12 Things to Know Before You Become a Tattoo Artist

become a tattoo artist

Tattoos are stretching from sea to shining sea. Roughly 20,000 tattoo parlors are open throughout the United States. They make roughly $1 billion in revenue every year. 

If you’re looking for a creative and exhilarating job, you should become a tattoo artist. But you can’t just walk into a tattoo parlor and ask for a job. The path to becoming a tattoo artist requires many steps. 

What artistic and business skills do you need to have in order to make tattoos? Where can you get training and real-life experience? What kinds of certificates do you need? 

Answer these questions and you can become one of the best tattoo artists ever. Here are 12 things you need to know.

1. You Should Be Good at Drawing

Tattooing is a lot like drawing. You need to draw concept art for your clients so they can understand what your tattoos will look like. You may need to make quick drawings, as your clients suggest edits to your concept art. 

You then need to use tattoo machines to draw the ink on your clients’ bodies. The difference between drawing and tattooing is the skin. Someone’s skin may have abrasions or rough spots, and you have to hold the tattoo equipment steady over these areas. 

You don’t need an art degree in order to get into a tattoo artist school. But it is a good idea to get a formal education in drawing.

You should also draw as a hobby. If you want to stick to drawing, you can sell drawings while you start becoming a tattoo artist. This gives you an alternate income stream that can help you cover your expenses or pay for art school.

2. You Must Be Familiar With Graphic Design

Tattooing is based on theories of color, line, and texture that come from graphic design. You have to take those theories and create incredible images, then you must transfer those images onto the skin. 

Many graphic design classes focus on using Adobe software and other technology. This can help you understand the principles of graphic design. But you should try to find classes that will let you carry out those principles by hand.

Keep in mind that each design requires different elements. Repetition may be important when you are drawing a mountain range, but it is not as important when you are drawing a stream. You need to know how to adjust elements from piece to piece.

3. You Need to Study Tattoo Machines

A tattoo machine is more complicated than it seems. It uses coils and a capacitor to create an alternating current that allows the machine to run.

Most machines contain two springs. These springs draw from the alternating current to push the needle down into the skin. 

If these parts don’t work, the machine won’t work. You need to know how to repair a tattoo machine if the coils wear down or the spring fails to trigger. 

There are a few different types of tattoo machines. A coil tattoo machine is affordable and easy to use over a long period of time. 

If you’re worried about skin irritation, you can use a rotary tattoo machine. This device runs on an electric motor, which applies less pressure to the skin than coils. 

When you are making a tattoo with dark ink, you should use a shader tattoo machine. You can also use a liner machine to draw clean lines. 

You need to gain experience with each type of machine. If you can afford it, you should buy each of them and practice with them at home.

4. Tattooing Requires Many Techniques

Creating contrast is what makes tattoos seem deep and lifelike. To create a good contrast, your light and dark colors need to be balanced.

You can’t just use black and white. You need to use grays and shades of white and black so nothing seems too jarring. 

When you are tattooing an entire scene on someone, you have to figure out where the light source is. This lets you depict realistic shadows and gradients. You also need to create a realistic perspective using vanishing lines. 

Each style of tattooing relies on these techniques in different ways. The Americana style uses a limited color palette to create bright and prominent contrasts. The New School style has a cartoony aesthetic, so the colors are bright and the lines are thick. 

Don’t worry about what style you fall into. But you should try your hand at various tattooing techniques. As you hone your craft, you can pick a style of tattooing and pursue your talents in that style.

5. Tattooing Is a Sales Profession 

Tattooing isn’t just about making good art. You are going to spend a lot of time with clients, talking to them and assessing their needs and desires. You need to be good at talking to other people and learning more about them. 

You will be competing with other artists. You have to learn how to sell yourself. You need to explain what makes your tattooing distinct and more desirable than others. 

You may want to take a business class so you learn a little about sales. If that’s not an option, you can look at a few job choices like a salesperson or a receptionist. You can earn a little money and you will gain experience in public relations and sales.

6. You Need to Build a Portfolio

Once you’ve studied the essentials, you can start on your portfolio. Some tattoo shops ask for a portfolio of dozens of pieces when they are considering job applicants. 

Don’t rush the creation of your portfolio. Learn how to build a portfolio by trying out different things and showing your talents in a variety of styles. You can include black-and-white designs alongside full-color ones.

