AI-Generated Art: How Will it Affect Tattoo Artists?

Artwork generated by artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming better every day. It’s on pace to outperform even the most talented artists currently dominating the creative landscape, leaving many tattoo artists wondering about their job security in the near future.

However, working in tandem with artificial intelligence might become the “fast track” to a career in tattooing. In this article, we’ll break down why that is, and what tattoo artists - and the industry as a whole - can expect to see from the rise of artificial intelligence.

How Artificial Intelligence Works

Before looking at the effects of artificial intelligence on tattooing specifically, it’s important to know what current AI is capable of doing. This will make it easier to pinpoint where its impact will be felt the most in the tattoo industry.

Written Content

To create written content with an AI program (like Jasper, image below) you simply feed it a few key phrases, videos, or articles. Tell the generator that you want a blog post similar to those existing pieces, and it will spit out completely original content in a matter of minutes. 

While they’re not perfect, AI content generators use the same common phrasing humans use to guess what to write next. It’s similar to autocorrect - just at a much higher level. They do this by using GPT3, a program that allows AI to learn about a topic using articles and videos posted to the internet to then create its own content. 

GPT3 is the most capable - and lifelike - model to date, allowing AI to accurately understand niche topics. It has such a natural language cadence that GPT3 AI can be used to create realistic relationships, as seen in apps like Replika.

The Artwork

Some AI generators are dedicated solely to written content, while others also churn out images based on basic prompts. To create artwork with an AI program, you simply have to type in a command, and it will create a completely custom image in a matter of seconds.

Some generators will ask for additional guidance to help with the creation process. For example, they might ask for the “mood” you’re going for, as well as offer up names of famous artists to help narrow down the style you’re looking for.

Other generators will allow you to draw “rough sketches” of an image and it will then use that as a foundation to create a much more detailed image, saving the human artist hours of manual labor.

It is this ability to create incredible designs in a matter of seconds that is likely to become a major asset to tattoo artists in the near future.

Artificial Intelligence Could Become the Ultimate Creative Assistant for Tattoo Artists

It’s reasonable to estimate that it will be 2-3 years before AI-created art is good enough to replace tattoo designs. (See current results below.)

When asked to create a “Japanese tattoo design on a woman’s back,” Jasper AI created this image from scratch in seconds.

While AI currently does not have the capacity to create tattoo designs that flow with the body’s muscles (a major component of tattoo design), the most advanced AI systems currently in use have only downloaded a small percentage of the internet. 

Along with the millions of dollars of investment pouring into the development of the software, we can expect to see AI generators to become more sophistocated fast, meaning it is reasonable to estimate that within 2-3 years, AI-generated tattoo designs will have enough references to create designs that are professional quality (or better).  

That being said, once AI is able to digest the tattoo designs on Instagram, Facebook, and the like, it will have millions of references to use for any single design. Even if an artist has seen that many images, it is impossible for the human brain to hold - and use - so much information at one time, giving the AI generator a definitive leg up in the design process. 

Essentially, in a few years, you can expect to tell an AI generator: “Create a realistic tattoo design of a lion with roses on a man’s arm,” and within seconds, you’ll see computer-generated options that mimic work that can only currently be created by top artists in the industry:

So, what does this mean for those top artists - let alone new tattoo artists trying to break into the industry?

It means that it will become much easier for artists to unlock and enhance their creativity.

AI will never be able to replace human emotion or an artist’s personality and style. However, learning how to use those things to draw amazing tattoo designs can take years of practice, and many new artists have a hard time getting the ideas from their mind onto paper. 

If an aspiring tattoo artist is still building those drawing skills, an AI generator will be able to act as an assistant by giving them a solid design to work off. Because the generator will sample the work of top-performing artists, it is recreating the same process that new artists use to learn (mimicking their favorite artists) at a much faster rate. 

However, because these designs are still guaranteed to be unique (and not exact replicas of other artists’ designs), artists will be able to tattoo those designs right away or use the AI-generated image as a base for their own work. Instead of drawing from scratch, they instead have a good starting point that saves them several hours of frustration. 

This process will allow new artists to take their time learning how to draw, while still making it possible to earn a living as a tattoo artist. 

Why AI Will Benefit New Tattoo Artists Most

AI will enhance an artist’s ability to create by making the process faster while also needing less effort. For tattoo artists who have made a living off of their decades of drawing experience, this might be alarming. 

However, when used correctly, tattoo artists at all levels can use AI to further their career. That being said, new artists are likely to see the most direct benefits.

This is partially because “old-school” tattoo artists are known for rejecting the use of technology in tattooing, which means they get left behind while artists who hop on the train early are able to skyrocket their careers. We have seen this trend over and over throughout the years:

Rotary Tattoo Machines

Coil tattoo machine

Coil Tattoo Machinee

Rotary tattoo machine

While rotary tattoo machines have not replaced coil machines entirely, most artists opt for them. They are easier to use, easier to fix, and can create finer lines and smoother shades than the original coil machine design.

Tattoo Television 

Tattooing TV shows like InkMaster and Tattoo Nightmares pushed tattooing into the mainstream. What was once considered taboo was suddenly romanticized. 

