How to Become a Tattoo Artist_ A Comprehensive Guide

Tattoo Artist: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed

As you consider pursuing a career as a tattoo artist, you’re embarking on an exciting journey into an artistic field that allows you to express your creativity every day. However, becoming a tattoo artist requires dedication, skill, and training. If you have a passion for art and working with people, this can be a very rewarding career path. To become a tattoo artist, you need to develop your skills, build a portfolio of your work, obtain proper licensing or certification, find an apprenticeship, and continue honing your craft. This comprehensive guide will provide an overview of the key steps to becoming a professional tattoo artist. With hard work and perseverance, you can turn your passion for tattooing into a successful career.


If you have an artistic eye and want to express your creativity in a unique way, becoming a tattoo artist may be an appealing career path for you. Tattooing allows you to create customized body art for your clients using needles and ink.

There are a few types of tattoo artists, including:

  • Custom or freehand tattoo artists who design custom tattoos for each client
  • Flash or street shop tattoo artists who focus on pre-drawn flash tattoo designs that clients can choose from
  • Fine line or photo realistic tattoo artists who specialize in intricate, highly detailed tattoos
  • Tribal or traditional tattoo artists who specialize in traditional styles like Japanese, Polynesian or Native American tattoos

To become a tattoo artist, you first need to determine what style of tattooing interests you and appeals to your artistic talents. You will then need to complete an apprenticeship, typically lasting 2-5 years, under the guidance of an experienced tattoo artist. Apprenticeships provide hands-on training and mentorship. You will learn proper sterilization and safety techniques, how to operate a tattoo machine, and develop your own style.

Once your apprenticeship is complete, you can become a licensed tattoo artist. Requirements vary in each state, but usually involve passing a test on bloodborne pathogens, anatomy, and safety standards. You will then need to obtain the necessary equipment like tattoo machines, inks, needles, and furniture to set up your own tattoo station in a shop or open your own studio. Continuous practice and participation in tattoo conventions will help build your skills and reputation as a tattoo artist.

With passion, dedication, and the right tattoo training programme, you can turn your interest in tattooing into a rewarding career as a tattoo artist. The key is starting with the fundamentals, finding your own artistic style, and constantly working to improve your craft.

Skills and Requirements

To become a tattoo artist, you must develop and demonstrate several key skills and meet certain requirements.

  • Strong drawing and design skills. Tattooing is an art form, so you must be able to create custom designs and sketches for your clients. Practice different styles like tribal, geometric, and realism. Build a portfolio of your best work.
  • Knowledge of human anatomy. Understanding anatomy, especially skin anatomy, is essential for creating tattoos that flow with the contours of the body. Study anatomy books to learn muscle groups, bone structures, and skin layers.
  • Proficiency with equipment. Tattoo machines, needles, inks, and other tools require training to use properly. Apprentice with an experienced tattoo artist to learn equipment handling and safety.
  • Attention to sanitation and safety. Strict sanitation and sterilization procedures must be followed to prevent the spread of bloodborne pathogens. Complete a bloodborne pathogens certification course.
  • Licensing and certification. While not always required, becoming licensed or certified demonstrates your competence and professionalism. Check with your local health department about requirements in your area.
  • Strong customer service skills. Tattooing is a service industry, so you must be able to consult with clients, understand what they want, and ensure their satisfaction with the experience and final results. Develop your communication and people skills.

With diligent practice of the necessary skills and adherence to essential requirements, you can build a successful career as a tattoo artist. The key is dedication to your craft and providing an excellent customer experience.


To become a tattoo artist, finding an apprenticeship is crucial. An apprenticeship involves working under an experienced tattoo artist who can teach you the skills of the trade. ###Finding a Mentor

Seek out accomplished tattoo artists in your area who have a style you admire and express interest in apprenticing with them. Be prepared to show them a portfolio of your art to demonstrate your talent and passion for the craft. If they do not currently have an open apprenticeship, ask if they know of any other artists who may be interested in taking on an apprentice.

Commitment Required

Apprenticing requires dedication and can last 2-5 years. Be prepared to spend long hours at the shop, observing and learning. An apprenticeship typically involves both paid work at the front desk and unpaid time learning techniques in a hands-on fashion. Your mentor will teach you proper sterilization, safety procedures, and how to operate a tattoo machine before allowing you to do tattoos on your own.

Learning the Skills

As an apprentice, you will learn skills like:

  • Tattoo machine operation and maintenance
  • Proper sterilization and sanitation practices
  • Anatomy and how to place tattoos
  • A variety of artistic styles and techniques
  • How to create custom designs based on client requests
  • Client communication and customer service

An apprenticeship takes dedication but is the best way to gain the knowledge and skills to become a tattoo artist. Finding the right mentor and committing the time required will set you up for a successful career as a tattoo artist. With practice and patience, you can become a talented artist and make a living doing what you love.


