How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

Starting a career as a professional, licensed tattoo artist can be quite difficult. A lot is required in terms of education and practice, and the path to obtaining a license can be not only difficult, but also quite expensive. However, building a clientele and providing exceptional service can put any tattoo artist on the map, which usually means better pay and income. Once income increases, the struggle to become a tattoo artist starts to make sense.

If you’re interested in the average income of a tattoo artist just for information, or if you’re interested in the numbers because of a potential career change, you’ve come to the right place. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the average income of tattoo artists over the past year and see which states are the most lucrative for a tattoo artist. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

Tattoo artists and income

How much do tattoo artists earn per year?

According to the latest update from ZipRecruiter, tattoo artists in the United States are believed to have an annual income of $99,956. This means that they earn an average of $48.06 per hour, or $8,330 monthly salary.

Of course, this is only an average estimate. Some tattoo artists can earn up to $300,000, while others earn as little as $12,000. To be more specific, currently the highest paid tattoo artists earn around $260,000 per year, while the lowest paid tattoo artist in 2021 earns around $39,000.

But why do these numbers vary so much? Why is the gap between low and high income tattoo artists so big?

This is due to factors such as the state in which tattoo artists work, opportunities for economic or salary advancement, even the tip people give them after a tattoo job is completed. Of course, there are things like quality of work, reputation, location of the tattoo studio, cost of owning the studio as well as tools and equipment, and much more.

It should be mentioned that the majority of tattoo artists do not have their own studio at the start of their career. They have to work for someone else, which means they don’t get their full income. The trader generally receives up to 70% commission for each tattoo made in his store. This means that you will only earn between $30 and $40 for a $100 tattoo since traders take the commission up to $70.

However, with enough time and experience, even a beginner in the industry can improve their income by gaining and growing customers. As the number of customers increases, especially the number of regular and valuable customers, the cost of tattooing also increases. As a result, the commission decreases, especially if the tattoo artist decides to go solo. This gives the tattoo artist the ability to charge more, earn more, and build a stable business.

Which states/cities are the highest paying for tattoo artists?

Currently, in 2021, California remains the place where tattoo artists have the highest annual salary in the country in more than one city. But, to be more specific, we’ll take a look at the cities/states where tattoo artists can expect high annual incomes;

  • San Mateo, California — topping the list of highest-paying city for tattoo artists in San Mateo. The annual salary for a tattoo artist in San Mateo is $119,762 in 2021. This means that the hourly wage is around $58. San Mateo also beats the national average earnings as the tattoo artist here earns 19.8% (or $19,805) more than the $99,956 average.
  • Boston, MA – the second highest earning city for tattoo artists in Boston. Here, a tattoo artist can expect an annual salary of up to $117,867. That means Boston tattoo artists have an hourly wage of around $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. This represents an approximate hourly wage of $56 for 2021.

These are the 3 highest paying cities for tattoo artists in the United States 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), and more. The lowest paying city on this list is currently Springfield, MA, with an annual salary of $111,578 for 2021.

Regardless, 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 others?

As we mentioned earlier, the income of the tattoo artist depends on several factors, including the location or state where the tattoo artist works. Other factors that affect salary include;

  • Whether the tattoo artist is a beginner or a professional
  • If the tattoo artist has gained a good reputation 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 alone, independently or as a subcontractor

These are some of the factors that affect a tattoo artist’s salary. Of course, as one gains experience, a stable clientele, and a reputation, the possibility 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 who have achieved worldwide fame and started related businesses, like Kat Von D. She charges an hourly rate of $500 and owns many side businesses, including a world-famous makeup brand.

What does it mean to be a tattoo artist?

Being a tattoo artist means understanding and fulfilling clients’ wishes regarding their tattoos and everything around them. This job includes hours of dedication to a single tattoo and client, so the tattoo artist must really be committed to the craft. However, this is only a general job description; becoming and being a professional tattoo artist means so much more. For example, to become a tattoo artist, you must;

  • Get a formal or industrial education – although it is not mandatory, training in art-related fields can have many advantages in the field of tattooing, including salary. Even without formal education, potential tattoo artists need to learn more about the craft, through courses and apprenticeships.
  • Probably works for free at first – the road to success in the tattoo industry is difficult. When starting out, many tattoo artists have to work for free and even have a second job. Until one makes a name for oneself, tattooing is not an option for a stable income.
  • Commit to years of practice and experience – to increase their earning power, a tattoo artist must commit to years of regular practice and gaining experience. It takes hard work and many hours of practice, learning, research and work, to top it all off. Making mistakes in tattooing is not acceptable, hence the emphasis on practice and experience.
  • Must pay for education, tools and equipment out of own pocket – becoming a professional tattoo artist requires an investment. For all tools and equipment, tattoo artists have to pay for them themselves. Some tattoo studios offer basic equipment, but if one wants to improve one’s skills, the money for the tools will probably come out of the tattoo artist’s pocket.

How do other tattoo related jobs pay?

For those looking to work in the tattoo industry, but not necessarily as tattoo artists, there are other employment options as well. Although lower paying, these jobs are a great alternative to tattooing but remain in the same creative niche.

For example, a piercing tattoo artist has an annual salary of around $71,461. A tattoo artist (only works with designs, not tattoos), earns an average of $67,495 per year. Working at a tattoo school will earn $56,768 per year, which is significantly less than working as an actual tattoo artist. Nevertheless, these positions can be interesting and also offer career and salary growth.

Final Thoughts

A career as a tattoo artist can be difficult and demanding, but it certainly pays off once a tattoo artist gains experience and a stable clientele. It is believed that the demand for body art will increase by around 6% in the coming years, which will surely affect the hourly rate and monthly salary of tattoo artists and other titles in the industry.

For more information on a career in tattooing, be sure to check your local demands, offers, and average annual salary. Numbers vary from state to state, city to city, so it’s important to do some additional research.

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