I?m going to run through some of the myths and mysteries of tattoo pricing. Why some charge so much and others charge so little.
Why do tattoo artists charge what they do?
The price of tattoos varies greatly, depending on where you live, who is tattooing you, and overall legitimacy of the tattoo artist and shop. Tattooers are well aware that cheap supplies can be bought online. We?re well aware that you probably know someone who can offer a better price than we can (yes, I do mean ?can? and not ?will?). We know that cheaper alternatives exist, yet our pricing is seen as a line in the sand. I won?t speak for all tattoo artists, but I know many will agree with at least some of what I will share with you.
You are not paying not so much for my time, but for my experience.
New tattooers typically charge less than more established/experienced artists. Like any field, more experience will earn you higher pay. This, of course, is assuming that the tattoo artist continues to progress as an artist and reinvest into their craft. Hourly tattoo pricing exists, but that is the price that the artist (or shop) has set to make a living.
As an independent contractor, there are no benefit packages.
Many professional jobs offer benefits such a paid time off, health insurance, or retirement plans. That?s great, but tattoo artists are independent contractors. We are our own businesses. With that, we don?t get benefit packages, We earn what we earn and must pay these essentials out of pocket entirely.
We have to spend time learning, like most careers.
Traditional higher education, like college or trade school, is expensive. Tattoo apprenticeships don?t really compare in cost to more traditional avenues. Some apprenticeships are free, some cost a few thousand dollars. However, during an apprenticeship, the apprentice doesn?t typically earn any money. They work for free for however long it takes, utilizing whatever limited free time they have to make enough money to survive. Art supplies are required. Lots and lots of art supplies. Then, when they?re deemed ready, supplies must be bought to begin tattooing.
We do not get to keep the entire cost of the tattoo.
Every tattoo shop runs a little different. Some shops have the tattoo artist pay a weekly or monthly rent for their space. Some shops split the cost of the tattoo with the artist. Either way, unless the tattoo artist is the owner, then someone else is going to profit from their skills on some level.
Tattoo supplies are not cheap.
In 9 years, I?ve owned probably 30+ tattoo machines ? using each one to try and offer my clients a better tattoo experience. We?re always searching for ?the one? ? that tattoo machine that runs as if it was meant for our hands. It?s a lifelong chase, and we?re always looking for better. Each machine cost $200-$900. Some machines cost more, but most are around the mid-high of that range.
I currently have around 200 bottles of tattoo inks, ready to go for whatever walks in. Every bottle has a shelf-life and needs to be tossed when expired, regardless of how full that bottle may be. Each bottle cost $10-20. Some of my large bottles of black were closer to $40.
Needles and tubes, or cartridges cost about $2 each. It might not seem like a lot, but when your tattoo requires 5 needle groupings, I?m $10 out-of-pocket before we begin. We buy in boxes.
A box of gloves can cost $7-12 per box.
In order to dedicate my life to my craft, I must be able to earn a living.
A tattoo artist tattoos. That is what we do. We may draw, paint, build, create, or write blog posts, too; but we tattoo, first and foremost. When we go out, we?re thinking about tattoos we?ve done and what we could have done better. We think about tattoo appointments we have coming up, planning them out in our heads. We?re thinking about what tattoos we want to do. When our server brings us our food at dinner with family, we?re checking out their skin and sizing them up for what kind of tattoo would look good on them.
Tattooing part-time isn?t enough to justify permanently marking someone?s skin.
When talking about price with your tattoo artist?
Know that you don?t have to get your tattoo immediately. If it?s out of your budget, that?s okay. If that?s who you want to have do it, plan out your budgeting to get exactly what you want by who you want. Work out a payment plan if you?re horrible at spending. We understand, and we will respect your tenacity to get your piece.
The worst thing you can do is compromise your tattoo size, detail, or location because you couldn?t afford it?right then.