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
The key steps in learning how to become a tattoo artist are:
- 08 | Develop a USP
- 08 | Get a website
- 09 | Start marketing!
Tattoo art is nothing new; tattooists have been inking their clients’ bodies with beautiful and intriguing designs for thousands of years.
However, as tattoos have become more popular and mainstream – thanks to changing attitudes, awareness through popular shows like Tattoo Fixers, and tatoo expos popping up across the UK – the level of interest in a career as a tattoo artist is increasing significantly.
Here’s our guide to becoming a tattoo artist…
Becoming a tattoo artist: What's involved and who is it suited to?
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
- A strong stomach!
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. 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.
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!
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.
Our tattoo artist insider says: “I studied art at school but had never really considered tattooing as a career – it just wasn’t an option that I knew was available to me. When I was 19, I got my first tattoo and that’s when I developed a keen interest in becoming a tattoo artist. I started designing tattoos for myself and my friends and managed to build up a decent portfolio.
“I got to know my tattooist and was lucky enough to secure an apprentiship working alongside him – I’ve never looked back! I love being able to be creative every day and see my art brought to life on my clients’ bodies.”
“I didn’t realise how much hard work my apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist would be! For the first 12 months or so, I spent a lot of time cleaning, watching the other tattooists, and learning how the studio worked. During this time, I was paid around £100 per week, which was pretty high given that many apprenticeships are unpaid.
“Eventually, I got the work on clients with old tattoos who wanted them re-working, and it wasn’t until I’d been doing it for a further 12 months that I was able to start doing my own designs. It felt like such a long wait at the time, but it was definitely worth it!”
If you’re looking for a tattoo artist apprenticeship, it’s worth consulting the government’s Find an Apprenticeship website for opportunities
Licences and regulations for tattoo artists
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).
It’s illegal to work as a tattooist without being registered with your local council, so this is essential.
As well as a tattoo, piercing and electrolysis licence, 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.
You'll also need to get insurance – take a look at our business insurance category for what to consider.
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
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.
Advice from our tattoo artist industry insider? “If you’re thinking about starting your own tattoo studio, I’d definitely advise you to sit down and really think about how much it will cost to avoid any nasty surprises! Things are so much easier to deal with if you’re able to plan accordingly.”
Creating a tattoo artist business plan
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.
Creating a business plan can be something of a daunting prospect, particularly if you’ve never done it before, but there’s plenty of help out there and you can download your free business plan template here.
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?
- 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
- Marketing strategy
- Who are your potential customers?
- How will you reach them?
- Sales strategy
- How will you sell your services?
- Sales forecast
- 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
On creating a business plan, our tattoo artist insider comments: “I’d been thinking about starting my own tattoo studio for a number of years, but I’d never really been brave enough to go for it. The business plan was one of the things that was putting me off becoming a tattoo artist – I knew I’d need one but I didn’t even know where to start.
“I read lots of advice and guidance and, when I eventually put pen to paper, it was a lot easier than I’d imagined! It’s just about thinking about the business you want to start, how it’s going to work, and how it’s going to make money. The hardest bit is taking the first step and making a start on your plan!”