How to Become a Tattoo Artist

How to Become a Tattoo Artist: Career Path Guide

To become a tattoo artist, the first step you need to take is to practice drawing. There is no sense wanting to become a tattoo artist if you can’t draw, so practice, practice, practice! Once you are confident that what you can do on paper is worth showing off, you will want to compile your best drawings into a portfolio.


Ensure that a diverse body of your best work is showcased, as this will serve as your visual resume.



Getting an Apprenticeship

Once your portfolio is assembled, you can begin looking for an apprenticeship opportunity. Apprenticeships may be free, may be paid, but will most likely cost money, so you will want to be sure you can afford to pay for one if that is the case.


Be sure to find the right artist to apprentice with, as some artists will take on an apprentice just as a way to make money.


It is important to remember that being an apprentice is similar to being a student, so you will have to be able to pay for it, as well as your regular cost of living.


It is also important to remember that you will likely be required to sign an apprenticeship contract, so be sure to read through it carefully and ensure you are comfortable with the terms of the agreement.


After you have completed your apprenticeship, your teacher may decide to hire you, or you may be able to begin looking for work with competing studios, depending on the terms of your contract.



Education You Can Use

While not typically a formal requirement, you can benefit from taking some coursework in illustration, in order to help you hone your skills.




Tattoo Artist Job Description

A tattoo artist is responsible for inserting indelible, non-toxic pigments into a person’s skin for decorative or ornamental deign purposes. The tattoo artist may design the tattoo themselves, or use a sketch or photograph that the client has provided.



Tattoo Artist Job Duties

• Meet with clients for a consultation in order to discuss placement, size, colour and estimated price of tattoo

• Tattoo artists must promote their services or the services of the studio they represent, which may include attending trade shows

• Discuss options and details related to the tattoo

• Produce a traced outline for the tattoo based on the shape of the body part receiving the tattoo

• Responsible for sterilization and sanitation of all equipment to be used

• Skillfully use electric needle and indelible ink to draw tattoo on specified part of client’s body

• Bandage tattoo upon completion

• Provide client with tattoo after-care knowledge and product options



Tattoo Artist Salary

In the United States, the average tattoo artist makes $32.000 USD per year. (1)


(1), Average Tattoo Artist salaries, (visited Feb. 13, 2013)


Tattoo artists are most often paid on commission by the tattoo studio they represent. If a tattoo studio charges $150 per hour for the services of an artist, they will give the artist a percentage of that fee, typically ranging from 30% to 70%. Variables that affect commission levels for a tattoo artist are their level of skill, experience and their reputation as an artist.


It is also important to note that the fees tattoo studios charge also vary quite a bit according to these same variables; some studios may charge as little as $70 per hour, while others may charge upwards of $350 per hour.


Please Note:


An aspiring tattoo artist will typically begin their career as an apprentice, a position they may hold for one or two years. During this period, they may earn nothing, one hundred dollars a week, or maybe slightly more, however the latter is fairly uncommon. 



Where do Tattoo Artists Work?

Tattoo artists usually work for tattoo studios, rent chairs from tattoo studios, or they own their own studios. An aspiring or established artist may choose from these various options based on circumstance or preference, as each option has it's own set of drawbacks and benefits.


Working for a studio – Almost all tattoo artists must being their careers as an apprentice for a studio in order to gain experience. Artists who work for studios are typically paid in commission, earning 30-70% of their chair fees.


Pros: Working for a studio allows the artist to focus more on their work as an artist, as opposed to being concerned with the operations of the studio.

Cons: The artist is a de facto employee of the studio, and as such must adhere to various guidelines they set, such as pricing.


Renting a chair – A similar situation for working for a studio, with the main difference being that the employee pays a set fee to rent a space form the owner of the studio.


Pros: During busy periods, this means the artist doesn’t have to worry about losing hard earned money in a commission split with the owner of a studio.

Cons: During slow periods, a set fee is being paid to the owner of the studio, even if the artist isn’t earning as much revenue.


Owning a studio – Experienced tattoo artists may choose to open their own studio.



  • Creative control of the studio is entirely up to the owner
  • Revenue is earned from other artists in commission or chair rental fee form
  • If the studio is successful, the owner will realize great financial benefit


  • Tattoo artistry may take a secondary role to that of operating the studio
  • If the studio fails to meet sales targets, the owner is responsible for rent, supplies, equipment and all other overhead costs.



Work Conditions for Tattoo Artists

Although the work atmosphere of a tattoo studio may seem relaxed, the work itself can be anything but relaxing.


Inside the tattoo studio – the first thing you notice when walking into a tattoo studio, is other people getting tattooed. These individuals may be grimacing in pain, conversing with their tattoo artist, or some may even be sleeping. The walls are often covered in mirrors and various pictures of tattoos and other artwork. Music is playing more often than not; heavy metal, hip-hop, reggae, or almost any other type of music you can think of has been played in a tattoo studio.


Tattoo artists deal with a wide variety of clientele, and spend time directly with them for the duration of their tattoo insertion, as well as the initial consultation and any follow up appointments.


The work hours may vary, although many studios are open 6 or 7 days a week for 10 to 14 hours at a time. Depending on the arrangement with the studio owner, the tattoo artist may work just a few hours a day or at any time they have a client booked for a tattoo consultation or appointment. 




What is the Importance of a Good Tattoo Artist?

Tattoos aren't just for sailors and criminals anymore, people from all walks of life commission tattoo artists to create works of art for  them to display on their skin. Clients may seek the services of a good tattoo artist to help them commemorate the loss of a loved one; to express a deeply held belief or commitment to a person, group, team, country or ideal; or solely for the purpose of using their body to display artwork. Whatever the client’s goals and motivations, the artist is entrusted with creating a piece that the client will be proud to display on their body for the rest of their life.


Because these designs are permanent in nature, the artist must work with the client to ensure they are deeply satisfied with a proof of the design, prior to inserting the tattoo into the client’s skin. If the artist is caring and skilled, the client is likely to be highly pleased with the tattoo. However if the artist is sloppy and under-skilled, the client may look upon their tattoo with regret for the rest of their life. 



Is a Career as a Tattoo Artist Right for You?

  • • Many people get into the career because they thinks it’s glamorous, only to find out that it’s simply hard work.

  • • Highly refined artistic ability is crucial for success as a tattoo artist.

  • • The apprenticeship period can be very challenging financially, mentally and emotionally.

  • • Patience is required – to finish a piece can take hours of stressful concentration.

  • • Creating a piece that a client is very pleased with can be highly rewarding and result in a great sense of achievement.

  • • Dealing with an unsatisfied client can be extremely challenging.

  • • Dealing with customers who aren’t sure of what they want when they enter the studio can be very challenging, and may cause the artist to turn the customer away.



Careers Similar to Tattoo Artist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Tattoo Artist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


• Artist

• Cartoonist

• Costume Designer

• Fashion Designer

• Small Business Owner

• Stylist



Tattoo Artist Career Guide References

Please consult the following resources for more information on what tattoo artists do, how much they earn and other details surrounding the profession:



Getting a Job: I Want Your Job: Tattoo artist.” Alex McRae (September 20, 2007.). The Independent website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Blog:Starting A Career As A Tattoo Artist.” (November 5, 2015) Chronic Ink website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Fashion & Style:How To Become a Tattoo Artist.” Karen L. Hudson (May 30, 2019). liveaboutdotcom website. Retrieved January 14, 2019.



Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer


Scholarships for Becoming a Tattoo Artist

The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a tattoo artist. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Fine Arts Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Tattoo Artist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a tattoo artist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


Top Banner Image: 
Fine Arts