How to Become a Tattoo Artist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Tattoo artistry is an age-old endeavor, dating back as far as a 5,200-year-old Italian-Austrian “Iceman” with tattoo markings. Whether as a form of self-expression or as a declaration of love or religious beliefs, it seems humans have always loved adorning their bodies with tattoo art. If you love the look of ink and the creativity that goes along with sketching out designs, you might be wondering how to become a tattoo artist. The following article will help you get started on the path to entrepreneurship, learn the steps required to start your own practice, and turn your passions into profit. From education and training to licensure requirements and career opportunities, we’ve covered it all in this comprehensive guide.

What Is a Tattoo Artist?

A tattoo artist is a licensed professional who creates permanent designs on the skin using ink and needles. They are skilled artists who specialize in the art of tattooing and bring their creative vision to life through body art. Many aspiring tattoo artists start by taking art classes to develop their artistic skills and understanding of various techniques. They can also fall into the category of Estheticians, with specific licensing and education requirements that vary by state.

Becoming a tattoo artist requires dedication and a commitment to honing one's craft. Beginners often seek education and training through tattoo schools or in-person apprenticeships under experienced tattoo artists. These opportunities provide hands-on experience, guidance, and mentorship necessary to become a professional tattoo artist.

A licensed tattoo artist possesses the necessary credentials and certifications to legally practice tattooing. Obtaining a tattoo artist license involves meeting specific requirements set by regulatory bodies, which may vary depending on the jurisdiction. Because, beyond the creative aspect, tattoo artists also play a critical role in ensuring the safety and hygiene of their clients. They adhere to strict sanitation practices, maintain sterile work environments, and follow proper tattoo aftercare protocols to promote healing and prevent infections.

To excel as a tattoo artist, you should have both artistic skills but also excellent communication and interpersonal abilities. Building a strong rapport with clients, understanding their preferences, and effectively translating their ideas into a visually captivating tattoo are essential aspects of being a successful tattoo artist.

How Hard Is It To Be a Tattoo Artist?

Becoming a tattoo artist is relatively difficult, and it requires a combination of artistic skill, technical proficiency, and business acumen. It is not enough to simply be a good artist; you must also be able to translate your designs onto the human body, which can be a challenging and complex process.

To become a tattoo artist, you must first develop a strong foundation in drawing and design, as well as an understanding of the technical aspects of tattooing, such as machine operation, sterilization techniques, and proper safety protocols. This requires a significant amount of time and effort, a willingness to learn and grow as an artist, and the ability to make a financial investment in education and tattoo equipment (which can be pricey).

Building a portfolio is also an important aspect of becoming a tattoo artist. This involves creating a body of work that showcases your skills and style and demonstrates your ability to create unique and compelling designs. It can take years to build a strong portfolio, as it requires a continuous stream of new clients and projects.

In order to get paying clients, you must also be able to market yourself effectively and build a strong reputation within the industry. This involves networking with other artists, attending tattoo conventions and events, and leveraging social media to showcase your work and attract new clients. Getting a paying job can help you grow as an artist and offset costs, but these jobs can be quite competitive. No matter how great of a tattoo artist you might be, it doesn’t mean you’ll immediately get a job – paid or unpaid – at a tattoo shop.

No doubt, becoming a tattoo artist is a challenging process that requires a significant amount of dedication and hard work. It’s also a physically demanding job that can take its toll on your back, neck, and tattooing hand and arm. However, for those who are passionate about the art and committed to honing their craft, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path. Your best bet is to take things one step at a time and take advantage of every possible resource during your schooling. This includes apprenticeships, which will allow you to build a portfolio that showcases your work and helps you build your own clientele as well as obtain a job if you wish to work in a tattoo practice.

How To Start Tattooing

Although starting your journey as a tattoo professional can seem overwhelming, it’s an achievable goal with hard work and dedication. Remember, the best things in life don’t come easily, and the rewards of pursuing your passions can be tremendous. Not only can you build a lucrative career as a tattoo artist, but you can also establish a thriving practice that gains local notoriety and allows you to grow and scale your own business.   

Requirements To Become a Tattoo Artist

If you want to learn how to become a tattoo artist, expect a rigorous course of education and licensing before you start applying ink to bodies. Education, training, and licensure are par for the course. 

Education and training

To become a tattoo artist, you will need tattoo-specific education and licensing that allows you to apply permanent body art and makeup. Using tattoo needles requires specialized knowledge and skill in the use of needles, hygienic practices, and proper sanitization of equipment to avoid spreading pathogens. In addition, your education will cover how to use tools and pigments for different designs and looks. Typical topics covered in your course of education may include:

  • Color mixing and theory
  • Bloodborne pathogens, communicable diseases, infectious diseases, and microorganisms (get out your lab coat!)
  • Designs, inks, and tattoo styles
  • Safety principles
  • Photoshop techniques such as lettering, stenciling, and editing
  • Sterilization practices
  • Station setup and required supplies and equipment
  • Ethics
  • Client care

Tattoo education typically requires obtaining an apprenticeship with a formal tattoo education program in which you can learn under the guidance of a seasoned professional. Apprenticeship programs cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 and will take between one to three years to complete. In most states, you must be 18 years of age to pursue a tattoo apprenticeship and have a high school diploma or equivalent. 

