Understanding How Tattoo Artists Get Paid: A Breakdown of the Tattoo Industry

Tattoos are a popular form of art, but have you ever wondered how tattoo artists get paid for their work? Despite the perception that they make a lot of money, the reality is that tattoo artists face various expenses and financial arrangements within the industry. In this article, we'll explore the basics of how tattoo artists receive payment, including factors such as studio commissions, apprenticeship pay, chair rentals, and owning their own workspace.

Tattoos come at a significant cost, with even small designs often exceeding $100. While cash payments are common in the tattoo industry, the financial reality for most tattoo artists is quite different. As self-employed individuals, they face substantial business expenses that significantly impact their earnings. It's crucial to understand the financial dynamics of the tattoo industry and the financial responsibilities that come with being a tattoo artist.


Key Takeaways:

-Understand the Payment Structure: As a tattoo artist, be aware of how you get paid for each tattoo, whether through commissions, set fees, or renting a chair. Communicate with clients in advance about payment methods and consider setting aside funds for self-employment taxes and business expenses.

-Build a Solid Online Presence: Establish a strong social media presence to showcase your work, engage with followers, and attract potential clients. Additionally, invest in search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) to increase online visibility and drive traffic to your website and social media platforms.

-Manage Business Expenses: Owning a tattoo studio or renting a workspace comes with various expenses, including rent, equipment, materials, and consumables. Keep track of these expenses and factor them into your pricing to ensure you can cover costs and make a profit. Consider hiring professionals like accountants to assist with tax filings and financial management.

-Maximize Your Digital Ecosystem: Create a comprehensive digital ecosystem by maintaining a user-friendly website, claiming and optimizing your business profiles on platforms like Google and Yelp, and utilizing various online platforms to reach a wider audience. Be present on search engines, social media, and other relevant platforms to increase your online visibility and attract potential clients.

The Fundamentals of How Tattoo Artists Make Money

Tattoo artists receive payment for each tattoo they complete, but if they don't own their own studio, the studio owners will typically take a commission from each tattoo. The specific commission arrangement varies depending on the contract, with a common split being an even 50/50 between the studio and the artist.

When it comes to getting paid, tattoo artists often face the challenge of managing their finances effectively. While it's relatively easy for them to receive payment for their services, the real difficulty lies in preserving their earnings. Tattoo artists have various financial obligations that can quickly deplete their funds.

To ensure a smooth payment process, it is recommended to arrange payment terms with the client in advance. Many tattoo artists prefer to be paid in cash as it simplifies the transaction and allows for a seamless commission payment to the studio. Invoicing or involving banks and payment sites can introduce unnecessary complications to an already busy workflow.

Once a tattoo artist has been paid, it is wise to set aside a portion for self-employment tax obligations. It's also essential to allocate funds for business expenses before finally paying themselves. By prioritizing financial responsibilities in this manner, tattoo artists can better manage their income and maintain their financial well-being.

The Apprenticeship and Getting Paid

When starting their journey as a tattoo artist, individuals typically begin as apprentices. During the apprenticeship period, they won't be tattooing clients just yet, but they still need to be compensated for their time and efforts.

Apprentices are usually paid a set weekly sum, similar to other employees. This payment is intended to support the apprentice and acknowledge their contribution to the tattoo artist's studio or shop. While they are not yet performing tattoos, apprentices play a vital role in various aspects of the tattooing process.

Throughout their apprenticeship, tattoo apprentices learn on the job, gaining practical experience similar to an internship. Their responsibilities often include cleaning up the workspace, setting up equipment, assisting with design work, learning how to stencil, and practicing using tattoo machines. These tasks not only contribute to the smooth operation of the studio but also serve as valuable learning opportunities for the aspiring tattoo artist.

During this formative stage, apprentices receive compensation for their time and dedication, helping them progress and develop the necessary skills to become a professional tattoo artist in the future.

Renting a Chair: The Business of Tattooing

In the tattoo industry, most artists operate as independent contractors, giving them the freedom to set their own working hours, choose their clients, and decide where they want to work. For tattoo artists who do not have their own dedicated space, they often rent a chair or private booth from a tattoo parlor or an individual artist with their own space.

