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How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make

Are you thinking about embarking on a career as a tattoo artist?

It is no secret that you need to have art skills and a steady hand to do this job. You also need to be able to concentrate for long periods. Because the average price of tattoos is fairly high, most people assume this career is well-paid. However, there are a large number of factors that you need to take into account. 

So, let’s find out, ‘how much do tattoo artists make?’

Tattoo Artist Job Description 

There is much more to working as a tattoo artist than simply putting ink on the skin. When you meet a new client, you need to take time to work out exactly what they want. Some have a very clear vision, while others will want you to make suggestions.

This is a collaborative experience, and you need to have strong listening and communication skills. Some clients will spend hours looking through books of images to find the perfect tattoo. Others may want you to design a unique image based on their vision.

Sterilized equipment is crucial!

Before you get started, you need to make sure the room you are working with is clean and sterilized. You also need to make sure that all industrial equipment is sterilized following health regulations. You will need a collection of different types of inks, needles, and other equipment.

During the process, you need to make sure your client is as relaxed and comfortable as possible. Some tattoos only take a few minutes to complete, while others can take multiple hours divided into several sessions. While a simple image or phase can cost less than $100, large and elaborate images can cost thousands of dollars. 

Factors To Consider

The cost of tattoos is usually calculated according to the amount of time they take and the cost of materials. The rate can vary widely. Here are some of the main factors that will determine your hourly rate as a tattoo artist

Experience and skill level

Most tattoos are permanent, and clients need to know that they are in safe hands. The more experience and skill you have, the more you will be able to charge for your time. Experienced artists can charge more than novices. 

Experience and skill level


It is important to work on establishing your reputation and building on it. Maintaining a good relationship with clients is likely to lead to referrals. This is a good way to make sure you always have plenty of work lined up. If clients have to book an appointment, you can charge a little more for your time. 


It is worth taking the time to complete specialist training and hone your skills. Your hourly rate will be based on your training and educational background to a certain extent. Showing that you put in the time to get qualified will give clients confidence in your skills. 


General salaries are higher in some parts of the United States than in others. Where you live and work will have an impact on how much you can charge. If you are planning on moving to another state, it is worth taking the amount you can charge into account. 

Work speed

The more quickly you can work, the more money you will be able to make in a single day. Of course, it is important to make sure that your speed doesn’t compromise the quality of your work. It is worth investing in quality equipment that will help you complete tattoos more quickly. 

Shop ownership

Earning your own shop is one of the best ways to boost your income. This allows you to set your own rates and keep all of the profits. However, you need to have a head for business. Once your shop becomes popular, you will be able to employ a team of tattoo artists. This will allow you to cater to more clients and earn even more. It is best to start small and expand slowly.

The average rate that clients pay per hour for tattoos is around $150 per hour. Of this, you will need to pay your artists around $40 or $50 per hour. Even after paying other overheads, you can still receive an impressive hourly rate by operating your own shop. 

Clientele size

The most clients you work with, the higher your income will be. Artists who are constantly working throughout the day naturally make more money. The time you spend sitting around waiting will dramatically eat into your earning potential. 

Types of tattoos

There are lots of different styles of tattoos, and some pay much more than others. The rate for your work will depend on how intricate it is and the demand for it. If you are one of a handful of people offering a certain style, you can usually charge a higher rate. 

All About Location

The part of the country you live in can have a big impact on how much you can earn. The hourly tattoo artist salary is much higher in some than others. Let’s take a closer look at the states and cities where you can earn the most as a tattoo artist.

All About Location

San Mateo, California

If you live in the city of San Mateo, you could score the highest salary for this role. The typical annual salary for a tattoo artist in this city is $120,000. This translates to a little over $58 per hour. Professionals who live in this city beat the national average by an impressive 20%.

Boston, Massachusetts

The average annual salary for this role in Boston is nothing to sneeze at. If you work full-time, you can expect to earn around $117,000. This is around $57 per hour.

Santa Monica, California

If you already live in the state of California, it is worth considering making a move to Santa Monica. If you land a full-time job, you could make around $116,000 per year. This is approximately $56 per hour.

Other cities where you can earn a high salary include:

  • Renton, Washington State
  • Berkeley, California
  • Daly City, California

Independent Contractors vs. Employees

Deciding whether to work for yourself or an employer can have a big impact on your earning potential. If you work as an employee, you will usually receive a fixed daily or hourly rate. This is a good option when you are getting started, as you will get paid even when there are no clients.

Once you have made a name for yourself, your work will be in demand. You will eventually have clients who book appointments for your time and work. Once you reach this level, it makes more sense to work for yourself as an independent contractor.

