Without a doubt, one of the best jobs for aspiring artists is tattooing. Currently, there are around 30,000 tattoo artists in the US, and most of them will tell you they have no intention of looking back!
However, no good thing comes without a price, especially when it comes to a career. You’ll always find benefits and downsides to any job. Luckily, we’re here to clear some of that up for you!
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of starting a tattoo artist career in 2022!
Pro: Work Structure
Only a handful of industries in the US follow the same work structure as tattoo artists. Rather than having a boss, shops will generally have a collectivist team of artists who each pay their dues.
In some cases, there is an owner or a partnership, but either way, artists tend to have plenty of autonomy.
Of course, every shop has its own rules and expectations that you will need to follow, but you will have artistic liberty in your studio as well as your art.
Also, you will likely have total autonomy over your pricing, allowing you to charge what you consider a fair rate. As you develop more skills, it’s not unheard of for skilled artists to charge $250 an hour or more. However, tattoo artist salaries vary widely.
Once you own your own shop, this autonomy is unlimited. You will have entire control over the rules and expectations in the shop, artistic liberty, scheduling, and more.
Con: Inconsistent Income
A lack of a stable income can make it difficult for artists to save money to open their own shops, especially early in their careers.
As an artist, you could see a week where the shop is bustling, and you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day. Then, you could have weeks where you’re desperately trying to find work.
Also, if you’re in a city, the competition is often high, which may cut into your potential clientele.
However, there are things you can do to improve your stability. Attending conventions, marketing, and client outreach can help you secure more work, but it does take time to reach stability.
Not only that, but you will also need to put money back into your work in the form of rent or dues, PPE, tattooing machines, ink, and more. Now, you can write these off on your taxes as business expenses and factor them into your pricing, but it is something to consider.
With the right budgeting and prep work, this won’t be much of a problem for most artists.
Pro: Tattoo Artists Make Their Own Schedules
While this isn’t always the case, you will generally offer your clients timeframes that you’re comfortable working in, and they will pick the times from there.
Conversely, this means you will likely know your work schedule weeks in advance and get to plan your own personal affairs around that schedule.
In many cases, you will spend significant downtime in your shop preparing for walk-ins or working on overhead, but that’s usually on your own schedule.
Most, not all, tattoo artists are 1099 independent contractors, meaning they are self-employed. Some apprentices or newer artists working in a shop may receive a W2, but it is less common.
For that reason, learning how to save up and pay your taxes is often a burden for newer artists, but it’s a small price to pay for the flexibility that comes with self-employment.
If you’ve never paid self-employment taxes before, it’s a lot easier once you get the hang of it. As long as you’re tracking business expenses and income diligently and planning ahead for the tax bill, you won’t have any problems.
You’ll also have the option to pay quarterly to avoid paying one large tax bill. If you’re the shop owner, you can even pay yourself a salary and have the taxes taken out every paycheck. If taxes are a concern, you will at least have options to choose from!
Pro: Education Options Are Available
Nobody is born a tattoo artist, but any artist can become a tattoo artist with the right education.
Also, with the average student debt in the US is nearing $40,000, starting a career without that weighing over your head will reduce stress and offer more financial mobility. If you want to buy a house or open your own shop, the less debt, the better.
In many cases, tattoo artists start with apprenticeships, but that’s changing for many reasons.
First, too many aspiring tattoo artists try to land apprenticeships with the best tattoo artists, making the field very competitive. Unfortunately, that leaves many aspiring artists with slim pickings.
Second, jumping right into an apprenticeship without a solid educational foundation is a recipe for disaster on your skin or someone else’s.
For these reasons and more, aspiring artists are taking tattoo courses to help build the foundation, master the basics, and get comfortable tattooing. This way, when they start, they’ll have an easier time finding apprenticeships, practicing their skills, and building a portfolio.
Con: Strange Work Hours
To be fair, we did say tattoo artists typically make their own schedules. However, sometimes they don’t have a choice.
Especially early in your career, you will have to make sacrifices to meet your clients or to please your shop owners. Lack of seniority often leaves you with a less desirable schedule.
Weekends are easily the most popular times for people to get tattoos, so you can expect to work a different schedule from most of your friends.
However, within that designated time frame, you will have the autonomy to create your own schedule, plan your vacations, and more.
Pro: Constantly Learning
Depending on who you are, you may read this as a pro or a con. However, we’ve decided to use it as a benefit for several reasons.