Renting a chair involves the artist paying a weekly or monthly fee or a commission from each tattoo they perform. There are two common approaches to this arrangement: a set fee or a commission-based system.

Under the set fee arrangement, the artist pays a predetermined amount to the shop owner for renting the space, which may include the use of equipment. This fixed fee, such as $500 per month, remains constant regardless of how much the artist earns. This arrangement can be a double-edged sword, as it offers stability but also puts pressure on the artist to secure enough bookings to cover the set fee.

Alternatively, some parlors opt for a commission-based model, where the owner takes a percentage of the earnings from each tattoo. Typically, this split is around 50/50, although the artist may receive a slightly higher share per booking than the parlor owner. In this scenario, tipping is encouraged as it allows the artist to earn closer to what they would if they had their own shop, making up for the commission paid for their workspace.

Renting a chair provides tattoo artists with a space to work and access to an established clientele. It allows them to focus on their craft while benefiting from the existing infrastructure and support provided by the shop or individual they rent from.

Independence and the Benefits of Having Your Own Space

For tattoo artists fortunate enough to have their own dedicated workspace, they have the freedom to operate without sharing their earnings through commissions. While they still have to pay rent for the space, this payment goes to a landlord rather than a tattoo shop owner.

Some artists choose to set up their tattoo studio in their own homes, utilizing spaces like a guest bedroom, attic, basement, or even a specially designed shed. The convenience of having a home studio eliminates the need for additional rental expenses.

Having their own space allows tattoo artists to retain all the earnings from each booking they make. While tipping is still appreciated, it is not as essential as it is for artists who must share their income through commission splits. With full control over their earnings, artists with their own space have greater flexibility and financial independence.

Owning a dedicated workspace provides tattoo artists with a sense of autonomy and the ability to shape their business according to their vision. It eliminates the need to rely on the policies and decisions of a shop owner and allows artists to create an environment that reflects their unique style and professionalism.


Managing Business Expenses as a Tattoo Artist

Operating a tattoo business, even with your own space, comes with its share of expenses. The money you earn from your clients doesn't just go towards personal expenses like food, drink, and shelter. A significant portion of it is reinvested back into your business.

Workspace Costs
If you're renting a space outside of a tattoo parlor, the rent may be higher compared to artists renting from parlor owners. However, renting a space within a tattoo parlor often includes the benefit of having equipment and materials provided, which can be covered in the rent or commission arrangement.

Purchasing Equipment and Supplies
Tattoo artists who own their own parlor are responsible for maintaining their equipment. While these expenses can be claimed as business expenses, it requires a significant upfront investment.

Certain tattoo equipment, such as seating and tattoo machines, are considered capital purchases. Although they may be costly initially, they are long-lasting and essential for carrying out your work effectively.

Depending on your preference, using disposable tubes or investing in sanitation machines for reusable tubes will result in different cost structures. Disposable tubes are direct consumable expenses, while sanitation machines are considered business assets and can be amortized.

Ink is another essential expense that must be factored in as a cost of sale. Ink caps are necessary for each use of ink.

Additionally, tattoo artists regularly require the following items, which may be both capital and expense items:

- Gloves
- Tissues
- Needles
- Stencils
- Aftercare supplies (if provided as part of the service)
- Rubbing alcohol
- Vaseline or petroleum jelly
- Razors (if customers aren't instructed to shave the area at home)

All these expenses, whether categorized as capital or ongoing expenses, are taken into account when determining how much to charge for your services. When you receive payment from clients, a portion of it will go towards purchasing consumables and investing in your business assets.

Employment-related Costs

As a self-employed tattoo artist, you may have to pay an apprentice or hire someone to handle front desk work or administrative tasks. However, many tattoo artists handle these responsibilities themselves to keep costs down.

Considering the complexities of taxes, some artists choose to hire an accountant to assist them. While not mandatory, outsourcing accounting tasks allows artists to focus more on their craft instead of navigating the intricacies of financial management.

Being aware of and effectively managing your business expenses is crucial for the financial sustainability and growth of your tattoo career. By carefully allocating funds and making strategic investments, you can maintain a thriving business while providing exceptional tattoo services to your clients.


