How to become a tattoo artist. Let your art blossom into a career
Think you might want to become a tattoo artist? As far as dream jobs go, it could be the ULTIMATE career if you adore body art and drawing. Have you got loads of creative ideas? Excellent customer service skills? Discipline with a capital Kat von D? If so, read on for the training, skills, qualities, salary and next steps involved.
What does a Tattoo Artist do?
Tattoo artists use motorised needles to place ink under a client’s skin. This results in lovely-looking permanent designs and script on the body.
DID YOU KNOW? Tattooing is a skilled job, and takes proper training. Tattoo artists start off in an apprenticeship. They’re also required by law to be registered to tattoo. Turning body art into your life’s work is a serious business!
A typical working day could involve…
- Meeting with clients to discuss tattoo designs and ideas
- Helping clients to fill out forms, making sure they have no allergies or medical issues, and checking their ID to make sure they’re over 18 years old
- Making double and triple sure that the client wants the design on their skin permanently
- Double-checking that the client is 100% happy with the design and placement
- Putting an outline of the design on the client’s skin to tattoo over. This can be done with a transfer, or by drawing it freehand
- Following the design while tattooing, using a motor-powered needle machine
- Using different needle types for shading, outlines, and colour
- Covering finished tattoos and giving clients detailed aftercare instructions. This may involve selling aftercare cream
- Using an autoclave to sterilise re-usable equipment. Cleanliness is so important! Used needles must be disposed of with extreme caution, and the workspace must be kept scrupulously clean
- Keeping up to date with tattoo trends and designs
- Ordering in new tattoo inks, machine heads, needles, and gloves
- Drawing up new designs for flash charts and for specially commissioned tattoo jobs
What are the pros and cons of being a tattoo artist?
- Becoming a tattoo artist is one of the most creative jobs going! For many, it’ll be the ultimate dream job
- You get to meet interesting people, and lots of them. Because tattooing usually takes at least a half an hour, you get to have some really interesting conversations with your clients
- The body art community tends to be really close-knit, so you’ll make friends. You’ll have repeat customers if you’re really good. You’ll also meet lots of other artists and piercers as you work. Meeting like minds and people you can relate to at work is always a career bonus!
- In your downtime, you can draw up your own tattoo designs, evolving your own style. Then you can display them in the studio
- You will, when learning, get to tattoo yourself (mostly on your legs and fee). Free tattoos!
- More and more tattoo conventions are popping up everywhere. These events can be excellent networking opportunities, as well as a good way to make some extra money. They tend to be really fun experiences, too.
- You can build a name for yourself over time. At the upper reaches of recognition for your body art skills, you’ve got the likes of Kat von D…
- The hours can be very long (including evenings and weekends). You might not get much in the way of breaks, either
- Tattoo artists run the risk of eye strain, sore backs, and wrist or finger strain. At worst, they can sometimes be exposed to infection, such as hepatitis, or even sometimes HIV. However, this is really rare now, as tattoo clients must inform artists if they carry such infections, and artists are usually vaccinated against infections
- You will, unfortunately, probably end up with friends pestering you for free tattoos. You will also encounter underage kids with fake IDs. Let’s not forget the countless number of people wanting their beloved’s name tattooed on them, and dozens of people wanting celebrity tattoos or other seen-it-all-before projects. Not every job is going to suit your style or test your talents.
What is a tattoo parlour like to work in?
Tattoo artists work in studios, usually alongside a few other artists (including body piercers). These studios frequently have a communal tattoo room or two. These rooms are usually well lit and ventilated, but they’re usually noisy because of the loud buzzing from the tattoo machines.
Your working hours can be very long, sometimes with long periods between appointments. You’ll regularly be working in the evenings and weekends.
How much does a tattoo artist earn?
As a rough salary guideline, you can make around £15,000 per year as a tattoo artist. This can depend on the studio’s location and reputation, as well as your level of skill and qualification.
Self-employed tattoo artists who own their own studios set their own rates.
Some chain studios will offer their tattoo artists a basic pay rate, plus commission from whatever tattoos they do.
You might also receive tips from happy clients, which can increase your salary.
Useful skills and entry qualifications
Do you love body art? Are you creative and artistic? Do you have good people skills, a steady hand and good eyesight? If you do, this could be the perfect career for you.
Skills, strengths and qualities:
- Loads of artistic skill and talent
- A creative flair, and lots of design ideas
- An eye for detail, colour and design
- Steady hands and good eyesight
- High levels of attention to detail
- Excellent communication and customer service skills
- Constant awareness of health and safety
- High standards of cleanliness
- Good networking skills
- IMPORTANT: A strong stomach! Tattooing usually results in all kinds of fluids – we’re talking blood, sweat, and sometimes even tears. What’s more, you might have to shave the body part to be tattooed. If you’ve any fears of blood, or touching other people’s skin, this might not be for you.
How to become a tattoo artist: getting started
You’ll need to apply for an apprenticeship to become a tattoo artist. Get friendly with the good people in your local studio. You can also have a look at the Find an Apprenticeship website for UK opportunities. Read on to see what you might expect from a tattoo artist apprenticeship.
Once you start working, you absolutely must register as a tattoo artist with your local health department. This is a legal requirement. If you don’t do it you could get yourself or your studio in a lot of trouble, so get it done.
Tattooing courses and training to build your career
Tattooing has grown enormously popular over the past few years, and more apprenticeships are becoming available. However, competition for these apprenticeships can be extremely high. This means you might have to wait a long time before you can become a tattoo artist and work in a studio.
Once you’ve got yourself an apprenticeship, you’ll be given all the training you need! Usually, the first six months to a year of an apprenticeship are spent cleaning and sterilising equipment. You’ll also learn about design, human biology, preventing infections, and physically how tattooing works. All the good things! Because there’s so much to learn, you do need to be patient. After all, it can be a long time before you’re allowed to even touch the needles. You’ll also watch a lot of people being tattooed before you get to have your turn. Remember – when you do start, you’ll be tattooing yourself first. All that patient watching and learning is in everyone’s interests, including yours!
Apprenticeships usually last around three years, depending on your skill levels and how quickly you learn. It can take five years or longer to become fully competent in tattooing.
It’s important to stay up to date with new tattoo technology. A great (and rather thrilling) way to do this is by attending conferences and tattoo shows. You can also join online tattoo clubs. If you want to become a tattoo artist who’s right beloved by their clients, you need to know the latest trends, techniques and any potential issues, too.
Bear in mind, too, that your vaccinations will have to be topped up every ten years or so with a booster shot. Your GP can give you more information about this.
Certain departments of health provide further training for tattoo artists who are already working. You’ll need to enquire with your local department for more information.
- Tattoo Club of Great Britain
- Tattooing page: Chartered Institute of Environmental Health
- Find an Apprenticeship