People saw tattooing as a way to travel, find creative expression, and find freedom within a well-paying career. Suddenly, tattooing became “cool.” Tattoo shops popped up overnight in every city, and owners were easily making six figures simply from tattooing’s new popularity. 

Instagram

Tattooing 101 Instructor Brandon’s Instagram

Instagram allowed tattooing to go viral. With the invention of Instagram, tattoo artists suddenly had a free way to market their services and show off their work. This not only allowed them to find new customers, it also exposed people to artists all over the world, leading to more education on what good tattoos look like. 

The ability to see work from so many different artists caused a major shift in the industry. Instead of walking into the nearest shop, customers suddenly knew of artists who specialized in the style they wanted in the next town or city over - and they were willing to make the trip and pay more for that artist. 

This meant that being a “jack of all trades” and being able to do every style was no longer the best path for a professional tattoo artist. Instead, specializing in one style and developing their own unique twist was the most important thing they could do to attract new clients and stand out from the crowd.

iPad, Procreate, Photoshop 

Digital drawing streamlined the design process for tattoo artists. With digital tools that made perfectly straight lines and allowed for exact symmetry, many artists found that apps like Procreate and Photoshop made their drawing process easier, while also making their designs look better. 

Additionally, using digital tools allowed artists to easily resize their work and travel with the ability to make new designs, even if they left their traditional watercolors and pens at home.

AI is the Next Step of Evolution for the Tattooing Industry

Most of the next generation of tattoo artists will be “digital natives.” This means that they were learning to use advanced technology before they could walk. (Many people will be more familiar with the term “iPad babies.”) 

Because of their familiarity with technology, they will be likely to embrace AI as tattoo artists. Current tattoo artists will need to adopt the technology for themselves, or they will see themselves surpassed by artists who have only months of experience compared to their decades.  

No matter how experienced an artist might be, it is impossible to compete with someone who is using AI to create tattoo designs, social media posts and other marketing materials that attract customers, etc. 

Essentially, AI is likely to push many tattoo artists committed to the old ways of tattooing into early retirement. While many artists were able to continue working despite rejecting iPads or online marketing through social media, the gap between the “old ways” and the abilities of AI will become too large for them to hurdle.

What AI-Assisted Tattooing Looks Like

As new tattoo artists integrate AI into their workflow, we can expect to see a few changes:

1. AI-Assisted Marketing Will Make Artists More Money, Faster

We’ve discussed how image generation with AI will be able to help tattoo artists create incredible designs at their same skill level or higher in a matter of seconds. (Normally, large tattoo designs can take upwards of 6 hours to create.)

However, it’s important to understand how tattoo artists can use AI-generated written content as well.

Unless an artist is in the top 1% skill-wise, it’s rare that a client will search them out by name. Instead, artists that want to get ahead in the industry need to use marketing tactics to put themselves out there and get new clients. 

However, for many artists, social media and marketing is a chore. 

AI-generated copy will allow tattoo artists to optimize their marketing efforts. With the ability to create captions, emails, video scripts, and more on demand with AI software, artists will be able to put out higher-quality posts that get them noticed in a fraction of the time it took them before.

Because AI will make it easy to target often-searched terms and phrases, tattoo artists will be able to double down on their marketing to create a bigger client list, build their brand (which translates to higher per-hour pay), and spend less time on the admin side of their business. 

Looking Forward: AI as an Admin Assistant

While still far off, it’s likely that AI will be able to handle the inboxes of tattoo artists in just a few        years. Having an AI bot handle questions from customers, pricing estimates, and more will save artists hours per week of being on their phones, trying to keep up with their growing inbox.

2. Tattoo Artists Will Be Able to Amp Up Their Production

A major obstacle that keeps tattoo artists from growing their online presence - and resulting client list - is that it is very difficult to create new tattoos and designs quickly enough to satisfy most social media platforms’ fast-paced algorithms.

TikTok, the world’s fastest-growing social media platform, recommends posting one to four times per day. Instagram recommends posting at least once per day.

Artists using AI to generate tattoo designs will no longer find this an issue. Additionally, they’ll be able to find more time for actual tattooing without the hours-long process of creating custom designs. Provided they have basic technical skills, they’ll be able to create high-quality tattoos (with higher-quality designs), faster, boosting their production - and their careers. 

Note:

The integration of AI technology with tattooing at present cannot make up for a deficit in technical ability. Artists will need a solid foundation in tattooing skills as well as an understanding of artistic principles like line weights and using a light source in order to tattoo designs created by AI.

3. Aspiring Artists Will Find Less GateKeeping

In the past, the only way to become a tattoo artist was to get an apprenticeship under a tattoo artist working in a shop. And the only way to get “accepted” by a mentor was to show a portfolio of high-quality tattoo designs that proved a potential apprentice’s artistic skills before they even touched a tattoo machine for the first time. 

