Tattoo Artist

Discover the steps to become a skilled tattoo artist, from honing your drawing skills to earning your license. Your artistic future begins here.
Tattoo Artist

While tattoo art has been a part of human culture for thousands of years, with evidence of tattoos found on mummies dating back to ancient Egypt, it is only in recent years that tattoos have gained mainstream popularity as a form of self-expression and art. In the past, tattoos were often associated with criminal behavior or deviance and were not widely accepted in many parts of the world. However, today, tattoo art has evolved into a modern art form, with skilled tattoo artists achieving celebrity status and their appointment calendars filling up months in advance.

If you’re passionate about tattooing and want to pursue a career as a tattoo artist, there are a few things you should know. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the career of a tattoo artist, from what a tattoo artist does to the skills you’ll need to succeed. We’ll also discuss job requirements, salary expectations, and more.

What Is a Tattoo Artist?

A tattoo artist is a professional who creates permanent designs on the skin using specialized equipment like tattoo machines, needles, and ink. They go beyond just applying ink, as they are skilled artists who bring intricate and detailed designs to life on different body parts. To become a successful tattoo artist, one must have a deep understanding of the art of tattooing, including the technical aspects such as line work, shading, and color theory.

They must also be familiar with different styles of tattooing, to ensure they can provide a range of options for their clients and cater to individual preferences. Some popular styles include traditional, neo-traditional, Japanese, black and grey, and realism. Having knowledge of these different styles enables tattoo artists to create custom designs that are unique and meaningful to each client. Additionally, staying up-to-date with emerging trends and techniques within the industry is also crucial to offering high-quality, modern tattoo designs.

What Does a Tattoo Artist Do?

A tattoo artist’s job involves much more than just drawing designs onto skin. They work closely with their clients to ensure that their tattoos meet their preferences and specifications. This involves consulting with clients to discuss design ideas, placement, and size of the tattoo. Once the design is finalized, the tattoo artist will draw or stencil it onto the client’s skin, selecting appropriate colors and shades of ink. They must also prepare the equipment and the client’s skin for the tattooing process.

During the actual tattooing process, the tattoo artist uses various techniques such as line work, shading, and color blending to apply the tattoo. They must monitor the client’s comfort and well-being during the process to ensure a safe and positive experience. After the tattoo is complete, the tattoo artist will advise clients on aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing of the tattoo. This includes keeping the tattoo clean and avoiding activities that may irritate the skin.

Additional duties and responsibilities include:

  • Select appropriate colors and shades of ink
  • Monitor the client’s comfort and well-being during the tattooing process
  • Maintain a clean and sanitary workspace, including sterilizing equipment and disposing of hazardous waste properly
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest techniques, equipment, and trends in the industry
  • Build and maintain a portfolio of their work to showcase their skills and attract new clients
  • Manage appointments and maintain client records
  • Adhere to safety regulations and ethical standards in the practice of tattoo art.
  • Educate clients on the risks and potential complications of getting a tattoo

Summary of Steps

Steps to Become a Tattoo Artist

Becoming a tattoo artist is a creative journey that involves mastering various skills and gaining hands-on experience. Below, we’ll outline the key steps to guide you on your path to becoming a skilled tattoo artist. Whether you’re a budding artist or looking for a career change, these steps will help you navigate your way to success in the tattoo industry.


Learn How to Draw

Start by honing your drawing skills to develop a strong foundation in artistry.


Get an Art Education

Consider formal art education to expand your creative knowledge and techniques.


Establish Basic Skills

Focus on fundamental skills like shading and line work to excel in tattooing.


Build a Portfolio

Create a diverse portfolio showcasing your artwork and tattoo designs.


Become an Apprentice

Seek an apprenticeship to gain hands-on experience under a mentor’s guidance.


Earn Your License

Complete licensing requirements, which may include exams and health and safety certifications.

Steps in Detail

1. Learn How to Draw

The key to creating a great tattoo begins with a visually appealing drawing, so it’s essential that you focus on improving your drawing skills and illustration techniques before you even think about designing tattoos or attempting to practice tattooing. Here’s how you can get started.

