Tattoo Artist Salary & Yearly Earnings Guide: How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

Written by: Pete
Updated:

The journey towards pursuing a professional career in tattooing is no easy one. In fact, it’s a path that requires extensive time and financial commitment. On top of that, average salaries for tattoo artists vary by state and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be taking a lot with you as you exit the shop each night. You may be wondering, “Do tattoo artists make good money?” Read on for a complete understanding about tattoo artist salaries and earnings.

How Much Does a Beginner or Apprentice Tattoo Artist Make?

For the first one or two years in your apprenticeship, you will actually be paying out of pocket to be mentored and won’t be making money on the tattoos you do on clients. Most clients will pay for the cost of materials and your training means you will not pocket any of the money, yourself.

Unless your client provides you with a tip, you will have to wait until you’ve acquired your license and begun professionally tattooing prior to making any money on the work you do. It’s for this reason that many tattoo apprentices have additional part-time jobs to help fund their cost of living while they are learning.

Tattoo apprenticeships are like a college or university experience; you are paying to gain the knowledge in order to eventually be able to charge for your services. For more information, check out our detailed article, Tattoo Apprenticeships: How To Get One? Are They Paid? How Do You Pick A Mentor? - Everything You Need To Know.

First Year on the Job

Your first year on the job, you will likely rent a spot in a shop as an independent contractor. This means you will be paying rent to the owner for the chair, or you’ll be paying a commission fee that is determined on how many clients you get in a month. A lot of money you will pocket will be from tips, which is why it’s important to tip your tattoo artists!

Whether you’re an independent contractor or a salaried employee will impact how much money you will make in your first year tattooing. Zippia states that beginners in employment can earn an entry-level salary of around $26,000 a year in tattooing. This income varies from state to state.

How Much Does an Experienced or Intermediate Tattoo Artist Make?

An experienced artist may either rent a chair, work as a salaried employee, or could even open up their own tattoo shop. If you’re interested in running your own studio, it’s important to consider the additional expenses in this venture. Have a look at our article on, How To Open Up Your Own Tattoo Shop - A Complete Guide.

On average, Payscale lists experienced artists at about $57,796 annual salary. This doesn’t consider the cash tips received by clients, as well.

How Much Does a Highly Experienced Tattoo Artist Make?

If you’ve grown in fame in the industry, you may have the honor of being invited to tattoo guest spots in shops around the world, or tattooing at exhibitions. Highly experienced artists often work on celebrities or wealthy individuals and can also pocket large tips during their sessions. Fame and recognition allow you to charge more for your pieces by size or by hour. Most highly experienced artists end up running their own practice instead of renting a chair at a shop.

According to Zippia.com, the 90th percentile of highly experienced artists can earn anywhere from $96,000 to $144,000 a year.

What Factors Determine a Tattoo Artist’s Salary?

Experience and Skill Level

The number of years you’ve been in the business and dedicated to your craft will not only emphasize your professionalism in the industry but will also improve your recognition. Word-of-mouth is a powerful testimonial tool for tattoo artists, and the more years you spend tattooing, the more your name will get passed among potential customers.

As you dedicate time to your artistry, your skill level also improves. With this, you can begin to demand larger commissions from shops or charge more for your work.

Studio Location

Average salaries for tattoo artists vary from state to state. In addition, salaries can fluctuate depending on the city you are in and the demand in that city.

According to Indeed, here are the average salaries by state:

  • Alabama: $44,315 per year
  • Alaska: $78,797 per year
  • Arizona: $72,010 per year
  • Arkansas: $72,039 per year
  • California: $48,549 per year
  • Colorado: $40,909 per year
  • Connecticut: $80,647 per year
  • Delaware: $75,859 per year
  • District of Columbia: $90,530 per year
  • Florida: $55,068 per year
  • Georgia: $37,986 per year
  • Hawaii: $76,368 per year
  • Idaho: $70,232 per year
  • Illinois: $59,710 per year
  • Indiana: $73,131 per year
  • Iowa: $73,923 per year
  • Kansas: $72,784 per year
  • Kentucky: $54,398 per year
  • Louisiana: $73,333 per year
  • Maryland: $51,201 per year
  • Massachusetts: $67,368 per year
  • Michigan: $48,663 per year
  • Minnesota: $78,068 per year
  • Mississippi: $69,650 per year
  • Missouri: $57,283 per year
  • Montana: $70,259 per year
  • Nebraska: $73,430 per year
  • Nevada: $67,683 per year
  • New Hampshire: $81,460 per year
  • New Jersey: $89,690 per year
  • New Mexico: $74,437 per year
  • New York: $51,302 per year
  • North Carolina: $44,750 per year
  • North Dakota: $74,956 per year
  • Ohio: $47,382 per year
  • Oklahoma: $44,064 per year
  • Oregon: $78,066 per year
  • Pennsylvania: $64,476 per year
  • Rhode Island: $77,054 per year
  • South Carolina: $27,353 per year
  • South Dakota: $72,255 per year
  • Texas: $58,840 per year
  • Tennessee: $47,880 per year
  • Utah: $73,749 per year
  • Vermont: $82,070 per year
  • Virginia: $56,771 per year
  • Washington: $50,464 per year
  • West Virginia: $70,673 per year
  • Wisconsin: $74,900 per year
  • Wyoming: $73,206 per year

Popularity

Like skill-level, the more well-known you become, the more in-demand your work will be. This will keep your schedule fully-booked and will allow you to adjust your pricing to meet your demand. Popularity also leads to more impressive tips.

Speed of Work

The more you practice your craft, the faster you become at tattooing without risking the quality of the tattoo. The quicker your sessions move, the more bookings you can schedule in your week or your month and the more money you will make.

Shop Ownership

Owning your own shop means everything you earn as an artist goes into your own pocket. You can also earn money through your chair rentals or commissions taken from other artists in your shop, while not tattooing yourself. But there are numerous other expenses to consider, so it’s worth having a look at our article: How To Open Up Your Own Tattoo Shop - A Complete Guide.

Our Final Thoughts

It may take a few years before you start seeing some impressive salary numbers as a tattoo artist. It’s for that reason that becoming a tattoo artist is more of a passionate vocation than it is a job. You need to be willing to sacrifice financial gain for growth in the industry, and be willing to remain patient as you work your way up the recognition ladder.

If this is truly something you wish to pursue, have a look at our article, How To Become A Tattoo Artist - A Guide To Starting Your Career In Ink.

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