How to Become a Tattoo Artist

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Tattooing is an art form that dates back more than 2,000 years. Fun fact: Archaeologists have unearthed mummies with well-preserved skin adorned with elaborate tattoos.

Tattooists have endless opportunities to express themselves and please their clients. This career path is tremendously creative and comes with great financial rewards.

Tattoo artist tattooing a client's arm

How To Earn Six-Figures With Your Tattoo Art

Before using a client’s skin as the canvas for your next masterpiece, there are specific rules of the road that you need to learn and follow. 

First, most states require a license to practice tattooing legally. You’ll need to complete extensive training and, often, an apprenticeship. 

There are also significant safety protocols that you must observe. You’ll come in contact with human blood by working with needles and ink. For your health and safety, as well as your clients, training to become a tattoo artist involves mastering hygiene and sanitation.

With experience, you’ll help clients tell the story of their lives with your talents. There’s no better feeling than creating permanent artistry using needles and ink. 

And what if someday a client regrets getting ink that no longer holds meaning? No worries! You can still make good money by offering tattoo removal services as part of your repertoire.

Ready to begin the journey? Read on to learn how to become a tattoo artist and earn six-figures with your art.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a tattoo artist
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for tattoo artists
  • How to find clients
  • Plus helpful tips

Can I Make Six Figures As A Tattoo Artist?

Yes! On average, tattoo artists make $49,960 per year. That works out to $24.02 per hour. 

But the money doesn’t stop there. Tattooists at the top of their game can make six figures or more! Some famed body artists even charge up to $500 per hour for their services. 

If you can master your art and retain loyal clients, you’re sure to see your income grow. The sky’s the limit!

Employment opportunities for tattoo artists shouldn’t change much through 2031. Employment growth for tattoo artists depends mainly on the overall state of the economy and whether or not people are willing to spend money on body art. Usually, people only seek body art when they can afford to do so.

Important: If you work for a tattoo parlor, the owner typically gets a piece of what you make. They might take anywhere from 40 to 50 percent, sometimes higher!

So, if you pay the shop owner a 50 percent commission on a $300 tattoo, you’ll pocket $150 from the job.

And you might have to pay for the price of renting a chair.

Complete Training and Certification

You need specific training, certification, and a license to practice tattooing. In most cases, an aspiring tattoo artist must complete an apprenticeship under the guidance of an established, licensed artist. 

They should teach you hygiene requirements and appropriate techniques for tattooing. You’ll learn how to work with needles and mix ink as an apprentice. For practice, you’ll use the tattoo machine and needles on fruits or fake skin.

Tattoo artist tattooing a client's leg

Before you enroll in a training program, it’s a good idea to check the licensing requirements in your state. This state-by-state directory of licensing requirements will get you started.

Do your research! You’ll be in a much better position to choose a training program that fits your needs. To help you out, we’ve created an extensive list of training programs for tattoo artists.

There’s one more step. 

The Alliance of Professional Tattooists provides a training course in blood-borne pathogen certification, a requirement for a tattoo artist’s licensure. The course includes instructions on proper safety and sanitation procedures, as working in this field can expose you to another person’s blood. 

Classes are held both in-person at various locations around the country and online. The course teaches:

  • Basic understanding of blood-borne pathogens
  • Common modes of transmission
  • Methods of prevention such as cross-contamination
  • Other critical information for body art practitioners and shop owners

Join a Professional Group

Joining a professional organization shows dedication to your craft – the sign of a true professional. You can show clients that you are a serious artist by hanging membership certificates in your studio. 

Professional memberships also allow you to network with other tattoo artists, keep up-to-date with best practices and industry changes, and even learn about job opportunities.

 Here are some of the best-known professional groups for tattoo artists:

Coalition for Tattoo Ink Safety

The mission of the Coalition for Tattoo Safety is to establish, support, and promote safety in the tattoo industry. It creates minimum manufacturing standards for tattoo and cosmetic ink manufacturers, educates the tattoo art industry and regulatory agencies, and implements realistic goals to protect the health and safety of the public at large. 

Individual professional membership is $80 per year.

Close up of a tattoo artist tattooing a client's arm

National Tattoo Association

The association offers support and networking opportunities for tattoo artists throughout the United States, emphasizing safety and artistry to elevate the profession. Visit their website for current details.

You must be recommended by a member to join the association this association, then pay $60 per year for artist membership. 

Alliance of Professional Tattooists Inc.

The alliance has been called upon by many states to help develop laws governing the industry. APT represents tattoo professionals coming together to promote the industry and provide continuing education. 

Professional membership costs $150 per year.

Find Employment

Before you walk into any tattoo parlor looking for a job, you’ll need: 

  • Copies of your resume
  • Proof of certifications 
  • Professional tattoo license, and
  • Reference letters from people with direct knowledge of your tattoo skills.

