How to become a tattoo artist

If you've got creative flair and a strong stomach, becoming a tattoo artist could be the business opportunity for you. Read our start-up guide to learn more

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Tattoos have been around since at least Neolithic times – but it's only in the past decade that the industry has really started to pick up pace.

Popular shows like Tattoo Fixers, have helped the art of tattooing more popular and mainstream than ever before, while Covid-19 has meant customers are embracing more impulsive, experience-led products and services.

Indeed, after battling lockdowns and closures, exciting things are ahead for tattooing parlours. EMR's global report estimates the market will grow 9.6% between 2022 and 2027.

So how should you go about entering this exciting space?

As with launching any new business, tattoo startups have plenty of factors to consider to ensure you're setting yourself up for success, from premises to payment systems.

But tattooing is also a heavily-regulated industry, which means there's lots of safety factors to consider. The UK government is currently investigating the health risks posed by tattoo inks, after the EU introduced a ban on some pigments last year.

Luckily, our experts are here to help. We've been working with small businesses for over twenty years, and we know all the tips, tricks, and hidden costs associated with starting a tattoo business.

We've done all the research, spoken to industry insiders, and come up with the below, easy-to-follow guide for becoming a tattoo artist. So take a seat, choose a transfer, and let's turn your idea into a reality.

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Becoming a tattoo artist: What's involved and who is it suited to?

tattooist

Tattooists are professional artists who design tattoos and apply them to bodies using specialist ink and needles.

Tattooing is a skilled job that requires proper training. Duties of a tattoo artist usually include:

  • Ensuring that clients have the necessary ID and making sure they have no allergies or medical issues
  • Consulting with clients to identify what type of design they want
  • Creating artwork based on the client’s requirements and wishes
  • Tracing the finalised design onto the client’s skin (this can be done freehand or by using a transfer)
  • Applying the tattoo
  • Providing detailed aftercare instructions
  • Sterilising all equipment and maintaining a clean environment
  • Ordering new inks, machine heads, needles, and golves

Given the nature of the role, artistic talent and creativity are essential to become a tattoo artist. After all, tattooing is an art form.

Other key skills and qualities required to become a tattoo artist include:

  • Excellent attention to detail
  • The patience and concentration to deal with long tattoo sessions
  • Good hand-eye coordination and a steady hand
  • High standards of cleanliness and an awareness of hygiene practices
  • Good communications and customer service skills
  • Good networking skills
How do I keep my business plan organised?

Starting a business is one of the biggest projects many of us will ever undertake. That's why it's important to manage your time properly,  so you don't lose track of your ideas or leads.

Project management software is a great way to stay on top of deadlines throughout the entire process, saving you both time and money. Read our guide to the top 6 project management platforms to find out more.

How much can you earn as a tattoo artist in the UK?

The amount you can earn as a tattoo artist in the UK varies depending upon a whole host of factors, making it somewhat difficult to determine your potential earnings.

Your earnings will typically depend upon things such as your level of experience and skill, whether you work for a studio or own your own studio, and what level of commission you agree to.

When you first start out as an apprentice, you can expect to earn very little.

Some studios offer their tattoo artists a basic rate of pay, plus commission from the tattoos they do. Other studios will require artists to rent a chair and essentially run on a self-employed basis.

If you work for a studio, your hourly rate will typically be split between you and the shop owner – varying from 50/50 split to 40/60 split in the studio owner’s favour.

Market analysis shows that the average salary for a tattoo artist in the UK is around £29.19 per hour, that’s £21,821 per year. Experienced tattoo artists can earn upwards of £30,000 to £60,000 a year.

Of course, well known and celebrity artists can charge up to £325 per hour for their artwork and tattooing services.

Also keep in mind that if you start your own tattoo studio, you’ll be able to set your own rates.

For tattoo studio owners the average annual salary is between £21,533 to £36,725, slightly more than their employees.

Other benefits of owning your own tattoo studio are that you can retain 100% of your hourly fees, as well as up to 70% for each of your employees. However, you must also absorb the cost of running the studio.

Tattoo artists usually work five or six days a week, including Saturdays, in order to facilitate when customers are available. Tattooists tend to schedule their work into short sessions throughout the day due to the levels of concentration and attention to detail involved.

Tattoo artist education requirements

There are no set entry requirements for becoming a tattoo artist but there are routes you can take that will make it easier to make it as a successful tattoo artist. Many tattooists start off through an apprenticeship.

Tattoo apprentice

If you’re interested in this path, you should start by approaching local tattoo artists to see if they would consider taking you on as a trainee. Tattoo studios will expect you to prove that you have a real interest in tattooing, as well as the necessary artistic and technical ability.

Simon Cooke is a professional tattoo artist who is sponsored by Barber DTS, a tattoo equipment supplier. He has won more than 40 awards worldwide and also appeared on E4’s Tattoo Artist of the Year.