Licenses and Certification

As with esthetician licensure, the requirements for tattoo artistry vary by state, ranging from a basic sanitation and hygiene program to hundreds of hours spent in an approved tattoo education program. Some states also have exam and licensing fees, along with renewal fees, all of which also vary by state

7 Steps to Becoming a Tattoo Artist

As you learn how to become a tattoo artist, you’ll have some hurdles to clear to get from doodling designs on a napkin to fulfilling clients’ design wishes. Successful tattoo artists agree, however, that it’s a rewarding career path that combines artistic talents, technical skills, business savvy, and a deep passion for the art form. By following the seven steps below and putting in the time and effort required to build your skills and establish your reputation, you can build a fulfilling career in the field.

​​1. Understanding the Job Responsibilities of a Tattoo Artist

If you want to learn how to become a tattoo artist, you’ll need to understand the job responsibilities of this profession. As a tattoo artist, your main responsibility is to create permanent body art that meets your clients’ specifications while practicing in a safe and sanitary environment. This involves consulting with clients to understand their design ideas and preferences and using your artistic skills to bring those ideas to life on their skin.

In addition to designing and creating tattoos, you will also need to have strong communication and customer service skills to ensure that your clients are happy with their tattoos and the overall experience. You will also need to be able to work well under pressure, as tattooing can be a time-sensitive process, and some clients may be nervous or anxious.

To succeed as a tattoo artist, you will need to have a number of skills and personal attributes, including:

  • Artistic ability: Tattooing is a form of art, so you will need to have a strong foundation in drawing and design to create high-quality tattoos.
  • Attention to detail: Tattoos are permanent, so you will need to have a keen eye for detail to ensure that your work is precise and accurate.
  • Patience and stick-to-itiveness: Creating a tattoo can be a lengthy process, so you will need to be able to work for long periods of time without running out of patience.
  • Stamina: Tattooing is physically demanding, so you will need to be able to stand or sit for long periods of time and work with your arms and hands in a variety of positions.
  • Hygiene and safety: As a tattoo artist, you will need to be able to maintain a clean and safe work environment to prevent the spread of disease and infection.
  • Knowledge of tattoo machines: Tattoo artists must know how to use the appropriate equipment, like tattoo guns.

2. Develop Your Drawing and Artistic Skills

tattoo drawing skills

Strong design and drawing abilities are a must if you want to learn how to become a tattoo artist. As a tattoo professional, your clients’ skin is your canvas, and you need to be able to translate their ideas into beautiful permanent designs. After all, they’re going to be looking at those designs potentially for the rest of their lives. 

To develop your drawing and artistic skills as a tattoo artist, consider pursuing art-related education and courses where you can get plenty of practice. This could mean attending art school, taking drawing classes at a community college or art center, and spending your free time drawing detailed designs on your own. The more you practice, practice, practice and learn about different art styles and techniques as a budding tattoo artist, the better equipped you will be to create unique and visually stunning tattoos.

3. Get an Apprenticeship

There’s no substitution for learning under the guidance of a seasoned tattoo professional. An apprenticeship will give you hands-on experience working with clients, as well as the opportunity to learn about equipment and hygiene practices.

To find an apprenticeship, start by researching tattoo studios in your area and reaching out to them to inquire about apprenticeship opportunities. Keep in mind that competition for apprenticeships can be fierce, and as one tattoo artist explains, many shops won’t be willing to give you a shot. 

As such, you’ll need to be persistent and professional in your communications to secure an apprenticeship, and even then, the work won’t be without its challenges. Your mentor won’t necessarily give you the “warm and fuzzies” as they’re judging your work and guiding you through the process of learning how to become a tattoo artist. Thick skin and a patient, humble attitude will take you far.

4. Understand Tattooing Laws and Regulations

Before you can start practicing as a tattoo artist, you will need to understand the laws and regulations that govern the profession. These laws vary from state to state and even from city to city, so it’s important to research the regulations in your local area. For instance, in the state of California, it’s a crime to perform a tattoo application on a minor under the age of 18. 

Other common regulations for tattoo artists include licensing requirements, which may involve completing a certain number of hours of training and passing an exam. You may also need to obtain permits for your studio or adhere to specific hygiene and safety standards, as well as business licenses and permits that comply with local rules and zoning requirements.

To learn about the rules and regulations in your state, check out this Definitive Guide to Tattoo Laws. Don’t skip this step if you want to keep your license, avoid legal hassles, and build and maintain a good reputation in your community.

