How to Do an Online Tattoo Apprenticeship

In 2020, many schools and businesses moved to e-learning and hybrid work-from-home models. 

Now, tattooing is doing the same. Many aspiring tattoo artists are choosing to do an online tattoo apprenticeship instead of working in a shop. This means that apprentices can learn at home at their own pace until they’re ready to work in a tattoo shop as a professional tattoo artist. 

If you’re not sure how to get an online tattoo apprenticeship or how to practice tattooing at home, keep reading.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • How to learn tattooing online
  • How a virtual apprenticeship is different from an in-shop apprenticeship
  • Where to find the materials you need to get started

Note:

Every state has its own regulations. To see the specific rules for your state, visitHow to Get a Tattoo License in Every State in America.”

How to Become a Professional Tattoo Artist Online

1

Decide if Tattooing is Right for You

free online tattoo classes

Videos from the Tattooing 101 YouTube Channel

You can start your tattoo education with a free online course. Or, you can watch YouTube videos to see if tattooing is something you would want to make your new career. 

However, once you know that becoming a tattoo artist is right for you, we recommend moving to a more complete beginners course that offers mentorship

2

Find Mentorship From Tattoo Artists Online

realistic rose body art

Mentorship is the most important part of a tattoo apprenticeship. You have to be able to get feedback on your art and tattoos, or you won’t improve. You will not find mentorship in a free online course. 

However, getting training and feedback from professionals doesn’t have to be super expensive. Look for an online program with lifetime access to training materials and mentoring from professional tattoo artists.

Note:

It can be hard to tell if an online tattoo school is a scam. Here’s a list of what to look for in online tattoo training (and what to avoid).

3

Get Your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification

Before you even begin tattooing fake skin, you need to get your bloodborne pathogens (BBP) certification. This is something you have to do separately from a course or apprenticeship because your local government has to approve this part of your training. 

Your state and county will have specific BBP courses that they’ve approved. Even if a course, mentor, or YouTube video can teach you everything you need to know about cross contamination, you still have to get an approved certification to become a licensed tattoo artist.

4

Practice Your Design Skills

drawing tips

The best way to learn how to draw tattoos is to practice drawing designs by more experienced artists. 

Understanding how to create body art to fit on a person perfectly is a skill every tattoo artist needs, and drawing tattoo designs requires very few supplies - you really only need a pencil and paper to start out. This is why it’s always recommended to start drawing first. 

It’s the perfect way to dive into tattooing right away without any materials and without risking cross-contamination in your home.

Note:

Remember, you need to get feedback not only on your tattooing skills, but on your designs as well. Make sure to reach out to the mentors in your online tattoo course to learn how you can improve your art.

5

Practice Tattoo Techniques on Fake Skin

neotraditional style portrait inspired by Star Wars

All tattoos can be broken down into three skills: line work, shading, and color packing. Once you’ve gotten your tattooing materials, you can start practicing line work drills on fake skin. Once you’re comfortable with these techniques, move on to real designs.

Note:

You can find free beginner tattoo designs in our articles: “Easy Tattoos for Beginners” and “Tattoo Flash Art.”

6

Practice Tattoo Techniques on Yourself or a Friend

Once you are able to easily line, shade, and pack color into fake skin, you’re ready to do a small tattoo on real skin. However, you should only tattoo yourself or another person if you have access to a sterile environment. If you don’t, keep practicing on fake skin.

If you do not have access to a sterile environment, you can practice placing a stencil on yourself or someone else. You can also practice drawing on the skin with a non-toxic marker to get used to the different angles you’ll be working with while tattooing a real person.

Note:

Whether you’re working on fake skin or real skin, make sure to ask for feedback, ask questions to your mentors, and go back and re-watch videos of professional tattoo artists tattooing so you can correct your mistakes and improve. 

7

Put Together a Tattoo Portfolio

The first step to getting a job in the tattoo industry is to put together a portfolio. This will act as your resume to a tattoo shop owner. If you’re putting pictures of your fake skins in the portfolio, make sure you get high-quality images that show off your art.

Ask the tattoo mentor(s) from your online program to look over your portfolio first to get suggestions and ideas to make it better before searching for a job.

Virtual Apprenticeship Vs. In-Shop Apprenticeship

Online apprenticeships are a pretty new concept, especially compared to the in-shop apprenticeships that have been the more traditional path for a long time.

Both options should give you the same information and training. However, the different environments have their own pros and cons. Here’s are the differences between virtual and in-person apprenticeships:

Virtual Apprenticeship: Flexibility and Freedom

Online apprenticeships are a pretty new concept, especially compared to the in-shop apprenticeships that have been the more traditional path for a long time.

