Tattooing Tips for Beginners

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 10, 2020
    Last Updated: November 10, 2020

Tattoos are art. If you’ve ever seen sleeves by Bang Bang or JonBoy’s tiny designs, you already know that. There’s more to tattooing, however than thinking up beautiful designs. It’s a skill that takes years to master. Where do you begin? Start with these tips and techniques for aspiring tattoo artists.

Are you a more experienced artist? Even though this article focuses on tattooing for beginners, the advice we give benefits all tattoo artists regardless of skill level.


Improve Your Artistic Skills

Drawing on people for a living only works if you know how to draw. Painting, sketching, and digital art are skills that can easily transfer. 

You don’t have to know how to draw everything in every style to be a tattoo artist. Famous tattoo artists often have a specific look to all their pieces that make them stand out. Why not try to develop your unique style?

As you develop your artistic eye, put together a portfolio of completed work that displays your skills. Try to include various pieces that would work well with the Rake and Striking method, small designs, and even full sleeves. This variety will help you snag an apprenticeship with a licensed tattoo artist, which leads to our next tip.

Become an Apprentice

Why do you need to become an apprentice? You need training to get the required license in most states, but it’s not just a check in a box. You’ll gain knowledge, skills, and make meaningful connections. 

If you’re willing to fail and get critiqued, you’ll get the most out of your apprenticeship. It’s the only way to improve your work. Plus, you need a lot of practice, and an apprenticeship gives you many opportunities for that. Of course, it won’t be all learning and art. You’ll also be unskilled labor. Your mentor will probably have you clean the shop and do other odd jobs.

How can you become an apprentice? Research local tattoo shops to find an artist with a good reputation, lots of clients, and a style that appeals to you. If they’ve mentored budding artists before, that’s even better! It means that they’re willing to share their wisdom. Visit these shops, interact with the artists, and show them your portfolio of drawings. With diligence and a little luck, you’ll soon find a licensed tattoo artist who wants to teach you.

An apprenticeship usually lasts two to three years, and it isn’t cheap. It’ll probably cost between $5,000 and $10,000. However, if you compare that to the cost of getting a college education in another field, it doesn’t seem so bad. The hard truth is you have to invest in your education if you’re serious about the craft.

Practice Tattooing On Fake Skin

Artists sculpt clay, paint canvases, carve wood, and much more. You’ve likely used a variety of mediums yourself, but there’s no medium quite like needles on skin. 

Skin stretches, wrinkles, and gets scars and sunburns. Even after carefully explaining the aftercare to your clients (like the need to protect their tattoo from the sun for three weeks), some will still neglect that care and ruin your artwork. 

Since skin is such a volatile medium, don’t be discouraged when your first attempts don’t turn out well. Keep practicing, and your work will improve.

That said, you probably want to start tattooing on fake skin first. Manufacturers make fake skin out of rubber, silicon, pigskin, or PVC. Pigskin will give you a good feel for what it will be like to work on people later on.

Develop Basic Tattooing Skills

The following techniques will serve as the foundation of your art. During your apprenticeship, watch how your mentor lines, colors, shades, and letters his tattoos. Keep in mind the following tips as you pick up the needle and try these techniques yourself.

Outlining

After creating a stencil and preparing the skin, you’ll outline the basic shape of the tattoo. There are many different sized needles and a variety of ink colors you could use to accomplish this. 

One technique is to start with a thin line and add a layer with every pass until it reaches the desired thickness. Consider your design and decide the thickness, color, and technique you’ll use for your outline.

Coloring From Darkest to Lightest

After you’ve created the basic shape, you can add color to your design. One coloring tip to remember is to work from darkest to lightest. That will keep the different shades from bleeding into each other.

Tattoo Shading

Shading adds depth to your design. Starting with black ink, you can vary your pressure to achieve different shades. You can also add white or water to your black ink to get that lighter shade. It’s best to experiment with various techniques and see which one you prefer.

Lettering

Many people like to tattoo names, words, and quotes onto their skin, so it’s smart to work on your lettering skills. As you practice, think about the letter spacing and layout to make the tattooed words as attractive as possible.

As you practice tattooing, make sure you’re hitting the right depth. Too deep, and your client will bleed excessively and experience a lot of pain. Too shallow, and the ink won’t stay in place. 

Steady your movements by supporting your hand on the skin and using it as a pivot point. This technique will give you smoother lines. Insert the needle at a 45-degree angle to make sure the ink stays. With practice, you can improve your skills at these techniques and create beautiful designs.

Don’t Forget About Safety

As a tattoo artist, you’re dealing with blood and skin (the largest organ in the human body), so things can get a little sketchy. Your client could have an allergic reaction, get an infection, or even contract a bloodborne pathogen. What precautions should you take to protect your clients, yourself, and others in the shop?

  • Follow OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standards.
  • Make sure your customers are of legal age.
  • Alcohol thins the blood, so don’t tattoo intoxicated clients as that could cause excessive bleeding.
  • Ask potential clients to sign a consent form.
  • Properly dispose of all needles. 

