Best Tattoo Kits

Updated September 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
331 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best tattoo kits

Last Updated September 2019

Tattooing has probably been around for over 10,000 years, but it may never have been more popular than it is right now. The explosive growth of the art means that you’re never far from a professional studio, but that expertise can cost anywhere from $50 to $300 per hour, and a good tattoo isn’t a five-minute job! That’s why you might be interested in your own tattoo kit. Many artistic individuals want to try their hand at creating their own body art, and an affordable tattoo kit makes that possible.

One problem for the beginner is deciding which one of the dozens of options available is the right one for them, so we set out to help you find that answer.

Our recommendations offer solutions for every budget, and we look at the necessary components in detail in the following buying guide.

Tattoos have been used by ancient peoples in China, Polynesia, Egypt, the Americas, and the UK. “Picts” (an Iron Age tribe) literally means “painted people.”

Key considerations

Choosing the right tattoo machine

The tattoo machine (sometimes called a gun) and power supply are at the center of your kit. Some machines are intended for learning basic skills and techniques but not tattooing human skin. Depending on your intentions, you need to check which type of machine is in the kit.

There are two main types of tattoo machine: coil and rotary (also called pen). The most important difference is how they apply ink. (Note: There are also hydraulic tattoo machines run by compressor, but these are expensive and uncommon, even among professionals.)

  • Coil machines: These have been around the longest and are what you’ll find in most entry-level tattoo kits. They get their name from two coils fixed to the machine that use electromagnetic current to make, then break, a current flow. It’s that on/off action that drives the needles up and down. The winding and size of the coils has an impact on performance, but the variations are really only of interest when your skills reach the professional level. Coil machines are cheaper than rotary models, but that’s in no way a negative. Many of the world’s top tattoo artists use coil machines.

    Coil machines need to be set up for either lining or shading. You can use one machine for both, but changing over is time-consuming and frustrating (which is why you often see more than one machine in a kit). However, coil machines are more powerful than rotary machines, and high-end models are capable of both great intricacy and faster shading once you’ve acquired the necessary skills.
     

  • Rotary machines: These use a rotary electric motor with a gear that translates the action into a forward and back motion to drive the needles. While more expensive, rotary machines offer a more instinctive grip and are quieter.

    Rotary machines are more versatile than coil machines because they can switch quickly between lining and shading. But it’s not a question of one being better than the other. Most artists start with a coil machine — and it’s still the most popular studio tool — but rotary machines are easier to look after, and you only need one.
     

  • Power supply: You need to be able to vary the power for different types of tattooing. All power supplies have a readout, and digital models make it easier to make precise adjustments. A foot control means you can make adjustments while keeping both hands free.

A comprehensive introduction

Having three guns gives even those new to tattooing the versatility to line and shade without constantly changing the setup. This Solong kit also has the advantage of containing a good supply of consumables (something you don’t often get with inexpensive tattoo kits). The inclusion of a foot pedal and practice skin are definite bonuses, though for real skin work you’ll want different inks. The ones provided fade too quickly.

Tattoo machine care

All machines, whether beginner or professional, need to be looked after carefully and serviced regularly. Learning how to do it is an integral part of tattooing, and instructions are always provided with a kit. Improper care will dramatically shorten the life of your machine and could cause infection. While you’re learning, it’s a good idea to have a first aid kit handy.

Tattoo kit features

Aside from the tattoo machine and power supply, the rest of the kit is mostly consumables. As you gain skill, you’ll probably want to try inks and needles from various suppliers. This means that while buying the biggest kit often offers you the most savings, it may not be the best choice if you want to go beyond the basics and take your art to the next level.

  • Ink: There are many different inks to try. However, the quality varies, and it’s a good idea to experiment, so having a lot of ink in the kit isn’t necessarily a benefit. You’ll also want a number of ink pots.

  • Needles: These are vital, of course. There are lots to choose from, so look for variety rather than large quantities of the same one.

  • Tips: These are used for guiding the needle precisely, and they come in several styles. They can be either disposable or reusable. If you’re going to reuse them (or needles) you need an autoclave to sterilize them properly.

  • Tube: The tip and needle go inside a tube, which carries the ink. Grips are provided to hold the tip/tube combination firmly. They are usually 25 mm (1.0 inch), but there are some for people with smaller hands.

