The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Tattoo Artist

Jul 27, 2018

Learn How to Tattoo

Learning how to tattoo is a time commitment of six months to two years, though a dedicated tattoo artist will spend their entire career evolving his or her skills. Dedication is the key to success. People considering work as a tattoo artist should already have either raw artistic and/or the ability to draw. Many people seeking education as a tattoo artist have taken basic art courses. A passion for sketching and drawing is a must.

Most people learn how to tattoo by acquiring an apprenticeship with a successful tattoo artist. In order to secure an apprenticeship, you should create a portfolio of sketches and drawings that show off your artistic ability. The best way to create a good portfolio is to practice. Be dedicated. Practice more than you should. Your portfolio is ready when you have somewhere between 50 and 200 good sketches. Be sure these sketches represent your best work.

Many people who want to be tattoo artists take courses in two-dimensional art and art history. Consider taking courses at a community college to broaden your artistic skills. Some tattoo artists have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine arts. A broad knowledge of art history will be helpful when you are working with a client to draw a new tattoo.

Save money while you are searching for an apprenticeship. Tattoo artists typically charge their apprentices. The apprenticeship will take up much of your time, so you will need to have money saved to live on while you are studying. The cost of an apprenticeship varies from mentor to mentor, but plan on spending $6,000 to $10,000 on your apprenticeship.

As an apprentice you will learn how to make needles, sterilize equipment, earn a blood borne pathogen certificate and learn to use a tattoo machine. Apprentices commonly act as an assistant to the artist they are studying under. They may run errands, clean and complete other tasks as necessary. Do not expect to start tattooing right away. You will be learning the business from the ground up.

Many tattoo artists offer apprenticeships. It is important to understand what the mentor will provide you with while you are training under him or her. Most people outline their duties and responsibilities with a contract. If you are considering an apprenticeship, you should understand and agree with all of the details made in the contract before you sign it. Both the role of mentor and apprentice should be clearly defined.

Selecting a mentor is a task that should be taken seriously. Choose someone whose work you admire. You will be investing a lot of time and money with this person. Choose someone who you get along with. Your mentor will teach you the ins and outs of the business. Make sure you are working with someone who has solid business management skills.

Tattoo Power SupplyRotary Tattoo Machine

Disposable tattoo grips


As a body artist, you will be working with blood. Safety for both you and your clients is a primary concern. While you are seeking an apprenticeship, make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. If you have not received a vaccination for hepatitis, do so. This vaccination requires three shots to be delivered over several months, so start now.

As a tattoo artist, you can expect to be exposed to infections that can be transferred by contact with blood. These infections include Hepatitis BHepatitis C and HIV.
For the protection of client and self, tattoo artists are typically required to have a blood borne pathogens certificate. This certificate is obtained by taking a training course and test, usually over the internet. If this certificate is not required in your area, make sure your apprenticeship covers training in how to deal with blood borne pathogens.

In addition to blood borne pathogen training, tattoo artists must learn how to keep their work environment safe and sterile. Mentors should train tattoo artists on this topic, but here are a few tips to keep you safe:
• Wash your hands with antibacterial soap before and after each tattoo.
• Wear latex gloves.
• Use individual and sealed needles and tubes for each client.
• Sanitize your work space between tattoos.
• Dispose of needles, tubes and other equipment in a medically approved fashion.

Tattoo Practice Skin

Tattoo Equipment

When you train to become a tattoo artist, you will learn to use a tattoo machine, tattoo needle, tattoo grips, tattoo color sets and a sterilizing autoclave.
A tattoo machine is the device used to draw the tattoo on skin. This piece of equipment is easy to use and requires a steady hand. Before using the tattoo machine on skin, you will practice using the gun on fruit or other soft, fleshy materials. Tattoo machines are also called tattoo guns or tattoo irons.

A tattoo needle is either round or flat. Round needles are used for outlining and flat needles are used for shading. A tattoo needle is actually several individual needles and is very different from a standard needle. When using a needle on a client, be sure to open the sterilized package in front of them. Tattoo needles are made from varying materials. Ask your mentor to explain the type he or she uses and why.

Tattoo grips attach to the tattoo machine. They come in different styles and materials. Experiment with different grips and find which one works for you.

Tattoo color sets are the ink that is put into the skin. Your mentor should use a well known company with a good reputation.

Tattoo parlors typically use autoclaves to sterilize all equipment that is not disposable. Autoclaves use a combination of pressure and heat to sanitize equipment. They are easy to use. Your mentor should explain what goes in the autoclave and how it works.

Thermal Transfer Machine

Risks for You and Your Clients

During your apprenticeship, you should learn how to protect both you and your clients from risks associated with tattooing. The biggest risk to self and others is contracting a blood borne pathogen. Using sterile equipment, gloves and proper disposal methods keep everyone safe. Cleaning your hands and work area in between tattoos is a must.

A second risk to both you and your clients is that a client is unsatisfied with his or her tattoo. Tattooing is permanent. During your apprenticeship, it is important that you learn how to communicate effectively with your client. Your client is a living, moving example of your artwork. You must do your best to make sure they are happy and ready to refer your work to their friends. Your mentor should teach you his or her method of working with clients. Oftentimes, clients have an idea of the type of tattoo they would like and it is your job to take that idea from abstract to concrete.

Tattoo Coil Machine

Develop Your Skill and Style

As an apprentice, you will be expected to give 100 free tattoos before you can become a money making artist. You will buy the supplies for these tattoos and your first clients can be your best referral sources. Let your friends and family know that you will be offering free tattoos as part of your training. Try to practice on different skin colors, skin types and areas of the body. Take photos of every tattoo you ink. Create a portfolio of these photos. Most clients will want to see a portfolio of your completed work before they hire you.

Study different styles of tattoos. Observe the techniques of different tattoo artists. Learn which styles are popular by networking with industry professionals. Once you feel you have reviewed a broad spectrum of styles, begin to hone your own. Tattoo artists go from good to great when they show the world something new.

As a budding artist, there are several things you can do now to develop your skills. Draw daily to build your portfolio. Take courses in two dimensional art and art history. Start networking with tattoo professionals. Ask tattoo artists how they got started, what they did right and what they would do differently.

Dedication is the key to becoming a good tattoo artist. Time, money and practice will pay off if you stay dedicated to the craft. Tattoo artistry is a growing field and can be lucrative after a few years of study. Tattoo artists average around $50 per hour. Artists that are in demand can make several hundred dollars per hour.