Inking Your Path: A Tattoo Artist’s Guide to Going Pro

If you, like me, are spellbound by tattooing as a form of self-expression, and you’re itching to dive into the world of professional tattooing, I'm here to give you a no-nonsense, practical guide on how to start.

First Things First – Get Drawing

Okay, so you’re excited to tattoo, but before you go anywhere near someone’s skin, grab your trusty sketchbook.  Yeah, it’s old school, but hear me out. Drawing is your foundation.  It’s how you build that keen eye for detail and develop your unique style.  Practice, practice, and, you guessed it, more practice.  Share your work, get feedback, and don’t be afraid to redraw a thousand times.

Education – Not Just For Bookworms

Don't even think about skipping this step.  I know, reading about bloodborne pathogens and cross-contamination isn’t as exciting as creating a killer sleeve, but it's essential.  You’re dealing with people’s health here, so get educated. Take courses in health, safety, and anything else that’ll make you a pro in maintaining a clean and safe workspace.

Find a Mentor – Not the Wizardly Kind

You’ll need someone to show you the ropes.  Hunt down a tattoo shop willing to take on an apprentice.  This is where you’ll really learn the craft.  Find a mentor who's not only a brilliant tattoo artist but also a decent human being.  Someone you can actually talk to.  The relationship between mentor and apprentice is sacred; choose wisely.

Get Acquainted with Your Machine

No, it's not a magic wand, but it's close.  Your tattoo machine will be your constant companion.  Understand its ins and outs, from setting the needle depth to tuning the machine for different techniques.  This bad boy will be an extension of your arm, so treat it with respect.

Building Your Portfolio – Like a Boss

As you improve, you’ll want to show off your skills.  Start building a portfolio that screams YOU.  Be critical of what you include, and make sure it reflects your best work.  When you finally get clients knocking at your door, this portfolio will be their first impression of what you can do.  As of 2023, IG does seem to be the most expansive way to get your artwork up and out in the world, but remember, nothing beats a Google Map location and a healthy stack of reviews and images with your website link embedded.

Get Inked!

Sounds obvious, right?  But you’d be surprised how many people want to become tattoo artists without experiencing the needle themselves.  Get tattooed!  Understand what your clients will be going through.

Keep Growing – Like a Wildflower

Finally, never stop learning.  The tattoo world is constantly evolving.  Keep up with trends, techniques, and always be open to feedback.  This is your art, but it's also your livelihood.

Take the Plunge!

So there you have it, my ink-loving friend.  The path to becoming a tattoo artist is paved with challenges, but oh, is it worth it.  You’re creating art that people will wear for life.  You’re writing stories in ink.  Take the plunge, and don't look back!


Potential Action Steps

As a nerd who loves art, I've prepared a practical list of action steps you can apply to start or improve your tattoo studio or brand.  Please note these are only suggestions and as you know your mind best, the same goes for your business.

Start with the Decision
The first step is to decide that you really want to be a professional tattoo artist. This isn’t a hobby or a passing fancy, but a career that will require dedication, hard work, and continuous learning.

Get Your Art Skills Up
Sharpen your artistic skills. Invest time in drawing, sketching, and painting.  This is essential as your art skills are going to be the backbone of your tattooing career.

Educate Yourself
Understand the history of tattooing, different styles, and cultures.  This will not only give you a better perspective but also make you more versatile and informed as an artist.

Learn Safety and Hygiene
Enroll in courses that teach you about safety and hygiene.  Learn about cross-contamination, sterilization, and other essential health-related aspects of tattooing.

Secure an Apprenticeship
Look for a reputable tattoo studio and secure an apprenticeship.  This is where you’ll learn the practical skills needed to become a professional tattoo artist.

Build Relationships
Build good relationships with your mentor and colleagues.  The tattooing community can be tight-knit, and having strong relationships will benefit you in the long run.

Know Your Tools
Familiarize yourself with the tattoo machine, needles, inks, and other tools of the trade.  Know the different types of equipment and how to use them efficiently.

Start Practicing on Fake Skin
Before you start tattooing real skin, practice on fake skin.  This will help you to get used to how the machine handles and build your confidence.

Create a Portfolio
As you get better, start creating a portfolio of your work.  This should showcase your best pieces and the range of styles you can handle.

Start Slowly
When you start tattooing on real skin, start with small and simple designs.  As you gain confidence, gradually move on to more complex pieces.

Market Yourself
Create business cards, a website, and social media profiles.  Start marketing yourself both online and offline.

Set Clear Rates
Be clear about how much you charge.  Have a set rate card and make sure your clients know about it before starting a project.

Consider Specialization
Think about whether you want to specialize in a particular style or be a jack of all trades.  Specialization can sometimes attract a more dedicated clientele.

Get Licensed
Ensure that you get the necessary licenses needed to operate as a professional tattoo artist in your area.

Find a Suitable Location
If you’re planning to open your own studio, find a location that is not only affordable but also accessible to your target market.

Understand Your Market
Research the market and understand what people in your area are looking for in terms of tattoo styles and trends.

Set Up Your Studio
Ensure that your studio is set up efficiently. It should be clean and have all the necessary equipment and materials.

