Deciding how to practice tattooing can be challenging, especially with all the (necessary) restrictions around practicing as an apprentice.
How to practice tattooing is one of the most common questions beginners in the industry have.
You don’t want to take the blind chance that you know what you are doing and practice on a real person.
What if it goes wrong?
At the same time, only by practice you can attain perfection.
If you are also at these crossroads, you are not alone.
Today, we discuss how best to practice tattooing safely and get better at your craft.
Trick #1: What to Practice Tattooing On
There are two main media that we always recommend for beginner / apprentice tattoo artists: tattoo practice skin and tattoo stencil paper.
Using a tattoo practice skin
Effective practice will only be possible when your medium looks and feels as close to the human skin as possible.
There are two (2) great alternatives to practice on: silicone and pig skin.
You can master the tattooing techniques if the texture, feel, strain and stress of the surface to work on is as real as possible.
Silicone practice skin
Scientists have long found silicone materials to mimic human skin with a lot of its features.
It stretches, contracts, it is smooth, and it can replicate very close the texture of the human skin.
It is, thus, little wonder why they are the choice material for hyper-realistic dolls and human-like robots.
However, no matter how hard scientists try, they can never replicate human skin itself.
The main factor is that it can get pierced very easy when using a professional tattoo machine. This includes ripping of the material.
The best alternative – Pig practice skin
Ok, so the silicon alternative could be an option since it is more affordable but with the above potential issues, other alternatives have come around.
This is where pigs kin comes into the mix.
Pigs and humans are up to 98% alike in DNA, telling you that we share more characteristics than we have differences.
The pigskin is also characterized by three (3) layers of epidermis, dermis, and an inner layer – just like the human skin.
That said, both practice media have where they shine and where they fall short.
If you have butchers in your area, they might have some pigskin that they are willing to give / sell to you.
Always buy the natural pigskin as opposed to the fatback for a more realistic feel when working.
When it is not hard to come by, pig practice skin also smells when left out for long.
That is to be expected from dead organic matter – so be wary of that before you go this way.
Finally, you might notice some changes in ink color on the pigskin. That must be due to the skin being dead and having its chemicals react with those from the ink.
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 a bit, though, how does tattoo stencil paper work?
The stencil paper is the medium that allows you to perfect your work outside of your main canvas – the client’s skin. Only when the job comes out well on the stencil paper, it will be transferred to your body.
In other words, stencilling should be the first stage of the tattooing process.
Of course, there are some times when the inspiration comes to do a freehand drawing, and it comes out right. As a beginner, you should stick to your tattoo stencil paper for now.
Hectograph paper or freehand paper
The hectograph paper was used for typewriters mainly but, it went out of style when typewriters also started becoming extinct.
This paper consists of three (3) layers: top layer for drawing, middle layer (center issue) for separation, and bottom layer for image transfer.
These papers are now made mostly for tattoo artists.
As it name also says, it is best used when drawing / stencilling freehand.
Looking at the way to use this paper, it is kind of double handling process: draw on a standard paper, then draw again but on top of the tracing one, which in turn, transfers to the carbon sheet.
This is the modus operandi that hectograph paper still used in the tattooing world today.
Thermal paper, like the above one, was also going into extinction till tattoo artists saved it.
This paper works on heat transfer protocol and it is best paired with a thermal printer.
The printer produces sharp, realistic images on the paper which is later transferred to the skin.
The thermal process tends to produce the best-looking designs on skin, preserving the color, edges, and sharpness of details better.
When working with both papers, you’ll find the right feeling and touch, and know which process you are more comfortable working with.
Trick #2: Finding a Beginner Tattoo Kits with Practice Skin
Now that you know where to draw on, those drawings won’t just happen.
To be great at what you will be doing, it is important to have, at least, the best tattoo kit for beginners.
DragonHawk Complete Tattoo Kit – Most complete
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The DragonHawk Complete Tattoo Kit is one of the best that you can put your money on.
With every purchase, you get:
- A reliable power supply system.
- Immortal Tattoo Inks.
- Carry case for traveling and storage.
- Tattoo practice skin.
- 4x Steel tattoo machine grips.
- 20x DragonHawk sterile EO tattoo needles.
- Craft coils tattoo machines.
Although, this kit is marked as affordable, please don’t expect to find the best of the best in quality, specially the tattoo machine.
Stigma Tattoo Kit – Most affordable
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If the Stigma Kits were not good, they would not make it to the table of Nikko Hurtado.
Sounds amazing, right? These are the main things you will get in the box:
- Rotary tattoo machine with 10W motor and all necessary elements.
- 20x Needle (sizes: 3RL, 5RL, 3RS, 5RS)
- 5x high-quality inks (best used for practice).
- Standard practice skin.
Lastly, I would suggest to be gentle with the carry case, since it is made of plastic.
Solong Tattoo Kit – best tattoo gun included
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Ideally suited to more than a beginner level, this tattoo kit promises to be your one-stop-shop for everything you need for your practice sessions.
Looking inside the package, we get:
- Liner and Shader Pro Tattoo Guns.
- 7 x ink bottles.
- 1 x big black ink bottle.
- 1 x digital power supply (plus foot pedal).
- 20 x tattoo needles and tips.
- 1 x tattoo grip.
- 100 x ink cups.
- 2 x disposable tattoo pair of nitrile gloves.
Note that Solong also offers different kit configuration, 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 facilitate your beginner journey as a tattoo artist.
Truth be told, you should not need more than the following at this stage:
- Liner and Shader Tattoo machines
- 1x tattoo power supply with clip cord and foot pedal
- 10x color ink bottles (5ml)
- 1x big black ink bottle (30ml)
- 1x practice skin
- 2x tattoo grips
- 5x disposable tattoo tubes
- 30x tattoo needles (3RL, 5RL, 7RL, 5M1, 7M1, 9M1 – 5 pieces each)
- 40x ink cups (small and medium)
- 1x tattoo transfer paper
- Pair of 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 that bad.
Trick #3: Answers to FAQs on How to Practice Tattooing
How to use tattoo stencil paper?
We haven’t explain yet much about the thermal paper. Compared to the freehand one alternative, this one counts with an extra layer (yellow paper).
- 1st sheet: tracing paper where the design will be initially done.
- 2nd paper: just remove it, has no use when drawing.
- 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. 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.
- Lastly, the tracer sheet get the design that finally goes to the client’s skin.
I know it could be confusing but check a few videos to learn how to place the paper as such.
Is tattoo practice skin reusable?
Treat the practice skin like human skin – and we doubt if you will be able to tattoo the same patch of skin multiple times.
After the first use, the texture and feel of the practice skin must have changed. Trying again on that skin will not give you 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 so that you get used to the single-use practice when you open your shop.
As long as you know that it’s just for the sake of practice, though, you are 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 safer 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 go in with inks.
That makes it way easier to dab off the excess ink with a dry, soft cloth.
Make sure the Vaseline that you are adding is not too much, though.
Otherwise, it makes the surface unresponsive to any kind of moisture – including your ink. That could be very difficult to work with.
How to Practice Tattooing Wrap Up
I know the above test is overwhelming. The main thing here is that all has being covered for the first steps.
No matter what tattoo kit will be best for now as long as all the elements are handy.
I would dare to say that finding the right practice surface will make a difference since tattooing the human skin is your final goal.
I good way to go is trying both alternative then to choose the best tattoo practice skin for yourself.
If you really want to know how to practice tattooing, it is advisable to dig more about all the elements that comprise the tattoo industry, including the importance of quality tattoo inks, the use of the a suitable tattoo machine and what surfaces to practice on.