First, few people want to work at a boring job where they do the same thing every day without ever needing to change anything. Even if you spend your career working in the same shop, you will never have two of the same days tattooing.
Essentially, every day will pose new challenges, you will always have to problem-solve, and you will always need to learn.
Not only that, but standards, practices, regulations, techniques, and styles evolve all the time. The tattoo world you’ll see at the end of your career will be completely different from the one you start in.
Well, this creates plenty of opportunities for growth as an artist. Every year, you will become more well-rounded, adaptable, and knowledgeable about tattoos.
Fortunately, studies show that jobs where you constantly have to learn will reduce your risk for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s!
Con: The Grind
Let’s make it clear; the job doesn’t only require tattooing.
Tattoo artists need to fight for clients to make rent for their shops or apartments. Often, this means reaching out, salesmanship, attending conventions, and more.
Of course, there are so many benefits to this level of independence, but if you’re unwilling to put in the overhead work, then it will be a challenge for you to secure a stable income.
In terms of overhead, you can expect between 10 and 30 hours a week of communication with clients, social media marketing, consultations, designing, redesigning, sanitation, and more.
However, some people love these parts of the job! If you like working with people, showing off your work, and pursuing your passion, then this isn’t a downside at all, but just something to be aware of.
Pro: Work-Life Balance
As we mentioned, schedules vary widely. However, not many shops stay open too late anymore, and many tattoo artists are able to go home early or start the day late!
Because weekends are so popular, many tattoo artists only work Thursday through Sunday, taking three days (or more) off a week.
Con: Low Mobility
Tattoo artistry doesn’t exactly “pop” on a resume when applying to most jobs. If your career in tattooing doesn’t work out, or if you decide to switch fields, it may be difficult to find new work.
Of course, there are important work skills you will learn in tattooing, especially related to business and sales. However, some people hold certain stereotypes about tattoo artists and people covered in tattoos, which may lead to discrimination.
Although, there are always retraining options available if you need them. Also, if you start your career off right and are passionate enough about it, then you won’t even have to worry about future jobs.
Thanks to social media, international conventions, and more, there is a massive network of tattoo artists and enthusiasts that you will get to meet in your career. Fortunately, that community is always striving to help one another and grow the art as a whole.
You will meet many talented artists throughout your education and career that will inspire you, offer constructive feedback on your work, help you grow as an artist, and help you feel part of a positive community.
Without a doubt, tattoo artists face some serious pressure in their daily work. After all, they are inking somebody else’s skin permanently every day.
After a few hundred tattoos, the chances of avoiding a single mistake are as close to zero as you can get. Mistakes are difficult to correct in tattooing.
Unfortunately, once those mistakes are made, they can severely harm your reputation. A few bad mistakes can end careers in the industry.
Not only that, but you’ll also be working with diverse clientele, which is a benefit in many ways, but they will come with different requests, standards, and personalities.
However, with the right education and apprenticeship, you can build enough confidence in your work to help alleviate some of that pressure.
Also, there are strict safety protocols that every artist must follow. Legal requirements, shop standards, and everything else will vary based on where you operate, but it’s guaranteed to be strict.
Of course, you can turn this one around and call it a benefit if you’re the type of person who loves a challenge!
Pro: Doing What You Love
You know the saying. If you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life.
For most, tattoo artists get to practice what they love for a living; art. For many artists, this makes all of the “cons,” both on and off this list, worth it.
Unfortunately, there are few viable paths for aspiring artists to enter a lucrative and sustainable career, as the jobs are too sparse and the competition is too high.
Well, that isn’t the case with tattooing. Tattoos are only becoming more popular. Currently, as many as 25% of people between 18 and 25 have tattoos for the first time ever.
Fortunately, that creates a significant demand that still isn’t filled!
Also, you get to help people improve their appearance, feel more confident, and give them something they will have for the rest of their lives. Because of this, a good tattoo artist will generally experience high levels of job satisfaction.
Start Your New Career Today
Now that you know the pros and cons of becoming a tattoo artist, you can see why it’s so appealing to so many workers. The autonomy, the ability to set your own rates, and the ability to become independent so early are hard to beat.
Also, if you have a passion for art, why not make a career out of it? The option is available to anybody to start their tattoo artist education today.
Keep reading our blog for the latest tips in the industry, check out our course material, and feel free to contact us with any questions!