Practice Drawing On Your Own

The first thing you can do to get started is to begin drawing on your own. Keep a sketchbook and a pencil handy to draw in your free time; you don’t need anything else to take that initial step. Draw things you see, things you think, and things other people describe. Get a feel for whether you truly enjoy drawing and creating art, especially art for other people. Since you’ll be drawing requests most of the time, it’s important that you’re comfortable creating art that meets the specifications of others.

Study the Work of Famous Tattoo Artists

A great way to get a feel for the art of tattooing is to study the work of notable tattoo artists. Find famous artists with different types of art styles and explore what they’ve been able to create with ink and a tattoo gun. See what jives with you and what the market feels like for the kind of tattoos you want to do. Popular tattoo artists include Mirko Sata, Chris Nunez, Miya Bailey, Gerhard Wiesbeck, Frank CarrilhoRit Kit, and Stanislaw Wilczynski.

2. Get an Art Education

If you’re serious about a career as a tattoo artist, it’s important to seek out opportunities to become a well-rounded artist. It’s important to be realistic about your financial situation and to assess your skills as an artist so you can make a decision about whether to pursue a traditional art degree, training at a master tattoo institute, classes at a community college, or the self-taught route. The bottom line is, that the more time you spend developing your skills, the better artist you will be. Tattoo artists aren’t required to have a formal education or even a high school diploma, so this step is a big decision. Weigh the pros and cons of each.

3. Establish Basic Design Skills

While considered by many to be a less traditional art form, tattooing still encompasses all the basic tools of design. It’s important that you have a robust knowledge of how different design elements work together and how they impact each other, regardless of whether you choose to obtain an education or go the self-taught route. You should:

Learn the Basic Elements of Graphic Design

Whether you obtain an education in art or develop your drawing skills through experience, it’s critical to master the basics of graphic design. You’ll need to learn the theories of line, shape, texture, color, value, and size. You’ll also need to learn how to apply those theories on paper to create the image you want, how to stencil, and eventually, how to execute your designs on human skin.

Learn the Principles of Graphic Design

Other essential skills to master are the principles of graphic design, such as balance, alignment, repetition, proximity, contrast, and space. These principles help to build the foundation of art itself and no drawing is complete without them. How each manifests differs greatly from piece to piece, so it’s crucial to develop a strong ability to manipulate these principles in a wide variety of ways.

4. Build a Portfolio

An art portfolio is by far one of the most important tools in a tattoo artist’s belt. It allows prospective mentors to quickly look at your best work, so they can decide if your particular art style is what they’re looking for in an apprentice. How you put your portfolio together impacts the impression it has on your potential mentors, so make sure you:

Create a Professional Portfolio

Your portfolio should be both attention-grabbing and professional looking. Don’t use an old binder you found lying around or a single manila folder for all your art. Instead, use a new three-ring binder with sheet protectors, or have the pages matted. The outside of your portfolio should look sleek, uniform, and inviting.

Include the Right Work

Put 25 to 100 completed drawings and tattoo designs in your portfolio; these can be either copies or original works. Make sure that the pieces you choose to include do an excellent job of showcasing your versatility as an artist. Include a few examples of work you have completed in black and grey, even if your strongest work is typically composed of colorful illustrations. Even if the piece may not necessarily translate well into a tattoo, it will demonstrate that you have strong technique and have the talent for designing tattoos.

5. Become an Apprentice

Once you’re confident about your drawing skills and ability to design attractive tattoos, it’s time to gain hands-on experience and to start applying the techniques you’ve learned in a real-world environment. Tattooing isn’t something you can learn from a book; it’s critical to work with an experienced mentor who has been working successfully in the trade for many years and who is able to take you under their wing. Here’s what to keep in mind when finding a tattoo artist to work with:

Works at a Reputable Tattoo Shop

It’s important to do your due diligence when searching for a tattoo artist to apprentice under. Make sure they abide by basic hygiene guidelines and have plenty of clients. Avoid tattoo shops that seem to be empty, who can’t tell you about their hygiene practices, or that you just get a bad vibe in.

Has Mentored an Apprentice Before

Mentoring is difficult even for the most seasoned tattoo artist. Look for someone who has taken an apprentice before, so they have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. The artist you choose as a mentor should be able to challenge you, hold you accountable, and push you past your limits. Don’t choose a mentor who seems too easy to please; a laissez-faire approach won’t help you in the long run.