To legally work as a tattoo artist, you must obtain proper licensing in your state. Licensing requirements vary in each state, but typically involve a certain number of hours of training, passing a bloodborne pathogens exam, and being at least 18 years of age.

Training Requirements

Most states require tattoo artists to complete a certain number of hours of training through an apprenticeship or tattoo school program. Apprenticeships usually last 2-5 years and involve training under an experienced tattoo artist. Tattoo school programs award a certificate of completion and require between 200 to 1000 hours of training in areas like sterilization, safety procedures, and tattooing techniques.

Bloodborne Pathogens Certification

All states require tattoo artists to pass an exam on bloodborne pathogens, infectious diseases transmitted through blood like HIV and hepatitis. The exam covers how these diseases spread, sanitation and sterilization procedures, and safety practices to prevent transmission. Certification must be renewed annually or biannually, depending on your state.

Age Requirements

You must be at least 18 years of age to become a licensed tattoo artist in the U.S. Some states require applicants to be 21 years or older. Check with your state’s licensing board for the minimum age requirement.

License Application

To obtain a tattoo license, you must submit an application to your state licensing board along with:

  • Proof of age
  • Proof of training/apprenticeship completion
  • Bloodborne pathogens certification
  • Application/licensing fees (typically a few hundred dollars)

The application process may also involve a background check, health screening, and passing a written exam on proper sterilization, safety procedures, and tattooing methods. With the proper Tattoo training and certifications, you can become a licensed tattoo artist in your state. Be sure to renew your license periodically according to your state’s requirements.

Starting Your Career

To start your career as a tattoo artist, you have two main options: working in an established tattoo shop or opening your own business.

Working in a Tattoo Shop

The easiest way to gain experience as a new tattoo artist is to apprentice at an established tattoo shop. This allows you to learn from more experienced artists and build your portfolio.

To get an apprenticeship:

  • Build a portfolio of your tattoo designs and any previous tattoo work.
  • Visit local tattoo shops to inquire about apprenticeship opportunities. Express your passion for the craft and commitment to learning.
  • Be willing to start with basic tasks like setting up equipment, sterilizing needles, and handling appointments to gain valuable experience.
  • Learn proper safety and sanitation procedures to ensure high standards of cleanliness and client care.

Opening Your Own Tattoo Shop

Once you have adequate experience, you may want to open your own tattoo shop.

This requires:

  1. Developing a thorough business plan including cost analysis for supplies, rent, marketing, and staff.
  2. Ensuring you have enough funding to get the business off the ground. This can cost $50,000-$100,000 to start.
  3. Finding an appropriate retail space that meets local regulations. Tattoo shops have strict health department codes to follow regarding sanitation and facilities.
  4. Building a portfolio of your custom tattoo designs and artwork to showcase your unique style. This will help attract new clients.
  5. Marketing your new business through a website, social media, print ads, and word-of-mouth referrals. Offer promotions and deals to new clients.
  6. Hiring experienced tattoo artists and an apprentice. Provide adequate training to ensure high quality work and customer service.
  7. Staying up-to-date with trends in tattoo styles, safety standards, and business best practices. Continuously improve to better serve your clients.

With dedication and persistence, you can build a successful career as a tattoo artist. Start by gaining experience, honing your craft, and then spread your creative wings in your own shop. The key is patience, practice, and a commitment to excellence.


In summary, to become a tattoo artist, you need to:

  • Develop your artistic skills and build a portfolio of your custom tattoo designs. Practice different styles and techniques to expand your skills.
  • Complete a tattoo apprenticeship under an experienced mentor. Assist them with tasks like preparing equipment, sterilizing needles, and observing them while they work on clients to gain valuable experience.
  • Become certified in bloodborne pathogens and basic first aid. You will need to maintain high standards of hygiene and properly sanitize equipment to prevent infection.
  • Check your state’s licensing requirements. Most states require tattoo artists to be licensed or certified. You will need to meet minimum age requirements, pay licensing fees, and in some cases pass an exam.
  • Continuously improve your skills through practice and stay up-to-date with the latest tools, techniques, and styles. The tattoo industry is constantly evolving, so ongoing learning is important.
  • Build your business and clientele. You can work at an established tattoo parlor, open your own shop, or work as a freelance artist. Market your services, create a website to showcase your work, and get good reviews from clients.

Becoming a tattoo artist requires dedication, skill, and a commitment to your craft. While it can be a challenging career path, for those with a passion for tattooing, the reward of doing what you love can make it worthwhile. Keep practicing, build strong relationships with mentors, and never stop improving your skills. If you stay determined, you can achieve your goal of becoming a tattoo artist.

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