While that process is becoming more flexible through online programs and in-person tattoo schools, AI-generated artwork will make it easier to get into tattooing because new artists’ time and attention can be focused on actually tattooing designs, and they will only have to know a little bit about drawing. This removes a massive obstacle for many aspiring tattoo artists, which means faster improvement for new artists.

As AI continues to get better, the more that ability to grow will accelerate.

What AI’s Effects Mean for the Tattoo Industry as a Whole

Because AI can assist artists who are still developing their artistic skills - and technical skills can be improved upon much faster - the bar to entering the industry will be much, much lower.

This will cause a number of effects within the industry:

1. More Tattoo Artists - and Clients - Entering the Industry

Because the tattoo industry will be more accessible to aspiring tattoo artists, we can expect a flood of new artists entering the market. With an influx of tattoo artists armed with an unlimited number of great designs, a massive wave of new clientele will follow. 

This expected growth of the industry will be similar to the expansion seen after the rise of tattoo television, just at a larger scale.

2. Tattoo Supplies Will Become More Accessible 

Business owners will see the rise of new tattoo artists and clients as a major opportunity to get in on the ground floor before the industry experiences a major boom.

This means that new tattoo supply companies will come onto the scene offering new machines and equipment. This will likely drive the cost of supplies down, even among reputable brands.

However, the biggest change artists are likely to see is that fewer companies will require artists who order from them to be connected to a tattoo shop. At present, many tattoo supply companies will not sell their products to artists who cannot prove they work in a tattoo studio. 

But, as more artists start learning - and practicing - at home, companies who refuse to sell to such a large demographic of the industry will likely find themselves getting run out of business by bigger suppliers who will.

3. Safer and Shorter Apprenticeships

As the tattoo industry grows, it will gain more attention from both local and national governing bodies. Most likely, this will mean stronger regulation when it comes to safety (like the UK's 2022 Ink Ban) and training.

For artists seeking in-person apprenticeships, this is a good sign. If there are clear standards for what an apprentice must learn and standard timelines mentors have to follow, it is far less likely that an apprentice will be taken advantage of for free labor. This will likely curb some of the abuse that happens in apprenticeships as well, since there will be a government office that mentors will report back to. 

Despite more regulation, the industry can expect to see a decrease in in-person apprenticeships. Because so many of the artists entering the industry will need flexible learning plans due to full-time jobs, family obligations, etc., the current style of in-shop apprenticeships will no longer be the norm.

4. Less Plagiarism

Because AI programs can develop hundreds of new designs at any time, tattoo artists will be much less likely to steal designs and copy them for their own clients. Creating custom designs will be easier - with none of the social repercussions that come from being labeled a “copycat” in the industry.

How Artists Can Best Position Themselves to Take Advantage of AI: Using Innovation to Launch Your Career

The tattoo industry as a whole can expect several benefits from the effects of AI, including a larger community of new tattoo artists, less harsh apprenticeships, and a growing acceptance of tattoos due to a larger clientele. 

Additionally, artificial intelligence offers tattoo artists benefits they can use as tools to reach their individual career goals faster. Here’s how artists can use AI to position themselves for success in the coming years:

1. Use AI Marketing to Build a Recognizable Brand

Because more tattoo artists will enter the industry, marketing will become incredibly important for artists.

If a tattoo artist is able to build a recognizable brand and a following of people who like, know, and trust them, they will be able to charge higher prices because loyal clients are willing to pay more for their work.

Luckily, AI can assist in this area. AI content generators have all the information necessary to craft great captions, ads, headlines, and articles that can draw the attention of tattoo clients.

Note:

Unfortunately, many tattoo artists still reject the idea of AI-generated designs and AI-generated marketing. And there will be a small portion of clients who will refuse to get a tattoo created by AI because they feel artificial intelligence replaces human jobs. However, that portion of the clientele will not be large enough to fully support these artists. Most likely, those artists will be forced to lower their prices instead. 

2. Make Better Use of Your Time

A major issue tattoo artists run into is the lack of free time. They tattoo in a shop all day, and then they go home and spend their nights drawing for the next day’s appointments. 

If they can generate tattoo designs in minutes using AI, they can either put that time toward marketing and tattooing (making them money), or more free time.

3. Progress Faster by Focusing on the Technical Side of Tattooing 

AI allows artists to design faster, which means doing more tattoos per day, translating to a larger online presence and a larger paycheck.

AI gives artists the opportunity to progress faster. Instead of spending years perfecting their drawing skills, they can focus on the execution of the technical side of tattooing and still get the “tattoo artist lifestyle” of being their own boss, being able to travel and work, etc.

4. Take Advantage of the Upcoming Tattooing Boom to Open a Shop

Because more tattoo artists are entering the industry, more shops will open to accommodate them. This is great news for artists who want to own their own shop in the near future. 

Final Thoughts

For most people, working in tandem with artificial intelligence seems like a foreign - and even uncomfortable - idea. However, for tattoo artists, AI can save them hours of work per week while also taking their designs to the next level. And for aspiring tattoo artists, the ability to focus solely on technical execution will allow for faster career progression. 

The abilities of AI is not something you want to ignore as an artist, and those who embrace it will have an advantage over those who don’t.

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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