Deciding how you will learn to be a tattooist and start practicing can be challenging!
How to practice tattooing is one of the industry’s most common questions for beginners.
It isn’t easy to convince people to let you practice on them if you don’t know what you’re doing just yet.
What if it goes wrong?
At the same time, only practice makes perfect!
If you’re facing this issue, you’re not the only one.
Here we will discuss the best way to safely practice tattooing and improve your skills.
Table of Contents
Trick #1: What to Practice Tattooing On
Two primary surface options are recommended for beginner or apprentice tattoo artists: tattoo practice skin and tattoo stencil paper.
Using a tattoo practice skin
Practice will only be effective if the surface looks and feels as close to human skin as possible.
Two (2) great alternatives to practice are silicone and pigskin.
You will advance faster in tattooing techniques if the texture, feel, stretch and response of the surface you’re working on feels like real skin.
Silicone practice skin
Scientists have long compared silicone materials to mimic human skin in many of its features.
It stretches, contracts, is smooth and can replicate very close to the texture of the human skin.
That’s why it’s little wonder this is the choice of material used for hyper-realistic dolls and human-like robots.
However, no matter how hard scientists try, they can never replicate human skin.
The main issue is that it can get pierced very easily when using a professional tattoo machine and can often tear.
The best alternative – Pig practice skin
A silicon alternative is a good and more affordable option, but with these potential tearing issues, you may want to consider the other choice.
This is where pigskin comes into the mix.
Pig and human skin DNA are up to 98% comparable, showing we share more characteristics than differences.
Pigskin is also characterized by three (3) layers of epidermis, dermis, and an inner layer – just like the human skin.
That said, both practice surfaces have pros and cons.
If you have a butcher in your area, they might have some pigskin that they are willing to give or sell to you.
Always buy the natural pigskin instead of the fatback for a more realistic feel when working.
While it’s not hard to come by, pig practice skin will start to smell if left out for too long.
That is to be expected from dead organic matter, so keep that in mind if you decide to use this option.
Finally, you might notice some changes in ink color on the pigskin. That’s because the skin is no longer alive, so the chemicals in ink will react differently.
Tattoo stencil paper as an alternative
There are two kinds of stencil paper that you should know about: thermal paper and hectograph paper.
Before explaining the difference, let’s examine how the tattoo stencil paper works.
Stencil paper is a medium that allows you to perfect your work before hitting the main canvas – your client’s skin. You transfer it to the body only once the job comes out well on the stencil paper.
In other words, stenciling should be the first stage of the tattooing process.
Of course, there are times when the inspiration to do a freehand drawing comes over you, and it comes out looking great, but as a beginner tattoo artist, you should stick to your tattoo stencil paper for now.
Hectograph paper or freehand paper
Hectograph paper was mainly used for typewriters, but it went out of style when typewriters were being used less and less.
This paper consists of three (3) layers: the top layer for drawing, a middle layer (center issue) for separation, and the bottom layer for image transfer.
This kind of paper is made now, primarily for tattoo artists.
As its name also says, it is best used when drawing or stenciling freehand.
Using this paper requires a double-handling process: draw your design on regular paper first, then re-draw it again on top of the tracing layer, which will transfer it to the carbon sheet.
This is still the rule of thumb to use hectograph paper in the tattooing world.
Like the one above, thermal paper was also becoming extinct until tattoo artists saved it.
This paper works via heat transfer and is best paired with a thermal printer.
The printer produces a sharp, realistic image on the paper, which is then transferred onto the skin.
The thermal process tends to produce the best-looking designs on the skin because it better preserves the color, edges, and details’ sharpness.
When working with either of these papers, you’ll find the right tactic and touch and eventually figure out which process you feel more comfortable working with.
Trick #2: Finding Beginner Tattoo Kits with Practice Skin
Now that you know what to draw on, you’ve got to make those drawings happen.
To improve at what you’re doing, it is crucial to have a high-quality tattoo kit for beginners.
Dragonhawk Complete Tattoo Kit – The Best Tattooing Practice Equipment
Not so good:
The Dragonhawk Complete Tattoo Kit is one of the best value-for-money kits you can find.
Included in every purchase are:
– A reliable power supply system
– Immortal Tattoo Inks
– Carry case for traveling and storage
– Tattoo practice skin
– 4 Steel tattoo machine grips
– 20 Dragonhawk sterile EO tattoo needles
– Craft coils tattoo machine
Although this kit is considered an affordable option, the quality is reflected in the price, especially in the tattoo machine – but it’s excellent for starting.
Stigma Tattoo Kit – most affordable
Not so great:
If the Stigma kits weren’t suitable, they wouldn’t have made it to Nikko Hurtado’s hands!
