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Beginning to Tattoo: What Equipment Do You Need to Be a Tattoo Artist?

Jason Goodrow, otherwise known as "the Goodboy," is a licensed tattoo artist who shares his expertise with the world in his articles.

A list of the gear and equipment you will need to get started tattooing.

A list of the gear and equipment you will need to get started tattooing.

Everything You Need to Tattoo

I am a licensed, self-taught tattoo artist who has tattooed professionally for more than seven years. Here, I share my expertise in a series of articles about what it takes and how to go about becoming a tattoo artist.

The reason I share this information is to help those serious artists out there who haven't had luck getting into a tattoo parlor. Well, here is a great start. Below, I introduce you to all the tools and gear you will need to start out. I will also answer a lot of the frustrating questions many new tattooists have.

In this lesson, we will discuss what type of equipment you should have and I'll try to explain some of the photographs I have provided. This is the first tattoo lesson, so if this your first time learning about tattooing, pay attention, because it is important to know how your equipment operates.

This is a tattoo liner. The front spring tends to be shorter than that of a shader, and the contact point is at about 1 o'clock.

This is a tattoo liner. The front spring tends to be shorter than that of a shader, and the contact point is at about 1 o'clock.

Necessary Equipment: Let's Check Your Gear

  • Tattoo machine: A liner will be preferable for starting with. I am assuming that you all know the difference between a liner and a shader, but if you don’t, I will share the types of tattoo machines I use and some basic mechanics that will help you tattoo a 100% better below.
  • Power supply: Whether you have one from a kit or you spent a little more for something extra, figuring out how to work the settings on these things is an absolute must. Also, tuning your machine correctly will help you manage the normal current you run through it, making it easier to adjust your power supply if you're tattooing at different locations and your equipment gets knocked around.
  • Foot pedal: Your foot pedal is used to activate or terminate an electric current by simply pressing or lifting your foot on the device.
  • Clip cord: This is the cord that connects your machine to your power supply while the foot pedal activates or terminates the current that goes to your tattoo machine.
  • Tattoo lining tube: Diamond-shaped dimension tubes are great for beginners, and many people with plenty of experience seem to prefer them as well.
  • Proper lining needle: I just use the standard bugpin tight needle grouping. It gives me a solid line every time. if you got a kit and are not sure what type of needles you have, just make sure that the liner grouping you are attempting to use is round in nature like the head of a pen.
  • Two or three rubber bands: Make sure you have at least two or three rubber bands that will fit snugly around the tattoo machine and hold your needle bar firmly in place. These allow for an excellent line while tattooing.
  • Armature bar nipples: This is an essential part of the gear you need. It's important to fully understand the mechanical components of your machine and determine how the needle bar loop fits and functions. Try to use these items, as they help establish great tattooed lines.
  • Ink caps: For beginners, I suggest using the larger-sized caps if you have different-sized ones.
This a small toolbox I use to transport my gear easily. I can set up in less than ten minutes, so it's nice and convenient.

This a small toolbox I use to transport my gear easily. I can set up in less than ten minutes, so it's nice and convenient.

More Tattooing Essentials

  • Ink: Again, if you got a kit and are using non-brand name inks, do a little research and give me some feedback on what types you are using. I can give you a thumbs up or down if I know the brand.
  • A tub of Vaseline: You will use this on the skin during the tattoo process. It prevents the ink from sticking to the skin, allowing you to pay more attention to your linework and shading.
  • At least one cup of water: Sometimes you'll need up to three, depending on how extensive the lining or shading is.
  • Plenty of paper towels: The best size towel is the 11x10-inch. It folds well into shapes you will value as you get really into the tattooing.
  • Razors for shaving the area you will be tattooing: Some dudes are hairy (oh so scary), so sometimes you will need more than one. I use a Schick double blade—I get a pack of 12 for 2 or 3 bucks.
This is the final outline on a piece I have started for a close friend.

This is the final outline on a piece I have started for a close friend.

Other Essential Tattooist Gear

  • Green soap solution in a spray or squirt bottle: Most but not all kits will come with a green sop solution that you can dilute with spring or filtered water. City tap water out of your sink is okay, too.
  • Alcohol and water (50/50 mix): Make sure your isopropyl alcohol is 70% or above for it to be an effective cleaner.
  • Deodorant (Speed Stick): This is applied to the skin after it has been shaved to adhere to a proper stencil. The alcohol in the deodorant evaporates, allowing the stencil to dry to the skin semi-permanently.
  • Stencil and/or pens: Do your best to use a stencil when you are just starting out. This is a great technique that will build your confidence. Or, if you are freehanding, I have found that Sharpies work just as well as the more expensive skin scribes you can get from tattoo supply companies.

