Tattooing Fake Skin vs. Real Skin

Tattooing fake skin is a great way for new artists to build their skills without having to worry about messing up on a client or themselves.

It’s important to work on fake skin first because it lets you practice whenever you want. It also protects your future career because you won’t have many bad tattoos on clients that give you a bad reputation.

However, there are a few things that you can only understand from tattooing real people. In this article, we’ll break down:

  • What we like (and dislike) about fake skin
  • How fake skin and real skin are different when it comes to the tattooing process
  • How to know you’re ready to move from fake skin to real skin

Fake Skin Vs. Real Skin - Pros and Cons

Whenever you first start out, we highly recommend only tattooing fake skin, even though it can be different than actual human skin. This allows you to get tons of practice with no pressure.

As long as you’re using a high-quality fake skin like Reelskin, Frankenskins, or Pound of Flesh, then you’ll be getting great practice that will transfer when you move to the real thing. 

Fake Skin: Pros


You Can Get Comfortable with Your Machine

Working with a tattoo machine will feel weird at first. It’s heavy, it vibrates, and to get the best results, you have to hold the machine at a specific angle. 

Getting comfortable holding your machine and stretching the skin before you move to real skin will help you build up your confidence and better understand tattooing as a whole. 


You Get Quality Practice

Fake skin is a perfect place to practice straight lines, perfect circles, and shading. Because you don’t have to be working with a design on fake skin, you can really focus on your technique over everything else. 

This will help you improve much faster than worrying about everything looking perfect on a client.


You Don’t Need Clients to Practice

Because you’ll have access to your fake skin any time, you don’t need any clients to get tattooing practice.

You can take any amount of spare time you have and start tattooing. And if you don’t finish the tattoo during that time, you can easily go back to it later. You can’t do this on clients. If you’re in the middle of your linework and stop, it’ll be a mess to try and line everything back up with your stencil during the next session. 


There’s No Pressure to Be Perfect

When you first start out, you are going to mess up. That is a part of learning to tattoo. It takes years and years of practice in order to get to where you are comfortable all the time while you’re tattooing. 

If you’re tattooing on fake skins, you can mess up and it's not a big deal. You could always go back and try to fix it or learn from that experience and start on another one.

Fake Skin: Cons


It’s Very Easy to Smudge the Stencil

With fake skins, even if you put on your stencil perfectly and wait three hours to start tattooing, if you accidentally wipe the skin instead of dab it (or if you forget to use Vaseline), you’ll smudge the stencil. This can be really frustrating and make it harder to practice properly.


You Need to Use the Right Brand of Practice Skin

A lot of fake skin brands out there are not good for tattooing practice. A lot of the fake skins you find on Amazon have a tough, plastic feel to them. They also tend to be too thin to get a good feel for your needle depth, which can mess up your linework.


We recommend using Reelskin, Frankenskins, or Pound of Flesh.

Human Skin: Pros


The Ink Goes in Easier on Real Skin

When it comes to human skin, the ink goes in a lot easier than it does in fake skin. 

This means it is very easy to go too deep or too light, which can cause blowouts or the ink falling out with healing. However, once you get used to the right needle depth on fake skin, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to get good lines on real skin because you have proper technique. 


The Stencil Stays on for a Long Time

As mentioned above, it’s really easy to rub ink off your fake skin. On human skin, once you put the stencil on and wait 15 minutes, it’ll stay on for hours.


Gray Wash Heals Lighter in Real Skin

When you’re tattooing human skin, you’ll notice that the tattoo ink you use is going to show up lighter in the skin. When you’re tattooing fake skins, the ink goes in super dark (and stays that way) even if you’re using a light gray wash. On human skin, it’ll heal lighter.


You Build Relationships with Your Clients

This is one of the best things about tattooing actual people. When you have a client get tattooed by you, and they message you wanting to come back, you get to build that client relationship. This is how you grow as a tattoo artist and build a career you love.

Human Skin: Cons


You’re Always Working on a Curved Surface

No matter where you’re tattooing on the human body, you’re going to have to deal with curves and changes in the skin. This means that tattooing on people can feel awkward, especially when you’re dealing with really circular areas, like around a person’s shoulder. 

On fake skin, you can practice on a completely flat canvas.


You Have to Stretch the Skin Properly

When you’re working on real skin, you have to have the perfect stretch on the skin. This is why it’s so important to practice using your stretching hand on fake skin, even if you don’t really need to stretch the skin.

If you practice tattooing properly on fake skin, you’ll build up the right muscle memory and have an easier time jumping to real skin. 

How to Know You’re Ready for Real Skin

It can be hard to figure out when you’re ready to make the jump and tattoo a real person for the first time.

One of the best ways to figure out if you’re ready is to test your fundamentals: lining and getting a solid fill.

We recommend the “Nautical Star Test.” If you can tattoo the lines of a nautical star perfectly and get solid fills that don’t look patchy or overworked, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re ready to try a small tattoo on your own skin.


You should only try tattooing yourself if you have your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification and you have a sterile place to tattoo with sterilized equipment. 

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
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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