Becoming a tattoo artist can be a rewarding career choice if you’re passionate about tattoos and art. The average salary for a tattoo artist in the US is currently just under $59,000, making it a lucrative career, but how do tattoo artists get paid? It’s a question that many aspiring artists ask before embarking on this career journey.
However, earning a decent living as a tattoo artist involves more than knowing how much you can make. You need to hone your artistic skills, build client relationships, and find ways to stand out in a highly competitive industry. Still, the money matters, and we get that.
If you’re curious about the ins and outs of this creative profession, read on to discover everything you need to know about how tattoo artists get paid.
How Do Tattoo Artists Get Paid?
Ah, the age-old question we hear every time we get a new student in our tattooing essentials course: How do tattoo artists get paid?
Understanding the payment process is crucial if you’re considering a career in the tattoo industry. As an artist, your creativity and skills deserve fair compensation, and knowing how that compensation is calculated and distributed is essential to your success.
From hourly rates to commission-based pay, tattoo artists can earn money in various ways. Below, we’ll explore the most popular payment models tattoo shops and artists use. Usually, you’ll find three different types of working models for tattoo artist jobs.
Participating in an apprenticeship program is one of the first things most people do when becoming a tattoo artist. During these training programs, you work under a skilled and experienced tattoo artist to learn the tricks of the trade. During your apprenticeship, you’ll be doing tasks like:
- Cleaning the studio
- Setting up equipment
- Assisting the artist during tattoo sessions
It’s a great way to get hands-on experience and develop your skills.
But what about pay? Apprentices are usually paid a set weekly sum, like most employees. This pay is to assist the tattoo artist and cover your basic expenses.
While the pay may not be lavish, the experience you’ll gain during your apprenticeship is invaluable. You’ll learn how to create custom designs, handle different skin types, and work with clients, all essential skills for a successful tattoo artist.
Plus, an apprenticeship is a great way to network and build relationships with other tattoo artists in the industry. You’ll have the opportunity to attend conventions, meet other artists, and potentially even land a job at the shop where you’re doing your apprenticeship.
While it may not be a lucrative way to get paid a full living wage that’ll sustain you throughout your career as a successful tattoo artist, an apprenticeship is worth it for the knowledge and hands-on experience you’ll gain. Plus, the connections you’ll make in the industry can lead to bigger and better opportunities down the line.
Renting a Chair
Another popular way to make money as a tattoo artist is to rent a chair or private booth from a tattoo parlor. This allows you to work independently as a contractor, which means you can set your hours, choose your clients, and even decide where you want to work.
There are typically two ways to pay for renting a chair.
This fee usually includes equipment such as the tattoo machine and ink, essentially making it like renting your space. The downside is that the set fee is usually due regardless of how much money you make in a given month. This can be a boon if you’re getting lots of clients but a curse if you’re having a slow month.
In this arrangement, the parlor owner takes a percentage of the money you make from each tattoo. Depending on the studio, this could be a 50/50 split or a different percentage.
While it’s up to you to decide which payment structure works best for your situation, it’s important to note that renting a chair at a tattoo parlor allows you to work independently while still having access to equipment and supplies. If you opt for a larger percentage of the total fee, you’ll likely have to supply your own materials, though.
For example, let’s say you’re working at a shop where 60% goes to you as the tattoo artist and 40% goes to the shop. With this split, you’ll likely have to supply all your ink caps, barriers, and similar disposable materials.
This is a great way to get started in the tattoo industry, gain experience, and build a client base without making a huge investment upfront. Just ensure you read and understand any rental agreements before signing on the dotted line.
Don’t want to pay a commission to a parlor owner? Want to manage your time and build a unique tattooing brand? Setting up your own studio can be a wise business move for those who want full control over their schedules, client base, and profits.
If you have your own workspace, you aren’t paying commission to anyone but yourself! That means you get to keep all the money you earn from each tattoo without sharing it with a shop owner.
Of course, you still need to pay rent for the space, but you’ll pay it to a landlord rather than a tattoo shop. This gives you more independence and greater control over your business, which can be incredibly empowering.
Some lucky tattoo artists may even have a home studio. Since you own the space, you won’t need to pay extra rent for it. That means more money in your pocket and greater flexibility when scheduling tattoo sessions.
While this is great, setting up your own studio has its challenges, like finding enough space or keeping up with overhead costs. But if you’re passionate about the tattoo industry and have the business savvy to make it work, setting up your own tattoo studio could be the key to unlocking your career dreams.
Tattoo Artist Costs
If you’re considering becoming a tattoo artist, it’s important to understand the costs involved in the profession. So, while you now know how tattoo artists get paid, it’s crucial to remember that they have to deduct costs from that. Learning about these costs will help you make informed decisions about your career, including how much to charge for your services.
