Best Tattoo Tips for Beginners

As a new tattoo artist, you get a lot of new information thrown at you. However, some pieces of information will be more important than others when it comes to improving fast.

In this article, our professional tattoo artists break down eight important beginner tips they wish they had at the beginning of their careers:

  • Tattoo artist “vocab”
  • How to practice drawing for tattoos
  • How to stay stable and avoid wobbly lines

The Tattoo Tips New Artists Need

Tattooing is a precise art form that requires a lot of practice. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you improve much faster:

1

Say “Tattoo Machine” Instead of “Tattoo Gun”

A lot of people who are new to the industry call a machine a “tattoo gun.” Some artists won’t care, but there are plenty out there who will get really upset if someone says “tattoo gun.” 

If you go into a tattoo studio, it doesn't matter how good your artwork is. If you call a machine a tattoo gun, they're going to immediately shut you down and refuse to look at your portfolio - just because you do not know the right term.

2

Draw Before You Tattoo

Most new artists are excited to get a tattoo machine and start practicing right away. However, it’s important to follow the appropriate steps in order to learn correctly (and quickly). That includes practicing your drawing skills before you start tattooing. 

You can draw flash or look up other people's tattoo designs and study it. By practicing drawing other people’s designs, you’ll start to learn what looks good in a tattoo. And by changing little things to those designs, you can start learning to create your own unique style.

This is very important because no matter how perfectly you can tattoo, if you only copy other people’s designs, it’ll be almost impossible to make it as a tattoo artist.  

People are going to see that and understand that you are copying everyone's designs. Any tattoo artist that looks through your portfolio is going to be able to tell if it's a tattoo that’s been done before.

Pro Tip: 

We recommend starting out with American Traditional tattoos. They’re small tattoos, they use one line weight, and they make it easy to see any imperfections so you can correct yourself and improve faster.

3

Draw With a Tattoo Machine

While you are practicing drawing flash, adding a tattoo machine onto your pencil will help you get used to the weight of the machine. For a more realistic feel, you can cut down the pencil to the size of the tube so the machine will rest on the back of your hand just like you’re tattooing. 

As you work on your drawing skills, you’ll get used to the weight and build up the strength you need in your hands to tattoo for hours on end.

Note: 

Coil machines are very heavy, so this will be more important for artists planning to use coil machines. However, you can put a pencil in a rotary machine, and getting used to the weight and feel of the machine (no matter how light it is), will still be helpful.

4

Hold Your Machine Correctly

tattoo artist working in a tattoo shop

Holding a tattoo machine feels awkward when you’re first starting out. Making sure you’re doing it correctly right away will make it easier for you to learn and get comfortable while tattooing. 

To hold a tattoo machine, make sure that your middle finger is resting underneath the cartridge to give stability to the machine. 

Your ring and pinky fingers will be placed on the skin so you can manually control your depth. It helps to put a little bit of Vaseline on these fingers so they slide while you’re tattooing long lines.

Note: 

This works for coil machines, rotary machines, even pen style machines. 

5

Use Three Points of Contact

When you are first starting out and trying to get used to holding your tattoo machine, you want to make sure that you are using three points of contact to keep your hand steady.

First, hold your elbow against your side so your arm does not shake. 

Second, place the side of your palm onto the skin to keep your hand steady while you’re holding the machine.

Third, hook the pinky finger of your tattooing hand to the thumb of your stretching hand. This will make everything feel more stable.

Pro Tip: 

After you get comfortable tattooing, you don’t have to hook your pinky to your thumb. However, if you’re having problems with shaky lines, this will help you improve your tattoos.

6

Practice Proper Sterilization

This is the most important part of learning how to tattoo. You should not touch a tattoo machine - even on fake skin - until you know all the proper steps for sterilization. 

To keep yourself and your clients safe, you need to know what equipment must be run through an autoclave in order for it to be sterilized, as well as which chemicals can actually clean up bloodborne pathogens (like MadaCide).  

Some resources online will give you wrong information. For example, bleaching or boiling your tubes WILL NOT sterilize them. The only way to know you’re doing things correctly is to take a bloodborne pathogens course for tattoo artists.

7

Learn Skills in the Right Order

The best way to get to your dream career fast is to practice in a way that lets you build your skills.

Drawing Comes First

This means drawing flash on paper before you start tattooing. Building that foundation without the extra vibration and weight of a tattoo machine will help you pick up tattooing faster. 

Fake Skin Drills

Once you’re ready to start tattooing, it’s best to practice on fake skins first. (We recommend Reelskins or Frankenskins). Fake skins off of Amazon can be really thin, which means you’re not getting good practice hitting the right depth (about 2mm into the skin). 

You can learn faster on fake skins because you can practice lines, shading techniques, etc. and focus on building your skills as opposed to trying to make a perfect design on a client. 

We recommend practicing linework with a 5, 7, and 14 round liner. Then, practice whip shading and pendulum shading techniques, as well as packing in solid areas. 

Because you’re not working on clients who will have specific requests, you can perfect your black and gray before worrying about color. Trying to learn how to line, shade, and pack color all at once is not only frustrating, but it takes longer to try and learn all three at once.

Voltage is sort of a balancing game. You need enough power to get the needle into the skin, but you can’t use so much power that you overwork the skin and chew it out. 

For example, if you're using a rotary machine, we recommend starting out with 7v. If you’re using big needles for lining, you’ll need to move your voltage up (usually around 9v). If you’re doing realistic shading and need to build up layers, you might need to move your voltage back down to a 7 or lower so you don’t rip up the skin.

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, 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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