Help me find a good tattoo starter kit
August 21, 2011 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn to tattoo. Help me find a decent starter kit.

I will be tattooing as a hobby. My clients will be grapefruits, melons, bits of deceased pigs, and, should I conclude that I got the talent for it, my own legs and my husband's arms.

I have been reading and watching video reviews and I understand that cast metal tattoo guns are generally the best option. However, there are lots of peripherals I am going to need and I am not even sure what they are (inks and cups, different size needles, gloves, practice skin, what else?) so the idea of a starter kit is very appealing. All the things I don't even know I need, right there in a box, for one low payment.

The one I like the most so far is this Pirate Face Tattoo Kit. It's got 4 guns, 50 needles, a book that got good reviews on Amazon, and a bunch of accessories.

If you are a tattoo artist, would you mind taking a look at it, and letting me know if you think it's a good option? If you think I should definitely -not- get a starter kit, what should I get? What are the basics? What's the best book? Is there a DVD I should get?

Thanks all.
posted by Opal to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That kit has no guns. It does, however, have tattoo machines.

One pair of gloves isn't gonna get you far. My artist goes through at least half a dozen pairs in one session. There's none of the equipment you need there to create or maintain a sterile work environment. While I know you're not planning to tattoo people anytime soon, if you're ever intending to do so, building good clean habits now means you won't have to break bad habits later.

FWIW, there are very very few talented and respected tattoo artists who learned in any other way than apprenticing. The folks I've gotten tattooed by are constantly giving each other feedback and suggestions.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the reply. Looks like you are in the field. Care to explain why those are tattoo "machines" rather than "guns"? This is precisely the type of information I was looking to learn from more experienced tattoo artists, and I appreciate you sharing the knowledge!
posted by Opal at 11:11 AM on August 21, 2011

Tattoo artists do not call the machines "guns" - it's slang that, in my observation, never fails to irritate them.

Seconding mollymayhem's comment about apprenticing. Even if you can't get a formal apprenticeship, definitely see if you can find a shop to spend a little time in. Do you have professionally-done tattoos of your own? If not, get one - seriously, it's a great way to spend a couple hours talking to a pro and getting a basic understanding of the process. My first tattooist loved to tell me stories about how she got started, stories about crazy clients, what all the equipment was for, etc, and I could replicate her tattooing layout by memory by now.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:31 AM on August 21, 2011

I'm not a tattoo artist, just someone who is heavily tattooed. (Call me for all your theater/concert/film lighting and portable power distro needs.)

A gun is what the uneducated call a tattoo machine.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:33 AM on August 21, 2011

Got it. Thanks! I thought a machine and a gun were two different things and I was looking at the wrong one. Glad to know that's not the case!

I have several tattoos, acquired in different parts of the world. Spent my share of time in the chair, as well as watching others get tattooed. At this point I am interested in getting a needle in a grapefruit. For that, I want to pay X dollars to someone who will send me a box with the stuff I need to do that -- hence the appeal of the starter kit.

If I ever decide to leave my current career behind and become educated in the art of putting ink in other people's skins, I will most definitely look into becoming an apprentice! I appreciate the fact that all the artists that got ink on my skin started out that way. For now, a decent started kit is what I am looking to get recommendations on.
posted by Opal at 1:52 PM on August 21, 2011

First, this is not the way to learn how to tattoo. Having gotten that out of the way, these starter kits suck. If you want to learn how to tattoo research tattoo machines, inks, gloves, etc, and buy them on their own, not in a big conglomeration like this.

Four tattoo machines, needles, inks, etc or 100 dollars means that they are all crap. You aren't going to find a decent set up that cheap and if you learn on bad equipment, you will learn bad habits. Hunt down one machine, one power supply, a basic ink set, buy a box of gloves (even working on fruit and pig, you will go through a lot), and go from there if you are adamant about doing it this way.
posted by SuzySmith at 2:59 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. There is a lot more to learn about tattooing than just how to properly run a machine and apply a tattoo. You need to learn about the anatomy of the skin, healing, bloodbourne pathogens, customer relations, composition, the mechanical aspect of a tattoo machine, and much more. By seeking out an apprenticeship, you get the whole package.

2. "Tattoo starter kits" are crap. I've never seen a tattoo machine come from one that is worth using on even a grapefruit. A decent tattoo setup tends to cost upward of 1000$. These are precision tools. Don't waste your money on what are essentially toys.

3. Even if you plan on "only tattooing fruit", I guarantee you will start tattooing yourself and your friends before long. Learn to do it right, get good tools, and don't risk putting crappy tattoos on yourself or your loved ones, and certainly don't risk spreading infection or disease.
posted by TheCoug at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2011

Apprentice, apprentice, apprentice. You will learn so much more, so much more quickly in a good shop.

I got an apprenticeship by presenting a portfolio to a newer shop in town.
posted by sugarbomb at 4:23 PM on August 21, 2011

Creating and maintaining a sterile work environment is the most crucial aspect of tattooing. It is important that you master the habit before setting out to work on another person or yourself. This is the reason an apprenticeship is so adamantly suggested (required) as the way to learn to tattoo. Most tattoo artists I know spent at least a year in intensive hands-on training before bringing needle to flesh. It's basically artistic surgery, and very difficult to learn to do correctly without experienced guidance. I agree with the respondents above that you should seek out someone who is willing to mentor you, at the very least.

There is a wide spectrum in the quality in tattoo machines available, and it is important to understand the mechanics of how a machine works, the role each part of the machine plays, and not only what makes a quality machine, but what particular machine will work best for your particular work rhythm on the specific part of the specific piece you are working on. A decent machine will cost between $250-500. You will need a bare minimum of two, one set up for lining, and another for shading.

I would suggest visiting your local shops and seeing if you can strike up a friendship with any of the artists you meet. Don't be discouraged by the professional opinions of most everyone you talk to when you tell them what you are trying to accomplish. Much of their least enjoyable work comes from being asked to fix what people who have decided to thwart the proper process have tattooed. Many of them will reflect this derision toward you. But if you are serious, with a humble attitude and a deep appreciation for the scale of the craft, there is a slight chance someone will share their wisdom with you... but you should really be willing to scrub their tubes and clean their floor for it, even in a casual arrangement.

Also, draw draw draw, in ink.
posted by droomoord at 4:48 PM on August 21, 2011

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