Complete Guide to Tattoo Kits

Tattoo kits come with one (or more) tattoo machines and a “sample size” of the other equipment you’ll need as a tattoo artist. They let you keep costs down while giving you the supplies you need to practice tattooing. 

By the end of this article, you’ll know what materials are most important to look for while shopping for a kit, as well as how to set up your supplies for your first practice tattoo.

In this article, we’re breaking down:

  • What equipment to look for in a kit
  • Our pro tips for finding high-quality kits
  • Tattoo kit FAQs (where to buy, price range, our recommended kits, and more)

Types of Tattoo Kits

There are tons of different tattoo kits, but the main difference between them is what type of machine they come with.

Coil Tattoo Kit

Coil machines are the most “recognizable” type of tattoo machine. They’re also generally cheaper kits, which makes them popular.

Because tuning a coil machine every time you need to switch from lining to shading can be pretty time consuming, a coil kit will probably come with two machines: one for lining, and one for shading. That way you don’t have to tune them for different jobs every time.

Rotary/Pen Tattoo Kit

Pen machines work the same way as rotaries, the pen casing just tends to be easier to hold, which is why you’ll see a lot of pen machine kits.
We recommend this type of kit. Pens are generally easier to use and set up.

What Comes in a Tattoo Kit? (And How to Know if it’s Worth the Money)

Some kits will come with most of the items you need to start doing practice tattoos on fake skin (including ink, stencil paper, gloves, etc.), while others will be limited to a machine, power supply, and a few needles. When deciding which one to buy, consider the machine first. If the machine you like doesn’t come with all the extras, you can fill in additional tattoo supplies pretty easily. 

That being said, here’s the most common items you’ll find in a kit - and what to look for while you’re shopping:

coil machine for shading tattoos
rotary machine for professionals

Starter tattoo kits will always come with one or two tattoo machines. We already talked about the difference between coil and rotary kits, but here’s a few specific features to look for in a machine:

Coil Machine Kits

They’ll come with two machines. The machine with the longer spring is the shader and the machine with the shorter spring is the liner. You’ll also get an Alan key for tightening the frame.

It’s tempting to get the super-cheap machines, but they’re incredibly difficult to tune. Also, if the coils are made of plastic, you can burn it out really easily just by bumping up the voltage.

Rotary/Pen Machine Kits

Some pen machines will have an adjustable stroke. Generally, you want a longer stroke for lining and a shorter stroke for shading. However, if you’re very new to tattooing, it might be simpler to start with a machine that has a set stroke. If you do this, look for a set stroke of 3.5mm. This will let you tattoo lines and shade.

A lot of pen machines let you change the needle depth by twisting the grip. It’s better if the grip “clicks” and keeps the needle depth in place. If it just twists without clicking, you could accidentally change the needle depth while tattooing.

Note:

Most tattoo machines will come with grips that must be autoclaved to be properly cleaned. To avoid the transmission of blood-borne pathogens, we recommend using disposable grips and wrapping them for extra protection.

2

Power Supply System

A lot of pen tattoo kits come with wireless tattoo machines. They’ll simply come with a charging cord that you can use to charge the machine or the connected battery pack. 
If your machine does need a power supply, you’ll want to make sure your kit comes with each of the following parts (or that you purchase them separately to go with the kit):
  • Power supply
  • Cord for power supply
  • Clip cord or RCA cord (connects the tattoo machine to the power supply)
  • Foot pedal (coil tattoo machines only)

Depending on the type of machine you get, your kit will either come with traditional needles (coil machines) or needle cartridges (pen machines). Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Needles should always be EO Gas sterilized

A lot of tattoo kits are made in countries with different laws about sterilization. Their needles might say they’ve been EO Gas sterilized, even if it’s not true.

We recommend only using needles from kits on fake skin and buying needles from a reputable tattoo shop before tattooing people.

Look for a variety of needle groupings

You won’t need to tattoo with white ink for this session. The goal is to cover the existing tattoo with black. Your packing should be solid and the old tattoo should be impossible to see.

Pro Tip:

Liner needles are more accurate when paired with diamond tips (as opposed to round ones). The product description will tell you if the liner’s tube or cartridge has a diamond tip. 

Note:

Cheaper machines are less powerful, so they can have a hard time pushing bigger needle groupings. We’d recommend sticking to smaller needles with most tattoo kit machines.

4

Tattoo Ink and Ink Caps

Most kits will come with ink. Inks that come with a squirt top will be easier to use (pouring them out of a bottle can be messy).

Like tattoo needles, a lot of the inks that come with kits will say they are safe for skin...even if they’re not. You can use them on practice skin, but we recommend buying professional tattoo ink (like Hawink or Dynamic) if you’re going to be tattooing human skin. 