Digital Marketing: How to For Tattoo Artists, A Start

Social Media, SEM, SEO, and Digital Ecosystem for Tattoo Artists

In today's digital age, establishing a strong online presence is crucial for tattoo artists to attract clients and grow their business. Utilizing social media, search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), and managing a comprehensive digital ecosystem are essential strategies to maximize visibility and reach potential customers.

1. Social Media Presence
Create profiles on popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to showcase your portfolio, share your latest work, and engage with your audience. Post high-quality photos and videos of your tattoos, interact with followers, and respond to inquiries promptly. Social media platforms provide an opportunity to build a strong online community and attract potential clients.

2. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Consider investing in paid advertising campaigns through platforms like Google Ads or social media advertising. SEM allows you to target specific demographics, geographic locations, and keywords relevant to your tattooing services. This can help increase your visibility in search engine results and drive traffic to your website or social media profiles.

3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Optimize your website and online content to improve your organic search engine rankings. Conduct keyword research to identify the terms and phrases potential clients are searching for when looking for tattoo artists. Optimize your website's meta tags, headings, image alt text, and content with relevant keywords. Additionally, focus on creating high-quality, informative, and engaging content that showcases your expertise and attracts organic traffic.

4. Managing a Comprehensive Digital Ecosystem
Maintaining a cohesive and consistent digital ecosystem is essential. This includes a user-friendly website that showcases your portfolio, services, contact information, and testimonials from satisfied clients. Ensure that your website is mobile-friendly and optimized for speed. Additionally, claim and optimize your business profiles on platforms such as Google My Business, Yelp, and other online directories.

Importance of Hitting Every Platform:
Hitting every platform is crucial because potential clients may have different preferences when it comes to finding and researching tattoo artists. Some individuals might rely on search engines like Google or Google Maps to discover local tattoo artists, while others may turn to social media platforms to explore artists' portfolios and reviews. By having a strong presence across various platforms, you increase the chances of reaching a wider audience and catering to diverse user preferences.

Google and Google Maps:
Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing is essential for local SEO. It allows your business to appear prominently in Google search results and on Google Maps when users search for tattoo artists in your area. Provide accurate contact information, business hours, and engaging visual content to attract potential clients. Encourage satisfied clients to leave reviews on your Google My Business listing, as positive reviews can enhance your credibility and visibility in local search results.

Remember, establishing a robust online presence through social media, SEM, SEO, and managing a comprehensive digital ecosystem helps you connect with potential clients, increase visibility, and ultimately grow your tattoo business in the digital landscape.

Maximizing the Value of Your Payment to Your Tattoo Artist

Tattoo artists receive payment in various forms, and a significant portion of their earnings is reinvested into their work. This means that the money you pay for your tattoo is never wasted. If your artist is working on commission, considering leaving a tip as a gesture of appreciation.

There are several things you can do to help your tattoo artist make the most out of your payment:

1. Communicate: Clearly communicate your tattoo ideas and expectations to ensure that the artist can provide the best possible service. This helps minimize the need for additional touch-ups or revisions that may incur extra costs.

2. Respect their time: Arrive on time for your appointment and be mindful of any rescheduling requests. This allows the artist to manage their schedule effectively and optimize their earning potential.

3. Follow aftercare instructions: Properly caring for your tattoo after the session ensures its longevity and reduces the likelihood of complications. By following your artist's aftercare instructions, you minimize the need for additional consultations or touch-ups.

4. Refer and promote: If you're satisfied with the quality of work and service provided by your tattoo artist, consider referring them to friends, family, or on social media. Positive word-of-mouth and recommendations contribute to the artist's reputation and can generate more business opportunities.

Remember that even though tattoo prices may seem high, tattoo artists don't retain the full amount due to various business expenses, including equipment, supplies, and studio costs. By supporting your artist and understanding the value they provide, you contribute to their success and enable them to continue creating exceptional artwork.

Appreciating the skill, creativity, and dedication of tattoo artists can go a long way in fostering a positive artist-client relationship.



We Make Ink Do More

Paul Park, The Xtreme Team

For the most recent tattoo art made with Xtreme Inks by tattoo artists who are pushing the boundaries of self-expression, check out our Instagram.

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




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