9 Steps to become a tattoo artist

Last updated: May 20, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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9 Steps to become a tattoo artist
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How to become a tattoo artist in 9 steps

Are you a creative individual who has a love for art and design? Do you dream of pursuing a job where you’re free to use your artistic talent?

A career as a tattoo artist could be the perfect solution.

Becoming a tattoo artist takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and drive. But, it can be an extremely rewarding position where you get to meet people from different backgrounds with amazing stories.

In this article, we’ll discuss what a tattoo artist does, how much you can expect to earn, and give you the step-by-step process to become a tattoo artist.

What is a tattoo artist?

Tattoo artists, also known as tattooers and tattooists, apply permanent decorative tattoos on people’s bodies. They do this by embedding ink into the skin using special needles and equipment.

Every artist has their own process, but all of them generally start by sketching the design onto a piece of paper and stenciling it onto the person’s skin. If the client is happy with the placement and look of the design, the artist then proceeds to ink it into their skin.

The tattoo artist industry is growing and is worth $1.6 billion in 2023.

This makes it a great career choice with excellent job security.

What does a tattoo artist do?

Tattoo artists are responsible for performing various tasks on a day-to-day basis. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Working closely with clients to develop tattoo designs — including simple and elaborate designs, words, or patterns. Clients may ask them to come up with custom tattoos.

  • Scheduling appointments and discussing pricing with clients. They need to make sure that no double bookings are made.

  • Shaving various areas of the client’s body in preparation for tattoo applications.

  • Covering recently tattooed areas with sterile dressings to prevent infections and soreness.

  • Cleaning and sterilizing equipment to ensure health and safety standards are always maintained to prevent skin diseases. Also, maintaining a clean work environment that adheres to federal health regulations.

What skills are needed to become a tattoo artist?

There are some fundamental skills you need to become a successful tattoo artist. You can learn these skills if you don’t have them.

Interpersonal skills

You need to work well with people — including co-workers and clients. You’ll be spending a large portion of your day talking to clients, listening to their concerns, and reassuring them. There may be times when clients are nervous. It’s your job to make them feel at ease.

Here’s everything you need to know about interpersonal skills.

Art skills

If you have artistic abilities, you have the beginnings of what's needed to become a good tattoo artist. Since clients often want tattooists to create custom designs, you need to be able to visualize and draw designs without constantly referencing other images.

Attention to detail

Tattoos require a great deal of detail and care to go into them. Since tattoos are permanent, you need to be highly detail oriented to spot any mistakes in the stencil or drawing before it’s inked into the client’s skin.

Concentration skills

Going hand-in-hand with attention to detail, you also need to have excellent concentration skills to make sure you don’t make any mistakes. Ensure you keep your hand steady and have a clear mind when tattooing someone.

How much do tattoo artists earn?

According to close to 150 salary profiles recorded on Payscale, tattoo artists earn an average of nearly $100 per hour.

While this is an exceptionally high hourly rate, tattoo artists work on a booking basis. This means they usually don’t work for a set amount of hours every day. Instead, their working hours will differ based on the bookings they get. The median per-year earnings of a tattoo artist are $62,307.

Their salaries also differ depending on several factors, such as experience, skills, and location.

Experience

When it comes to experience, tattoo artists with 10–19 years of experience can earn over $50 more per hour than those with less than a year’s experience.

Skills

Specific skills can also help you earn more as a tattoo artist.

  • Marketing communications can help you earn 19% more than average.

  • Infectious disease knowledge can help you earn 13% more.

  • Design skills can help you make 11% more.

  • Customer service skills can help you earn 2% more.

Discover what hard skills are and how to highlight them to make it easier to land the job.

Location

Tattoo artists in certain cities earn more than those in other cities.

For example, those working in Portland earn around 26% more than average, and those who live in Dallas make about 31% more.

On the other hand, tattooists who work in Chicago can earn up to 43% less than average, and those who live in Phoenix earn 15% less.

9 steps to become a tattoo artist

Here's the step-by-step guide you can follow to ensure the best chances of success as a tattoo artist.

1. Get training in art

While you can become a tattoo artist by training yourself in art, getting formal art education or training is better. This can be done by earning a fine arts degree from a university, attending workshops, or partaking in a series of online art classes.

Formal art training will provide you with in-depth knowledge about the essential elements of design and will also allow you to explore different mediums.

Furthermore, it can allow you to develop your drawing, painting, and sculpting skills to become a developed artist.

