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Has anyone tattooed leather

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This is a topic I've been thinking about since I stumbled across the Punctured Artefact website a few months ago.

Tonight is the first time I've actively looked for info on the technique though. That's how I found this thread. Some interesting observations.

I also found this video...

which just raised more questions, but I thought you all might like it.


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i'm a pro. tattoo artist for 6 years. My GF is a leatherworker

I'm experiment a lot these days. Here's my result :

Vegetal leather is the best - it's almost textureless compare to other leather and the core is somewhat different - use 1/4'' thickness or more to ink, after you can use a slitter leather machine to thin the material. You will notice that you can't really slitter past 1/16 (up to your experiment anyway) .

You have to prepare your leather, use different type of coating - you can use it raw but it will be hard clean (even if you put a layer of vaseline, some ink will stain the leather - it is very difficult to clean) i found use a soft sandpaper to clean work good. I tried diffirent type of coating and the best is a artistic finish coating for charcoal drawing i use ;) it clean easy the leather but be careful, after 1 or 2 whipe you have to wait some time for you leather to be dry, so you can put some more coating etc

the leather consistency is different to the human skin.
So, you have to work you needles with less voltage.
Be sure to keep your needles at the same depth without the tip of your machine to rub on the leather- it will mash it.
I use 3 round liner or 5 or 7 or 12 it doesn't mather, you have to have a lower voltage and a different type of tuning so your line will look fresh and clean.
also, it's better to use long taper needles, you will diminish the mashing effect.
I run at 5,8 volts to shade - i use bug pin magnum 13 - i found the bugpin would drop more ink effectively than a regular needle.

I wish you i would understand how to show you picture, maybe another time !!

Sorry for my english / not first langage

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Greybeard: sorry about the reply a year later, but here's the rundown on my process

First things first is the leather. The tanning process is really important, and the two main processess are Veg tanned and Chrome tanned. You need to be looking for Veg tanned leather, It'll hold the ink and keep the lines clean. Chrome tanned leather tends to just bleed out and doesn't hold the ink (I've had mild success with this lately though, I'll update on how it goes)

For the Ink, I make up a special blend that i developed. But I would recommend (if you cannot get a hold of proper tattooing ink) indian ink. It holds well, It's not too thick. It just works well.

Next thing you need is Vaseline. The ink will stain the leather and to stop this, put down a thin layer of Vaseline.

As you said you tattooed in the past this next part is pretty easy. It's basically the same as regular tattooing.
I use a 5pt Line needle for most of my work.
I run the volts pretty high (Veg tanned leather is usually pretty tough) and this keeps the lines smooth.
I don't know how much you know about customizing your rig, if you're interested I can walk you trough the modifications I have done on mine.

I don't use transfer paper. I print out my design on paper, lay it over the leather and then use ballpoint inscribers to go over the design, it leaves an indented line that you can follow easily.

Wipe away the excess ink regularly. and make sure you keep applying a thin layer of Vaseline to the areas you're tattooing, otherwise you'll get stains and smears and all that.

With my jacket patches, sleeves and outdoor stuff that is exposed to the elements I use a mix of oils, dyes and beeswax (I use different oil and dye mixes to get different finishes eg. lighter, whiter, darker)

I am doing a load of bags, purses, wallets and books all tattooed up out of leather to sell in a design exhibition in a month's time, I'm hoping to have chrome tanned leather tattooing sussed by then.

(I sold out of stock in last years show, It's an instant hit with many people)

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Here's some of the older work that I did late last year.

I was making a tutorial video to show my process for people but that's on my dead computer. If people here would like to see it let me know and I'll get around to it when I have more free time.






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on buffalo chrome tanned leather i used 5RL and 11magnum bugpin, running volt pretty LOW its still wet so it will get clearer when dry
its a experiment for a purse of that mat my GF is doing, she want to put a white geometric tattoo on it (white work pretty well )


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for tattooing i use 2 machines :
my liner is 8 coil wrap
my shader is 12

both are running almost 30% less volt than on skin

you have to tune your machine ULTRA SMOOTH so it wont destroy the leather, to leave a ''scar'' - you want a smooth line that equal the material texture - so when you look at it with a 45 degre angle in the light, you wont see any curve and engraving effect, a smooth and silk surface
not encripted as it was lasered or some pew pew madness, you want it as a skin tattoo - the video example someone posted is a bad exampel to my eyes - you see that engraving effect on the leather - the material is mashed under the needle (too much voltage imo and the angle is not quite correct)

some could like it , i think its a lack of understanding of the medium, the material and the potential.

As you see on my facebook page, i will keep posting all my experiment
you can shade colors - no problems
so if you mash the leather hardcore, you wont be able to do so - to shade or whatever

i will try a full black and grey portrait on vegetal leather soon

ps: to shade, a basic tattooing knowledge is needed : its better to blend going backward of the needle direction

pss: tattooing leather is more difficult than skin , way more tricky -
for the chrome tanned example, i did not used much vaseline and the piece of leather is small, it got wet pretty quickly, the leather got darker and darker so you work even more blindly than when tattooing - the more wet the leather got, the less control i had on my liner - i found the line tend to bleed and stretched randomly - i tried to reline some line after shading , the leather was wet too much and that cause a engraving effect on those 2 lines i repassed - altought i found my shading easier when it was fully wet - i will experiment more on that avenue to discover the best solution - so much to come

psss: i think so far that the ink will hold very long in that material, very very very long, some guy on the forum thinks not, i think i will stay there even if i tattoo my wallet full colors shade pew pew pew i think it will hold for quite a time

pssss: for the stencil, i used stencil stuff : MAN my stencil are un-erasable on leather (wish it could be the same on human skin tehehe), it s permanent almost, to remove it had to use some sandpaper or something very mad

i will experiment that avenue also, whats the best treatment to put after tattooing etc

psssss: dentat on the forum talks about using beeswax mixed with mineral water- i will try those

Edited by mickymick

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Hello and thanks y'all for this amazing topic, my name's Dylan, I'm a graphic design student and I live in France.

