5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Tattoo Artist

The tattoo industry can be a hard one to navigate. If you don’t know what to expect, it can set your career back or make the learning process more frustrating.

To help, we’ve put together a list of 5 things every new artist should know before getting into the industry.

In this article, we’ll break down:

  • Whether tattoo TV shows are accurate or not
  • What you need to know about working with clients
  • How much money you make during your first years as a tattoo artist


TV Shows Make Tattooing Seem “Dramatic”

Because of television shows and stereotypes, a lot of people think they know what it is like to be an actual tattoo artist, how it is to work in a studio, etc. Once you’re tattooing full-time, you’ll find that people think it’s as dramatic as tattoo TV shows, and people will always ask about the “craziest” tattoo or “craziest” story you have. 

However, being a tattoo artist is not what they portray it is on television. All of those things are pretty much fake and most of it is scripted. They spark up drama that keeps you coming back to watch more. 

When it comes to being an actual tattoo artist, you're not going to be dealing with crazy scenarios (like clients getting into fights) on a daily basis. Now, if you do, that's a big red flag, and you should consider switching shops. 

On a daily basis, being a tattoo artist is pretty uneventful. You're just going to go and do your tattoos and come home, as it should be.


New Tattoo Artists Have To Do “Boring” Tattoos

When you’re first starting out, you're not going to be tattooing what you want. You'll be doing a lot of infinity signs, small script pieces, and maybe some tribal. They’re not super fun to do.

But even if you’re able to paint realism or draw neo traditional stuff easily, when you start tattooing, it takes a long time to build up all the fundamentals you need to be able to transfer that into actually tattooing it. 

And when it comes to the point that you're actually ready to do your style, you're not going to be great at it. 

It takes a long time to fine tune everything that you're doing like picking the right colors for your style. 

Additionally, it takes years to build a client list that likes your favorite style. And since you’re still practicing, you’ll start off tattooing these designs for cheap (or for free) just to post them online and find those clients.


Tattoo Artists Don’t Make Much Money At First

When you first start tattooing, you're not going to be making money. If you get a tattoo apprenticeship, you’ll either have to pay for it or you’ll have to work for free at the shop to “earn” your education. 

If you are earning your education through working in the shop, you’ll spend a year cleaning, answering phones, booking appointments, etc. (You’ll basically be doing the things that none of the tattoo artists want to do.)

You will not be getting paid during this time. That lack of income is one of the biggest things that causes new apprentices to drop out. Some apprentices will get a second job to support themselves. 

With that, it normally takes about two years until you can build up all the knowledge to actually start tattooing. This is why a lot of the apprentices you see nowadays are so young. They don't have the extra pressure of needing to pay bills, supporting kids, etc. 


If you’re paying for your apprenticeship, make sure you're not giving the full amount as soon as you walk in the door. A lot of shops will take that money, but not really teach you anything. And then when you quit, they just pocket it.

Instead, come up with an agreement between them. Pay a certain amount up front, and then pay more when you start tattooing, making money, etc. To sweeten the deal, agree to work there for about two years after your apprenticeship. (They won’t want to teach you if you won’t end up making the shop money.) 


Tattoo Artists Have to Be Able to Talk With Clients

It’s often overlooked in the tattoo industry, but being able to talk to clients is a huge deal. Everything you say, everything you do, and being able to reply to customers at the appropriate time is going to help you along your career.

Even when you're just sitting down tattooing someone and they're asking you questions, if you come off super standoffish, they won’t want to come back and get tattooed by you again. 

Remember, you're putting them through pain. You are sitting there very close for hours on end. Making that as comfortable as physically possible is a great way to build up clients because there's a lot of tattoo shops out there that really don't care about that at all. 

Even if you're tattooing a small tattoo that you’re not super excited about, make sure you go above and beyond with every tattoo you do. That one small tattoo that could become a full sleeve or a full leg sleeve someday. So, you want to make sure you're putting your all into every client and doing everything you can to make sure they're having a good experience.


Some clients will talk about their accomplishments or even a family member dying (that might be why they’re getting a tattoo). Being prepared to have those conversations that aren't necessarily fun to have, or are kind of awkward to have, will help you a ton.


Tattoo Artists Don’t Get PTO

While you can go on vacation as a tattoo artist, you’ll still have people trying to reach out to you. They’ll want to book an appointment, or they’ll want you to tell them a price for a tattoo, or they’ll have questions about the tattoos you’ve done last week. And if you push work off, there’s another artist ready to do the work, which could mean you lose a client.

Additionally, as a tattoo artist, you don’t just work and then go home just like any other job. When you are home, you’ll be drawing for your appointments for the next week. You’ll be replying to customers (and sometimes customers will message you at 3:00am and be upset that you didn’t message back right away). This can be really stressful whenever you are first starting out, especially with how easy it is to message people on social media. 

Final Thoughts: Being a Tattoo Artist is Worth It

The items in this list are pretty negative. The reason for that is because they’re things new artists need to know - and they aren’t always talked about. 

However, having a career in tattooing is not only fulfilling, but it’s also the most stable way to make a living as an artist. If you love the art - and you’re ready to meet inspiring artists along the way - it’s worth the hard work.

Learn to Tattoo Without an Apprenticeship

As mentioned above, one of the hardest parts about getting into the tattoo industry is making it through an in-shop, unpaid apprenticeship. And in the past, that type of 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
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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