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

Skills Every Tattoo Artist Needs

Tattooing is an art form that requires a unique combination of technical and creative skills. While some of these skills can be learned through practice, others are innate and require years of experience to develop. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced tattoo artist, there are several essential skills you need to have to create beautiful and lasting tattoos.

Drawing and Design Skills

One of the most important skills that every tattoo artist needs is the ability to draw and design tattoos. Tattoo artists should be able to create original tattoo designs and modify existing designs according to their client’s preferences. They should also be able to work with a variety of styles, from traditional to modern, and be able to adapt their designs to fit different body types and shapes.

Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is another crucial skill for tattoo artists. They need to be able to work with precision to ensure that their designs are flawless and that the final product meets their clients’ expectations. Whether it’s getting the shading just right or ensuring that lines are straight and clean, tattoo artists need to be able to focus on the small details to create beautiful tattoos.

Knowledge of Anatomy

Tattoo artists must have a solid understanding of human anatomy to create tattoos that look great and are placed correctly on the body. They need to know how to position and adjust designs to fit different body types and shapes, as well as how to work around muscles and bones to ensure that the tattoo looks its best.

Communication Skills

Good communication skills are essential for tattoo artists to understand their clients’ preferences and to explain the tattooing process to them. They should be able to listen to their clients’ ideas and provide feedback and suggestions to ensure that the final tattoo is exactly what the client wants.

Sterilization and Safety

Tattoo artists must have knowledge of sterilization and safety procedures to prevent infections and ensure the safety of their clients. This includes using new needles for every client, properly cleaning and sterilizing equipment, and following proper sanitation practices to prevent the spread of disease.

Time Management

Tattoo artists need to be able to manage their time effectively to ensure that they can complete their work within the agreed-upon time frame. This includes scheduling appointments and managing multiple clients at once, as well as being able to work efficiently to ensure that the tattoo is completed in a timely manner.


Tattoo artists need to be adaptable to different styles and trends, and they should be able to work with a variety of clients and personalities. This requires being open to feedback and criticism, as well as being able to adjust their work to meet the needs and preferences of each individual client.

Tattoo Artist Education & Training

Formal education is not required to become a tattoo artist, but pursuing additional training and education can help artists refine their skills and succeed in the industry. Art and design programs at community colleges or universities are recommended, as they provide a solid foundation in art theory, color theory, composition, and different art styles.

A degree in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, or Illustration can also be helpful for tattoo artists, as these programs focus on developing technical and creative skills, which are directly applicable to tattooing. These degrees can also help artists gain a better understanding of different art styles and movements, which can inform their tattoo designs.


Apprenticeships are widely recognized as a valuable way for aspiring tattoo artists to gain the practical knowledge and experience necessary to succeed in the industry. During an apprenticeship, an aspiring artist works under the guidance and mentorship of an experienced tattoo artist, learning the craft through hands-on practice and observation.

Apprenticeships can provide a wealth of benefits for tattoo artists, including:

  • Hands-on experience: Apprenticeships allow artists to work directly with clients, gaining valuable experience in the entire tattoo process, from design to application to aftercare.
  • Mentorship: Apprentices work closely with experienced tattoo artists who can provide guidance, feedback, and support throughout the learning process.
  • Professional connections: Apprenticeships can provide opportunities for networking and building relationships with other professionals in the industry.
  • Exposure to different styles and techniques: Working with a variety of clients and artists can expose apprentices to different tattoo styles and techniques, expanding their knowledge and skill set.
  • Industry knowledge: Apprenticeships can provide valuable insights into the business side of the industry, including marketing, customer service, and legal considerations.

Tattoo Artist Licensing & Certification

Tattoo licensing and certification requirements can vary by state and local jurisdiction. It’s important for tattoo artists to research and comply with licensing and certification requirements to ensure they operate legally and safely, while also providing their clients with a high level of care and quality work.

In San Francisco, for example, practitioners who are engaged in tattooing, body piercing, or applying permanent cosmetics must obtain a permit from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. To obtain a practitioner permit, tattoo artists must provide a completed Application for Registration Card, a check for the application fee payable to the SF Department of Public Health, and copies of their driver’s license or photo ID, current Blood-Borne Pathogens Training Certificate, and Hepatitis Vaccination Certificate or completed Declination Form.

CPR Certification

In some states, tattoo artists are required to hold a CPR certification in addition to any other licensing or permitting requirements. To earn a CPR certification, individuals must successfully complete a certified first aid course at an accredited training facility, hospital, or health care facility.

These courses cover both theoretical and practical aspects of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, teaching individuals how to perform lifesaving measures if and when it is necessary in a tattoo studio or other settings. It’s important for tattoo artists to research the specific requirements in their state and ensure they hold all necessary certifications and training to provide a safe and healthy environment for their clients.

First Aid Certification

For tattoo artists in some states, it is mandatory to possess a complete first aid certification in addition to any other necessary licensing or permitting requirements. Earning a complete first aid certificate can provide tattoo artists with the necessary skills and knowledge to help in a medical emergency not just within the studio but also in their day-to-day life.

First aid courses cover a range of practical skills, including how to assist injured people during emergencies such as fractures, cuts, and choking. By obtaining a first aid certification, tattoo artists can help ensure the safety and well-being of their clients, as well as those around them in any emergency situation.

OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Certification

Tattoo artists must comply with OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standards, which aim to protect individuals who may be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials in their workplace. In order to meet these standards, tattoo artists must obtain and maintain a Bloodborne Pathogens Certification.

The certification program teaches tattoo artists how to identify bloodborne pathogens, such as Hepatitis B and HIV, and how to prevent the transmission of these diseases through proper sterilization techniques, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other safety measures. Additionally, tattoo artists must receive an annual refresher training to ensure they stay up-to-date with the latest safety procedures and regulations.

Hepatitis Vaccination

There is no federal law requiring tattoo artists to be vaccinated against any specific disease. However, some states or local jurisdictions may have specific requirements for tattoo artists to be vaccinated against certain illnesses, such as Hepatitis B, due to the nature of their work and the potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

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 $59,566 and can range from $30,000 to $118,00 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.

Additional Resources for Tattoo Artists

Tattoo Artist FAQ

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.

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.

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.
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.