Deciding how you’re going to learn to be a tattooist and start practicing can be challenging!
How to practice tattooing is one of the most common questions for beginners in the industry.
It’s difficult 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.
Trick #1: What to Practice Tattooing On
There are two primary surface options that 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.
There are two (2) great alternatives to practice on: silicone and pigskin.
You will advance faster in tattooing techniques if the texture, feel, stretch and the 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 a lot of its features.
It stretches, contracts, is smooth, and it can replicate very close 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 itself.
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 option that is more affordable but with these potential tearing issues, you may want to consider the other alternative.
This is where pigskin comes into the mix.
Pig and human skin DNA are up to 98% comparable, which just goes to show 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 as opposed to 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 it’s left out for too long.
That is to be expected from dead organic matter – so just 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 the 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 we get into explaining the difference, let’s look at how does tattoo stencil paper work?
Stencil paper is a medium that allows you to perfect your work before hitting the main canvas – your client’s skin. Only once the job comes out well on the stencil paper, you can transfer it to the body.
In other words, stencilling 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) (you don’t explain what’s the issue) for separation and the bottom layer for image transfer.
This kind of paper is made now mostly for tattoo artists.
As its name also says, it is best used when drawing or stencilling freehand.
Using this paper requires a kind of double handling process: draw your design on normal 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.
Thermal paper, like the one above, was also becoming extinct until tattoo artists saved it.
This paper works via heat transfer and it 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 skin because it preserves the color, the edges and the sharpness of details better.
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 important 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 is:
- A reliable power supply system
- Immortal Tattoo Inks
- Carry case for traveling and storage
- Tattoo practice skin
- x4 Steel tattoo machine grips
- x20 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 great for starting out.
Stigma Tattoo Kit – most affordable
Not so great:
If the Stigma Kits weren’t good, they wouldn’t have made it to Nikko Hurtado 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.
- x20 Needle (sizes: 3RL, 5RL, 3RS, 5RS).
- x5 high-quality inks (best used for practice).
- Standard practice skin.
Just a tip, I would suggest to be 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
- x7 ink bottles
- x1 big black ink bottle
- x1 digital power supply (plus foot pedal)
- x20 tattoo needles and tips
- x1 tattoo grip
- x100 ink cups
- x2 disposable tattoo pair 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.
- x1 tattoo power supply with clip cord and foot pedal.
- x10 color ink bottles (5ml).
- x1 big black ink bottle (30ml).
- x1 practice skin.
- x2 tattoo grips.
- x5 disposable tattoo tubes.
- x30 tattoo needles (3RL, 5RL, 7RL, 5M1, 7M1, 9M1 – 5 pieces each).
- x40 ink cups (small and medium).
- x1 tattoo transfer paper.
- Nitrile gloves.
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. Compared to the freehand alternative, this one has an extra layer (yellow paper).
- 1st sheet: tracing paper where the design will be initially done
- 2nd paper: you can remove 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 hand 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 patch of skin 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, though, 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 own shop.
As long as you know that it’s just for the sake of practice, you’re good to go.
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 any 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 kind of moisture – including your ink, making it a difficult situation to work in.
How to Practice Tattooing Wrap Up
I know the above information can be overwhelming. The main thing to takeaway 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 important part will be finding the right practice surface, this will make a difference since tattooing human skin is your final goal.
A good way to go is to try both options then to choose the best tattoo practice skin that you prefer working on.
If you really want to know how to practice tattooing, 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.