From Aspiring Artist to Tattoo Professional: A Complete Guide to Launching Your Tattoo Career

From Aspiring Artist to Tattoo Professional: A Complete Guide to Launching Your Tattoo Career


Embarking on the journey to become a tattoo artist unlocks a path not only to a creative and fulfilling career but also to a role steeped in cultural significance and artistry. This profession requires more than just the ability to create beautiful tattoo drawings; it demands a deep understanding of tattoo application and a commitment to mastering the craft. Whether you are intrigued by the artistic aspect or motivated by the potential tattoo artist salary, diving into this field comes with its set of challenges and rewards. Leveraging a blend of technical skill, creativity, and interpersonal abilities, becoming a successful tattoo artist is an attainable goal for those who are dedicated.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the essential steps on how to become a tattoo artist, from honing your artistic skills to obtaining a tattoo licence. Understanding the role of a tattoo artist is just the beginning. You'll learn about the crucial skills and qualities needed, the training and qualifications required, including the importance of a tattoo apprenticeship, and how to build a convincing portfolio. Additionally, we'll provide insight into gaining work experience, which is key to your development and success in the industry. Finally, we'll discuss career progression, potential earnings, and how much does a tattoo artist make, offering you a clear vision of what to expect as you embark on this exciting career path.

Understanding the Role of a Tattoo Artist

Overview of the Tattoo Artist Career

As you consider a career as a tattoo artist, it's essential to grasp the full scope of the role. Tattoo artists are professionals who design and apply tattoos to clients' skin using specialised equipment. This career is not only about artistic skill but also involves understanding strict hygiene procedures and client care.

Common Misconceptions about Tattooing

Many people hold misconceptions about tattooing, which can lead to misunderstandings about the profession. One common myth is that tattooing is an easy skill to learn, which is far from the truth. Tattooing requires a deep understanding of art, skin biology, and meticulous technical skill. Another misconception is that being a tattoo artist doesn't provide a stable income. However, with dedication and the right skills, it can be a very rewarding career, both creatively and financially.

Essential Skills and Qualities

Artistic Skills

To excel as a tattoo artist, your artistic skills are paramount. You must be able to sketch designs, understand colour theory, and adapt styles to meet client preferences. This artistic proficiency ensures that each tattoo you create is not only aesthetically pleasing but also aligns with the client's vision.

People Skills

Interacting effectively with clients is crucial. You need to communicate clearly to understand their needs and manage expectations. Excellent people skills help in building rapport, ensuring client comfort during tattoo sessions, and potentially securing repeat business.

Attention to Detail

Precision in tattooing is non-negotiable. Every line and shade in your design impacts the overall quality and client satisfaction. Your keen attention to detail ensures that each tattoo is executed with the highest standards, minimising errors and enhancing intricate design elements.

Manual Dexterity and Hand-Eye Coordination

The physical ability to handle tattoo equipment with steady hands is essential. Manual dexterity and superior hand-eye coordination allow you to implement precise designs smoothly and efficiently, which is critical for both the artistic and safety aspects of tattooing.

Training and Qualifications Required


To become a tattoo artist, one of the most traditional and effective paths is through apprenticeships. Apprenticeships allow you to learn directly under the guidance of experienced artists. This hands-on training is crucial for gaining real-world experience in tattoo application techniques, client interaction, and studio operations. It's a time to hone your skills while understanding the intricacies of tattoo safety and hygiene.

Short Courses

In addition to apprenticeships, considering short courses can be beneficial. These courses often focus on specific areas such as tattoo design, colour theory, or sanitary practices. They are typically offered by specialised tattoo academies or community colleges and can vary in duration from a few days to several months. Short courses are excellent for brushing up on certain skills or getting updated with the latest tattooing technologies and trends.

Vocational and Academic Qualifications

While not always mandatory, possessing formal qualifications can enhance your credibility as a tattoo artist. Vocational qualifications might include certificates or diplomas in fine arts, graphic design, or similar fields that contribute to your artistic skills. Some regions may also require a formal tattoo license, which often necessitates passing a written exam and proving competency in health and safety standards related to tattooing. Academic courses in art and design not only refine your artistic abilities but also provide a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of tattooing, which can enrich your work and client consultations.

Building a Portfolio

To establish yourself as a promising tattoo artist, assembling a compelling portfolio is crucial. This portfolio not only showcases your artistic prowess but also signifies your professional approach. Here are key aspects to focus on:

Creating Art Regularly

Your portfolio should be a collection of your finest artwork, demonstrating your ability to produce designs that are immediately ready for tattooing. Each piece should be presented on its own paper within your portfolio, reflecting your dedication and attention to detail.

Documenting and Showcasing Work

Opt for a professional-looking black folder to house your portfolio; black denotes professionalism and helps make a strong first impression. It's advisable to use quality materials for your portfolio setup, including the right type of paper suitable for the medium you are using. This attention to detail showcases your seriousness about your craft. Additionally, including a mix of black & grey and colour works can demonstrate your versatility, a trait highly valued in the tattoo industry [1].

