4 Steps to Take Before Tattooing Human Skin

After some practice on fake skin, most new tattoo artists ask "How do I know when I'm ready to tattoo human skin?" 

Getting practice on human skin is important because that’s where you want to go with your career. However, most people jump onto real skin before they’re ready. This can cause blowouts, scabbing and infections, and bad tattoos.

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to start working on clients, keep reading.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • The #1 thing you must have before tattooing human skin
  • What techniques you need to understand
  • How to check your work and make improvements

What to Do BEFORE Tattooing Human Skin


Have a Sterile Space

The #1 thing you must have before tattooing a person (including yourself) is a sterile space. You need to make sure you have:

  • All the sterilizing equipment you need. We recommend just using a fully-disposable setup to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Floors that can be cleaned and sterilized from bloodborne pathogens
  • All surface areas sterilized and wrapped in plastic barriers
  • Your bloodborne pathogens certification

Even if you are tattooing yourself, you should not be in a place that has any fabric. It is harder to clean bloodborne pathogens from felt, cotton, etc. than it is from a metal tattoo station. Every surface in your area should be non-porous.


As mentioned above, you need to get your bloodborne pathogens (BBP) certification before tattooing human skin (even your own). It is illegal in almost every state to tattoo without a BBP certification.


Be Able to Line, Shade, and Pack Ink

The three skills that make up every tattoo are lining, shading, and packing ink. Taking the time to build each of these fundamentals will make sure you’re ready to do great tattoos on real skin.

The fastest way to build these skills is to work on them one at a time. If you can focus entirely on one skill, you’ll be able to master it faster than trying to learn all of them at once.


The fastest way to get straight lines is to use fake skin to practice:

  • Line drills (both straight and curved lines)
  • Tattooing perfect circles
  • Hitting the right depth consistently (2mm into your fake skin)


There are several different shading techniques you can practice on fake skin:

  • Traditional whip shading
  • Pendulum shading
  • Packing in solid black areas


Using color is similar to shading, as you’ll be using a lot of the same hand motions. However, it can be more difficult than shading at times. For example, if you are trying to pack in yellow ink, it’s very hard to see in the skin, which can lead you to accidentally overwork the skin. 

When you start practicing actual designs, we recommend doing a lot of designs using black ink only to focus on your linework and shading before trying to tattoo color.


Do Trial Tattoos on Fake Skin

If you can do perfect lining and shading drills, then you are ready to do a palm-size tattoo on fake skin. 

This is a good time to make sure you are tattooing at the right depth and to see if you’re overworking any areas. If your needle depth is too deep, you’ll notice there are cuts or slices in the skin when you flex the fake skin. If you are overworking the skin, you’ll notice that the fake skin looks chewed up or that there are small chunks missing from the silicone.

Tattooing human skin is more difficult than tattooing fake skin. So, you want to make sure you can do a perfect tattoo on fake skin before tattooing a person. Being able to do great work on fake skin will jumpstart your career because you’ll make way fewer mistakes on real people. 


Check How Your Tattoos Heal

When you’re ready to tattoo real people, you want to keep track of how your tattoos heal.

The best way to do this is by doing a tattoo on yourself. It’s considered a rite of passage for tattoo artists to do their first tattoo on themselves. This is for a few reasons:
  • You need to know how much pain your tattoos cause before tattooing someone else.
  • If you’re going to make a major mistake, it’s best that it’s on yourself and not a paying client.
  • You can watch the healing process.  


When you make a mistake on human skin, go back and practice that part on fake skins.

Tattooing for Free

Before you start on actual paying clients, you want to practice for a while on willing family and friends without charge. At the beginning of your career, your customers are doing you a favor, and because you will probably make a few mistakes, it’s best to do those tattoos for free. 

One of the biggest reasons you want to start tattooing people you know first is because you need to see how your tattoos heal on people. Whether you can see it in person or you’re at least able to get pictures, it’s best to get a look at your healed tattoo almost every day for a week or two. 

After seeing how your tattoos heal up, you can change any techniques that cause issues with healing. For example, if your tattoo is clearly overworked, you know that you’re making too many passes over the skin or staying in one place for too long.

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

In the past, learning in the shop through an apprenticeship was the only way aspiring artists could learn to tattoo clients and start working professionally. Today, however, artists are skipping the apprenticeship to learn on their own time at home with the Artist Accelerator Program.

The world’s oldest and largest online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program’s easy-to-follow, 9-step framework lets anyone go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist without the year of grunt work or hazing. 

Inside the program, you’ll be taught everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship by professional tattoo artists and receive feedback on your art and tattoos in the program’s private online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator Program’s 9-step framework to break into the tattoo industry, with many opening their own studios or working in shops around the world. 

If you’d like to see the framework they used, 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
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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