How to become a tattoo artist

What does a Tattoo Artist do?

Tattoo artists use motorised needles to place ink under a client’s skin. This results in lovely-looking permanent designs and script on the body.

DID YOU KNOW? Tattooing is a skilled job, and takes proper training. Tattoo artists start off in an apprenticeship. They’re also required by law to be registered to tattoo. Turning body art into your life’s work is a serious business!

A typical working day could involve…

  • Meeting with clients to discuss tattoo designs and ideas
  • Helping clients to fill out forms, making sure they have no allergies or medical issues, and checking their ID to make sure they’re over 18 years old
  • Making double and triple sure that the client wants the design on their skin permanently
  • Double-checking that the client is 100% happy with the design and placement
  • Putting an outline of the design on the client’s skin to tattoo over. This can be done with a transfer, or by drawing it freehand
  • Following the design while tattooing, using a motor-powered needle machine
  • Using different needle types for shading, outlines, and colour
  • Covering finished tattoos and giving clients detailed aftercare instructions. This may involve selling aftercare cream
  • Using an autoclave to sterilise re-usable equipment. Cleanliness is so important! Used needles must be disposed of with extreme caution, and the workspace must be kept scrupulously clean
  • Keeping up to date with tattoo trends and designs
  • Ordering in new tattoo inks, machine heads, needles, and gloves
  • Drawing up new designs for flash charts and for specially commissioned tattoo jobs
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What are the pros and cons of being a tattoo artist?

Perks:

  • Becoming a tattoo artist is one of the most creative jobs going! For many, it’ll be the ultimate dream job
  • You get to meet  interesting people, and lots of them. Because tattooing usually takes at least a half an hour, you get to have some really interesting conversations with your clients
  • The body art community tends to be really close-knit, so you’ll make friends. You’ll have repeat customers if you’re really good. You’ll also meet lots of other artists and piercers as you work. Meeting like minds and people you can relate to at work is always a career bonus!
  • In your downtime, you can draw up your own tattoo designs, evolving your own style. Then you can display them in the studio
  • You will, when learning, get to tattoo yourself (mostly on your legs and fee). Free tattoos!
  • More and more tattoo conventions are popping up everywhere. These events can be excellent networking opportunities, as well as a good way to make some extra money. They tend to be really fun experiences, too.
  • You can build a name for yourself over time. At the upper reaches of recognition for your body art skills, you’ve got the likes of Kat von D…

Challenges:

  • The hours can be very long (including evenings and weekends). You might not get much in the way of breaks, either
  • Tattoo artists run the risk of eye strain, sore backs, and wrist or finger strain. At worst, they can sometimes be exposed to infection, such as hepatitis, or even sometimes HIV. However, this is really rare now, as tattoo clients must inform artists if they carry such infections, and artists are usually vaccinated against infections
  • You will, unfortunately, probably end up with friends pestering you for free tattoos. You will also encounter underage kids with fake IDs. Let’s not forget the countless number of people wanting their beloved’s name tattooed on them, and dozens of people wanting celebrity tattoos or other seen-it-all-before projects. Not every job is going to suit your style or test your talents.
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Useful skills and entry qualifications

Do you love body art? Are you creative and artistic? Do you have good people skills, a steady hand and good eyesight? If you do, this could be the perfect career for you.

Skills, strengths and qualities:

  • Loads of artistic skill and talent
  • A creative flair, and lots of design ideas
  • An eye for detail, colour and design
  • Steady hands and good eyesight
  • High levels of attention to detail
  • Excellent communication and customer service skills
  • Constant awareness of health and safety
  • High standards of cleanliness
  • Good networking skills
  • IMPORTANT: A strong stomach! Tattooing usually results in all kinds of fluids – we’re talking blood, sweat, and sometimes even tears. What’s more, you might have to shave the body part to be tattooed. If you’ve any fears of blood, or touching other people’s skin, this might not be for you.
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