Tattoo Starter Kits

Here is a selection of the items almost every tattoo starter kit will include. I will cover the actual tattoo gun and its parts and accessories separately on the next page; this page I'll cover the items that will be included with any starter kit, along with extra items some kits may or may not include as standard. Note that these items are for STARTER kits; if you order just a tattoo kit or a professional tattoo kit, those come with only the equipment needed by experienced tattoo artists and generally do not include practice items needed in a starter kit. Starter kits try to include not only all the parts of a tattoo machine, but also all the accompanying supplies so you can literally pull everything out of the kit that you need to start your tattoo practicing.

Also note that tattoo starter kits are just that: they are for starters, for practice. As such, the quality of parts, materials and machines varies, but the basic fact is that they are mostly of cheaper quality. Fine for practicing on practice skin, maybe even fine for your first few tattoos on humans once you've gotten your skills up to a competent level; but you will want more professional equipment eventually if you plan to do much tattooing, especially if you ever get to the professional level and work in a shop. You can get by with some cheaper items as long as they work and are clean and safe... however, you don't want to scrimp on some things (for example, ink quality). Read comments below, and on the next pages about tattoo ink and tattoo guns.

Tattoo Practice skin - Tattoo starter kits usually include some practice skin. It may be crappy quality so feel free to buy some better stuff. Some kits even advertise having 'practice skin' or 'practice paper' and it turns out to be normal drawing paper with a simple tattoo design photocopied onto it. Read the package or item descriptions, look at the pics, to make sure it is tattoo practice skin. Even if it is, plan to buy some better skin instead of relying on the kit samples.

Gloves - The kit may or may not include a box of disposable latex gloves; you know, the kind they always use on your body cavity searches when you try to cross the border. You can dispense with them while using practice skin if you like, but since things feel a little different wearing gloves, I'd recommend getting used to wearing them even while practicing, because you will later always wear them while tattooing people.

Training Video or Book - Again, for starter kits the quality varies. Some starter kits won't have a booklet or DVD, but most of them do. Some training videos are horrendous, hard to understand, some have very poor English, unclear directions, questionable knowledge, poor photography, impossible-to-follow examples of technique. Same for booklets. Other kit-included booklets or DVDs are surprisingly well done. But it's best to go to other sources, buy professional books or videos online, or from a bookstore, tattoo supply shop, or check out the library. There are great videos and articles online for learning tattooing basics, so really you don't even have to go buying any. I'll include a bunch of links to better sites that take through learning tattooing technique, on the next page. And you will find a good selection of books and DVDs on the Store page.

Carrying Case - Your tattoo starter kit needs to all be kept together for portability and tidiness, so it will come in a carrying case with compartments for all pieces. Most will also have a locking system and key, so if it's just laying around, people and kids can't easily get into it and ruin or contaminate the items.

Miscellaneous Equipment - there are other tattoo accessories, many starter kits include some or all of them, some kits don't. Here's a list of ancillary items you may or may not want your starter kit to include:

Transfer Paper - the old carbon-coated paper that you trace designs on and then stick to skin, in order to transfer your tattoo designs from drawing to skin. There are machines that make carbon copy transfer paper especially for tattoos now, but if you're just starting out, you won't be springing for expensive copiers.

Green Soap - this is an antibacterial medical soap for washing your hands, and temporarily washing parts if it will be awhile before they can be sterilized.

Tattoo wipes - Wipes, used to wipe away blood and ink while you're tattooing on skin, have many names, like LAP cloths or dental bibs commonly. They are always nearby and you'll need them constantly, in large amounts; tattooing is messy, no getting around it, and you need these special wipes when you're wiping injured skin. These kinds of wipes are very absorbent, and are made of certain materials and weaves that don't pile, flake apart, or unravel easily, so that threads and nap aren't smearing around loosely and getting into the open cuts a tattoo needle makes on skin. Paper towels and rags probably won't kill anyone either, but use the wipes; they are neater, more reliable, and safer. Kits may or may not include them but you can buy them easily, at drug stores and some department stores, and medical supply stores. Even tattoo supply stores often carry them.

Ointment, Balm, Skin Treatments - Some kind of ointment may be included in your starter kit, for lightly coating fresh tattoos to help soothe pain and aid healing. Petroleum jelly may or may not be included also. Usually these two items must be purchased separately.

Fitted Plastic Bags - There may be special plastic bags, covers for the tattoo gun/s and pieces, to keep them clean between uses. You SHOULD have these plastic covers, so if they're not in the kit then try to find some or order online.

Razors - Some kits include disposable razors, for shaving the skin before tattooing.

Note that there are many, many items associated with tattooing that are not included in a kit. Many just make things easier, but some of them are must-haves. For example you can buy needle trays and other trays and holders for various parts and accessories, but you can also get along without them or with makeshift substitutes. If you have a shop, you can buy pieces of tattoo furniture specially shaped for your long hours hovering over clients, and tables and cabinets for equipment. However, one essential piece of equipment you will need, if you decide to tattoo on people, is an autoclave, which is an electric heat-sterilizing machine for sterilizing needles and parts of your tattoo gun. You don't need one while you're practicing on fake skin (although you do want to keep your equipment spotlessly clean), but when you switch to real, your equipment must be cleaned and sterilized before and between all uses.