Both options should give you the same information and training. However, the different environments have their own pros and cons. Here’s are the differences between virtual and in-person apprenticeships:

tattoo courses
video about body art basics

If you’re learning to tattoo online, you’re probably learning through a tattooing course offered by an online tattoo school. This means that your lessons are pre-recorded, but that you should be able to reach out to a professional tattoo artist associated with the program for personalized feedback and advice. 

Because the lessons aren’t at a specific time, you can learn at your own pace. In a traditional apprenticeship, you work full-time to earn pieces of information from your mentor overtime. 

With pre-recorded lessons, you can binge-learn or you can work around a busy schedule, depending on your goals and needs.

However, since no one is in your home making you practice your tattooing, it’s entirely on you to be motivated and work through the material. 

A good tattoo school will have a community of students and professionals to keep you motivated and help when you feel stuck. (A community like this is meant to take the place of the advice and help you’d get working with artists in a shop.)

In-Shop Apprenticeship: Well-Known Structure

artist using a tattoo machine

If you’re learning to tattoo in a shop, you’re probably learning under one tattoo artist while working full-time in the shop. This means that you will not be getting paid because your labor is payment for your education. However, you will have a local connection to the tattooing world.

Because you are working for your tattoo education, a lot of your time will be spent cleaning, answering phone calls, and running errands for the shop’s artists. You’ll “earn” pieces of information over time, though you probably won’t be allowed to pick up a tattoo machine for the first several months to a year.

However, since you’re working full-time around the artists, you’ll be able to learn how the tattoo business works, and how to handle customers. Additionally, you’ll have easy access to a sterile environment once it’s time for you to practice tattooing yourself and others.

You will most likely be required to help open and close the shop, which usually means 10+ hour days. Some apprentices will need to work a second job to support themselves or their families. These long days can lead to burnout, so it’s helpful for apprentices to have financial support.

How to Get Your Tattoo Supplies

equipment needed for body art course

If you apprentice in a shop, you’ll need to buy your own supplies, but your mentor will probably tell you what to buy. If you’re learning from home, the choice will be up to you.

What you buy will depend on your budget and how you want to learn (for example, if you want to learn using a coil machine or a rotary). Below is a list of materials our tattoo artists recommend to new artists that are ready to start practicing their skills at home. 

Note:

You can find almost all of the items listed below on Amazon. However, Amazon tends to have a lot of knock-offs that say their materials are sterile, but they really aren’t. We highly recommend buying directly from the manufacturer or only using Amazon products on fake skin.

Instructors’ Choice: The Inkjecta Flite Nano Lite

This is an easy-to-use pen machine. It’s powerful for a beginner machine and great for practicing lining, packing, and shading.

A lot of machines below the $150 mark tend to be cheaply made and hard to use. 

The Mast Tour Pen is good quality for such a low price point, and it’ll help you get started as a new artist on a budget.

This is our instructors’ favorite machine. It’s a rotary machine, but it’s more forgiving on the skin. 

This is a professional-grade machine, but it’s easy to learn on. However, it is in a higher price range.

Instructors’ Choice: The Inkjecta Flite Nano Lite

This is an easy-to-use pen machine. It’s powerful for a beginner machine and great for practicing lining, packing, and shading.

A lot of machines below the $150 mark tend to be cheaply made and hard to use. 

The Mast Tour Pen is good quality for such a low price point, and it’ll help you get started as a new artist on a budget.

This is our instructors’ favorite machine. It’s a rotary machine, but it’s more forgiving on the skin. 

This is a professional-grade machine, but it’s easy to learn on. However, it is in a higher price range.

Instructors’ Choice: The Inkjecta Flite Nano Lite

This is an easy-to-use pen machine. It’s powerful for a beginner machine and great for practicing lining, packing, and shading.

A lot of machines below the $150 mark tend to be cheaply made and hard to use. 

The Mast Tour Pen is good quality for such a low price point, and it’ll help you get started as a new artist on a budget.

This is our instructors’ favorite machine. It’s a rotary machine, but it’s more forgiving on the skin. 

This is a professional-grade machine, but it’s easy to learn on. However, it is in a higher price range.

Best Option: Hawink Tattoo Ink

Instructors’ Choice: Solid Ink

Hawink offers vibrant colors at a lower price point than most tattoo ink brands. 

