10 Tips for Tattooing Fake Skin

Tattooing fake skin is the best way for new artists to master the fundamentals before moving onto the real thing. If you’ve never worked with fake skin before, there’s a few tricks to it that can make learning a lot easier.

In this article, we’ll be breaking down our top 10 tips for tattooing fake skin, including:

  • How to get stencils onto fake skin
  • How to get excess ink off fake skins
  • Our favorite fake skin brands

Whenever you are first starting out, fake skins are the best way to learn the fundamentals. That way, you don’t have to jump onto your own skin to try and “figure it out” through trial and error.

However, fake skin is a little bit different from the real thing. Knowing what these differences are - and how to handle those issues - will help you improve faster so you can tattoo real clients sooner. 

Here’s our top 10 tips for tattooing fake skin:

1

Let Your Stencil Dry 3+ Hours

We recommend using Green Gold as your stencil primer for fake skins because it is the thickest primer we’ve found. Other brands tend to be super thin, which makes it hard to get the stencil onto the skin. 

Rub a little bit onto the fake skins (not too much or it’ll take forever to dry). This should make a light layer over the top of the skin. 

Press the stencil down. Keep pressing for a few seconds to make sure it’s picking up the full stencil. 

If the stencil is too light, wipe it away with a paper towel and do it again to make sure you can clearly see the stencil. 

Now here's a big key point with tattooing fake skins: you want to make sure that you are letting them dry. If you went in and tried to tattoo the stencil right away, it would smear everywhere. 

You can pat it down with a paper towel to get all the residual stencil primer off to help it dry. After that, let it dry for three hours, then you could come back and start tattooing.

2

Don’t Use Too Much (or Too Little) Stencil Primer

Stencils can be too light or blurry. 

If you use a lot of stencil stuff, the stencil will turn out blurry. Then if you go too light on applying stencil stuff, your stencil will be really faint. In this case, you can still tattoo with it. 

However, if you are first starting out, it’s best to try to get a perfect stencil if you can. We recommend trying it out a couple different times until you can actually get a perfect stencil.

3

Remember to Wrap Your Station

Before you go into tattooing fake skins, you want to make sure that you're wrapping up your whole station, your machine, etc. so you could get used to setting up and tattooing like you're going to on a client.

This will help you build up muscle memory and use proper safety protocols when you work on real people.

4

Stretch the Skin

When your stencil is dry and you’re ready to start tattooing, you want to practice tattooing like it's actual skin. This means stretching the skin. 

If your fake skin was a human being, you would need to stretch the skin in order to create a good tattoo. The best way to practice this is to get used to setting up, wearing your gloves, and holding the fake skin kind of like you would stretch out human skin. You can use three points of contact to make sure you’re anchored and stable.

5

Start From the Bottom of the Design

As with every tattoo that you do, you want to make sure that you are starting from the bottom. This prevents you from smearing your whole stencil as you're going. Because if you start at the top, you're going to smear the stencil while you work your way down.

If your stencil rubs away, you're going to get really nervous and not know where to go or where your line work should be. So, taking care of your stencil is definitely a key point to keep in mind.

6

Set Up Your Ink Caps With the Right Gray Wash

Whenever you first start tattooing fake skins, we recommend using black ink and/or black and gray. You can use:

  • Straight black
  • 10 drops black and distilled water
  • 6 drops black and distilled water
  • Distilled water

You will have to adjust depending on the size of your ink caps, but the above measurements work best with medium-sized ink caps.

7

Flip the Skin Over to See Whether You’re Hitting the Right Depth

When you're working on your needle depth, you want to make sure that you're trying to go as consistent as possible. If you let your needle hang out, you won't be riding on the tube on the actual fake skin. You'll be hovering it over just slightly. 

Fake skins are pretty thick so you don't have to worry about drilling through it and hitting your table. If you are, then you're going way too deep.

One way to tell if you're going too deep in fake skin is to look at the back of your fake skin. If you could clearly see that it cuts straight through it, that means you're going too deep in the actual fake skin. 

If your machine cuts straight through, then your machine's hitting too hard, which is possible if you're using a direct drive machine, like a pen machine. It gives a lot of trauma to the fake skin, and it could rip it up. 

You also want to focus on not going too light. If you're going into the fake skin and your lines are barely showing up or it's just not saturated, that means that you're not going deep enough in the actual fake skins. 

To get a better feel for it, you can do lining drills like printing and stenciling straight lines and circles. They will help you tattoo fake skins, in turn helping you tattoo people someday.

8

Work on Linework First

When you actually start tattooing, work on just your line work. This will let you build up your confidence and have all the muscle memory down before jumping onto something different.

Trying to focus on lining, shading and color all at once can really affect the way that you're growing, because there's too much information at once and it's hard to try to focus on growing just one skill.

Instead, get comfortable with lining before jumping onto shading. Since you can just keep the fake skins, hold onto the designs you’ve already done the lining for, and then go back to them when you’re ready to practice shading.

Practicing shading on fake skins is very close to real skin. The way fake skins react to shading (and shading needles) feels very natural, even for artists who have been tattooing real people for years.

When you get into your shading, you always want to try to start up close to the line. 

When you're shading, you’ll go straight up to that line and then use whip shading or pendulum shading to build up the tones in the fake skin.

9

Use Vaseline to Get Ink Off of Fake Skin

Fake skin is a whole lot different than real skin - ink likes to stick to it. It doesn't wipe off very well. So, when you're done with your line work, make sure you are using Vaseline. 

You can wipe the fake skin down with Vaseline (this will pick up the ink) and then wipe it all off with a paper towel. 

Doing this means you’ll use way more Vaseline than you would on an actual client, so make sure to add extra to your station so you don’t have to switch out gloves to go back and get more. 

Then before you start shading, you can wipe a very thin layer of Vaseline over the whole skin. That helps it stay clean, which helps you tattoo it a little bit better.

Once you are done with your shading, the fake skin is going to look really messy, and there will be ink all over it. To get the ink off, wipe it completely down with Vaseline. Distilled water and soap does not work as well. Wipe the Vaseline away with a dry paper towel. Make sure to do this lightly to avoid ripping the fake skin. 

10

Use High-Quality Fake Skins

The brand ReelSkin is the closest thing to actual human skin we’ve found so far on the market. (Frankenskins are also good.) Most other fake skins feel like you’re trying to tattoo through a wooden board, or they feel too much like plastic. 

Even though it’s not exactly the same, you could build up everything you need to know tattooing fake skins and become a great tattoo artist by focusing on tattooing these first. 

It's a great way to grow really fast in this industry because you don't have to wait on clients or worry about making designs for them. You can focus strictly on getting all the fundamentals down, and you don't have to worry about making mistakes and messing up on someone’s skin.

Learn to Master Tattooing

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techniques for applying tattoos
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Learning to tattoo on fake skin is only the first step on your journey to becoming a tattoo artist. Next, you need to learn how to work with customers and safely apply tattoos to real skin.

There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is outdated or incorrect. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.

If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.

We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.

Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired. 

Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.

Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

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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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