Most tattoo artists say that tattooing yourself is a “rite of passage” you have to go through before tattooing other people. Doing your first tattoo on yourself means any major mistakes are at least on your own skin - and not a paying client’s.
However, tattooing yourself comes with some challenges - and it shouldn’t be done “just because.” There are a few important things you need to know before you tattoo your own skin.
In this article, we’ll break down what you need to know, including:
What You Need to Know BEFORE Tattooing Yourself
There are a few things you need to think about before you try tattooing yourself:
Can You Tattoo Efficiently on Fake Skin?
It can be really tempting to buy a cheap tattoo machine and try it out on your own skin as soon as possible. However, 9 times out of 10 this leads to a tattoo that either fades super quickly because the ink isn’t deep enough in the skin, or leads to a blowout from going too deep, which will require a coverup in the future.While bad tattoos can be fixed or covered, you don’t want to jump in and start learning bad habits. It’s much easier to learn quickly if you don’t have to go back and fix lots of mistakes.
Can You Work Through Pain and Adrenaline?
Tattoos hurt, and some people are able to handle that pain better than others.The pain can make it difficult to go deep enough in the skin, which is why some people who tattoo themselves find the ink “falling out” shortly after.Additionally, the pain of a tattoo (and the nerves of tattooing your own skin) means you’ll have a lot of adrenaline in your body. This means you’ll be shaky. This is normal, but it also makes it very difficult to tattoo a straight line.
How to Keep Yourself Steady
It’s impossible to completely get rid of pain and nerves when tattooing yourself for the first time. However, there are a few things you can do to keep yourself steady and make the experience a little bit easier:
Don’t drink caffeine.
Caffeine can make you even more shaky, so we don’t recommend having any before tattooing yourself.
Don’t drink alcohol before a tattoo.
Feeling hungover will affect your ability to tattoo. Additionally, alcohol dehydrates you. This means that you will bleed more.
Consider Numbing Cream.
If you’re having issues where the pain is so bad that you can’t tattoo correctly on yourself, you can consider using a numbing cream. However, it’s important to know that they can make the skin feel “spongy” and have a strange texture if they are left on for too long.
Eat a good meal.
Tattoos take several hours. If you go that time without eating enough, you’re going to feel the effect, and you won’t be able to do your best work.
Additionally, if you don’t eat your blood sugar could drop. This puts you at a higher risk of passing out (on top of the fact that you’ll be nervous and in pain).
Depending on what machine you use, it will keep running - even if you pass out. Be careful not to end up with any accidental tattoos!
Is Your Equipment Sterile?
You can fix a bad tattoo. But if you mess up on sterilization, it could end your career before you even get started.
Make Sure Everything is Single Use
You need to make sure that the machine you are using to tattoo yourself has disposable grips, that your needle cartridges are in sterile packaging, and that you are tattooing in a space that can be sterilized. (For example, metal and massage tables can easily be sterilized. Carpets and cushions cannot.)
Additionally, you need to make sure that you’re putting up plastic barriers and wrapping your machine the same way you would for a client.
Get Your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification
Bloodborne pathogens can lead to life-threatening illnesses. You must understand how to avoid them, and how to make sure your tattoo station is free of anything that could cause illness, infection, etc.The best way to do this is by taking a bloodborne pathogens certification class. You should take this class before tattooing anyone including yourself.
If you don’t use proper tattoo safety procedures early in your career, it can come back to haunt you. If pictures showing that your tattooing is unsanitary pop up - no matter when you did the tattoo - it can be a huge hit on your name.
What Type of Tattoo is Best?
If you’re tattooing yourself for the first time, you want to do a small tattoo that can easily be hidden. While your first tattoo might turn out great, it’s more likely that you will have some mistakes.
A big part of tattooing yourself is deciding on a good placement. You want to pick somewhere that you can:
Because of this, we recommend tattooing your upper thigh. If you try tattooing your own arm, you won’t be able to use one of your hands and you won’t be able to practice stretching your skin. Since the whole point of tattooing yourself is to practice before moving onto clients, this defeats the purpose.Additionally, an upper thigh is easy to hide. We recommend staying away from easy-to-see places (hands, neck, face) until you have several years of tattooing under your belt. Not only are they nearly impossible to hide, the skin is also very delicate in these areas, making it even harder to do a good tattoo.
Your first tattoo on yourself comes with a lot of different factors (pain, adrenaline, nerves, etc.), and you’ll only have experience on fake skin.Because of this, we recommend doing a small linework tattoo. This will let you practice one of the most fundamental skills in tattooing without having to worry about shading or color. Let this tattoo heal before going in with some shading.
So, is Tattooing Yourself Easy?
The answer to this question is both yes and no.
If you’ve built your skills on fake skin, and you only do a small tattoo, your first tattoo will feel easier than it would have without the practice. You also don’t have the added pressure of making a mistake on someone else’s skin.However, it can be hard to tattoo yourself because of the pain and nerves. Also, if you don’t have the right kind of tattoo equipment, it can take longer to do a tattoo, which means being in pain for a longer period of time.
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.