The best way to follow these safety practices is to stock your shop with everything you need to maintain a sterile work environment. Supplies might include:

  • Antibacterial soap
  • Disposable gloves
  • Disinfectants
  • Sharp Containers for needles
  • Skin Cleansers
  • Antiseptic Wipes

Get the Right Equipment

As you learn basic tattooing techniques, you’ll get to the point where you’re ready to buy equipment. There’s a lot of parts and pieces, and it’s a bit of an investment. What will you need?

  • Tattoo machine(s) for lining and shading
  • Reliable power supply
  • Heavy-duty grips
  • Grommets, elastic bands, tips, brushes for cleaning tips, o-rings, disposable gloves
  • Practice skin
  • Variety of inks
  • Storage case

Finding the right equipment can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many starter tattoo kits you can purchase.

The Hildbrandt Tattoo Kit stands out from the crowd because it includes both coil and rotary machines so you can learn to master both. Though it’s a bit pricier than other kits, it comes with all the equipment you need and lots of helpful instructions.

Solong’s Complete Tattoo Kit includes much of the same gear, except it doesn’t contain a coil machine. It’s CE certified, and it has a one year warranty with a free replacement. This kit also has a teaching manual to guide aspiring tattoo artists.

The DragonHawk Complete Tattoo Kit includes two copper coil tattoo machines made of cast iron, one for lining and one for shading. It comes with ten different inks, pre-sterilized needles, a foot pedal, clip cord, and digital power supply. It has everything you need to get started.

There are several equipment options for tattooing beginners. Many consider the BRNOC Pen the ideal tattoo machine for someone who’s just starting out. It has the feel of a pen, and it’s well balanced and comfortably weighted. 

Using the Hummingbird Bronc Pen can ease your transition to a more standard tattoo machine. You can use it for lining and shading. Of course, it’s not as cheap as a kit, and it doesn’t come with all the necessary supplies. You’ll be spending more if you choose this option.

Whether you choose to purchase a kit or buy all the needed supplies individually, you’ll want to consider your budget and your preferences. With a little research, you can find the equipment that works best for you.

Learn How to Market Yourself

Whether you’re an experienced tattoo artist or a complete novice, knowing how to market yourself is essential to building a solid client base. It’s never too early to start building your brand. How do you do that?

Be active on social media. You can post pictures of the shop where you’re working or apprenticing, your designs, and, eventually, your completed tattoos. As you build a following, you can narrow down who you are as an artist and interact with potential clients. Remember, people aren’t interested in giving their business to faceless companies. People buy from people. Inject your personality into your posts, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Create a custom watermark. Your watermark is like the signature on an art piece. Include it in every tattoo picture you post to increase brand recognition.

Build a website. In this digital age, people get most of their information online. If you don’t have a website, you’re missing out on a lot of potential clients. Of course, you can’t just build a website and wait for customers to come rolling in. You should optimize your website for search engines. That way, you’ll be easier to find when people use Google to search for local tattoo shops. Adding blog posts and pictures to your site will make it more appealing.

Attend tattoo conventions. Your target audience will flock to these conventions. Create a booth with displays that help you stand out from your competition.

When you become a tattoo artist, you’ll probably be self-employed. In the beginning, you’ll be an artist, a business manager, and your own marketing team. Begin marketing yourself early to build an audience of potential clients.

Tattooing For Beginners – FAQs

Is Tattooing Easy to Learn?

In short, no. Your apprenticeship can take several years and cost thousands of dollars. You’ll also have to invest in the right equipment. However, for someone passionate about this unique art form, the work you put in is well worth it.

How Deep Should a Tattoo Needle Penetrate?

Insert the tattoo needle between 1 and 2 millimeters deep. You’re aiming for the dermis layer of skin. A shallow puncture will cause the ink to bleed out. Any deeper and your client could get an infection. It’s essential to be familiar with the biology of human skin so you can do this properly.

What is a Tattoo Blowout?

If a tattoo artist uses too much pressure when applying ink, they might inject it into a fat layer instead of the dermis. As a result, the ink moves more freely, and the tattoo will appear blurred or smudged. A client might choose to correct this issue by getting other tattoos to hide the blowout. A blowout cover-up can cost anywhere from $80 to $300.

Do You Stretch the Skin When Tattooing?

The skin has to be taut when tattooing to make sure the ink settles correctly. It’s also better for precision work. If the surface isn’t taut, the needle will bounce or catch on the skin.

Conclusion

Becoming a tattoo artist takes years of hard work, the determination to learn various skills, and a significant investment. If tattooing is your passion, getting an apprenticeship is essential to the learning process. 

A good mentor will teach you foundational tattooing skills, necessary safety precautions, and marketing basics. Whatever stage you’re at in this process, soak in all the knowledge you can, and you’ll be well on your way to creating tattoos for your own clients.