Cooke told us that an ‘apprenticeship’ shouldn't be thought of as a formal qualification. “There are no rules or obligations and there isn’t a rite of passage to becoming a professional artist after a certain amount of time or a certain number of tattoos. It's all based on how much hard work you put in, how committed you are and ultimately how talented you are.”

As tattooing has become incredibly popular over the past few years, more apprenticeships have become available. However, competition for these apprenticeships has also increased significantly.

During your apprenticeship, you’ll be given all the necessary training you need to become a tattoo artist. This usually starts with spending the first few months cleaning and sterilising the equipment. You’ll also learn about design, human biology, preventing infections, and how tattooing physically works. Be prepared to wait some time before you’re allowed anywhere near the needles!

Simon advises that “hard work” will help you stand out to artists, more than talent: “Unfortunately, a lot of good tattoo artists are simply so busy with their own work, they won’t have the time to train someone new, so, it’s important that you encompass all the qualities they’re after. After all, artists won’t want to waste their time on someone who isn’t willing to put the effort in.”

Apprenticeships usually last around three years, depending on your skill levels and, of course, how quickly you learn. Once you’ve finished gained the necessary skills and experience, you can then think about starting up on your own.

If you’re looking for a tattoo artist apprenticeship, it’s worth consulting the government’s Find an Apprenticeship website for opportunities.

Design a portfolio

Another important step in your tattoo artist education is to design a strong portfolio to showcase your work to potential clients.

Simon Cooke says:When you hear ‘portfolio’, you might wonder how you’ll get one together having only just started out as a budding tattooist. But don’t worry, an apprentice’s portfolio is much different to that of an established artist.

“An apprentice should create a portfolio of drawings – the bones of what led them to becoming a tattooist in the first place. So, get a clean book with protective sheets and display your work with pride.”

It's a good idea to host your portfolio digitally, as this will make it easier for potential employers, or clients, to view.

Websites can be a great way to present your work in its best light, and exemplifies your keen eye for design.

Many of the best website builders for SMEs offer templates and features that are tailored to the needs of artists and designers. These tend to have smarter, more aesthetically-pleasing templates – good for showcasing work.

Below is our list of the top website builders for building a portfolio:

0 out of 0
BEST FOR
Overall Score
Based on our in-depth research and user testing
Visit

Squarespace

SmugMug

Format

Weebly

Adobe Portfolio

Design flexibility & businesses looking to scale

Building a photography portfolio

Opening an online store

Value for money

Adobe Creative Cloud users

4.8
3.9
3.8
4.0
3.3

However, if you'd prefer to think a bit smaller, then you don't necessarily need a professional website to build a portfolio.

Many of today's most popular tattoo artists use social media as their portfolios, such as a Instagram account like Barber DTS' below. These platforms already have huge audiences, so it will also be easier for potential customers to find you.

Barber DTS Instagram account

Barber DTS Instagram account

How do I build a website?

There are a lot of different website builders on the market and choosing the right one can be challenging.

To help you put, we've reviewed the top 7 website builders for small businesses to give you a simple, comprehensive breakdown of the options available based on our own expert research.

Licences and regulations for tattoo artists

Tattoo licensing

Get a license

According to health and safety regulations, you must register with your local council for a tattoo, piercing, and electrolysis licence (for both yourself and your premises if you’re opening your own studio).

This license covers:

  • Tattooing
  • Semi-permanent skin colouring
  • Cosmetic piercing
  • Electrolysis
  • Acupuncture

If your business will be based in Greater London, you must get a Special Treatments Licence from your council instead. As well as the activities listed above, this also includes:

  • Massages
  • Manicures
  • Chiropody
  • Saunas

Once you are licensed, you must only work in the premises where you’re licensed. You must also display a copy of your certificate (or licence) and any byelaws in a prominent place on your premises. If you fail to do so you could be fined.

Remember: it is illegal to work as a tattooist without being registered with your local council.

Meet health and safety regulations

As part of getting your license, you must also follow any local byelaws relating to staff hygiene and the safety and cleanliness of your premises, furniture and equipment. Your premises will usually be inspected before you get your license, to make sure that you are complying to these regulations.

Remember that the local environmental health department will carry out regular inspections of your business premises and equipment, so it’s important that you keep everything up to scratch.

Another important consideration when becoming a tattooist is your own health and safety, as well as your customers.

When you become a tattooist, you’ll also be required to get vaccinated against hepatitis and other vaccinations, which will need to be topped up with a booster shot every 10 years or so. Speak to your GP for further information.

For a more in-depth look at regulations surrounding becoming a tattoo artist and some great advice visit the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

Pro Team tattoo artist Simon Cooke, tells us that apprenticeships can be a good way to become knowledgeable about the industry: “Be a sponge and absorb all the advice and information you can from established artists.

