Upgrading from stick-and-poke tattooing to a machine
March 17, 2016 1:23 PM   Subscribe

My wife has been making small stick and poke tattoos (mostly on me) for a while now with great results - she's getting pretty good at it. She now wants to upgrade to an actual machine. We're looking for a reputable guide on what to buy and how to learn how to use a machine for simple tattoos. Is there such a thing available on the internets? I saw a lot of dodgy-looking things so I wanted to ask the hive mind before making a bad choice.

P.S.: We know that the tried and true way to learn how to tattoo is by interning at a tattoo shop. This is not an option for her. We're looking for self taught options here taking advantage of the fact that she has a willing canvas (me).
posted by gertzedek to Education (5 answers total)
So a friend of mine got a cheap machine off ebay, and practiced on melons. I'm sorry I'm less helpful on the machine itself, but the melon-use gave him a basically-infinite canvas to practice on. She might look into that!
posted by Greg Nog at 1:50 PM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

First things first, this is not something I would advise. I think lots of others wouldn't either. More on that below. But to answer your initial question...

Is she able to take the required courses that your state or county offers for those who tattoo or pierce. It will teach you about how to tattoo or pierce while maintaining a sterile environment. You should also get all the sterilization equipment required such as an autoclave. I wouldn't advise anyone to do any type of tattoos without this training and proper sterilization equipment and environment (only sitting on surfaces that can be completely cleaned.)

If you are unable or unwilling to do this, please do not tattoo anymore. Full stop.

Next, machines, how to set needles, etc, are all highly personal to the way you tattoo. You'll at minimum need a liner machine a shader machine, tubes, needles, a power supply, an autoclave, ink, gloves, etc. They do make disposable tubes (that's the part that the needle goes through that attaches to the machine.) You'll also need clip cords and clip cord covers (the part that goes from the machine to the power supply and plastic covers for them.)

Machines range in price from super cheap - also not good- to hundreds of dollars. You'll likely want to spend at least a hundred on a good machine (really at least two) from a reputable source - check for tattoo supply - to start. You'll also want to try tattooing fruit or pigskin to learn how to set needles. There are some good YouTube things from actual tattoo artists on these topics. Don't trust any video that's not shot in a tattoo shop.

In terms of design you'll need carbon tattoo transfer paper at minimum for stencils. Freehand anything is generally not good unless you've been doing things for years and years.

The last thing is practice. Most apprentices are required to practice on themselves first to get a feel for the needles after working on fruit and pigskin. They do make fake skin but it sucks and is expensive.

All that said, again, I wouldn't really advise this. If you're serious about it, doing it right will take time and LOTS of money, regardless of taking time to learn in a shop. I personally don't like when people don't learn in a shop environment and I have ethical and health concerns surrounding people tattooing out of their home without proper training.

That said (again) I have gotten tattooed by someone not in a shop once. He had all the equipment, I had seen his work, I knew everything was sterile, and it's in an easily hidden place. It was fine, but I would NOT advise it.

Lastly, I taught myself to tattoo - but I ONLY tattoo fruit for art. Not people. For all the reason listed above and more. JUST for my crappy machines (again, not on people so who cares) ink, tubes, needles, gloves, stencil paper, ink etc I probably spent at least $300. If I were at all planning to apprentice I would have easily spent $3000. I unfortunately have had to set aside the fruit project due to health things (you have to tattoo a grapefruit and photograph it within a few hours time or it wilts and I haven't had good chunks of time) so I haven't gotten as skilled as I wanted. However it's taken lots of work and money. (My work is linked in my profile.)

I also have lots of tattoos and have a bit of knowledge about it so this is not an off-the-cuff opinion.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:54 PM on March 17, 2016 [22 favorites]

Most reputable machine manufacturers won't sell to anyone without a license or a shop, from what my (very professional) artist has told me.
posted by Young Kullervo at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2016

You can get a kit for less than $100 on Amazon. I would like to recommend that you not spend a lot of money on tattoo machines and related equipment. Home tattooing can be dangerous and the health issues that can result are super expensive. You'll want to have money on hand to pay for stuff like hepatitis and MRSA infections.

I work at a tattoo shop, and we do a procedure consisting of manymany steps to keep the shop, supplies, and equipment sterile enough to be safe for clients. We pay a nearby medical school to do health inspections and certify the shop to the state where we operate. My shop employs 8 tattooers, and I clean roughly $10,000 worth of tubes every day or so, using equipment comparable to what my dentist's office uses for her equipment.

Is home tattooing legal where you are? Do you have a room in your house you can dedicate to no other activity besides tattooing? That you are willing to scrub with bleach - top to bottom - every single day? Do you have a service to handle the medical waste generated by tattooing?

I'm writing this off the top of my head, but to sum up my recommendations: I beg you to reconsider home tattooing. Zillions of micro-organisms live in your home environment. Unless you have a hospital-clean (probably cleaner than that even) tattoo space, it's only a matter of time before one of her clients gets a nasty infection.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 2:59 PM on March 17, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: although i'm loathe to tell anyone what to do in the comfort of their homes, i recommend her continuing practice on bananas and oranges.

Yes, there are many machines you can get, kits are cheap these days. You can also buy sterilized, autoclaved needles and equipment (this is true for Sweden, can't imagine its different anywhere else except for developing countries)
look for stainless steel or alu bodies, i'd go to one of the many custom builders to get a machine.

There's also guidelines which you can adhere too, if she's aiming to open a parlor I definetly recommend reading up on it to get a leg up on certification.

Furthermore, if this is in the comfort of your own home, look into sterilization solutions like iodine etc for application on subject beforehand (also if its on you, take a shower first as well).
you can also get an autoclave cheap these days, do so, because the tattoo gun itself has parts that needs autoclaving and the rest of the machine is easily cleaned with disinfectant.
When using the gun, wrap it in a plastic bag, use vinyl gloves (one use then discard, get a bio-waste container) make sure to discard biowaste correctly, read up on cross-contamination procedures.

and whatever you do, dont use water to clean up the blood on the subjects skin, use an alcohol/distilled water solution or a disinfectant, then discard tissue to bio-waste receptable.

and honestly, if someone wants to learn, they should just practice, this isnt surgery or rocketscience, its a regulated business if its for profit.
posted by xcasex at 8:22 AM on March 18, 2016

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