Frequently Asked Questions

As a professional tattooist, here are some of the questions I receive often.

What should I buy first: a liner or a shader?

Start with a liner and work your way up to a shader.

Do you have any tips for how to get started?

First things first: figure out how to tune and control your power supply. Whether you have one from a kit or you spent a little more for something extra, figuring out how to work the settings on these things is an absolute must.

Spray or squirt bottle: What's better?

They are both fine, in my opinion, but I like the squirt bottle a bit better. The only noticeable difference is that with a squirt bottle, you generally apply it to the paper towel you are going to wipe with (this gives you more control with where you are wiping) instead of over-spraying on an already-fading stencil—or spraying it into your client's face. I have done both, and I like the squirt bottle better.

Should I start with a stencil or go freehand?

Do your best to use a stencil when you are just starting out. This is a great technique that will build your confidence.

Be Safe and Have Fun

That is my summary of the necessary equipment you will need for in-home tattooing. Again, if you have questions, please post. I would like to hear feedback. Thanks, and good luck.

Other Lessons

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Are the whole tattoo kits worth starting with? What do you, the author of this article, think of self-tattooing as a good way of feeling/testing settings and getting to know the set up of a tattoo machine?

Answer: I have not found any kits that are good starter kits... I pieced everything together over time. Yes, I think self-tattooing is a good way to understand what you will be doing to others.

Question: Why does so much ink come out when I'm tattooing? Does this have to do with the speed or the length my needle is popping out?

Answer: Usually, you can cure this with rubber bands, also check that the needle is in correctly.

Question: What are the pros and cons of using a rotary tattoo pen?

Answer: I have never used a rotary pen. Sorry, no clue.

© 2012 Jason Goodrow


Yeng Shuan on June 16, 2020:

This is an essential guide for beginners and I remember the days when I first started, now I'm a professional tattoo artist. I actually got interested by the entire hobby from an article similar to this, I'll leave the link in case anyone would be intrigued to read it There's many more things to learn but the most important thing is to just get hands on experience as soon as possible, always enjoy it and have fun because if you don't it'll just start to feel like a chore and you'll give up fast! Nice article tatring, I'm a huge fan of your site and this post really made me reminisce on the good old days with that fresh sense of joy when I first got into tattooing! on February 16, 2019:

Any starter hints or advice i can get before going mental and inking up all parts of ur own and friends body parts? I have been drawing all my life but doing this is a totally different thing

Alexander on August 09, 2018:

So i been tattoo'ing myself and evrytime i do it, it doesnt stay on like the ink it scabs up about 3 to 4 days later . i dont know what im doing wrong but my ink is nt staying into the tattoo. Can you give me any advice ??

Joetta Sloan on April 17, 2018:

Very informative for this beginner.

ken on July 26, 2017:

I have no name tattoo machines seems like they work okay but does it make a difference on my shading work

Chasidy on May 19, 2017:

What would be a good temporary tattoo ink? I'm looking to practice on myself but I don't want it to be perminant.

Val on April 25, 2017:

This guide gives some really good insight, thank you for making it available for everyone looking for just this kind of advice.

I'm looking into buying a home tattoo kit and so far I've found the brands Dragonhawk and Solong. Do you know if either of these are good, and if so which one would be better? Also, I noticed most kits have 2 or 4 machines, is that necessary? Is it important to have 4 rather than 2? Thank you if you respond :)

Jay Arr on April 24, 2017:

Solong Ink, is it good to use in tattooing?

Staci on April 20, 2017:

Sometimes ink doesn't stick on my customers. Is it bad ink or am I doing something wrong?

Ed on February 05, 2017:

I would love to learn mores bout tattoos ! I'm a beginner and I need a lot of help would like if someone see this post and would like to help me out I would really appreciate it !