Relevant Work Experience

Highlighting your ability to design tattoos that cater to current trends can significantly enhance your portfolio's impact. Engage in research to understand what styles are currently in demand in your area. This can be achieved by reviewing social media profiles of local tattoo shops to identify popular designs and techniques [1]. Demonstrating your capability to create art that aligns with market demands shows potential mentors and employers that you are not only a skilled artist but also a valuable business asset.

By curating your portfolio with diverse, high-quality artwork and demonstrating an understanding of market trends, you position yourself as a well-rounded candidate ready for an apprenticeship and, ultimately, a successful career in tattooing.

Gaining Work Experience

Tips for Finding Opportunities

To kickstart your journey in tattooing, actively seeking apprenticeships is crucial. Engaging with established tattoo artists by getting tattooed yourself demonstrates your commitment and allows you to understand the craft from a client's perspective [1]. This exposure is invaluable, as it not only builds your understanding of what makes a good tattoo but also shows potential mentors your serious interest in the art form.

Volunteer Work

Volunteering in tattoo studios can be a gateway to gaining practical experience. By offering to assist in the studio, even in non-tattooing roles, you show your eagerness to learn and your willingness to start from the ground up [1]. This can often lead to more hands-on opportunities as you prove your dedication and capability.

Approaching Tattoo Studios

When looking to gain work experience, approach tattoo studios with respect and knowledge. Show that you have a broad interest in all styles of tattooing, as this openness will make you more appealing to potential mentors. It’s important to display a willingness to sacrifice; you might need to work for free initially or balance this apprenticeship with another job. Remember, becoming a tattoo artist is not just about acquiring a skill but embracing a lifestyle dedicated to the art [1].

Career Progression and Potential Earnings

Salary Expectations

As you advance in your tattoo artist career, your earning potential can vary significantly based on your experience and reputation. Starting salaries for beginners typically range from £17,366 to £60,078, depending on location and studio type. However, with experience, you can expect to earn up to £42,204 annually in the UK. It's important to note that additional pay, which can include bonuses, commissions, tips, and profit sharing, might contribute an extra £1,600 per year to your income [2].

Career Growth Opportunities

Experience plays a pivotal role in the career progression of a tattoo artist. As you gain expertise and build a solid reputation, your potential to earn increases substantially. Seasoned professionals, especially those who have honed their skills over years and have a loyal clientele, can see their earnings exceed £100,000 annually. This is often due to their ability to attract higher-paying clients and command premium rates for their specialised services [3].

Freelancing vs. Working in a Studio

Choosing between freelancing and working in a tattoo studio can greatly impact your earnings and career development. Freelancers may enjoy greater flexibility and control over their work and income but might face challenges such as variable client flow and higher operational costs. In contrast, working in a studio provides a steady flow of clients and the support of a team, which can be crucial for beginners. Studio artists might earn less initially due to studio commissions, but they benefit from exposure to a broader client base and valuable networking opportunities.

Understanding these dynamics can help you make informed decisions about your career path, whether you aim to establish your own studio or prefer the security of working within an established one.


Through this guide, we’ve unveiled the path to becoming a tattoo artist, highlighting the blend of creativity, technical skill, and personal attributes required to excel in this vibrant profession. From mastering artistic skills to understanding the nuances of client care and studio management, we’ve navigated the comprehensive steps aspiring artists must undertake. Emphasizing the importance of apprenticeships and continuous learning, this journey underscores not just the development of technical abilities but also the cultivation of a deep respect for the cultural and personal significance of tattoos.

As you embark on or continue refining your craft, remember that success in the tattoo industry demands more than just talent; it requires dedication, continuous learning, and a genuine connection with your clientele. For those aspiring to make their mark, ensuring access to quality supplies is paramount. Explore a range of high-grade tattooing supplies, from tattoo machines to inks here, to support your artistic journey. Embracing every challenge and opportunity with an open heart and a steady hand will not only enrich your skills but also forge a career that is as rewarding as it is inspiring.


Is it possible to become a tattoo artist without being able to draw?

Absolutely, yes! While having drawing skills is beneficial, they are not the sole determinant of success in the tattoo industry. There are many other important skills and qualities that can help you become a proficient and successful tattoo artist.

How can I practice tattooing?

To hone your skills in tattooing, it's advisable to draw as frequently as possible, as this is a common recommendation from experienced artists. Practising tattooing on fruit or pigskin can help you get a feel for working on skin-like textures. It's also important to become familiar with tattooing equipment and to experience being tattooed yourself. Once competent, you can begin tattooing friends, family, or even yourself.

What is the typical duration of a tattoo apprenticeship?

A tattoo apprenticeship should last a minimum of three years, as recommended by the Alliance of Professional Tattooists (APT). This duration not only allows you to master the craft of tattooing but also to fulfil the additional training and educational requirements needed to obtain a tattoo license in your specific state or city.

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