What Are The Basics Of Tattooing For Beginners? 10 Easy Steps

What are the basics of tattooing for beginners
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Do you want to begin to Tattoo but are wondering where to start? Not sure how the complete process works? Let’s break it down into basic elements and steps.

What are the basics of tattooing for beginners? Tattooing can be broken down into 3 basic elements. 1. Lining, or the outline shape of the tattoo. 2 Shading, which creates the depth and 3D elements of a tattoo. 3. Colour, which brings the tattoo to life. A good Tattooist excels at all 3 elements.


Beginning to Tattoo can be very daunting. It can be hard to know where to start. I’ll break it down for you into simple steps so you can understand the process.

What are the basics of tattooing for beginners?

The tattooing process can be broken down into a series of steps that get you through to the final result. Each step is a skill in itself that you need to master to be a great tattooist.

It goes without saying that you must have nailed each step perfectly on practice skin before you start working on a human.

Practice all of these steps over and over with the practice skin.

You need to make sure that you don’t neglect to practice any of the steps as they are all equally important.

For example, you can’t do a great tattoo if you can’t apply the stencil right.

If you neglect the hygiene side your client could end up with an infected tattoo or worse, a serious disease.

So you can see that all of the steps are of equal importance and add up to a great tattoo.

1 – Understand Cross-contamination and hygiene procedures

Time to get serious before you do anything else.

As a tattooist, you MUST understand the principles of hygiene inside out.

This is to protect yourself as well as your future clients. If you don’t know what you are doing it’s super easy to make a simple mistake and infect yourself or your client with Hepatitis, HIV or any other blood-borne disease.

Hepatitis is especially easy to catch and hard if not impossible to cure. I’m deadly serious here as I want you to be safe.

I highly recommend that you take an online cross-contamination course. There are many available and they are generally not expensive. You will get a certification which is actually good to show any future tattoo shop where you will work.

This free OSHA course gives a very basic overview

2 – Design the tattoo to fit the body

This is where your drawing skills come in. Create a design that fits the body part you are going to tattoo on. You need to start to think in 3 dimensions and not on flat paper.

It can be a helpful practice to actually draw on a person if you have a friend who will volunteer.

Get some sharpies and draw a design on their arm. That way you start to think in 3D and figure out how your design will fit.

I use an iPad and apple pencil to create my designs. I highly recommend this setup as it’s easy to take a photo of the client’s arm or body part. Create a design to fit on the iPad. Print it out and turn it into a stencil.

Make sure you are working on your drawing skills and improving them all the time.

3 – Prepare your workstation

Your workstation is your sterile area where you lay out all your equipment and inks. I use a two-tier stainless steel trolly

The top tier is my sterile area. Here I have…

  • My tattoo machine
  • Vaseline and process cream
  • Inkcaps
  • Squeeze bottle of my secret wipe down fluid.

On the bottom tier, I have

  • My power supply
  • Stack of kitchen towels for wiping
  • Box of gloves

4 – Create a stencil

You can either hand trace a stencil or use a stencil machine. I highly recommend that you invest in a machine.

Hand tracing a stencil can take forever if it’s a complex design. You can only get 2 or 3 goes out of it.

So the nightmare scenario is that you spend half an hour tracing it. Mess up the application and have to trace it all over again. You will be behind time and the client will be pissed off.

So do yourself a favour and buy a machine.

Tattoo Transfer Stencil Machine

  • Easily create tattoo stencils

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5 – Apply the stencil to the body

Applying a stencil is a whole art form on its own. You need to practice making them and applying them to yourself or your volunteer friends.

Get used to the way the stencil wraps around the body. Again this will help you to start to think in 3D.

Practice creating stencils that are bigger than A4. You will need to stick 2 or 3 sheets together. Yeah, big back tattoo stencils are fun!

Use an application cream like Stencil Stuff. Don’t use the old traditional method of Speedstick as this has a risk of cross-contamination.

Stencil Stuff Tattoo Stencil Application Solution

  • Transfer your design to the skin.

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6 – Outline the tattoo

Now your stencil is on you are ready to tattoo. Wow. So much preparation!.