Kimber on December 18, 2016:

Hi Jason, My son bought me a kit for my birthday in July.I have been reading everything I can get my hands on and feel very fortunate to have stumbled upon your sight.I finally felt confident enough to try on myself the other week and found that I couldn't get a stencil to stay on for the life of me. I wanted to do an anchor on my foot, after tattooing 2 lines and wiping the stencil was almost completely gone.So now I have two lines on my foot and nothin else! Can you go step by step on how to tat and wipe and what to wipe with so as to not destroy the stencil. Thank Much and Love your very informative site,

Putiput on October 08, 2016:

Hey loved all the info I wanted to ask how can you tell the difference between a liner and shader gun? Thanks

Ivana on April 12, 2016:

Hey, thank you for the article :) I have been trying to find information on tattooing on the internet, and I have found very few helpful articles. I feel very lucky for stumbling upon this :)

I have a few questions... I am a complete newbie, I have never tattooed anyone nor do I have any equipment. I'm trying to figure out what is good quality, and what would be of most use to me. Apart from tradieional tattooing, I am interested in doing permanent makeup and paramedical tattooing. What machine do you recommend? Can the same inks be used for both purposes? How do i control to what depth the needle penetrates? (I have read that in traditional tattooing, the pigment is deposited in the third layer of the skin, while in permanent makeup-it is deposited in the second layer) I hope that you can help me.

Best regards,

Ivana on April 04, 2016:

That's a great question... yes you can use this... you are just looking to provide a good stable power source... its just important to be able to tune it to the lower voltage for you machine... its easy to blow a capacitator if your running to high of voltage.

jackal on April 04, 2016:


i have power supply but its not tattoo P.S. can i use it for tattoo???

its 2 ampere and changeable volt from 1 to 30 volt.

and have a digital volt and amp monitoring

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on November 05, 2015:

Well thank you, I'm glad you liked it.

Crystal Hubbard from Jacksonville, Florida on November 05, 2015:

Im not into doing tattoos my self but I thought this piece was interesting and enjoyed reading it

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on September 21, 2014:

I use 91% up to 99%... the concept with cleaning with alcohol is that it helps remove natural occurring oils our body produces as well as man-made oils during the cleaning phase of your client. This is the cleaning process I was taught.

First clean the area straight up that is going to be tattooed... hair and all with green soap.

Second saturate the area to be tattooed with green soap and prep accordingly to shave.

Third clean the area again with green soap and touch up with razor if you have any hairs left.

Fourth... preferably water wipe area to be tattooed again. Wipe Dry

Fifth use your alcohol to do your final wipe of the area. Let Air Dry

Ready to start Stencil Placement

sami1985 on September 21, 2014:

What type of alcohol and what is it for?

Princess from South Carolina on April 29, 2014:

Ok will do.

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 28, 2014:

Do some research on ONE... I used to use it but it is no longer available due to contamination problems... I would only use those machines on practice skin ONLY... 70.oo for the whole kit is scary... I paid 200.00 for a decent tattoo machine... another 150.00 for power supply... inks I would use waverly black ink and starbright for your colors... this is a fair start...

Princess from South Carolina on April 28, 2014:

I think he paid like $70 bucks for a beginners kit off of ebay hey git it for me to begin practicing with. And the info ive looked up so far about tge ink is horrible so I came to the conclusion I would only udwe the ink on practice skins and I've already begun ordering ONE black and MOMS 7 piece set for when I actually to work on someone.

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on April 27, 2014:

I have never used the brand but the question I have is how much was the kit you two purchased because that will tell me a lot also where you purchased them from...

and thank you there is a lot of mechanical skill that comes with tattooing that many beginners have no idea of and the information that is worth any thing you need to pay for so my goal is to make it available for free.

princessremy on April 26, 2014:

My husband has just purchased some inks and they are dragonhawk. My question is are they a good brand?

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 06, 2013:

Thanks a bunch, I currently am mentoring via internet a few individuals, so hit me if you need to ask specific questions. Yeah 5 grand is bull shit I started the same way you did and eventually taught myself. Sucks as a trial and error but you learn quick when you make mistakes.

tripp_w on August 06, 2013:

I just recently bought a two machine tattoo kit with one liner and one shader and a bunch of extras. I've also tried to get an apprenticeship but everywhere I went they wanted close to $5,000 to teach me and I don't have that kind of money plus I would NEVER have paid that even if I did. So I really appreciate all the information you're giving out for up-and-comers like myself. I will definitely be coming back here for more info as I get my home studio set up in the coming months. Thanks again!