Sounds amazing, right? These are the bits and pieces you will get in the box:
– Rotary tattoo machine with 10W motor and all necessary elements.
– 20 Needle (sizes: 3RL, 5RL, 3RS, 5RS).
– 5 high-quality inks (best used for practice).
– Standard practice skin.
Just a tip, I would suggest being gentle with the carry case since it’s only made of plastic.
Solong Tattoo Kit – quality tattoo gun included
We don’t like:
Ideally suited to someone with a bit more experience than at a beginner level, this tattoo kit promises to be a one-stop shop with everything you need to start your practice sessions.
Looking inside the box, you’ll get:
– Liner and shader pro tattoo guns.
– 7 ink bottles.
– 1 big black ink bottle and digital power supply (plus foot pedal).
– 20 tattoo needles and tips.
– 1 tattoo grip.
– 100 ink cups.
– 2 disposable tattoo pairs of nitrile gloves.
Another plus is that Solong offers different kit configurations, including coil tattoo machines or a standard rotary-style machine.
Wormhole Tattoo Kit – best tattoo needles kit
Wormhole is another provider of an extensive list of tools that you need to start your journey as a beginner tattoo artist.
Truth be told, you should not need more than the following at this stage:
– Liner and Shader Tattoo machines.
– 1 tattoo power supply with clip cord and foot pedal.
– 10 color ink bottles (5ml).
– 1 big black ink bottle (30ml).
– 1 practice skin.
– 2 tattoo grips.
– 5 disposable tattoo tubes.
– 30 tattoo needles (3RL, 5RL, 7RL, 5M1, 7M1, 9M1 – 5 pieces each).
– 40 ink cups (small and medium).
– 1 tattoo transfer paper.
– 1 nitrile gloves box.
Similar to the previous kit, this brand also offers a variety of options for tattoo machines and other elements.
All in all, for a tattoo machine kit with so many elements, I think the price is not bad.
Trick #3: Answers to FAQs on How to Practice Tattooing
How to use tattoo stencil paper?
We haven’t yet explained much about thermal paper. This one has an extra layer (yellow paper) compared to the freehand alternative.
– 1st sheet: tracing paper where the design will be initially done
– 2nd paper: you can remove it; it has no use when drawing only
– 3rd sheet: the carbon one, which will stick to the 1st layer
– 4th paper: most tattoo artists rip it off the set. Why? Apparently, it is there only to protect the ink side of the carbon paper before it is used.
Well, I have to say that you could also use this yellow paper to draw the design or print on it after it is removed, it’s up to you really.
To finish the transfer job, the thermal paper goes into the machine. Here are the steps:
– The yellow paper side goes facing toward you
– The pre-design should face the yellow paper
– The machine drags both papers in
– Lastly, the tracer sheet receives the design that finally goes to the client’s skin
This can be confusing, so check a few videos to learn how to place the paper correctly.
Is tattoo practice skin reusable?
Treat the practice skin like human skin – it turns into a mess when you tattoo the same skin patch multiple times.
After the first use, the texture and feel of the practice skin will change. If you try again on that same skin, you won’t get the desired results.
If the practice skin is thick enough, you can use the other side.
Can you reuse tattoo needles on fake skin?
If you were tattooing on silicone practice skin, you could reuse the tattoo needles more than once.
We would not recommend it, though, just so you get used to the single-use practice when you open your shop.
You’re good to go as long as you know that it’s just for the sake of practice.
If you were tattooing on pig skin, never use the same needles more than once. You might trick yourself into thinking that you know how to sterilize your needles right.
To be on the safe side, keep to the single-use rule.
How to clean the ink off tattoo practice skin?
Pro tattoo artists recommend adding a thin layer of Vaseline to the work area before you start with the inks. Doing so makes it easier to dab off excess ink with a dry, soft cloth.
Make sure you only use a minimal amount of Vaseline, though.
Otherwise, it makes the skin unresponsive to any moisture – including your ink, making it a difficult situation to work in.
I know the above information can be overwhelming. The main thing to take away here is that we are covering the first steps.
No matter which tattoo kit you choose, it will be fine for now, as you will have all the necessary elements to get started.
The most critical part will be finding the suitable practice surface; this will make a difference since tattooing human skin is your final goal.
An excellent way to go is to try both options and choose the best tattoo practice skin you prefer.
Suppose you want to know how to practice tattooing. In that case, it is advisable to dig further into what else is involved in entering the tattoo industry, including the importance of quality tattoo inks, the use of a suitable tattoo machine, and what other surfaces you could practice on.