How To Become a Tattoo Artist

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 15, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Creative
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If you’re incredibly creative and you want to put that to good use, you can become a tattoo artist. As a tattoo artist, you can get paid to create art. The popularity of tattoos has grown over the past few decades.

Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t going to be easy. It’s a career path that will take years and plenty of hard work. You cannot just pick up a tattoo gun and start inking people.

There are some things you need to do to become a tattoo artist. If you’re considering this career path, you want to understand the job duties. It’s also a good idea to know how to become a tattoo artist. Let’s look at both the job duties and the steps to becoming a tattoo artist.

How To Become a Tattoo Artist

Job Duties of a Tattoo Artist

A tattoo artist is someone capable of creating body art with permanent ink. They may provide a variety of designs and images for clients. Along with providing clients with body art, a tattoo artist has to understand how to use their equipment properly.

There may be a bit of a different process from one artist to another. Regardless, some of the job duties of a tattoo artist will remain the same.

All tattoo artists have to provide a sterile environment. It’s necessary to clean all equipment properly, use fresh, new needles, and make sure you are keeping your space up to code.

Tattoo artists will also work closely with clients to create the design they want. Clients may ask for a custom design or choose an image out of a book. Regardless, a tattoo artist has to be able to take the image chosen and replicate it on the skin of their clients.

It’s common for tattoos to take hours or even more than one session to complete. Some will require the artist to start with line work only. Other, smaller tattoos, will likely be completed in one session.

Some of the common job duties of a tattoo artist include:

There are many potential job duties for tattoo artists. These are just some of the most common things you may end up doing as a tattoo artist.

How To Become a Tattoo Artist in 7 Steps

Step #1 – Get Trained in Art

One of the best ways to create the foundation you need to become a tattoo artist is through tattoo training. You can earn a fine arts degree or you can take courses and workshops in art. Formal art training is a great option for those looking to become tattoo artists.

Step #2 – Learn Basic Design Elements

No matter the type of artist you want to become, you will need to learn basic design elements. These can be learned through a course or self-taught with online courses and information.

It’s very helpful for tattoo artists to learn the basic design elements as they will use them often. It’s important to learn the following elements:

These basic design elements will help you become a better tattoo artist.

Step #3 – Become a Great Drawing

If you want to become a tattoo artist, you need to be great at drawing. It’s a huge part of the job and a natural aptitude is very helpful. You will have a specific advantage if you have a natural ability to draw.

Of course, you will need to practice your drawing, too. Sketching with a pencil is a commonplace to start for tattoo artists. Taking courses in sketching can help you become great at drawing. This skill can translate to using a tattoo gun on the skin much easier than other artistic skills.

Step #4 – Create a Great Portfolio

You will need a strong portfolio if you want to become a tattoo artist. This should include plenty of drawings and works of art. Your best work belongs in your portfolio. Include artwork showing off your versatility as an artist. Both colorful pieces and black pieces are a great choice for your portfolio.

Step #5 – Find a Mentor and an Apprenticeship

The best way to become a tattoo artist is to find a mentor and complete an apprenticeship. This can help you get the hands-on experience you need. A good mentor will teach you the proper tattooing techniques.

With an apprenticeship, you can gain all the necessary experience you need. You can work on your techniques and gain access to the practice you need. Plus, an apprenticeship will help you understand the tattoo business.

Step #6 – Become Certified

As a tattoo artist, you will need to complete the proper training courses and become certified. It’s important to learn about health and safety guidelines, along with disease control and management. You will need to get a blood-borne pathogen certification, along with others to become a tattoo artist.

Step #7 – Get Your License

Some states require a tattoo license if you want to become a tattoo artist. You will want to check with your state and its regulations. You may also need to become certified in first aid and CPR, depending on your state.

In most states requiring a license, you will need to pay a fee and pass an exam. Some states will have more in-depth exams than others.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Tattoo Artist

How much can I make as a tattoo artist every year?

The average annual salary for a tattoo artist is about $64K. This salary can be higher with some employers and some locations. It’s common for tattoo artists to open their own shop, too.

Newark, New Jersey is the highest paying location with an average annual salary of around $83K. Boston and Miami also pay higher than the national average. Working in these locations may garner a larger salary for you as a tattoo artist.

How long will it take to complete a tattoo training program?

You don’t have to complete a tattoo apprenticeship, but it can be very helpful. If you decide to go through a training program or an apprenticeship, it will likely last about three years. Some will last longer.

What type of equipment do I need to become a tattoo artist?

When you start out as a tattoo artist, you will need specific equipment and supplies including:

It can also be helpful to get grapefruits, organics, and bananas to practice on. These fruits offer the feel of skin and offer a great option for practicing.

What type of hours do tattoo artists keep?

A tattoo artist will usually keep rather odd hours. They may work many nights and weekends depending on their location. Some will have the ability to set their schedule. Others, especially those beginning, will end up working the hours more experienced artists don’t want to work.

Often, your hours will be set based on the appointments you have. While you may also need to work outside your scheduled times, appointments with clients tend to drive your schedule.

It’s common for tattoo artists to work for many hours at one time. Sometimes, sessions will last up to six or eight hours with one client. Other times, the tattoo will be completed in an hour or less. Tattoo artists may need to focus for several hours at a time without a break.

The hours for most tattoo parlors are rather common throughout the week. They may keep hours similar to 9-to-5. However, it’s also common for tattoo parlors to be open on Friday nights and Saturdays for longer hours. These hours tend to be set up for walk-in clients, while during the week hours are more set by appointment.

It’s common for tattoo artists to work past regular business hours to complete a design.

What type of environment do tattoo artists work in?

Most commonly, a tattoo artist will work in a shop environment. This type of environment will provide private areas for tattoos to be completed.

What is the career outlook for tattoo artists?

There isn’t much data specific to tattoo artists. However, the growth for craft and fine artists is minimal at just 1% projected over the next ten years. With the growth of tattoos and social acceptance, this could be a growing career choice, however.

Those looking to become tattoo artists will likely want to become excellent at drawing first. It’s a great step to becoming a tattoo artist. Completing an apprenticeship and practicing will make a big difference if you go down this career path.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.