Solid offers high-quality, professional-grade tattoo ink. The ink is a bit thicker, which is great for Traditional and NeoTraditional artists. However, it comes with a higher price tag.

Best Option: Hawink Tattoo Ink

Instructors’ Choice: Solid Ink

Hawink offers vibrant colors at a lower price point than most tattoo ink brands. 

Solid offers high-quality, professional-grade tattoo ink. The ink is a bit thicker, which is great for Traditional and NeoTraditional artists. However, it comes with a higher price tag.

Best Option: Hawink Tattoo Ink

Instructors’ Choice: Solid Ink

Hawink offers vibrant colors at a lower price point than most tattoo ink brands. 

Solid offers high-quality, professional-grade tattoo ink. The ink is a bit thicker, which is great for Traditional and NeoTraditional artists. However, it comes with a higher price tag.

Best Option: Mast Cartridges

Instructors’ Choice: Quelle Cartridges

These needles come in every configuration you could need at a fraction of the cost of more premium cartridges. They are easy to use and well-constructed.

Quelle cartridges are still considered “budget” cartridges, but they’re very high quality for the price. 

A lot of needles with built-in membranes “spit” ink back onto the skin, but the Quelle cartridges have solved that problem while still allowing great saturation. 

Best Option: Mast Cartridges

Instructors’ Choice: Quelle Cartridges

These needles come in every configuration you could need at a fraction of the cost of more premium cartridges. They are easy to use and well-constructed.

Quelle cartridges are still considered “budget” cartridges, but they’re very high quality for the price. 

A lot of needles with built-in membranes “spit” ink back onto the skin, but the Quelle cartridges have solved that problem while still allowing great saturation. 

Best Option: Mast Cartridges

Instructors’ Choice: Quelle Cartridges

These needles come in every configuration you could need at a fraction of the cost of more premium cartridges. They are easy to use and well-constructed.

Quelle cartridges are still considered “budget” cartridges, but they’re very high quality for the price. 

A lot of needles with built-in membranes “spit” ink back onto the skin, but the Quelle cartridges have solved that problem while still allowing great saturation. 

4

Fake Skin

Best Option: ReelSkin

Instructors’ Choice: Frankenskins

These are “tried and true” fake skins. They are high quality, thick, and stretchy. Our instructors have used these over and over, and they’re about the closest thing you can get to actually tattooing a person. 

ReelSkin comes in different sizes (including fake limbs) and skin tones.

Even thicker than ReelSkins, Frankenskins are a durable, easy-to-use fake skin option. 

They offer textured fake skin for life-like practice, as well as clear fake skins so you can practice without worrying about wiping away your stencil.

Best Option: ReelSkin

Instructors’ Choice: Frankenskins

These are “tried and true” fake skins. They are high quality, thick, and stretchy. Our instructors have used these over and over, and they’re about the closest thing you can get to actually tattooing a person. 

ReelSkin comes in different sizes (including fake limbs) and skin tones.

Even thicker than ReelSkins, Frankenskins are a durable, easy-to-use fake skin option. 

They offer textured fake skin for life-like practice, as well as clear fake skins so you can practice without worrying about wiping away your stencil.

Best Option: ReelSkin

Instructors’ Choice: Frankenskins

These are “tried and true” fake skins. They are high quality, thick, and stretchy. Our instructors have used these over and over, and they’re about the closest thing you can get to actually tattooing a person. 

ReelSkin comes in different sizes (including fake limbs) and skin tones.

Even thicker than ReelSkins, Frankenskins are a durable, easy-to-use fake skin option. 

They offer textured fake skin for life-like practice, as well as clear fake skins so you can practice without worrying about wiping away your stencil.

In addition to these items, you’ll need paper towels, plastic barriers, ink caps, stencil paper, Vaseline, and gloves. To see an itemized list of all the materials you’ll need (and their approximate cost), visit our article: “How Much Does it Cost to Become a Tattoo Artist.”

5

Online Apprenticeship Program

basics of tattoo cleaning
basics of tattoo art
techniques for applying tattoos
butterfly body art

To learn how to use your new materials and to get the help you need to break into the tattooing industry, you’ll need help from professional tattoo artists.

Our flagship program, the Artist Accelerator, is a complete tattooing course that teaches you everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship - from how a tattoo shop works to design and technique to how to get into a shop.

As a student, you get personalized feedback from our professional tattoo artist instructors, as well as an online community where you can find encouragement and ask questions. 

To get started, click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.

Start Learning With Tattooing 101’s Online Training Program

student work from the Artist Accelerator tattoo artist training programs

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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