You’ll need copies of these documents for every shop owner you meet, so you may as well have them handy.

Tattoo artist holding tattoo equipment

Other than knocking on the doors of tattoo parlors in your area, check online employment sites like Indeed or ZipRecruiter. They’ll help you find openings all over the country. 

Remember, referrals are always a good bet to find a job. So, put the word out to members of your professional organizations that you’re on the hunt.

Once you ace an interview and get a job offer, ensure you understand the compensation package. Many tattoo shops pay artists based on a set pricing menu, then keep a portion of the tattoo price for the shop. 

Going back to our earlier example, if you work in a shop that takes a 50 percent commission from artists, you would earn $150 on a $300 inking job.

It’s always better to understand how your paycheck works before you say “yes” to any job offer.

Finding Your Clients

If you’re going into business for yourself, there are several consistently effective strategies for finding clients. The first thing to do is focus on the fundamentals:

Establish an Online Presence

Tattoos are a visual medium. So, you’ll need to promote your tattoo services with high-quality photo displays of your work. Invest in a decent digital camera (unless you have an excellent camera on your phone) and take pictures of your best designs.

Create dedicated social media pages for your business on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. They should include your hours of operation, location, and contact information.

Then upload your pictures with brief but vivid captions to your social platforms. Make sure to research trending hashtags and best practices, so your posts reach a wider audience. 

It would be nice to go viral and let the world find your genius on the Internet. But you should also have your business location listed on these platforms, so customers in your area can find you and stop by.

Female model sitting and displaying a full arm sleeve of tattoos

Focus on Your Branding

You will have competition. Decide what sets you apart, then promote that distinction. A distinct logo and consistent color scheme on your website and social media pages will help tie your marketing efforts together. And potential clients will come to recognize your work on sight.

Sell Promotional Items

If you can sell t-shirts, tumblers, and baseball caps with your logo and business name, you’ll accomplish two things:

  • Create an additional revenue stream and 
  • Turn customers into walking billboards for your business

You can sell merchandise in your shop as well as through your website.

Offer Special Deals

Clients love a deal. These can be anything you can imagine, but it makes it sweet to incentivize new clients. You can try offering:

  • A discount on a first tattoo
  • A discount for referring new customers to the shop
  • Customer loyalty programs, where clients receive a freebie after spending a certain amount of money
Woman looking up with a shoulder tattoo on display

Ask Your Best Customers for Reviews

The best way to find clients: do good work. Happy clients will have no problem posting a short online review about their beautiful tattoos and excellent experience. 

Studies show that over 90 percent of respondents base their buying decisions on reviews they’ve encountered online while researching a business.

Our 5 Best Tips For Aspiring Tattoo Artists

Beginners in any industry need all the help they can get. So, we’ve compiled five success tips for beginner tattooists, as learned by experienced tattooists.

Keep Your Portfolio Up to Date

Constantly photograph your work and add it to your portfolio. These pictures should show a range of styles and simple and complex designs. You want to demonstrate the full extent of your abilities.

In today’s market, it’s best to have an online portfolio. You can do this on social media. But it’s good to have a dedicated website for potential clients and partners.

Get Advice from Established Pros

Join and stay active in professional associations. Networking with other, more experienced, members will lead to expert tips, advice, and job opportunities.

Stay On Top of Trends

New designs pop up all the time. They go viral and grow in popularity. If a customer comes in with a request for trendy new ink, it’s good business to be ready to deliver – even if you’ve already done that tattoo 50 times this week.

Tattoo artist applying a tattoo to a client's arm

Take a Small Business Class

Tattoo artists often begin their careers working in a shop for someone else, but eventually, you may want to start your own business. If that happens, a course on small business management can go a long way. 

You’ll be miles ahead of your competitors if you know a bit about filing taxes as an independent contractor and limited liability corporation (LLC).  You’ll also learn essential business skills to help you maintain positive cash flow and run a smooth operation.

Enjoy Your Work

Seems obvious, but it’s worth stating: Find joy in your work.

In every tattooist beats the heart of an artist. Each day, you get to create works of beauty and meaning. Some of your creations may hold tremendous significance for your customers for the rest of their lives. That should give you great professional satisfaction. 

You cannot fully enjoy your life without also enjoying your work. Remind yourself whenever necessary: This is a cool way to make a living.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great content that can help you grow your career as a tattoo artist. Here’s a great place to start.

PocketSuite has thousands of business owners who all started where you are right now. Our community is always happy to help you ramp up, grow your client base, and achieve your income goals, both within the PocketSuite app and as part of our exclusive Facebook Community Group. PocketSuite’s vision is for any professional to be able to work for themselves and make a great living. It starts here. It starts with you. It starts today. Let’s get started, download PocketSuite now! Feel free to reach out with any questions (we’d love to hear from you)! Text us @ (415) 841-2300.