6. Earn Your License

After your apprenticeship, you’ll need to get a few certifications and/or go through specific training courses to meet your state’s tattoo licensing requirements. Depending on your state, you may also need to take classes in disease control, health and safety, and other basic health care concepts. These include:

A Blood Borne Pathogen Certification

Since the canvas of a tattoo artist is human skin it is essential that they follow strict health and safety guidelines. Preventing blood borne pathogens from being spread and working to preserve the health of the client and the artist will be a focal point of your training. You will be required at some point during, or after your apprenticeship program, to become certified in how to prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other infections while creating a tattoo, and you’ll need to be able to show proof of blood borne pathogen certification upon request.

Training on Skin Diseases, Communicable Diseases, and Disease Prevention

Many blood borne pathogen certification programs require you to go through classes or seminars on disease management before you can become certified, while others simply require you to pass a test that demonstrates your knowledge. As a tattoo artist, you should have a robust knowledge of the types of diseases that can be spread through tattooing and how to prevent them.

Check Your State Requirements

Licensing requirements often vary by state and local jurisdiction. For example, tattoo artists in Oregon must complete no less than 360 hours of training with an approved tattoo artist and 50 tattoos, as well as pass a written exam and skills assessment to become licensed. In other states, only the shop needs a license. Review your state’s requirements for licensure, as well as the requirements for any other state you plan to tattoo in. Like healthcare, you can be licensed to tattoo in more than one state as long as you meet that state’s requirements.
$ 27 +
Per Hour
$ 57117
Mean Annual Wage
$ 88000
Top 90%

Tattoo Artist Salary

A tattoo artist’s salary can vary widely depending on several factors. The first factor is their skill and ability to create high-quality tattoos. As they gain more experience and build their portfolio, they can attract a larger client base and charge higher rates. Tattoo artists who specialize in certain styles or who have a unique artistic vision may be able to command even higher rates.

In terms of actual figures, the average salary of a tattoo artist in the United States is $57,117 and can range from $30,000 to $137,500 per year, with some artists earning significantly more. Entry-level tattoo artists typically earn a lower salary than those with more experience. However, as they build their portfolio and reputation, they can earn more by attracting a larger client base and charging higher rates. Location is also an important factor, as tattoo artists working in urban areas with higher demand for tattoos may be able to charge more than those in less populated areas.

Tattoo Artist FAQ

How long does it take to become a tattoo artist?

The amount of time it takes to become a tattoo artist can vary depending on several factors, including the individual’s natural talent, dedication, and the amount of time they can commit to their training.

Typically, aspiring tattoo artists undergo an apprenticeship program that lasts anywhere from one to three years. During this time, they learn the necessary skills and techniques for tattooing, including machine handling, needle and ink selection, sterilization procedures, and proper safety protocols.

Can anyone become a tattoo artist?

In theory, anyone can become a tattoo artist if they are willing to put in the time, effort, and dedication required to develop the necessary skills and techniques. However, becoming a successful tattoo artist takes more than just having a desire to create tattoos.

Most reputable tattoo shops require their artists to complete an apprenticeship program or formal education in art or design. This means that becoming a tattoo artist requires a significant investment of time and money, as well as a willingness to work hard and learn from experienced professionals. Ultimately, while anyone can try their hand at tattooing, becoming a skilled and successful tattoo artist requires a combination of natural talent, hard work, and a commitment to ongoing learning and improvement.

Are there any risks associated with getting a tattoo?

Yes, there are some risks associated with getting a tattoo, such as the potential for infection, allergic reactions to ink, scarring, and the transmission of blood-borne diseases. It’s important to choose a reputable tattoo artist and shop, ensure proper hygiene and sterilization practices are followed, and carefully follow aftercare instructions to minimize these risks. It’s also important to consider the potential long-term effects of tattoos, such as fading, distortion, or changes to the skin over time.

Can tattoos be removed?

Yes, tattoos can be removed through various methods such as laser tattoo removal, surgical excision, and dermabrasion. However, the effectiveness and potential risks of each method vary, and complete removal may not always be possible. The process can also be expensive, time-consuming, and painful. It’s important to carefully consider the decision to get a tattoo and choose a design that you’ll be happy with for the long term.