Again, you should be practising this on fake skin. Not a human.

You need to get all the lining of your tattoo down. Once you have the lining on you can relax as you don’t need to worry about losing your stencil.

Concentrate on creating clean and smooth lines. Move your hand smoothly and fully concentrate on perfecting each line.

Move from bottom to top so you don’t rub out your stencil with your hand. If you are right-handed move from bottom right to top left. Bottom left to top right for left-handed people.

At this stage, you may also want to consider line weights. Tattoos look much more dynamic if they have both thin and thick lines. You may want bold lines around the edge of an object to emphasise it.

Areas that you want to mark for shading, but don’t need a line can be bloodlined.

7 – Shade the tattoo to bring it to life

This is the point where you start to bring some dynamism to the design. You can make it look 3D and alive. 

Gray shading, where you use various dilutions of black ink is very effective. You don’t need to buy pre-mixed grey shade ink. You can create your own dilutions.

When you are drawing, practice pencil shading to get better at understanding shading.

Try to make your tattoo shading graduations smooth and velvety. This takes practice.

Tattoo Practice Skin

  • Practice your tattoo skills on this high quality practice skin

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8 – Colour

If the tattoo has coloured elements, this is the time to do it.

In tattooing, you work from dark to light so you don’t contaminate lighter colours with darker ones.

Layout your inks, going from the darkest cold colour range [blues/greens] to the lightest warm colour range [reds/pinks/yellows]. Then work your way up through the colours.

This way you avoid smearing darks into light colours and making the tattoo look muddy and murky.

Pack the colour in solidly and avoid “holidays” or missing patches.

9 – Discuss aftercare

If you were working with a real human client this is the point to discuss aftercare.

The tattoo is only as good as the aftercare so you have to make sure your client understands what they need to do.

Most tattoo infections happen after the client has left the studio in the first few hours. However, you will get the blame for it.

People do crazy things and always want to touch and poke their fresh new tattoo with their mucky hands. Their friends will want to poke it too. People can’t resist it!

For that reason, I highly recommend you use a dressing film. That way you can immediately cover the tattoo for 24 hours away from poking fingers.

Explain things they can’t do such as swimming or saunas. Have a printed sheet so they can take it away with them as people tend not to listen as they are buzzing with their new tattoo.

Tattoo Dressing Film

  • Protect the tattoo after creating it with this dressing film

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10 – Breakdown and sanitise the workstation

Time to clean up.

  • Put all needles and sharps in a sharps bin for hygienic disposal
  • Wrap up all the inks etc from your sterile area for hygienic disposal
  • Wipe down all chairs, beds etc with a sterile spray
  • Spray and wipe down the workstation and equipment.
  • [I highly recommend that you run a fully disposable system so that you don’t need to autoclave anything]
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with an anti-bacterial solution.

So those are the basics of tattooing for beginners. The more you practice the more things will start to fit together seamlessly.

It’s a bit like driving a car. At first, you struggle to remember what to do but as you get better all the things flow together easily.

How can I teach myself to tattoo?

Tattooing is difficult to learn. An apprenticeship is the best and easiest route. However, with dedication, it can be done. Focus on your art, take a course in tattoo techniques and practice heavily on fake skin before attempting to tattoo a person. Tattooists practice on their own skin first.



Can I be a tattoo artist if I can’t draw?

You do need to be able to draw to be a good tattoo artist. Most people want custom work these days. However, drawing is a learned skill and something that everyone can improve with practice. Take some online art classes and draw every day to improve your artwork.



What does a beginner tattoo artist need?

A basic set-up for a beginner tattoo artist will include

  • A tattoo machine [Rotary is best]
  • A power supply
  • A foot pedal
  • Gloves
  • Needle cartridges. [7 Liner and 9 Magnum and 9 Round shader are a good start]
  • Inkcaps
  • Black ink
  • Vaseline
  • Practice Skin
  • Stencil paper
  • Stencil stuff – to transfer the stencil to the practice skin
  • This basic setup will allow you to practice lining, shading and colour packing on your practice skin.

I hope this has given you a good overview of the basics of tattooing for beginners

If you want further tips please download my free guide below

Good luck

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