Invest in Quality Equipment
Don’t skimp on equipment. Invest in quality tattoo machines, needles, and inks.

Develop a Client Waiver
Create a waiver that clients must sign before getting tattooed.  This should include information on the risks associated with tattooing.

Create Standard Operating Procedures
Have standard operating procedures in place for various aspects of your business, including health and safety, client consultations, and grievance handling.

Understand Legal Compliance
Understand the legal aspects of running a tattoo studio.  This includes understanding local laws and regulations that apply to your business.

Get Insurance
Invest in insurance to protect yourself and your business from any unforeseen circumstances or liabilities.

Develop a Brand
Develop a brand for yourself and your studio.  This includes your logo, color scheme, and how you present yourself to the public.

Engage in Community Events
Participate in local community events and gatherings to create awareness about your business and build relationships with potential clients.

Consider Collaborations
Collaborate with other artists and businesses to create unique offerings.  This could include working with fashion designers, musicians, or other creatives.

Ask for Client Feedback
Regularly ask for feedback from your clients.  This can help you understand what you’re doing well and where you need to improve.

Stay Updated with Trends
Keep yourself updated with the latest trends and innovations in the tattoo industry.

Engage in Continuous Learning
Continuously learn and upskill.  Attend workshops, webinars, and conferences to enhance your skills and knowledge.

Network with Other Professionals
Network with other professionals in the industry.  Join professional associations and online forums.

Engage Your Audience Online
Regularly engage your audience through social media.  Share your work, behind-the-scenes photos, and engage in conversations.

Offer Promotions
Occasionally offer promotions or discounts to attract new clients or reward existing ones.

Stay Organized
Keep your workspace and administrative tasks organized.  Use tools and software to manage bookings, finances, and inventory.

Set Long-Term Goals
Set long-term goals for your business and work towards achieving them.

Maintain Work-Life Balance
Running your own business can be overwhelming.  Ensure that you maintain a work-life balance to avoid burnout.

Focus on Customer Service
Ensure that you provide excellent customer service.  Be polite, respectful, and accommodating to your clients’ needs.

Refine Your Consultation Process
Develop a thorough consultation process.  Take the time to understand your clients’ needs and expectations before starting on a tattoo.

Build a Client Database
Maintain a database of your clients.  This can be useful for follow-ups and marketing.

Encourage Referrals
Encourage your clients to refer friends and family.  Word-of-mouth marketing can be very effective.

Monitor Your Finances
Regularly monitor your finances.  Keep track of your expenses and earnings.

Seek Legal Advice
If you are unsure about the legal aspects of your business, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice.

Experiment and Innovate
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new styles or techniques.  Innovation can set you apart from the competition.

Evaluate Your Performance
Periodically evaluate your performance and the performance of your business. Make necessary adjustments to your strategies and goals.

Reinvest in Your Business
Reinvest your earnings back into your business.  This could be in the form of new equipment, marketing, or expanding your services.

Create a Comfortable Environment
Ensure that your studio is comfortable for your clients.  The environment can greatly affect the overall experience.

Focus on Quality
Focus on providing quality work.  A satisfied client is likely to come back and refer others.

Handle Criticism Gracefully
Learn to handle criticism gracefully.  Use it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Stay Passionate
Finally, stay passionate about your work.  Your passion will reflect in your work and is what will ultimately drive you to success.



In the captivating journey of becoming a professional tattoo artist, the road may be winding and at times daunting, but let the ink that flows through your machine be as fervent as the passion that courses through your veins.  The artistry you wield has the power to change lives, narrate stories, and become an indelible part of someone's identity.  Keep in mind that the footsteps you leave behind in the sands of time are as permanent as the tattoos you engrave onto the canvas of skin.

There will be days of self-doubt, but let them not dim the flame that ignited your pursuit.  Instead, turn to the community, your past works, and the sparkle in the eyes of a satisfied client as reminders of your purpose.  It’s important to be honest and upfront with yourself about the challenges ahead.  Tattooing is not just an art; it's a lifestyle and a lifelong commitment.  Balancing artistry with entrepreneurship requires a blend of creativity, tenacity, and prudence.

As you paint the world with the needle's kiss, remember to stay grounded.  Keep the well-being of your clients at the forefront, and never lose sight of the trust they place in your hands.  Grow through every stroke, cherish every smile you bring to life, and build not just a career, but a legacy that’s etched both in ink and in the hearts of those whose lives you touch.

So, go forth with a steady hand and an unyielding spirit.  Let your art be your voice, and let that voice resonate through the annals of time.  You are not just creating tattoos; you are weaving dreams, fulfilling aspirations, and sculpting a part of human expression that transcends the temporal realm.

You, dear artist, are the keeper of an ancient craft, and the world awaits your indelible mark.



We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For more information on our TATTOO INK sets, please take a look at our piece on Xtreme Inks: Artist Collections.

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Stick and Poke Tattoos: What Inks Work Best


The Role of Tattoo Artists in Preserving and Reviving Traditional Hand-Poked Tattoo Techniques


A Tribal Tattooing Case Study: Expressing Heritage and Pride through Ink


Understanding the Cultural Significance of Tribal Tattoo Designs


The Significance of Black Tattoo Ink in Traditional and Contemporary Tattooing


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