2. Develop your drawing skills

While having a natural talent for drawing can work in your favor, you’ll have to hone your skills until they’re perfect.

You’ll need to frequently draw different designs in various drawing styles since clients will come to you with different needs and preferences. It’s critical to master basic drawing first before you start working on more complex designs.

3. Build a portfolio

Creating a portfolio is crucial when starting a career as a tattoo artist since it allows prospective mentors and employers to see your skill level.

Your portfolio should consist of your best drawings in various styles. These drawings should be eye-catching and need to be presented professionally.

Many aspiring tattoo artists use binders — displaying their drawings on different sheets of paper. Remember to include work that shows your versatility, including colored and black-and-white illustrations.

4. Work with an established tattoo artist

Next, you’ll need to find a mentor with years of experience in the tattooing industry. This way, they can teach you while you gain hands-on experience, implementing the techniques they show you.

Finding a mentor who works in a professional, reputable tattoo studio whose tattooing style interests you is best. You can show them your portfolio and ask them if they’d be willing to mentor you.

5. Complete an apprenticeship

To become a professional tattoo artist, you must complete a tattoo apprenticeship first. You can do your apprenticeship with your mentor or at a local tattoo shop offering internships.

Be sure to research the tattoo studio before applying for the apprenticeship. You need to take time to look at the artist’s work to see if their tattoo style suits yours.

The apprenticeship will provide critical insights into how a tattoo shop is managed and cleaned. It’ll also show you how to design tattoos and use and sterilize the tattooing equipment.

6. Obtain additional pre-license requirements

After your apprenticeship, you must get a few certifications or undergo specialized training courses to meet your state’s licensing requirements. Depending on your state, you may also be required to take classes on health and safety, disease control, etc.

Depending on your state, you may be required to get the following certifications:

  • First Aid Certification

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Certification

  • Blood-Borne Pathogen Certification

7. Get certified

Once you have all your pre-license requirements and have completed the necessary apprenticeship hours, you can apply for licensure.

The hours of training you need to qualify depend on the state you’re in. If your application is approved, you must pay a fee and pass the exam.

8. Buy tattooing equipment

Most tattoo studios require tattoo artists to use their own equipment, including skin pens, needles, tattoo guns, tubes, and ink sets.

You’ll also likely need to purchase your own hygienic products, such as alcohol wipes, bandages, cling wrap, and gloves. It’s helpful to keep these costs in mind before starting a position at a tattoo shop.

9. Start your tattoo artist career

Once you have your equipment, licensure, and adequate experience, you can apply for tattoo artist jobs. You’ll likely be able to find a position at the shop where you did your apprenticeship.

However, if you don’t, you can always go to local tattoo shops and ask if they have any open tattooist positions.

Alternatively, you can look for a job on our job board and search “tattoo artist” alongside your location in the search bar.

Once you have a job, it’s important to remember that practice makes perfect. The only way to master your skills and keep them sharp is to continue practicing.

You can choose to practice on fruit such as grapefruits, or you can practice on synthetic skin for more precise lines and shading. While both these are great options, nothing beats practicing on real skin.

So, if you have any family members or friends willing to let you practice on them, this is ideal. You can do it for free or offer special discounts to them.

FAQs about tattoo artistry

Can I be a tattoo artist if I can’t draw?

You need to be good at drawing to become a tattoo artist. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be a natural-born artist. Drawing is a skill that can be developed and perfected over time. You can develop your drawing skills by practicing daily, taking classes, attending workshops, etc.

Can you make a living as a tattoo artist?

The average tattoo artist earns close to $100 an hour. This makes it more than possible to make a good living doing tattooing.

The more clients you attract and book, the more money you’ll make. You can also choose to start by working as a tattoo artist part-time until you’re earning enough money to quit your primary job.

Is it hard to start a tattoo business?

Opening a tattoo shop is hard. However, you can do it with the right tools, dedication, training, and the necessary funding. It’s a good idea to start by working for a tattoo shop first.

Once you have enough experience and insights into managing a tattoo studio, you can consider opening your own shop.

Start your tattoo artist career

Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ll need to put in a lot of work, dedication, and time to complete your training, portfolios, and apprenticeship.

But, once you’re done following the steps outlined above and have your certification, you’ll be able to get a good job or can even decide to open your own business.

If you’d like to learn more about the arts industry, head over to our Resource Center to see what other people are asking about artistic careers.

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