6. Get a Job or Start Your Own Studio

After completing your apprenticeship and building a solid portfolio, you have a few different options for pursuing your career as a tattoo artist. Some artists choose to seek out employment opportunities in established tattoo studios or shops, while others prefer to start their own practices.

Working in an established studio can offer some benefits, such as a built-in client base, access to equipment and supplies, and the opportunity to work alongside other experienced artists. However, it may also mean working for someone else and having less creative control over the types of tattoos you can create. As the tattoo artist mentioned above recounted, he was learning under an “old school” tattoo artist who didn’t exactly champion his work.

Starting your own studio, on the other hand, gives you complete creative control and the ability to run your business on your own terms. It also increases your earning potential as an owner, versus being subject to the median salary of tattoo artists, which is just shy of $44,000, although the projected job growth of the profession is 14%.

At the same time, starting your own practice also requires a significant investment of time and money, as well as the ability to manage and market your business effectively. You can expect to invest upwards of $25,000 to start a tattoo practice, although these costs can be higher depending on the location and types of services you wish to offer. Typical costs associated with opening a tattoo practice or any type of salon include:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Salon software
  • Equipment costs
  • Professional fees for incorporation, accounting, and other services

No matter which path you choose, it’s important to have a solid understanding of business and marketing principles. This includes developing a strong brand identity, building relationships with clients, delivering five-star client experiences, and staying up-to-date with industry trends and innovations. One tool that many tattoo artists use to streamline their business operations is GlossGenius, a platform designed specifically for beauty and wellness professionals. GlossGenius offers features like online booking, appointment reminders, and client management tools, making it easier to manage your business and focus on what you do best: creating jaw-dropping tattoos.

7. Keep Up With Industry Trends

Finally, as with any creative profession, it’s important to stay up-to-date with industry trends and innovations in the field of tattoo artistry. This means investing in continuing education to expand your skills, attending industry events and conferences, and seeking out opportunities for further specialization. For instance, you might wish to add a permanent makeup application as a specialty service to increase your earning potential.

There are many ways to continue your education as a tattoo artist, from taking advanced courses in specific techniques or styles to pursuing further education in related fields like art or design. In fact, some states require annual continuing education in the field of tattoo artistry, which may include further education in tattoo application or general business, communications, and ethics courses.

As you continue to learn and grow as a tattoo professional, be sure to keep your portfolio up to date with your latest designs, skills, and certifications. With Gloss Genius, you get a beautiful website along with your subscription that can help you showcase your work and professional skills, helping you market yourself, grow your clientele, and increase bookings.

Final Tips for Learning How to Become a Tattoo Artist

As you tackle the steps above, keep these quick tips in your back pocket as a cheat sheet for success:

  • Develop your skills as an artist. Good drawing skills are essential for becoming a tattoo artist. The more you practice your drawing skills and commit to ongoing education, the better an artist you will be.
  • Get an apprenticeship with someone you trust. Learning from an experienced tattoo artist is essential for developing your skills and gaining valuable knowledge about the industry. Seek out apprenticeship opportunities, and choose a mentor who is willing to teach you the ropes.
  • Understand tattooing laws and regulations. Know and comply with your state and local regulations to ensure the safety of your clients and yourself and keep yourself out of legal hot water.
  • Build your portfolio. Building a diverse and impressive portfolio is key to showcasing your skills and attracting clients. Take the time to create high-quality tattoo designs and photographs of your work, and post them on social media for all the world to see.
  • Consider your employment options. You can either work in an established studio or start your own tattoo studio. Weigh the pros and cons of each option before making a decision.
  • Stay on the cutting edge. As the tattoo industry evolves, so should you. Get comfortable with attending industry events, reading industry publications, and schmoozing with those in the know.

With GlossGenius, You Can Succeed as a Tattoo Artist

Tattoo inventory management

Becoming a tattoo artist can be a challenging yet rewarding career path for those with a passion for art, a strong work ethic, and a commitment to lifelong learning. By following these seven steps and our guidelines above, you can start building the skills, knowledge, and portfolio needed to succeed in this dynamic and exciting field.

Remember that becoming a successful tattoo artist takes time, dedication, and a willingness to learn from others. Whether you choose to pursue an apprenticeship, start your own studio, or seek out employment in an established shop, it’s important to stay focused on your goals and always strive to improve your skills and techniques.

With the right training, mentorship, and dedication, you can become a respected and in-demand tattoo artist, creating beautiful and meaningful works of art that will last a lifetime. As you take the first steps on this exciting career path, start by developing your artistic skills, finding a mentor, and learning all you can about the industry and its regulations.

When you’re ready to start booking clients and building your client base, turn to GlossGenius – one of the most popular platforms among estheticians for scheduling, client management, payment processing, marketing, financial management, and more. With our help, you can start, run, and grow your business and focus on honing your craft as a tattoo artist while we focus on the behind-the-scenes details. To learn more, start a free trial and learn what GlossGenius can do for you.

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