  • Transfer paper: This is always a useful inclusion.

  • Gloves: These are also useful items to include in a kit.
EXPERT TIP

Tattoos are permanent. Think carefully about what you’re doing and where you’re doing it before you start. Tattoo removal is expensive, it can be painful, and scarring is possible.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

All artists, beginner or professional, need practice. Silicone practice skin allows you to hone your skills without working on a real person!


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Check state laws before tattooing someone else. In many states it’s illegal to tattoo minors (under 18). In others you need parental consent. Regulations concerning licensing may also apply.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tattoo kit prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest tattoo kits cost around $20 to $30 and will give you a good idea of how to set things up and start tattooing, even if only on practice pieces. For $40 to $50, you’ll find traditional stick-and-poke kits.

Mid-range: Comprehensive tattoo kits that have all the extras you need to really get acclimated to your new art form cost between $70 and $150. These contain multiple guns and ancillary supplies that, with practice, should allow you to achieve a good level of skill.

Expensive: Professional kits with rotary machines start at about $120. Studio-quality coil machine kits can be as much as $450. The consumables and ink included in these kits will be minimal because each artist has their own preferences.

Ideal for the apprentice

Itatoo doesn’t pretend this is anything but a tattoo kit for beginners, and as such, it’s excellent. It has everything you need to introduce you to this fascinating art. Start by tattooing a bunch of fruit and you can learn the necessary skills and techniques without inking a person, though the tools are perfectly capable of doing so. For the money, it’s a great learning tool.

Tattoo technique and safety tips

  • Practice first. Before starting on real skin — even your own — get comfortable with your machine by practicing on fruit (apples are good) or silicone practice skin.

  • Remove distractions. Ensure your work area is clean and free of clutter. Nothing should distract you from your work.

  • Use quality inks. Always use proper tattoo inks from a recognized supplier. Cheap no-name inks or homemade recipes could introduce toxins.

  • Sterilize the needles. Only ever work with properly sterilized needles.

  • Wear gloves.

  • Learn about post-tattoo skin care. If you’re working on someone else, make sure they’re fully informed.

Other products we considered

We found a few other options if the kits in our matrix don’t suit you. If you’re looking for a high-quality introduction to tattooing but don’t want to spend a lot of money, the Rehab Ink Complete Tattoo Kit is definitely worth a look. You only get one machine and not a lot of consumables, but it’s a very popular starter set. Stick-and-poke tattooing is the earliest form of the art. If you want to try this traditional method, the Looney Zoo Hand Poke and Stick Tattoo Kit is probably the best around. Those who favor the quiet and light weight of a pen will want to check out the Dragonhawk Atom Rotary Tattoo Machine Kit, which has everything you need to get started all in a smart case.

The first electric tattoo machine was patented in 1891 by tattoo artist Samuel O’Reilly. It was based on an electric pen design by Thomas Edison, who is most famous for inventing the light bulb.

FAQ

Q. I’m left-handed. Do I need a special tattoo machine?

A. There is a slight right-hand bias to standard coil machines, but the majority of left-handed tattoo artists adapt quickly and have no trouble using them after a little practice. Buying a kit is cheaper than buying all the necessary parts individually, so it’s probably best to start that way. Then, if you find you really can’t use the machine supplied, buy a left-handed model. The other option is to buy a rotary pen tattoo machine, which has no bias one way or the other.

Q. Do tattoo kits include vegan ink?

A. Some do, but most don’t. Vegan inks are readily available from any good supplier, and the prices are similar to those for non-vegan inks. By the way, there’s a suggestion that vegan inks fade more quickly than other kinds. The suppliers and professionals we consulted say that this is not true. They’re just as durable.

Q. What are stick-and-poke tattoos?

A. This is a manual method, almost certainly how tattoos originated (they’re also called hand-poked tattoos). Each dot of ink is applied with a single insertion of a handheld needle. It’s slow, and it’s usually only used for outlining because shading would take a very long time. It often has a poor reputation because people think of bad art created by drunk friends at parties or “prison tats” using ballpoint pen ink. However, in the right hands it can be just as attractive as machine tattooing. It’s popular with some native/tribal artists because of its authenticity.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Michael
    Michael
    Writer

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