Professional tattooing cannot be legally practiced without the proper license and certifications. Regulations vary by state, but there are some standard procedures you’ll have to take as you make your way up to being a paid artist.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Before Getting a Tattoo License
There are numerous recommended steps as you work your way up to professional tattooing. If you plan to tattoo as a long-term career goal, you need to stay on top of continuous tattoo education courses and ensure your certifications don’t expire. The easiest way to become thoroughly informed about this is through:
- Considering an Apprenticeship Program - An apprenticeship under an excellent mentor will help you learn the ropes of tattooing and they will get you set up with the network you’ll need to proceed with your certifications and licensing.
- Take Tattoo Education Courses - There are initiatives, like the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, who will set you up with the courses needed for certification, and provide you the paperwork for licensing registration.
Both these avenues help you stay connected with colleagues who will continue to provide you with updated information about the industry, as well as continue your professional learning.
Tattoo Artist Licensing
Tattoo artist licensing varies by state so the license you receive to train in one state may not be what is required to professionally tattoo in another. For a complete overview of the requirements, have a look at our article, Tattoo License Laws By State.
Most states have standard health permissions that are required in order to tattoo on others. In some states, it’s illegal to tattoo on another human being without these certifications, while in others, you must have completed an apprenticeship in order to tattoo professionally.
Licenses vary if you are practicing as an individual, running a shop, or hosting a tattooing event, so you must be sure to check the requirements for your particular district.
Rules and Regulations
Tattooing falls under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the United States. This means you must receive training and certification in:
- Hazardous material disposal, such as needles
- Blood-borne pathogen training and protection
- Sanitization practices
- Some states require CPR training
- Up-to-date vaccination status declaration
The cost of certifications and licensing depends on the state. It can be anywhere from $25 to $500, depending on the specific license and where it is acquired.
Many states require that you take professional development in order to legally renew your tattoo license or certifications. Renewal costs are often less expensive than the initial pricing.
As with everything else, documentation for tattooing licenses and certifications vary by state. In general, you can expect to be asked for:
- Photo ID and birth certification
- Proof of experience or apprenticeship
- High school diploma or G.E.D.
- Your course certifications for disease control and prevention
- First Aid and CPR training
- Up-to-date vaccination status
- OSHA training
Some states require that you submit an affidavit of lawful and professional practice.
OSHA’s Rules and Regulations
As mentioned, under the umbrella of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration umbrella, there are specific regulations you must learn and rules you must follow as a practicing tattoo artist.
- Learn how to safely sterilize multi-use materials
- Learn how to safely clean your environment
- Learn about standard practices, such as glove wearing, and single-use stencils
- Needles are single-use only
- Records should be kept of all sterilization practices
During and After Tattooing
- Artists and clients should not enter a session if they have signs of illness such as diarrhea, fever, or rash
- Cuts and sores must be wrapped by the client prior to entering the session
- Antibacterial soap must be used before and after tattooing
- Artists must learn proper hazardous disposal, such as needles being placed in sharp bins
- Anything used to wipe the open wound of a tattoo should be disposed in a hazardous waste bin and not a standard garbage
- All hazardous waste must be collected by a licensed contractor
- Tattoo shops need wooden or laminate floors for hygienic purposes
- Tattoo shops should be well lit
- Any furniture needs to have non-absorbent material
- There needs to be a clean and working toilet that is accessible for employees and clients
- All rooms must be equipped with a first-aid kit
- The shop should be cleaned daily by a professional
- Minors should never be pierced or tattooed
- Records should be kept of all customers
Our Final Thoughts
In order to protect yourself, your business, and your clients, you need a license to tattoo. It’s important to do the individual research for the state in which you plan to practice. There are no excuses for, “not knowing” when it comes to making sure you have obtained and paid for all the certifications you require to professionally tattoo.