Your workspace is your sanctuary as a tattoo artist, and investing in a comfortable and professional environment is essential. The cost of renting a studio can vary widely, ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars a month, depending on the location and amenities included.
But what if you’re just starting, or you’re not ready for such a significant investment? Try renting a chair at an established studio, as suggested above. This can be an excellent option if you’re a beginner artist, as it allows you to build your clientele without the financial stress of renting a full studio.
However, remember that paying a commission will reduce your overall profit margin, so it’s crucial to calculate your expenses and forecast your revenue accordingly. Ultimately, whether you’re renting a studio or a chair, your workspace costs will be one of the most significant expenses in your career as a tattoo artist.
As a beginner tattoo artist, getting your hands on the necessary equipment is a huge investment.
You’ll need a beginner tattoo kit, which will cost at least a few hundred dollars, depending on the quality of the equipment. You’ll also need ink, which can range from $15 to $100 per bottle, depending on the brand and color. The tattoo machine is also a significant expense, and don’t forget about gloves, barrier film, and disposable needles, which can add up quickly.
While that might sound overwhelming and pricey, investing in high-quality equipment and materials is crucial for your success as a tattoo artist. Don’t skimp on price; invest in your craft.
Taxes may not be the most thrilling topic for even the best tattoo artist, but it’s important.
Most tattooists get paid as independent contractors, meaning they must pay self-employed taxes. As an independent contractor, you pay the employer and employee portions of Social Security and Medicare taxes (15.3% of your earnings alone). You’ll also need to pay federal income tax and may need to pay state and local taxes as well.
Keeping track of these taxes may seem overwhelming, but ensuring you don’t get hit with an unexpected tax bill at the end of the year is essential. Our top tip? Work with an accountant to help you navigate the ins and outs of self-employed taxes.
If you decide to open your own studio, you might need to hire and pay employees. This can be a great opportunity to expand your business and gain more clients, but it also comes with added responsibility. When hiring employees, you need to factor in their salaries, benefits, taxes, and other expenses.
These costs can eat into your profits, so staying on top of your finances and budget is essential. However, having employees can also free up your time to focus on more profitable tasks, like creating new designs and building your brand. Whether you’re a solo artist or have a team, finding the right balance and ensuring that everyone is compensated fairly is important.
Becoming a successful tattoo artist isn’t just about mastering your craft and making a lot of money. It’s also about investing in your future by continuously learning and evolving your skills. This means investing in continued training to:
- Keep up with industry trends
- Develop new techniques
- Stay on top of health and safety regulations
Once you’ve completed your apprenticeship, it’s important to keep investing in your education. This could mean attending seminars, workshops, or even traveling to learn from other experienced artists.
While it may seem like a daunting expense, investing in your training is an investment in your future success. The more skills and knowledge you have, the more in demand you’ll be in the industry. Plus, you can offer your clients unique and high-quality work by keeping up with the latest trends and techniques.
Pricing Your Tattoo Services
You’ve done it! You’ve made it through the grueling process of becoming a tattoo artist. Congratulations!
But now, it’s time to figure out how much you should charge for your services. Pricing your tattoo services can be tricky, but with a little know-how, you can set a fair price that will keep you and your clients happy.
Wanna get paid (well) as a tattoo artist? Here’s what to know.
So, we’ve established that, as a tattoo artist, you don’t get paid a salary. Instead, you work on a commission basis, meaning that you get a percentage of what the client pays.
To determine your commission, you need to figure out your hourly rate. This rate should reflect your level of experience, skill, and training.
So, how do you figure out your hourly rate? Here’s a simple formula:
(Desired Annual Income + Overhead Costs) ÷ Number of Hours Worked = Hourly Rate
Let’s break this down a bit.
- Desired annual income is how much money you want to make each year
- Overhead costs include things like rent, utilities, supplies, equipment, and advertising
- Number of hours worked is the number of hours per week that you plan on working
Remember, you won’t be tattooing all the time. You’ll need to factor in time for consultations, drawing up designs, and cleaning up after each client.
Tattoo Sizing and Complexity
The next step is determining how much to charge for each tattoo. Typically, tattoos are priced by the square inch. This means the larger the design, the more it will cost.
Remember, the more detailed and intricate the design, the more time it will take and the higher the cost. You may also want to charge more for custom designs, cover-up work, or tattoos on certain body parts that are more difficult to tattoo.
Become a Successful Tattoo Artist
Looking for tattoo artist careers? It all starts right here at Florida Tattoo Academy. Our course covers everything you need to know, including the important question of “How do tattoo artists get paid?”
Ready to get started? Schedule a tour of our campus today!