“You never stop learning as an artist, and the most successful tattooists, depending on how you measure success, will constantly strive to learn more and better themselves.”

Get insurance

There is a lot that can go wrong with body art. Just look at the famous story of teenager Kimberley Vlaminck, who made international headlines after she apparently fell asleep in her tattoo chair. Kimberley claims she woke up with 56 stars permanently inked onto her face – after supposedly asking for 3. She's now suing the tattoo artist who completed the job.

There's no way of knowing whether Kimberley was telling the truth in this scenario. That's why, although most local councils don’t require a tattoo shop or artist to carry business insurance coverage, many professional shops and artists choose to be insured with liability insurance.

Professional liability insurance can help protect the artist if there is a mistake or issue that leads to a lawsuit where the customer sues the business for malpractice.

You can take a look at our business insurance category to see what other insurance services you might want to consider before opening your parlour.

How much does it cost to become a tattoo artist in the UK?

When you initially become a tattoo artist, you’re likely to be an apprentice. Some tattooist apprentices get paid a small amount, whilst others are required to pay their mentors.

It’s definitely worth looking in to this and ensuring you have a full understanding of what you’ll be required to pay (if anything) before you embark on your apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist.

Of course, with many more people looking to get a tattoo, and the industry continuing to grow markedly, there is an increasing demand for body art. This means you should be able to recoup your investment relatively quickly once you establish yourself as a tattoo artist.

To become a tattoo artist, you'll need to consider the following costs:

  • Supplies – If you want to tattoo, you’ll need equipment such as a power supply, a tattoo machine, various needles, and inks. You’ll also need additional supplies such as razor blades, stencils, rubber gloves, and a portfolio.
  • Furniture – Tattooists require specialised furniture and it’s always worth buying from companies that specialise in furniture for tattoo parlours.
  • Other costs – Expect to pay for your tattooing license, as well as essentials such as insurance, You’ll also need to allocate a budget for promoting and marketing yourself as a tattoo artist, as well as office essentials such as a cash register, safe, phone, computer, internet, etc.
  • Rent (if you're planning on opening a tattoo studio) – This is a variable cost that will depend on where you plan to open your tattoo studio and how large the space will be. As a general rule, rents in city centres are more expensive than those in rural areas and suburbs. Many commercial landlords will ask you to sign a lease in advance – you’ll pay rent monthly and there’ll also be costs involved in the signing of the lease.

Creating a tattoo artist business plan

Tattoo business owner

Becoming a tattoo artist can be a great home-based business, if you have the right equipment and facilities you can get customers to visit you. Running your tattoo business from home will also significantly reduce the costs of getting started.

However, to attract more customers and gain more exposure, many experienced tattoo artists decide to take the next step and open a tattoo studio.

If you’re considering opening your own tattoo studio, you’ll need a comprehensive business plan. This is an essential tool that will outline exactly how much financial capital is needed to open your studio, as well as forecasting future projections and profit.

How do I design a business plan?

Creating a business plan can be something of a daunting prospect, particularly if you’ve never done it before. But don't worry – there’s plenty of help out there.

Read our free and expert guide to writing a business plan to learn more about what to include.

Generally speaking, your business plan for becoming a tattoo artist will need to cover the following:

  • Type of tattoo business
    • Who will your customers be?
    • Where will your premises be?
    • Will you have more than one outlet?
    • What will your opening hours be?
    • Will you work by appointment only?
  • Your services
    • Will you offer any additional services such as design, re-colouring old tattoos, cover-ups, cosmetic tattooing, semi-permanent tattoos, or piercing?
  • Pricing
    • What will your pricing policy be?
    • How often will you review your prices?
    • Will you offer discounts, special offers, etc?
  • Market summary
    • What does the tattoo market look like at the moment?
    • How will you fit into this market?
    • Market segmentation
    • Competition
  • Marketing strategy
    • Who are your potential customers?
    • How will you reach them?
  • Sales strategy
    • How will you sell your services?
    • Sales forecast
    • Milestones
  • Management summary
    • Who will be running the studio?
    • What are their skills and experience?
    • Will you be employing any other members of staff?
  • Financial plan
    • Break even analysis
    • Projected profit and loss
    • Projected cash flow
    • Projected balance sheet

If you haven't completed one already then some of the above research can be carried out during your apprenticeship, as you learn the ropes of the industry.

Pro Team tattoo artist Simon Cooke, says: “Be sure to find out more about the industry you’re wanting to work in; the styles, the people. Imagine you’re in a mini interview situation, think about what you’re going to say and make sure you can explain exactly why you want to get into the art of tattooing.

“Research the kind of studios you’d like to work in and the artists you’d like to work under. Knowing a bit about the artists you’re speaking to will definitely win you some brownie points.”

For more information on becoming a tattoo artist, visit the Tattoo Club of Great Britain and the National Careers Service

The Startups Team
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