Learn to Tattoo: 12 Tips for Becoming a Tattoo Artist

learn to tattoo

It’s no secret that tattoos are popular, but quality tattoos are becoming even more sought-after. Currently, there are over 30,000 tattoo artists in the United States, which may not be enough considering the high demand.

Well, if you want to become the next master of ink, then it all starts with the foundation you build. Let’s talk about some tips to help you learn to tattoo as effectively as possible!

1. Take Initiative

The most important step to learning any craft is taking initiative. Whether you’re learning an instrument, woodworking, or tattooing, you have to spend time learning on your own.

Essentially, what this means is that, whether you’re learning in a classroom or apprenticeship setting, you need to take the extra time to teach yourself.

For example, let’s apply this logic to something else. If you only spend time learning an instrument during your hour-long class once a week, won’t it take a lot longer to see improvement than if you spend ten hours on your own?

Well, the hours that you spend officially learning to tattoo don’t have to stop there. If you really want to hone the craft and become a master tattoo artist, then you need to have the drive to take initiative on your own.

Sure, you may not have access to a tattoo machine on your own, but this shouldn’t stop you from learning. Outside of your learning space, you can watch videos on techniques, read study guides or textbooks, and read tattoo material online from some of the masters.

Assuming tattooing is a passion of yours, you probably follow some of your favorite artists on social media. This is a great way to pick up inspiration, tips, and tricks as you go.

Beyond that, talk to your professor or master and ask what else you can do. They may have plenty of homework opportunities for you upon request!

2. Choose Your Learning Platform

We’re fortunate enough to live in a time with multiple outlets for learning the art of tattooing. Not only that but you can even combine them to maximize your studies and hone your craft.

Ideally, if you start off by taking an accredited tattoo course from seasoned professionals and move on to an apprenticeship afterward, you’ll be in the perfect position to become a successful tattoo artist. 

Sure, you don’t have to go to school, but you should strongly consider it. A master-apprentice relationship can take you very far, but having the background insights and knowledge from a classroom setting will help you grow as an artist and offer references to look back on in the future.

Not only that, but you will also have an easier time landing an apprenticeship once you have the foundational background and skillset. This could set you apart from the competition when you find an artist you really want to learn from.

3. Don’t Stop Practicing

If there is one biggest mistake a new tattoo artist will make, it’s passing up an opportunity to practice. Whenever the opportunity arises to pick up a tattoo machine and draw, you need to do it.

Practice canvases like pig skin or even human skin are difficult to come by on your own, so take every opportunity you find to practice your skills, even ones you already know.

When that opportunity isn’t available, designing tattoos is a great creative outlet that can still offer you a lot of value and insight into different tattoo styles. However, it’s even more important to do it with intent.

What we mean is that, while designing, your mind is focused on how you will tattoo this design on somebody, should you get the opportunity. Studies show that even the act of thinking about practicing, also known as mental practice, drives improvement in a given craft.

4. Don’t Forget About Art

Tattoo artists need a passion for art, first and foremost. Sticking with the musical analogy, a pianist will have a passion for music, and simply use the piano as their outlet for that music. They may even play a few other instruments on the side!

Well, tattooing is simply a mode of art. Without a passion for art that you maintain throughout your career, it will be difficult to grow as a tattoo artist.

Consequently, it’s okay to continue with your other artistic passions while learning to tattoo. There’s no reason to forget about painting, sculpting, or drawing while learning a new craft. Honing your artistic abilities across the board will only make you a better, more creative tattoo artist down the line.

5. Learn to Tattoo All Styles

Even if you know that you want to double down and focus on American Traditional tattoos, there is nothing wrong with learning and practicing a wide variety of styles. You have no idea how many useful tools you can learn from different styles that are applicable to your desired niche.

Again, it’s the same logic as learning any style of art. The more variety you learn, the more skills you can incorporate into your own style.

Learning the fundamentals (and beyond) of every style will help you grow as a tattoo artist and open you up to more clients in the future, so don’t neglect this step early on.

6. Invest in Tattoo Equipment

If somebody wants to become a master woodworker, they aren’t going to get away with a set of chisels and a handsaw. Why would that be different in tattooing?

Newer tattoo artists should make the initial investments in their machines (all different types), gloves, paper towels, skin pens, needles, and more. The sooner you do, the sooner you will understand what works for you, which will make you a more confident tattooer down the line.

