Tattooing is hard to figure out on your own, especially if you’re not familiar with how the industry works. Getting help from professional tattoo artists can help you learn - and start your tattooing career - much faster.
Without the right knowledge, it’s impossible to grow in the tattoo industry. But if you’re simply searching for “tattoo schools near me,” you might not be finding the right type of education.
In this article, we’ll explain your options and how to find the help you need to successfully learn to tattoo.
We’re breaking down:
3 Types of Tattoo Schools
There are three “styles” of tattoo education out there. Which one is right for you will depend on your personal situation, your state or region, and how much you are able to invest.
Tattoo Apprenticeship: The Traditional “Tattoo School”
Doing a tattoo apprenticeship is the traditional route into the tattoo industry, and for a long time, it was the only “tattoo school” you could find.
In a traditional apprenticeship, one tattoo artist teaches one apprentice in a tattoo shop.
The apprentice works in the shop for about two years full-time for free in exchange for their education. Some apprenticeships also require a fee, usually $5-10K.
How a Tattoo Apprenticeship Works
Ideally, the professional tattoo artist teaches their student all the skills they need to know to have a successful career. Once the apprentice masters the skills they need to work professionally, they become a full-time tattoo artist (most likely working at the same shop as their mentor).
Apprenticeships: What to Watch Out For
Unfortunately, apprenticeships usually come with a lot of hazing. Many tattoo artists end up dealing with abuse while they try and learn. Additionally, some “mentors” will not teach their apprentices at all and instead use them for free labor in their shops.
In-Person Tattoo School
An in-person tattoo school is exactly what it sounds like: you learn to tattoo in a classroom setting.
A tattoo teacher instructs about 15 (sometimes more) students, working through a curriculum that focuses on proper sanitation and hands-on tattooing. The classes have a specific date and time (usually evenings or weekends).Tattoo school tuition varies in cost, but they tend to be in the $5-15K range.
Ideally, a group of highly experienced artists work with several students, teaching them color theory and tattooing sanitation before watching them tattoo human skin with 1-on-1 supervision.
Tattoo Schools: What to Watch Out For
Tattoo schools tend to be short-staffed and run by artists who do not have very much experience tattooing. Many tattoo schools will teach you everything you need to know about sanitation, but there’s very little actual tattooing instruction.
Additionally, many tattoo schools come with hazing, just like an apprenticeship.
If you’re not sure whether a tattoo school is teaching good technique, try to find work done by their students. If you can’t find any - or it’s bad- then you know it’s not the right place to learn.
Online Tattoo School
Images from Tattooing 101’s Artist Accelerator Program
An online tattoo school is (usually) a pre-recorded program that you can work through at home.
An online tattoo course should be taught by a professional tattoo artist(s) and teach all the same skills you’d learn in a good apprenticeship or tattoo school.
Because online programs are pre-recorded, you can progress through the course on your own time, at home. However, you should still have a way to get direct access to professional tattoo artists to ask questions and get feedback on your work.
Tattoo Courses: What to Watch Out For
Unfortunately, a lot of tattoo courses are incomplete, with many of them only being a few hours long in total. This leaves paying students without the skills they need to become a professional tattoo artist.
Also, a lot of courses are filmed and sold by a professional tattoo artist, but you only get the videos and no way to ask questions.
How to Avoid Tattoo School Scams
You’ve probably noticed in each section that there’s a good and bad side to each tattoo school option - and the bad side usually means you get scammed out of your time and money.
Becoming a tattoo artist does not have to put your money at risk, as long as you know what to look for. Along with tattoo technique training, legit tattoo schools will have all of the following:
Professional Tattoo Artist Instructor(s):
Tattooing 101 Instructors
Whether you’re looking for a mentor to apprentice under, or you’re trying to figure out if a tattoo school has good instructors, you want to make sure you’re learning from a successful tattoo artist. (If they aren’t successful, you won’t be, either.)
Do your research on the person who will be teaching you. They should have an online portfolio and social media showing their work. If they don’t - or the work you see on their social media is bad - then you know to move on.
Some online tattoo courses are created by professional tattoo artists…but they no longer interact with the program. Make sure you are guaranteed a way to talk with professional tattoo artists and ask questions.
Tattoo Design Training
Images from the Artist Accelerator Program and the Tattooing 101 Sketchbook Vol. 1
Drawing Tattoos is different from drawing an amazing picture. Even if you’re a talented artist in another medium, you still need to be trained in drawing art for the body. Any tattoo school you attend should include lessons on the artistry of tattooing.
Tattooing is a creative career. Even if you can tattoo perfectly, if you can’t draw designs, you’ll be limited in what tattoos you can do and which clients you can work with.
If you’re looking at a tattoo course or program, make sure design training is included.
Tattoo apprenticeships are an exception to this rule. A tattoo mentor will expect you to already have a strong knowledge in tattoo design, drawing, and flash art.
Connections to the Tattoo Industry
Even if you have a great tattoo portfolio, getting into your first tattoo shop can be very difficult.
Any tattoo school you attend should have connections to tattoo shops or connect you with other tattoo artists through an online community (hopefully both). This allows you to network with other artists or even get a placement in a shop as soon as you’ve finished your training.
Tattoo apprentices often transition into a full-time position after they complete their training. Some apprentices are required to sign a contract before starting their training that they will work at the shop for several years as an artist.
Want to start forming connections with tattoo artists from all over the world? Tattooing 101’s free forum has over 9,000 members and tons of resources for both new and veteran artists.
Business Advice for Your New Career
Accounting and Business for Artists Module from the Artist Accelerator Program
If you want to make a career in the tattoo industry, it’s not enough to just love tattooing.
Tattooing is a business - and a very competitive one. To get clients and stand out, you need to know how to build not only your art skills, but also your business skills.
An apprenticeship or tattoo course should teach you how to get into the tattoo industry, set up your finances, price your art and tattoos, etc.
What to Do When Tattoo School is Required
Snapshot of Oregon’s Tattoo License Application
Very few states require tattoo school attendance. However, some states with stricter laws (like Oregon) have a state-mandated tattoo curriculum. For the most part, the curriculum covers sanitation in detail, but not design or technical skill.
For many aspiring artists, the only licensed tattoo school near them teaches sanitation and limited technique.
In a recent interview we did with one of our Oregon tattoo students, he said that most shops will not hire artists who are just out of tattoo school because they do not have the artistic skills required to work as a tattoo artist.
In this case, aspiring artists will attend their licensed tattoo school to get their license and receive some other type of training (online course, self-taught, apprenticeship, etc.) to get the skills they need to actually work professionally.
Learn to Master Tattooing
Understanding the importance of getting a good tattoo education is only the first step on your journey to becoming a tattoo artist. Next, you need to dive into the lessons that will help you build your new career.
There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is outdated or incorrect. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.
If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.
We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.
Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired.
Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.