How Long is a Tattoo Apprenticeship? Tattoo Artist Timeline

Traditional apprenticeships take 1-4 years. Knowing why they’re so different in length can help you choose the right one for you.

In this article, we’re breaking down:

  • How long tattoo apprenticeships should last (and what hours apprentices work)
  • What factors affect the length of an apprenticeship
  • How to have more control over the length of an apprenticeship

How long is the average tattoo apprenticeship?

tattoo artist using a tattoo machine

The average apprenticeship is about 2-3 years. However, they can extend for as long as 5.

Option 1: The “Normal” Apprenticeship

Tattoo apprentices spend the first year “earning” their education by cleaning, working the front desk, answering phone calls, etc.

Year 1

Chores and working in the shop

Year 2

Learning to tattoo/tattooing yourself

Year 2.5

Tattooing friends and clients on apprentice pay

Usually, tattoo apprentices spend the first year “earning” their education by cleaning, working the front desk, answering phone calls, etc. to make up for the cost of their mentor’s time and teaching. In this case, you won’t pick up a tattoo machine for the first year of your apprenticeship.

Option 2: The “Short” Apprenticeship

If you’re paying for your education, you should start learning pretty much right away. 

Year 1

Learning to tattoo/tattooing yourself

Year 1.5

Tattooing friends and clients on apprentice pay

Option 3: The “Long” Apprenticeship

Year 1

Chores and working in the shop

Year 2

Learning to tattoo/tattooing yourself

Year 3

Tattooing friends and clients on apprentice pay

Year 4

Tattooing full-time as an artist in the shop

Beware: The “Neverending” Apprenticeship

Unfortunately, some “mentors” only offer an apprenticeship to aspiring artists because they want someone to work the front desk for free. They don’t plan on actually teaching anything.

Year 1-4+

Chores and working in the shop

How many days a week is a tattoo apprenticeship?

Usually, apprentices are expected to work 5-6 days a week. 

How many hours a week is a tattoo apprenticeship?

Some mentors allow flexible hours so the apprentice can keep a part-time job to support themselves. Others will expect apprentices to be there 50 or even 60+ hours a week.

Do tattoo apprentices get paid?

Apprentices do not get paid until they start tattooing people (1-2 years into the apprenticeship). When they do start tattooing clients, they are on an “apprentice split.” This means the shop gets 50-60% of the money the apprentice makes from their tattoos.

How long does it take to start tattooing in a tattoo apprenticeship?

Usually, after a year of working in the shop at the desk, mentors will start showing apprentices how to tattoo and might let them practice on fake skin or practice tattooing themselves.  

How long does it take to get a tattoo apprenticeship?

How long it takes to get a tattoo apprenticeship depends on a few different things:

Your Artwork

feather tattoo done by a tattoo artist
flower tattoo done by a tattoo artist
dragon tattoo done by a tattoo artist

Most mentors expect hopeful apprentices to have a portfolio that shows stellar art skills. For people who don’t have much drawing experience, getting that experience can take several years.

Note:

To learn how to draw tattoos faster, check out our 3-step process in How to Tattoo for Beginners.

How You Ask for an apprenticeship

Apprenticeships are different from most entry-level jobs.If you walk into a shop and ask for an job right away, you will get turned down. People ask professional tattoo artists for apprenticeships everyday, and “no” is their go-to answer. 

The best way to ask for an apprenticeship is to build a relationship and help around the shop before asking a potential mentor to look at your portfolio.

Note:

Need help creating a tattoo apprenticeship portfolio? Learn what a tattoo mentor is looking for with our Portfolio Guide.

Having connections does help

A lot of artists are able to get into the tattoo industry faster because they already have a few friends in the tattoo community.

How long do you have to be a tattoo apprentice?

In some places, there are legal requirements regarding your tattoo education. However, apprentices become professionals whenever their mentor feels they’re ready.

Here’s a few things that can factor into the length of your apprenticeship:

  • Your drawing skills and growth as an artist
  • If you’re able to work on fake skin. (Being allowed to use fake skin will help you prepare for real skin faster.)
  • How often you are able to tattoo. (The more practice you get, the faster you’ll improve.)
  • How much time your mentor has to teach you.

How to gain more control over the length of your apprenticeship:

tattoo apprentice working to become a tattoo artist

To avoid getting strung along in an apprenticeship, we recommend creating a tattoo apprentice contract with your potential mentor. 

In the contract, you’ll agree on milestones in your apprenticeship. For example, after a certain amount of drawings, you’ll be allowed to start practicing with a tattoo machine.

If you’re paying for your apprenticeship, these milestones will be paired with payment installments. (This will give your mentor incentives to teach you more often.)

Note:

If possible, talk to a future mentor’s graduated apprentices to hear about their experience and how long it took.

Do you have to have a tattoo apprenticeship?

designs by tattoo artists
You do not have to go through an apprenticeship to break into the tattoo industry. The reason so many professional tattoo artists will say you must have one is because 10-15 years ago, that was true. The only way to learn was from another artist in a tattoo shop.

However, overtime, hazing and even abuse became a normal part of “earning your stripes” in the industry. And between the mistreatment and years of work without income, aspiring artists began to look for another way to learn.

Which is why so many artists are learning from home and at their own pace with the Artist Accelerator Program. As the world’s most comprehensive online tattoo course, the Artist Accelerator Program gives you all the information you’d learn in a tattoo apprenticeship in an easy-to-follow, 9-step framework.

Inside the program, you’ll get step-by-step tattooing tutorials, lessons in design, and personalized feedback from professional tattoo artists in our online Mastermind community.

Over 2500 students have used the Artist Accelerator to break into the tattooing industry, with many of them going on to open their own studios and tattoo in shops around the world.

If you want to learn more about the framework they used…

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.

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