Independent Contractors vs. Employees

Going independent…

Independent contractors have much more freedom to set their own work schedules and rates. You can work out of several different shops if you want and simply pay a commission for using the space. You will receive a Form 1099, which you will use to report your income and pay self-employment tax. 

This is also a good option if you are not interested in running your own business. You will not have to take care of the shop overheads or the other responsibilities of a business. You simply need to show up at an established shop at certain times and create artwork for your clients. 

Male vs. Female 

Although the world is slowly evolving, your gender can still have an impact on your earning potential. The Equal Pay Act was not passed until 1963, and women still typically earn a lot less than men. Up until 1972, women were prevented from working in certain fields, and there were no female tattoo artists.

Although discrimination over pay has been minimalized, female tattoo artists can have trouble finding work. It can be difficult for people with no prior experience to secure an apprenticeship. Women typically have to work much harder to make connections and secure their first job. 

Discrimination to advantage!

While there is still discrimination in the workplace, many female tattoo artists can turn it to their advantage. Many women feel more comfortable getting tattooed by another woman. This is particularly true if they want to get ink on an intimate part of their body. 

Women who know how to make connections and market their skills can secure consistent work and higher-paying clients. 

How To Become A Tattoo Artist?

Like most artistic careers, there is a lot of competition in this industry. You need to work hard to gain the necessary skills and market those to potential clients. Here are the steps you should take to become qualified and secure work. 

How To Become A Tattoo Artist

Learn to draw

You need to have strong artistic skills to get paid to create tattoos for clients. Your line work needs to be clear and accurate. You also need to be able to create a range of different types of sketches.

It is a good idea to take a professional drawing class to learn and hone the necessary skills. There are plenty of online classes that you can enroll in for a small fee. You can also watch tutorial videos on YouTube to learn different techniques that will help increase your abilities. 

Practice, practice, practice

Common wisdom states that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. The more time you spend drawing, the faster your skills will develop. It is important to dedicate a few hours each day to practicing drawing and developing your skills. 

Create a portfolio

Any artist needs a portfolio full of original designs. This shows potential clients and employers what you can do. It is best to fill it with different styles of original images and update it often. 


Although you do not need any formal skills to find work, earning a degree is a good way to develop them. A fine art degree will give you plenty of time to practice drawing while also teaching you other techniques. If you plan on working for yourself someday, classes in business, accounting, and marketing can be very useful.  

Complete an apprenticeship

You will learn additional practical skills and gain experience during an apprenticeship. This usually involves working directly under an experienced tattoo artist. You will spend time observing your mentor and practicing on silicone skin. 

Apply for licensing

There are different licensing requirements in each state. You will need to complete pre-licensing certifications as part of your apprenticeship. It may also be necessary to obtain a Blood Borne Pathogen Certification to demonstrate your knowledge of health and safety guidelines.

Find your first job as a Tattoo Artist

Once you have completed an apprenticeship and gained the necessary certifications, it’s time to find work. If you impressed the artists during your apprenticeship, you might be able to start working at their shop. Otherwise, you will need to do a little networking to find a suitable spot. 

Find your first job as a Tattoo Artist

Find your niche

Once you have gained experience, it is a good idea to specialize in a particular style. This will allow you to hone your skills and gain a reputation for offering a certain type of tattoo. Once you have done this, you can attract clients who are searching for that particular type of artwork.

Get Your Resume Ready To Apply!

No matter what job you’re going for, an immaculate resume is essential! So, take a look at my guides on how to list Job Titles On ResumeDoes A Resume Need An Objective, and How To List References On A Resume, as well as the Best Opening Statement Examples For Resumes and How To Write A Letter of Interest.

Secondly, you might want to know the difference between a CV vs Resume, or check out our Motivation Letter Writing Guide, along with How Many Years You Should Go Back On A Resume, the Most Important Skills To Put On A Resume, and How To Address A Cover Letter in 2023.

I’ve also included my Best Resume Format GuideHow To List Education On A Resume, and Achievements To List On Your Resume, followed by How Long Should A Resume Be, what Hobbies Interests To Put On Resume, and How To Show A Promotion On Your Resume.

Final Thoughts

If you have a flare for design, becoming a tattoo artist can be a rewarding career. However, it takes time and commitment to learn the necessary skills and become qualified. Fortunately, this dedication is reflected in the salary that you can command.

The average salary for a tattoo apprentice is around $64,000 per year. The salary goes up considerably once you have gained skills and experience. The most famous and popular tattoo artists in the United States can charge up to $500 per hour for their work.

All the very best working as a Tattoo Artist!

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