Tattoo Courses vs. Tattoo Apprenticeships

Tattoo courses are meant to replace the traditional in-shop apprenticeship by teaching all the same tattoo techniques through an online program.

In this article, we’ll be breaking down the differences between a traditional tattoo apprenticeship and taking an online tattoo course including:

  • How long they take and how much they cost
  • What you learn and who you will be learning from
  • How your choice affects your tattoo career

Note:

Some tattoo courses are taught in person at tattoo schools. To learn more about how tattoo school works, check out our article: What Does Tattoo School Teach? Can You Get Licensed?

Time and Cost: Tattoo Course vs. Apprenticeship

tattoo art on human skin

Time and cost are the biggest factors that hold aspiring artists back from becoming tattoo artists. 

How Long Does a Tattoo Course Take?

online learning experience for tattooing students

How long a tattoo course takes depends on your personal schedule because online courses let you work at your own pace. However, getting practice tattooing and understanding how to use all the materials you’ll be working with will take some time.

There are some tattoo courses out there that are only a few hours long. This might be enough time to cover specific tattoo styles, but if you’re new to tattooing, a few hours is not enough time to learn the skills you need to work in the tattoo industry. Aspiring tattoo artists need to have proper training on:

  1. 1
    Cross-contamination and preventing the spread of bloodborne pathogens
  2. 2
    Drawing tattoo designs
  3. 3
    Tattooing with good technique
  4. 4
    Business management as an artis

These are all important to be able to enter the industry and start tattooing confidently, and it’s impossible to learn all those skills in a few hours.

A good rule of thumb is that students who can spend a few hours a day learning can finish a tattoo course in a few months. If a program makes it sound like you can get through everything in a week or two, it is not a complete course.

How Much is a Tattoo Course?

How much a course costs depends on:

  • How much information you’re getting
  • Who is teaching the course (for example, if a celebrity artist has put together the course)
  • What extras you’re getting (for example, if you’re in an online community, getting feedback, or if you get bonus classes for joining the course)

Courses that are under 5 hours and don’t come with any extras can cost less than $50. Extensive courses cost several hundred dollars. Courses taught by industry experts and celebrity artists might cost over $1000.

The Cost of Travel for In-Person School

If the tattoo course is at an in-person tattoo school, this can drive up the cost - especially if you need to stay at a hotel or campus for the duration of the workshop.

How Long is a Tattoo Apprenticeship? 

tattoo machine basics class

How long a tattoo apprenticeship lasts mostly depends on your mentor.

Some tattoo apprenticeships can last 3+ years. Unfortunately, apprenticeships that last this long are usually because a mentor is trying to get as much free labor as possible from an apprentice. They will teach them very slowly (or not at all) to make the process take as long as possible.

A good tattoo apprenticeship will last 1-2 years. You are working full time for a professional tattoo artist in exchange for your tuition. However, you will still need to take the time to build a strong portfolio before looking for an apprenticeship.

How Much Does a Tattoo Apprenticeship Cost?

How much an apprenticeship costs depends on which type of apprenticeship you’re doing. If you’re doing a longer apprenticeship, you’ll spend your first year working for free to pay for your tuition before your mentor lets you pick up a tattoo machine. 

If you’re doing a shorter apprenticeship, you’ll probably be expected to pay $5-10K up front. You’ll still be working for free. However, you should start learning right away since you’ve already paid for your tuition.

What You Learn in a Tattoo Course vs. Tattoo Apprenticeship

clip cord cover for body art training
tattoo artist drawing American Traditional tattoo art
artist using tattoo ink and different needles on fake skin
We’ve talked a bit about bad courses that are incomplete and bad apprenticeships that use apprentices for free labor without teaching them. The comparison below is for good courses and good apprenticeships only.

Both tattoo courses and tattoo apprenticeships should teach you:

Note:

Feedback is important to improving in any art form. Whether it’s from an instructor or mentor, getting constructive criticism is the fastest way for students build good technique. 

Who Teaches You in a Tattoo Course vs. Tattoo Apprenticeship?

In a tattoo apprenticeship, you will learn under the guidance of a professional tattoo artist mentor. Tattoo course lessons are also taught by professional tattoo artists. 

If you are going to take a course, make sure you have a way to talk to professional tattoo artists associated with the program so you can ask questions and get personalized feedback like any other apprentice.

Be Aware of Scams

Unfortunately, there are plenty of tattoo schools and tattoo shops out there that will try to scam aspiring artists out of their money by promising to teach them to tattoo. The best way to make sure you’re not getting scammed is to look at the work of previous students or apprentices and see if it’s good.

How Your Choice Affects Your Tattoo Career

How you choose to learn to tattoo can affect your career in a few ways. Knowing what these differences are will help you make the right choice for your current situation and your future goals.

1

Time

tattoo school lesson on how to wrap body art to protect ink


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • Classes are pre-recorded videos, so you can watch and practice your skills whenever, wherever.
  • You do not have to sacrifice time with friends and family, and you can learn at your own pace.
  • You can start learning right away/get ready to tattoo people faster.
  • No scheduled learning time.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • You will have 1-2+ years of experience in a tattoo shop before you start working as a professional.
  • Full-time, unpaid work. (Many tattoo apprentices will need to work a second job.)
  • You will probably need to work a full year before starting with a tattoo machine.


