Tattooing at Home for Beginners

In the past, aspiring tattoo artists had to learn how to tattoo in-shop. However, with the help of online resources and fake skins that allow new artists to practice their skills anywhere, it’s possible to start tattooing at home.*

This means that anyone - even people who want to skip a traditional tattoo apprenticeship - can learn to tattoo.

In this article, we’ll explain how you can start tattooing at home by discussing:

  • What skills you should practice
  • Which materials you need in your home to practice tattooing effectively
  • Our favorite method for improving your work fast

*Artists tattooing at home should stick to fake skins only until they are able to practice in a sterile environment. 

Steps You Can Take to Start Tattooing at Home

If you want to get an apprenticeship - or even just start tattooing professionally in a shop right away, you can take the following steps to get started:

STEP 1

Take a Bloodborne Pathogens Certification Class

STEP 1

Take a Bloodborne Pathogens Certification Class

When you’re tattooing at home, you should only use fake skins. When tattooing human skin (even your own), you need to be in a sterile environment to make sure everything is sanitary and you’re not putting anyone at risk of bloodborne pathogens. If you’re tattooing in a place that is not sterile, you could get a bad reputation in the tattoo community.

However, if you’re learning at home, you can still take a Bloodborne Pathogens Certification course. This will give you the knowledge you need to safely work with clients when you do make that step. It’ll also show you how to practice being sanitary, even if you’re just working on fake skins. If sanitary practices are muscle memory for you by the time you get to tattooing real skin, you’ll be less likely to forget a step that puts you or your clients at risk. 

Note:

Different states require their artists to get BBP certified from different certification providers. 

STEP 2
prints of custom tattoos

*Images from the Tattooing 101 Sketchbook

Before you even pick up a tattoo machine, you’ll need to assess your drawing level. Here’s an easy way to break down where you are in your drawing progress:

Level One: You are learning how to build up designs, and what it means to draw with flow.

Level Two: You feel confident drawing and can recreate flash designs by your favorite tattoo artists.

Level Three: You’re able to look at other tattoo artists’ designs and make them your own by changing elements or adding new ideas.

Level Four: You can draw completely original tattoo designs from scratch. 

Once you figure out where you are on this scale, you’ll want to work your way up and complete each goal in the above “levels.”

Note:

You don’t have to be the best artist in the world before picking up a tattoo machine. But getting some drawing experience and continuing to work on your art skills (even when you start tattooing) is important to your career.  

Pro Tip:

If you need some designs to work with, check out the Tattooing 101 Sketchbook.

STEP 3

Spend Time in a Tattoo Shop

STEP 3

Spend Time in a Tattoo Shop

A lot of aspiring artists don’t have the time or money to work 50+ hours a week for free as an apprentice in a tattoo shop.

But you might have the ability to go get tattooed. Spending some time in a tattoo shop, talking to artists, and taking a look at how things run in a studio will help you get a better feel for the industry.
STEP 4

Get Your Tattoo Equipment

STEP 4

Get Your Tattoo Equipment

You’ll want to create an at-home tattoo station. While you’re still working on fake skins, this can be as simple as a desk. Here’s the equipment you will need to start practicing:

Tattoo Machine + Needles

First, you’ll want to decide on which type of tattoo machine you want: coil, rotary, or pen machine. (Pen machines are rotary machines in a pen-style casing.)

Important Tips to Know About Choosing Your Machine:

Coil vs. Rotary: Coil machines are louder and heavier, but they have more “give” to them. Rotary machines are simpler to set up and lighter on your hand, but they use a direct drive motor, meaning there is no margin for error when it comes to needle depth in the skin.

We recommend pen or rotary machines for new artists. Our favorite machine is the Inkjecta Flite Nano Lite

Machine Stroke: The stroke length is how far the needle travels in a single up-and-down motion. Some machines let you change this, while others come with a “set stroke.”

Which machine you choose will change the way you tattoo. For example, if you choose a pen machine with a really long stroke, it will hit very hard. This is great for doing thick lines, color packing, etc. But you wouldn’t want a long stroke if you plan to tattoo black and gray, which needs you to go over the skin several times to build up layers of ink. 

If you don’t know which style of tattooing you want to do, choosing a “middle ground” stroke, like a 3.5mm stroke, is the best way to go. It will allow you to do a little bit of everything.

Picking the Right Needles:

What type of tattoo needles you need will depend on your machine. Most pen machines use cartridges, and you can just easily pop one into the grip. 

Coil and rotary machines can use traditional needles or needle cartridges. If you use needle cartridges, you will need a grip that uses a plunger bar to press down the top of the needle cartridge.
Traditional needles
Cartridge needles

You can buy “mixed boxes” of round liners (linework), round shaders (shading), and magnum needles (shading large areas) to see which size needles work best for you.

Tattoo Ink + Ink Caps

Early in your career, we recommend focusing only on using black ink and waiting to do color tattoos. 

This will make sure you’ve got your linework and shading down pat before you start adding color. 

We recommend Dynamic Black for practicing your linework. When you’re ready to add color to your tattoos, we recommend Solid Ink, Fusion, and Eternal. You will also need to get ink caps to hold your ink.

Fake Skins + Stencil Paper

tattooing materials and fake skin

There are a lot of fake skins and stencil paper brands out there that simply don’t work. The skin is too thin or tough to get good practice, and the stencils show up light or rub away. 

We recommend using Reelskin, Frankenskins, or Pound of Flesh fake skins and Spirit Stencil Paper.
STEP 5

Linework Drills on Fake Skin

STEP 5

Linework Drills on Fake Skin

To get started on fake skins, you can print out some straight lines, perfect circles, and a few S’s. Apply this as a stencil to your fake skin to practice keeping perfect control of your machine.

STEP 6

Tattoo Small Designs

STEP 6

Tattoo Small Designs

Once you’ve worked on some linework drills, you could jump onto actual designs. 

We recommend sticking with small, palm-sized tattoos at first. This will help you identify errors (and fix them on the next tattoo) faster. 

We recommend practicing with:

Traditional Flower

Traditional Skull/Reaper

Traditional Dagger

Learn One Skill at a Time

Once you’re able to get perfect linework on your fake skins, make sure to save them. This will not only allow you to see your progress and which mistakes you’re still making, but you can also go back and practice your shading and eventually add color. 

Make sure you get some practice with all three types of shading (whip shading, pendulum shading, and packing). However, if you start off with the traditional designs above, you’ll be using whip shading most often. To whip shade, you’ll put your needles into the skin and then quickly flick the needles up and out. This will create a transition from black ink to skin tone. 

The reason we recommend focusing only on linework and then only on shading is because if you try to do everything in each design, your focus will be scattered. You’ll be trying to fix too many things at once, which will make it harder to master any one skill.

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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