Starting a career as a professional and licensed tattoo artist can be pretty difficult. A lot is required in terms of education and practice, and the road to getting a license might not only be difficult, but it is also pretty expensive. However, building a client base and providing exceptional service can put any tattoo artist on the map, which usually means better pay and earnings. Once the income increases, the struggle to become a tattoo artist starts making sense.
If you’re interested in how much on average a tattoo artist makes just for the info, or you’re interested in the numbers because of a potential career change, you’re at the right place. In the following paragraphs, we’ll discuss the average income for tattoo artists in the past year, and see which states are the most lucrative for a tattooist. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
Tattoo Artists and Income
How Much Do Tattooists Earn Annually?
According to the ZipRecruiter‘s latest update, it is believed that tattoo artists in the United States have an annual income of $99,956. This means they earn on average $48.06 an hour, or $8,330 as a monthly salary.
Of course, this is just an average estimate. Some tattoo artists can earn as much as $300,000, while others earn as low as $12,000. To be more specific, currently, the highest-earning tattoo artists make annually around $260,000, while the lowest-earning tattooist in 2023 earns approximately $39,000.
But, why do these numbers vary so much? Why is the discrepancy between low- and high-earning tattoo artists so significant?
The reason for this lies in factors like the state where the tattoo artists work, opportunities for economic or wage advancement, even how much people tip them after a completed tattoo work. Of course, there are things like the quality of work, reputation, location of the tattoo studio, the cost of owning the studio as well as the tools and equipment, and so much more.
We do have to mention that the majority of tattoo artists don’t own their own studio at the beginning of their careers. They have to work for someone else, which means they do not receive their full earnings. The shopkeeper generally collects up to 70% commission for every tattoo completed at their shop. This means you’ll only earn between $30 or $40 for a $100 tattoo since the shopkeepers take the commission of up to $70.
However, with enough time and experience, even a beginner in the industry can improve their earnings by gaining and growing the clientele. As the customer number grows, especially the number of regular and valuable customers, so does the cost of the tattoo increase. As a result, the commission lowers, especially if the tattooist decides to go solo. This gives the tattooist an opportunity to charge more, earn more, and build a stable business.
Which States/Cities Are The Highest Paying For Tattoo Artists?
Currently, in 2023, California stays the place where tattoo artists have the highest annual salary in the country in more than one city. But, to be more precise, we’ll take a look at the cities/states where tattoo artists can expect high annual income;
- San Mateo, California – at the top of the list for the highest paying city for tattoo artists in San Mateo. The annual salary for a tattooist in San Mateo is $119,762 in 2023. This means that the hourly wage is approximately $58. San Mateo also beats the national average earnings as the tattooist here earns 19.8% (or $19,805) more than the average of $99,956.
- Boston, Massachusetts – the second highest-earning city of tattoo artists in Boston. Here, a tattooist can expect an annual salary of up to $117,867. This means that tattoo artists in Boston have an hourly wage of approximately $57 for 2021.
- Santa Monica, California – the third-highest paying city for tattoo artists in Santa Monica, as expected. Here, a tattoo artist earns an annual salary of $116,333. That stands for an approximate hourly wage of $56 for 2021.
These are the top 3 best earning cities for tattoo artists in the US for this year. The list follows with Renton, WA (annual salary $115,954), Berkley, CA (annual salary $115,454), Daly City, CA (annual salary $115,129), etc. The lowest paying city on this list is currently Springfield, MA, with an annual salary of $111,578 for 2021.
Either way, the aforementioned cities/states still have a higher average salary compared to the national average. These cities seem to offer the best opportunities for tattoo artists, whether new or experienced.
Why Do Some Tattoo Artists Earn More Than The Others?
As we mentioned before, the tattooist’s earnings depend on several factors, including the location or the state where the tattoo artist works. Other factors that affect the salary include;
- Whether the tattoo artist is a beginner or a professional
- Whether the tattoo artist has earned a good reputational locally and widely
- Whether the tattoo artist has a formal education and college degree in related fields (although this is not a requirement)
- Whether the tattoo artist works on their own, independently, or work as a subcontractor
These are some of the factors that affect a tattoo artist’s wage. Of course, as one gains experience, a steady clientele, as well as builds reputation, the chance of higher pay and more expensive tattoos becomes more realistic.
Some tattoo artists become incredibly popular over time; so much so that they even have a waiting list of clients who want to get tattooed by them. There are tattoo artists that have reached global fame and started related businesses, like Kat Von D. She charges an hourly rate of $500, and has numerous side businesses, including a globally known makeup brand.
What Does It Mean To Be a Tattoo Artist?
To be a tattoo artist means understanding and fulfilling the wishes of the clients in regards to their tattoos and everything surrounding them. This job comprises hours of dedication to only one tattoo and client, so the tattooist really needs to be committed to the craft. However, this is just a general job description; becoming and being a professional tattoo artist means so much more. For example, to become a tattoo artist, one needs to;
- Get formal or industry education – even though it is not required, getting educated in art-related fields can account for many advantages in the tattoo business, including the salary. Even without a formal education, potential tattoo artists need to learn about the craft quite extensively, through courses and apprenticeships.
- Probably work for free in the beginning – the road to success in the tattoo industry is tough. During their beginnings, many tattoo artists have to work for free and even have a second job. Until one builds a name for themselves, tattooing is not an option for a steady income.
- Commit to years of practice and experience – to increase the earning power, a tattoo artist has to commit to years of regular practicing and gaining experience. This requires hard work and a lot of hours of sheer practice, learning, research, and work, to top all of that. Making mistakes in tattooing is not acceptable, hence the emphasis on practice and experience.
- Have to pay for education, tools, and equipment from their own pocket – becoming a professional tattoo artist requires investment. For all the tools and equipment, tattoo artists are expected to pay for them on their own. Some tattoo studios offer basic equipment, but if one wants to improve their skills, the money for the tools will probably come out of the tattooist’s pocket.
How Do Other, Tattoo-Related Jobs Pay?
For those who are looking to work in the tattoo industry, but not as tattoo artists necessarily, there are some other jobs options as well. Although lower-paying, these jobs are an excellent alternative to tattooing but are still in the same creative niche.
For example, a tattoo artist piercer has an annual salary of approximately $71,461. A tattoo designer (only works with designs, not tattooing), earns $67,495 annually, on average. Working in a tattoo school will bring $56,768 annually, which is significantly lower than working as an actual tattoo artist. Nevertheless, these positions can be interesting, and offer career and payment growth as well.
A career as a tattoo artist may be hard and demanding, but it most certainly pays off once a tattooist gains experience and a steady clientele. It is believed that the demand for body art will increase approximately 6% in the following years, which will surely affect the hourly rate and monthly wage of tattoo artists and other titles in the industry.
For more information about a career in tattooing, make sure to check out your local demands, offers, and average annual salary. The numbers vary from state to state, city to city, so it is important to do additional research.