you have to eventually take the leap to tattooing human skin. However, a lot of new artists get excited to try it out - and end up doing a bad tattoo because they weren’t ready yet. 

If you can do clean lines and clean shading on fake skin at the right needle depth, then it’s probably time to try it out on your own skin.
PREP 3

Pick a Tattoo Design

artist drawing tattoo designs

For new artists, we recommend sticking to very small tattoo designs. Two inches by two inches is a good size. 

Going larger can make the tattoo more stressful. It will take much longer, and you’ll be nervous, so you might be dealing with a lot of shaking and nerves.

Note:

For your very first tattoo, it’s best to stick with a design that is only linework. This means you only have to focus on one skill, and it’ll take less time than a design with shading. 

As you progress in your career, you’ll be able to design tattoos you love and build your own style. But at first, it’s best to stick with something simple. 

Tattooing Yourself

tattoo artist using a tattoo machine

While it’s important to practice tattooing on yourself first, it’s important to know that it is going to be a much different experience than getting tattooed by another tattoo artist. This is mostly because of pain and adrenaline. (Even professional artists struggle with tattooing themselves).

Here’s the steps you need to follow to tattoo safely and correctly, as well as how to deal with those extra factors:

STEP 1

Prepare Your Tattoo Equipment

tattoo machines, synthetic skin, ink, and needles

The first part of every tattoo is creating a sterile environment and setup. 

Make sure you have:

  • A fully disposable setup that does not need an autoclave
  • Wrapped any tattoo machines, bottles, surfaces, etc.
  • The materials you need to sterilize your setup before and after the tattoo.

Set up for this tattoo the way you would for clients. Just because you’re tattooing yourself doesn’t mean you can skip the sterilization step.

STEP 2

Prepare Your Body 

Make sure you eat before you tattoo yourself. If you're tattooing yourself, you don't want to get light headed. Having some sugary drinks next to you just in case you do start to get light headed can be a huge help, too. 

If you start to not feel well, you should stop tattooing, take your gloves off, and take a break to drink some soda.

Note:

The last thing you want is to pass out when you're tattooing yourself because the machine will stay on, which could end in a really bad tattoo.

STEP 3

Pick the Right Space

If you are going to be tattooing yourself at home, make sure that you have a room specifically set up for it. Do not tattoo in your living room, your kitchen, and definitely not a bathroom. All of these areas are accessed by your family members, your pets, etc. You need a space specifically set up for tattooing where you are able to properly sterilize and clean.

TATTOOING DO’s

Your tattooing space should have:

  • MadaCide and CaviCide
  • An autoclave OR a disposable setup

TATTOOING DON’Ts

Your space should have:

  • NO carpet (vinyl flooring you can sterilize is your best choice)
  • NO food
  • NO fabric or wood furniture (metal and vinyl only)

Note:

Some artists look down on “tattooing out of your home.” And in some states, you are not allowed to do so. But in other states, it's absolutely legal to tattoo on your property as long as you have a business license and everything's up to code. The health department should be able to come in and see your tattooing station is not a part of your house.

STEP 4

 Apply the Stencil

tattoo artist making a stencil

To apply your stencil, we recommend:

  • Spirit Stencil Paper
  • Stencil Stuff or Green Glide

When practicing on synthetic skin, you can use Speed Stick deodorant to transfer the stencil. On actual human skin, you’ll need to use Stencil Stuff or Green Glide. 

We recommend using Spirit stencil paper because it holds up well and keeps the stencil from smearing. Having crisp lines on your stencil is important, especially for new tattoo artists, because it will be easier to follow.  

If there's one blurry line at all, redo the stencil. It's not worth trying to start and ending up halfway through a tattoo and realizing that you messed up. Remember to allow time for the stencil to dry.

Note:

We recommend doing this tattoo on your thighs. Anywhere else on the body could be super tricky to tattoo, especially because you won't be able to stretch the skin. Arms, hands, etc. are not meant to be tattooed by yourself.

Pro Tip:

Even if you have access to a stencil machine, it’s best to do this stencil by hand. Having practice drawing and stenciling your tattoo design will not only build your drawing skills, it’ll also make you better prepared because you’ve built up muscle memory.

STEP 5

Focus on Your Needle Depth (The Mental Battle)

tattoo needle putting tattoo inks in different skin layers

One of the most important things to focus on while tattooing yourself is your needle depth. If you’ve been tattooing fake skin, you know what hand speed is right for you, which voltage to use, etc. You also have a good grasp on needle depth. But when you’re tattooing yourself, you won’t want to go deep enough to make the tattoo turn out correctly.

Your body will tell you that you’re going super deep into the skin. However, when you wipe away, there’s nothing there. This is because the pain and the adrenaline of doing it yourself is going to be a different experience from getting tattooed by another tattoo artist. Keep focused, and understand that your nerves are going to affect how much pain you feel.

Become a Tattoo Artist With the Artist Accelerator Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

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, the process to become a tattoo artist has been notoriously difficult. 

The 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. 

Click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

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
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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