7. Practice the Basics

When we say this, we mean for much longer than you think you need to. Essentially, we’re suggesting you try overlearning the basics, which is the process of continuing to practice long after you stop seeing improvement.

Conversely, overlearning helps solidify techniques in our minds and turn them into second nature. It’s why you don’t have to think about it when you drive anymore.

However, you should always be thinking about it when you’re leaving permanent marks on somebody’s skin. If you continue to focus on the process once you’ve overlearned lining, shading, and lettering, then you’ll be in the best position to avoid mistakes and offer consistent and high-quality tattoos to future clients.

They say that it takes ten thousand hours of dedicated practice before you can truly become a master of a craft. Well, thousands of those hours should be spent overlearning, so don’t stop no matter what!

Consequently, this is just another reason why a classroom setting followed by a one-on-one apprenticeship is the best way to learn the craft. A hands-on course followed by individual learning will help bring you closer to that mark of mastery.

8. Learn About the Skin

The best tattoo artists are basically dermatologists (skin doctors). Back in the day, and even today in countries like Japan, medical doctors were the only ones allowed to tattoo because of their understanding of the skin.

As a tattoo artist, skin is your medium, so you need to learn how it behaves. It’s not as simple as a canvas, piece of paper, or a chunk of marble. Skin is alive, there are many different types, and it behaves differently.

Understanding how skin types and collagen hold ink, where nerves are located, how bleeding occurs, and how to properly treat troubled skin is an important part of the job. You need to be your clients’ primary resource for the healing process, as there is too much conflicting information online.

If you are able to offer your clients individual advice based on their tattoo, skin type, location, climate, and more, your clients (and their tattoos) will be better off for it. Not only that, but it will also save you some touch-up time in the future!

Also, it helps to learn how to work with different skin types. For example, it’s difficult to add vibrant color onto darker skin, but not impossible. These are some of the tricks of the trade that are most valuable to learn early on in your studies.

9. Practice Honesty

With yourself, your teacher, and your clients, honesty is an important part of the job. If you’re unsure of your abilities on a certain project, remember how permanent a mistake is for a person.

You may make an arrangement with your client, such as “I need to practice this skill, so I will take my time at a discounted hourly rate, and I won’t do anything I’m not confident with if that’s okay with you.” They may agree, and they may not.

However, it’s your responsibility to be upfront and honest, whether it’s about pricing, your abilities, the tattoo idea, the placement of it, or your experience with a style.

10. Make Updating Your Portfolio a Habit

From the very beginning of your journey as a tattoo artist, you should start updating your portfolio. You can get rid of ones later on as you please, but it’s always a good idea to have both a physical and digital copy of your updated portfolio at all times.

Take time out of your week to update it and stay consistent with that schedule. Invest in a printer (your shop will also have one), print out the newer pictures every week, and put them in your physical copy.

Next, build a website or get listed on your shop’s website and update your portfolio on there. An Instagram account is also a great idea, as the platform has the largest market for tattoo artists. The sooner you start on there, the sooner you will build a following.

Of course, you can also add new tattoo designs in the same or separate portfolio to display in your workspace, social media, or other online space.

11. Plan Ahead

As an artist, you should always think in the long term. How will your actions affect your work years from now?

Apply this thinking to your social media strategy, honing new skills, and potentially opening your own shop. Developing a business plan, saving money, continuing your education, attending workshops, and updating your portfolio are just a few examples to keep in mind.

Regardless of what the task is, you should always think ahead and assess how your actions today align with your long-term goals.

12. Don’t Stop Learning

Once you consider yourself an absolute master of the craft (which you may never do), it’s important to remember that your learning is never done. Trends and techniques in tattooing can change with the snap of a finger, and it’s an artist’s responsibility to keep up with those changes.

Don’t ever think of your education as having an end. You won’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s one of the best parts about becoming a tattoo artist. You’re always learning and always growing, which studies suggest will improve our cognitive abilities and even help prevent degenerative diseases like dementia.

Start Your Career Today

Now that you know some tips to help you learn to tattoo, it’s time to get to work! No, seriously.

The sooner you start your tattooing education, the sooner you will feel confident enough to earn money by putting ink onto someone’s body permanently. Stay up to date with our latest tattoo news and feel free to contact us with any questions!