Pro Tip:

Jay, (One of our tattoo instructors) got a kit lab-tested, and they found arsenic (a poison) in the ink. Never trust inks from amazon or ebay, just because they say they are safe for human skin does not mean they are telling the truth.

Fake skin is the perfect way to start practicing your skills without leaving bad tattoos on yourself or your friends.
Some fake skins are more “realistic” than others. If the fake skin your kit comes with is very thin, your needles could go right through it and hit the table beneath it, which will make the needles super dull. We recommend buying ReelSkin for your practice instead, since it’s thick and stretches like real skin.

Thermal paper (also called “transfer paper”) is how you get a tattoo design onto the fake skin. If you’re not sure how to apply a stencil to skin, check out our Complete Guide to Tattoo Transfer Paper

Other Tattoo Equipment

These additional tattoo supplies are essential to the tattooing process...but don’t normally come in a tattoo kit. You will probably have to buy them separately:

  • Rubber bands (for coil machines)
  • Disposable grips
  • Gloves
  • Carrying case
  • Grip tape
  • Barriers
  • Wash bottles
  • Stencil Stuff
  • Green Soap
  • Rinse cups
  • Vaseline

Pro Tip:

Even if you’re just working with practice skin, it’s best to use barriers, gloves, and other safety precautions just like you would if you were tattooing a real person. Practicing like you’re tattooing human skin will help you build good habits so it’s easier to remember when you go to tattoo a person.

Tattoo Kit FAQs

Are tattoo kits worth buying?

Usually. If you’re a complete beginner, tattoo kits give you the equipment you need to just get started practicing on fake skin, which is valuable. Some kits are even professional grade, and give you a great deal on a quality machine plus a few extras. 

However, if you like tattooing and think it’s the career for you, it’s best to upgrade your setup before you start tattooing people.

How much does a tattoo kit cost?

Tattoo kits can cost anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars. A good rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. Even if you get a ton of products, if the kit is super cheap, then you can probably expect the materials inside to be, too. 

This doesn’t mean that quality materials aren’t affordable, because there are a lot of quality kits out there that won’t break the bank. But if a kit seems like a crazy steal, you can expect some extra frustration from low-quality supplies.

Pro Tip:

Liner needles are more accurate when paired with diamond tips (as opposed to round ones). The product description will tell you if the liner’s tube or cartridge has a diamond tip. 

Note:

Cheaper machines are less powerful, so they can have a hard time pushing bigger needle groupings. We’d recommend sticking to smaller needles with most tattoo kit machines.

Where can I buy a tattoo kit?

You can buy a lot of kits directly from manufacturers (we recommend CNC Tattoo Supply), or you can buy them from Amazon.

What’s the best tattoo kit to buy?

Check out our Guide to Beginner Tattoo Kits with video reviews of the top kits for sale. Our Lead Instructor, Nathan, goes through what comes in each, the quality, and he does a tattoo with the materials in each box to let you know how it handles.

Is it safe to use tattoo kits on people?

Tattoo kits are a great way to help you get started practicing on fake skin. But a lot of the kits on Amazon are cheap and we recommend that you don’t use them on real people.

It’s rare that professional grade ink comes with these kits, and a lot of kits will need additional materials (like barriers, machine bags, wash bottles, and more) before you have a full setup suitable for tattooing people.

If you get professional-grade ink and decide to tattoo people, you need to get your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification first. This will help you make sure you - and your client - stay safe throughout the tattooing process.

Warning:

Anyone can get a tattoo kit online but not everyone can get a tattoo. In most places, it is illegal to tattoo anyone under 18 (even if you don’t charge them any money).

Take Your Tattooing to the Next Level

To learn how to tattoo well, you not only need all the right supplies...you need the right information.
Too many new tattoo artists try to learn online only to spend hours searching for information and then developing bad habits from the incorrect or outdated information on YouTube.
These bad habits can set them back in their tattooing careers, because they will have to spend time unlearning incorrect techniques since most shops won’t take them on until they do. This makes it impossible for a lot of passionate artists to leave a job they hate for several extra years.
The best way to avoid all that wasted time is to get guidance from professional tattoo artists who know the right techniques.
The Artist Accelerator Program is taught to you by professionals in the industry. We break down the process of learning to tattoo into nine easy steps that anyone can follow - even if you haven’t drawn since high school. Our online video modules let you learn at your own pace, and our thriving Mastermind community gives you a place to post your work, get personalized feedback from professional tattoo artists, and collaborate with other up-and-coming tattooers.

Start learning the skills you need to go pro today. 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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