I ordered few days ago a small tattoo kit for a school project and now I need some leather to start. So ok, veg tanned leather is the best option for tattooing but from which animal ?

I can buy a small piece of cowhide veg tanned leather with a thickness of 3mm, that I'll sew later. Will it be okay for tattooing on it ?

Thanks in advance ! I'll try to share my tests here once i'll get all my stuff :)

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I've been tattooing for 9 years, and have been doing some experimenting of my own, and here's what I've come up with.

Prep -

I've been using veg-tan leather, mostly 3-4 oz, but thickness doesn't matter. Give them a generous coat of neatsfoot oil, light brown dye if desired, and 2x top coat with acrylic resolene to seal it. Then go crazy with some sort of wax coat too, I've been using atom wax, this is important as well to allow cleaning, but you'll be stripping most of this away in the process, and give it a few days to fully cure and settle in. I haven't used chrome tan, but I would prep with the same resolene/wax process.

Machines - run them as light as possible. I usually use 2 shaders, as liners run too fast and hard. If you can tune your machines down to almost no push, you're doing good. Penetration isn't needed, you just need to break through the top layers of finish and allow ink to get into the divots, and the sharpness of the needles are more than adequate.

India ink - It might not make much of a difference, but the india ink has shellac while tattoo ink doesn't. I don't want the ink to migrate under the surface and blur into the leather. I've also considered liquid acrylics, but haven't yet tried it.

My process is very messy, and I'm tattooing blind almost half the time. Keep wiping to a minimum so you don't force the ink down into the leather or get it visibly soaked. I haven't noticed any advantage in using vaseline, it may even work against you dissolving the wax layer. Otherwise, I'm tattooing almost completely dry, just a little plain water on damp towel. Shading is only possible as whip shading, no amount of dilution is possible since the holes stay open - wiping black over gray holes will leave black holes. I haven't tried color, but I assume this would have the same problem, leaving color in all the black lines and vice versa. Once I'm all done, I clean it off gently with some soapy water on a rag, let it dry, and then hit it again with a heavy coat of resolene again to soak into the lines and seal everything.

You can trace the design in with a stylus or freehand the whole thing, but if you're using a hectograph stencil, it'll be tough to apply but it'll weld itself on like no other. The only way to remove it completely is alcohol, but that will completely strip the wax layer in seconds. It's best to leave the stencil until the very end, when it's all done and the excess ink is cleaned off, then take off the stencil. I tried Clear Lac before I was using resolene, but alcohol dissolves the Clear Lac as easily and you'll have a mess.

I'll post pictures later, I'm still assembling a few things.

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I bought a tattoo kit a while back. I've been wanting to try this for a while now but haven't gotten around to it yet. Think I'll get the stuff out and give it a try soon.


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I decided to give tattooing leather another go this morning at 3am. I used 5-6oz veg tan with a cheapo Swashdrive Whip clone I had laying around and a 5RS for the lining and shading. I set the Whip at 8 with the power supply at 6v. I did start at 4v, but it just wasn't enough umph and speed. First I did 3 coats of Tan-Kote. I set it in front of the a/c each time while I set up my gear. The stencil was applied with homemade Stencil Stuff (I won't be doing this again because the stencil stuck on like nobodies business--I'll be tracing it cased next time). I tried to get the stencil off with alcohol, but that stripped the Tan-Kote and made a mess of the leather from there on out (see: tracing next time). The ink I used was Waverly along with their Blue Bird black. Oh, and lots of Vaseline.

I don't think it turned out too bad. It was 3am and just messing around. Now I just have to tweak the process.


Edited by pearlheartgtr

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On 10/23/2014 at 7:23 AM, yourmessagesir said:

I was making a tutorial video to show my process for people but that's on my dead computer. If people here would like to see it let me know and I'll get around to it when I have more free time.



     Thanks for the response I have been off the site for some time myself. I would love to see your video on the subject. The work you have shown is nice and clean. 


Everyone else,

Thank you for responding, I love when you post pics it allows us to compare results using different products/ procedures.


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On 10/8/2009 at 5:25 AM, TroyS said:

I am working on a project now that may interest you. I have a friend/customer that gave me a photo of his dad sitting on a Harley. The photo was taken in 1946. It's a tiny little crappy picture so it took a lot of work to restore it, but here's the picture. Before.jpg After lots of photo manipulation, I was able to come up with this After.jpg photo. Now, I had it laser etched onto a piece of leather Laser'd2.JPG and plan on stitching it to the top of his Tour-Pak like thisidea.jpg. I still have quite a bit of work to do, but you get the idea!





The guy on the bike looks a lot like my grandfather, Ky Sitton.

Edited by bikermutt07

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