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • Classes are pre-recorded videos, so you can watch and practice your skills whenever, wherever.
  • You do not have to sacrifice time with friends and family, and you can learn at your own pace.
  • You can start learning right away/get ready to tattoo people faster.
  • No scheduled learning time.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • You will have 1-2+ years of experience in a tattoo shop before you start working as a professional.
  • Full-time, unpaid work. (Many tattoo apprentices will need to work a second job.)
  • You will probably need to work a full year before starting with a tattoo machine.

2

Learning Environment for Aspiring Tattoo Artists

tattoo school videos about using tattoo training tools for students


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • You can learn tattoo techniques at home on synthetic skin and focus on your art without doing chores for other artists.
  • Freedom to work at your own pace and keep a full-time job while learning.
  • You have to push yourself to do the work; no one else will make you practice.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • Working in tattoo studios lets you spend time around the shop’s artists and customers.
  • Easy access to a sterile environment for tattoo practice on human skin.
  • Most tattoo apprenticeships come with hazing and being treated as the “shop slave.”


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • You can learn at home and focus on your art without doing chores for other artists. 
  • Freedom to work at your own pace and keep a full-time job while learning.
  • You have to push yourself to do the work; no one else will make you practice.
  • Easy access to a sterile environment for tattoo practice on human skin.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • You get to spend time around the shop’s artists and customers.
  • Most tattoo apprenticeships come with hazing and being treated as the “shop slave.”

3

Connections in the Tattoo Industry

tattoo artist talking about techniques in a tattoo shop


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • Most courses have an online community where you can connect with other artists from all over the world (travel opportunity).
  • Learning with all the artists in the group means you can learn from feedback on their work as well as your own.
  • Some tattoo courses have partnerships with shops.
  • You’re less likely to have connections in your town. Your portfolio will have to speak for itself to get you hired.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • You will (probably) have an automatic job in the studio where you apprenticed.
  • Some apprenticeships require you to sign a contract that you’ll work in that shop for a certain number of years (or that you won’t work for nearby competitors in that location).


Pros

Cons

Tattoo Course

  • Most courses have an online community where you can connect with other artists from all over the world (travel opportunity).
  • Learning with other students means you can learn from feedback on their work as well as your own.
  • Some tattoo courses have partnerships with shops
  • You’re less likely to have connections in your town. Your portfolio will have to speak for itself to get you hired.

Tattoo Apprenticeship

  • You will (probably) have an automatic job in the studio where you apprenticed.
  • Some apprenticeships require you to sign a contract that you’ll work in that shop for a certain number of years (or that you won’t work for nearby competitors in that location).

FAQ: Can a Tattoo Course Get You Licensed as a Professional Tattoo Artist?

details about how to get a life long tattoo license

Neither a course nor an apprenticeship can get you licensed. Either option can help you get there by teaching you the things you need to know to work professionally. But only your local health department can actually give you a license to tattoo. 

Most tattoo courses will give you a certificate of completion to show that you’ve gone through the training you need to become a tattoo artist. This is not a license.

FAQ: Can I Get Hired Without an Apprenticeship?

places to get tattoo practice and training for students

Yes. However, you may run into a shop owner who says otherwise.

Tattoo apprenticeships have a reputation for being abusive. Because of this, there are some tattoo artists who believe you don’t “deserve” to tattoo unless you’ve gone through the same experience. 

For this reason, new artists who learned online or are self-taught might get rejected from shops owned by tattooers who have an “apprenticeship-only” attitude. 

In this case, we recommend looking for shops owned by artists who look at your skill level as opposed to your work history or going to shops owned by entrepreneurs. (Entrepreneurs will not care how you learned; they want to hire good artists that will make the shop money.)

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

tattoos by students

In the past, learning in the shop through an apprenticeship was the only way aspiring artists could learn to tattoo. Today, however, artists are skipping the apprenticeship to learn on their own time at home with the Artist Accelerator Program.

The world’s oldest and largest online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program’s easy-to-follow, 9-step framework lets anyone go from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist without the year of grunt work or hazing. 

Inside the program, you’ll be taught everything you’d learn in a traditional apprenticeship by professional tattoo artists and receive feedback on your art and tattoos in the program’s private online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator Program’s 9-step framework to break into the tattoo industry, with many opening their own studios or working in shops around the world. 

If you’d like to see the framework they used, click here to learn more about the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
AUTHOR
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

SUGGESTED ARTICLES FOR YOU

MORE FREE CONTENT FOR YOU

Tattoo Pain Chart

December 15, 2021

Tattoos hurt. But how much they hurt depends on tattoo placement, as ...

Tattoo Pain Chart

How to Set Up and Tear Down a Tattoo Station

August 11, 2022

Every new tattoo artist has to learn how to set up and ...

How to Set Up and Tear Down a Tattoo Station

The Difference Between Tattoo Styles

November 3, 2022

Tattooing has developed many different styles. As a tattoo artist, you need ...

The Difference Between Tattoo Styles

Our Community

Join the Tattooing 101 Community today and get free, instant access to tools and resources that take you behind the curtain of all things tattooing. From apprentice to shop owner, we've got you covered.