Do not commit plagiarism. It is okay to get inspiration from established artists. But you should never copy another artist’s work, even if you are only copying a single element of their work.

You should also avoid submitting photos of tattoos you have done. You need a license in order to make tattoos. Once you become an established artist, you can include photos alongside concept art.

7. You Should Get Training

You are not required to get training in order to become a tattoo artist. But all of the best tattoo artists have training. You will have more career opportunities and better skills if you go and get a tattooing degree. 

Tattoo artist training is similar to a liberal arts college education. You learn about many different areas that affect tattooing, including the history of tattooing. You can learn about artistry ethics, business practices, and client care. 

Don’t pick the first tattoo artist school you see. Look at a few different options and assess each one’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Training classes are short. You can receive a tattoo artist degree in less than a year. You can work or take classes at other schools while you are pursuing your tattooing degree.

8. Certifications Are Required

Each state has its own tattoo licensing requirements. These requirements vary broadly, so you should check the ones in your state before you apply.

Nearly every state requires you to receive a few certificates before you can apply for the license. In Florida, you need to obtain a bloodborne pathogen certificate. Tattooing can cause someone to bleed, which can spread diseases like HIV/AIDS.

You need to take steps to prevent bleeding and the spread of these diseases. You must disinfect work surfaces and use a first-aid kit to slow bleeding down. 

Once you have your bloodborne pathogen training, you need training on communicable diseases. You should know how to identify skin diseases so you don’t make a tattoo over damaged skin. 

After you get your certificates, you can apply for a tattooing license. In Florida, you can apply directly to the Department of Health. You need to provide a copy of a government-issued ID like a driver’s license along with your paperwork.

9. You Must Gain Experience

You can start gaining experience with a tattoo apprenticeship. You can shadow a tattoo artist and watch them work. The artist can let you come into the store before it opens so you can practice your techniques. 

An apprenticeship is unpaid. It may last a year or longer depending on who you are working with. You need to have an income stream so you can support yourself. 

You may be able to get a job with a tattoo shop as a receptionist or customer service representative. Even though these jobs don’t directly deal with tattoos, they help you gain experience in running a tattoo business. 

10. Tattooing Is Physically Difficult

While you are tattooing, you will be bending over another person, hunching your back and shoulders. You will hold onto the tattoo machine with your fingertips, straining your hand and wrist. 

Many tattoo artists experience back, arm, and neck pain after a few years on the job. You can avoid this by sitting upright whenever you can. While you are talking with clients, straighten your back and keep your skull on top of your spine. 

You can perform a few lower back stretches to reduce your pain. You can lift your knee to your chest while flexing your lower back muscles. Try to perform a stretch at the start of your workday so you are more flexible and less tense. 

11. There Is No Guarantee of Success

Even if you get a job in a tattoo parlor, you may not become a tattoo artist. Obtaining tattoo artist jobs requires a lot of luck. Openings have to be available, and a manager has to believe you are the perfect fit for one. 

Yet you can increase your chances of success in a few ways. Apply for jobs at a bunch of different studios. You can drop your resume and portfolio off and ask the studio to give you a call as soon as they have an opening. 

You can share your tattoo work online. You can start an Instagram account and post photographs of your concept art. If you like writing, you can start a blog and write articles about the tattooing industry.

A tattoo artist’s salary is not very high. Most artists work hourly, and they may get paid $20 an hour at the most. You have to be willing to live cheaply until you get yourself established.

12. It Takes Years to Open a Studio

It’s hard to open your own tattoo studio. You need to have a lot of experience and connections within the industry. You should also have some money to rent or buy a building and fill it with equipment. 

You cannot open a studio on your own. You need to hire other tattoo artists to work with customers. You may need to hire a marketer or an accountant so you can promote your business and manage your money. 

Be diligent and spend your time doing research on how to start a tattoo shop. If you think it will be too much of a hassle, you don’t have to open one. Many artists work for other people and have fulfilling careers.

You Can Become a Tattoo Artist

Anyone can become a tattoo artist, after years of hard work. You need to know about drawing, graphic design, and sales strategies. You also need knowledge of tattoo technology. 

Once you know the basics, you can start to build a portfolio. You should consider going to a tattoo school and getting a formal degree in tattoo art. 

With your degree, you can get an apprenticeship. Though there is no guarantee of success, you can gain work experience quickly. 

Get started on your tattooing journey now. Florida Tattoo Academy serves aspiring Florida tattoo artists. Contact us today.