Practice Skin – Pig Skin for Tattoo Practice

by FireFly on September 25, 2012

Pig skin as tattoo practice skin

Pig skin is the traditional practice skin used by tattoo apprentices since tattooing began to be popular. Long before plastic practice skin was invented, pig skin was readily available.

It is my favourite medium to practice tattooing as it is SO similar to human skin. With pig skin you can see the needle entering the skin and get a much better handle on how to control needle depth which you just don’t get with plastic practice skin.

Pig skin, depending on where on the pig it comes from can also be quite stretchy so you can get to understand how important the stretch is to a good line. With pig skin you will get the “vibrating drum skin” effect {where the skin suddenly blurrs as it vibrates and the needles don’t penetrate} You will need to get your stretch right to stop this and get the line in. This is great practice and not something you will learn with plastic practice skin.

Preparing Pig skin for tattoo practice

Preparing pig skin correctly for tattooing is crucial. If you don’t prepare it right its tough and stinky and you probably won’t be able to tattoo it successfully.

The best way to do this is…

  • Cut your pig skin up into tattoo sized pieces and put in plastic bags
  • Store in the freezer { you need a sympathetic partner for this as your freezer will start to resemble Jeffrey Dahmers kitchen} Freezing the skin breaks it down a little and makes it softer
  • When you are ready to tattoo – thaw a piece of skin by placing in warm water for a few minutes - DO NOT THAW IN MICROWAVE – it will stink and go leathery
  • Wash the skin thoroughly with dish soap to remove the oils – this will make the skin pretty non smelly and less grim to work with
  • Don’t scrub the skin or you will end up with loads of little scratches that hold the wiped ink and mess up the tattoo
  • Do your tattoo
  • If the skin starts to feel leathery and hard during the session, put it back in warm water to soak for 5 minutes
  • After the tattoo session – if you want to work on more later, return the skin to the freezer. Don’t store in the refrigerator or it will dry and go leathery. It doesn’t matter how many times you freeze and thaw as you aren’t going to eat the stuff!
practice skin tattoo - colouring red butterfly

Where to get pig skin

Most butchers throw away pig skin as a by product of meat production. Therefore its often possible to get hold of pig skin for free or very cheap making it much more cost effective than buying plastic practice skin. The best places to find it are small local artisan style butchers who will probably give it away for free or for some money in their charity box. In the UK its also possible to buy it from the meat counter in Morrisons supermarkets for about 70p for 2 or 3 decent sized rolls.

Whilst this makes it easy to get hold of, the drawback is that because this is sold for pork crackling, it has tiny cuts scored into the skin. These arent really visible but as soon as you tattoo they will hold the ink and show up. They can also cause problems with the needle jagging into the cut marks. However it will do if you cant get hold of anything else and suddenly have burning desire to tattoo at 8pm on a Saturday night when the butchers aren’t open.

It’s also a good idea to check out Mexican and Chinese markets as they may also have pig skin in stock.

Is using pig skin for tattooing morally right?

I have seen some people who wont use pig skin for moral or ethical reasons. I am a vegetarian and have no problem with using it. The way I see it is that it’s going to be thrown away anyway so it’s actually better that I have found a good use for it rather than it just being binned. I also feel that I have a moral and ethical duty to any of my future clients to be as good at tattooing as I possibly can be and if pig skin helps me do that, that is an important ethical consideration too. You have a duty to your future clients. Just get over any squeamishness and use it if it gives you the best practice.


Pros of tattooing pig skin

  • Reacts more similarly to human skin than any other practice medium, as it IS real skin. Nothing manufactured can come close to that.
  • Depending on the skin you may need to stretch it like real skin
  • Takes ink well, especially good for practising lining
  • Allows you to see and understand depth of needle in a way that plastic practice skin doesn’t
  • Is generally free or cheap to get hold of

Cons of tattooing pig skin

  • Can be tough and leathery to work with. You will need to adjust your technique.
  • The toughness of pig skin can mean you over compensate and tattoo too harshly when tattooing real skin for the first time
  • May not take greywash very well. You will need to learn to whip shade
  • Takes colour a bit differently to human skin. Kinds of sucks up the ink so tattooing real skin with colour will be different
  • Doesn’t bleed so tattooing colours such as yellow and white is misleading. They are discoloured by skin reddening on real skin
  • Smells bad!
  • Is fairly gruesome to deal with
  • Can be hard to get hold of depending on your area


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