How Do Tattoo Artists Get Paid? Tattoo Artist Salary Explained

Written by: Pete
Updated:

We all know how expensive getting a tattoo can be, but after the cost of equipment and the shop fees, just how much of that amount actually goes into the hands of a tattoo artist? Tattoo artist salaries can be a bit complicated, but we hope to help eliminate as much confusion as possible in the following article.

How Do Tattoo Artists Get Paid

The Basics of Tattoo Artists Getting Paid

Tattoo artists are self-employed or independent contract workers. If they don’t own the studio themselves, they are either renting the chair in the shop they work in, or are being paid on commission from the shop owner. Even if someone tattoos in their own shop, they’re paying the rental fees of the building, the cost of equipment, and the fees for the other artists working there.

All in all, tattoo artists, unless famous with a feature on a reality television show, are working hard for their money and aren’t making that much in the end. Salary.com lists the average tattoo artist salary at around $41,044 a year. This amount can vary from state to state.

The Apprenticeship

Not only does it cost money to have a mentor and to apprentice under an artist, you also don’t make money tattooing clients until your apprenticeship is up. Along with the thousands of dollars invested into your future as an artist, you are working the shop floor without pay. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • Cleaning the shop
  • Sanitizing equipment
  • Organizing paperwork
  • Taking phone calls and appointments
  • Setting up equipment for artists
  • Practicing your art work, or creating stencils
  • Practicing your machine work

Apprenticeships can last three to five years and take hundreds of hours of dedication. Have a look at our article, Tattoo Apprenticeships: How To Get One? Are They Paid? How Do You Pick A Mentor? - Everything You Need To Know.

Renting a Chair

One of the most common practices in a tattoo shop is similar to a hair salon; an artist is an independent contractor who is hired to fill a space in the shop. They need to rent the chair to do so, paying a weekly or monthly fee to the shop owner.

Set Fee

Another option for tattoo artists is to enter a shop and rent their space and equipment for a set fee. This fee may range on the popularity of the shop and the skillset of the artist. Set fees can be challenging if you do not meet a specific booking quota for the month.

Commission

An additional way a tattoo artist can agree upon work terms with a shop is by splitting the commission on tattoos; this is often done with a 50/50 split. Any tips that are earned via this means goes directly into the artist’s pocket, which is why tipping your tattoo artist is so important!

Having Their Own Space

Some tattoo artists acquire their own shop space over time, looking to join forces with colleagues they trust and admire. Some people do this in a home studio, in a rented, sanitized space, or in a building they purchased. Depending on whether you are renting the location or not, you may be able to put all profit into pocket.

The Expenses

All businesses, including freelance tattoo artistry work, come with expenses. Here are a few that may impact your profit at the end of the month.

Workspace Costs

Of course, renting a space or renting a chair will be one of the largest expenses you will face as an independent contractor doing tattooing. This is very rarely pocketed by the owner but is instead used to help improve the shop and business.

Paying for Equipment and Materials

The most fundamental expense you’ll experience as a tattoo artist is the cost of equipment and materials. As an independent contractor, some of these items could potentially be claimed back as a business expense, but some may pull directly from your profit. This includes ink, needles, sterilization equipment, tattoo machines, power supplies, and more. Disposable items such as gloves, needles, tissues, and aftercare supplies have frequent upfront costs that need to be considered.

Employees

Remember that if you have your own space, you need to be clear about whether you are hiring other artists as independent contractors or as employees, for taxation and insurance reasons. Employees get paid a specific salary, and would be covered in ways that independent contractors are not. Mixing up the two could present issues with the IRS down the line.

You will also have to consider hiring a desk manager, and possibly an accountant to help with staying financially organized.

Our Final Thoughts

Tattoo artists get paid through commission, the payments made directly for their work if they’re renting a chair, or as a salaried employee. Tattoo artists also pocket every tip they are given which is a generous way to thank an artist for the work they’ve done. While it may not be a path that will make you exceptionally wealthy, becoming a tattoo artist is an honorable and passionate creative career to pursue.

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