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on May 23, 2013:

Thanks! I still haven't even put my gun together lollol. Gna go to my tattooist and see what he uses. Iv got numerous tatts from him, and none have faded. Oldest is 10 years, and is still black! :-) just like asking opinions of others, too... thanks again!

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on May 22, 2013:

Well as you know with tattooing it is all about preference. Sorting through the garbage inks is a hassle it was how I learned, but I was self taught and just was never satisfied with the generic inks. I started with MOM ink, then worked my way into INTENZE, at the time I was using INTENZE people were having issues with the red and white inks, at least on my clientele. So I switched to StarBright and am satisfied with the vibrant colors. I also use Eternal Ink for the more classic tattoo colors. I strictly use ONE black ink for all lining, all shading, all grey wash, and all tribal. The best ink as far as black goes. Hope this helps. Let me know!

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on May 22, 2013:

What is the best type of ink to use? cheers x

Animalme33 on March 09, 2013:

Your just awesome man! Keep up the good work! I love all your insights and opinions. Thanks much

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on February 14, 2013:

Trust me I know, i worked diligently for more than five years trying to attain an apprenticeship. Instead I became self taught but worked with some very talented people. Like you said people coming into the industry are very frowned upon, but there are those of us who are talented and also worried about cross contamination, infection, and not living high on the rockstar image. Thanks for reading man and let me know if you have any questions

ripskya on February 13, 2013:

Thankyou for putting out this information in a professional, and step-by-step manner. I have been trying to learn all I can, and there is so much negativity out there regarding people entering the tattoo world. Very informative, and handy tips/tricks!

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on January 01, 2013:

In regards to the setup it sounds extensive with plenty of material to work with as far as getting started (which is perfect), I do have 5 other tattoo lessons that will explain more in depth what you are striving for. Each machine is different but the rule of thumb as far as tuning it are the same. I have not used Millennium in years and was not satisfied with the quality then it may be better now. I use a variety of inks, starbright and eternal colored inks, and ONE black liner, and as far as I am concerned the best grey wash ink you can use. So if you have time poke around some of those other lessons, hopefully they will help you out, and if it leads to more questions, then feel free to ask.

Thanks for reading

riggse on January 01, 2013:


my dad was a tattoo artist (dead now) and i have always been a great artist with pencil and ebony...i though tattooing would be a great hobby and hopefully turn into a carreer.

keep in mind i have never tatto'd anyone nor will i, but i do want to get a start on learning the basics..

My Gear so far

2 dragon fly style machines...good ones, not the cheap ones.

full array of tips. includes liner, shader and some odd shaped ones

i bought serverl grips, 5 in total..

assorted needles, 2 boxes

ink cups, sm, med and large as well as a holder

power supply with all the cables, peadles...the name is Hurricane

Moms millennium black liner ink, as well as the grey wash and light grey wash.



skin markers

fake skin with designs and with out..

my question atm is wa=hat do u think of this set up...and how far should the needle stick out ( when its down all the way) from the tip...

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on December 26, 2012:

I have never heard of that brand and that usually means bad luck with the ink. My preference has been starbright inks for color, and One for outlining and tribal fill but it is best known for grey wash. You can get eight colors for around 75 dollars, and i think you can even find it on ebay might be cheaper there. Thanks for reading, keep me posted on how things go for you

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 21, 2012:

Southernboy I use ONE ink for black outlining and black tribal pieces, the depth of grey wash with ONE has been phenomonal. So 20 bucks a bottle through most distributors

southernboy on August 14, 2012:

If u could send some pics of how far needle should be it would be great im trying to make tattooing a career

southernboy on August 14, 2012:

Yes its been great but i want it to be darker and plus im confused on the length of the needle.

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on August 14, 2012:

I do not use that brand of ink but investigate these types of questions through google... also have you seen tattoos you have done with this ink type?

southernboy on August 14, 2012:

I have this black ink i use its called radiant colors is this good ink email me about this please at thanks

Jason Goodrow (author) from Washington State on May 08, 2012:

Unfortunately you may have do some research for a lefty machine... but in reality what side of the frame you work from should not matter. Depending on your budget check out CAM. I first started with that company when it came to tattooing gear. They will have several kits available. Let me know when you buy a machine and post a pic for me so I can see it after you have it set up. Thanks for the comment.

ncstateofmind on May 07, 2012:

found nice and informative would like to learn more... and if you knew of any good kits for a lefty that are relatively cheap but of good quality for me to learn with as this will be my first machine