Freelance Tattoo Artist Life: How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

by in Tattoo Ideas
how much do tattoo artists make

Imagine this: You set your own work schedule, you are your own boss, you get to be creative daily, and your work lasts a person’s lifetime (literally).

The lifestyle of a freelance tattoo artist seems optimal, if even, dreamy. With the current state of events, now might finally be the time where you actually dive into that career dream of being a tattoo artist.

Before you take the leap though, you might be wondering about salary: how much do tattoo artists make?

Well, first you need to consider the initial training process before you can start making money.

Becoming a Tattoo Artist

The hardest part of this career is the training process, known as an apprenticeship, which can take about two years in which you aren’t being paid. A true commitment to becoming a tattoo artist is thus very important.

Once you finish your training, acquire a license, then you can begin to work independently.

Since tattoo work is based upon clients though and not a set daily wage, a great way to keep track of your income and paid taxes is through a free pay stub generator.

So, How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

When you are just starting out before establishing yourself as a freelancer, for the most part, you will be working in tattoo and piercing businesses. This means that shop-owners collect about 60-70% commission of your work.

The average income of a tattoo artist on Payscale was projected to be about $100 an hour during the tattoo process. So, it’s important to remember that nearly $70 of that will go to the shop-owner.

This could explain why so many tattoo artists are choosing the freelancer path as it allows them to be more in control of their profits. Just make sure you figure out how to file taxes when you’re self-employed.

There are many other factors, however, that can also influence the income of a tattoo artist, most being in regards to your built-up reputation.

Years of Experience

You could say this is a very important factor to making money as a tattoo artist. Your work is art that will be on people’s bodies forever so there is a lot of trust between you and the client that goes into getting a tattoo. Trust is built with a solid portfolio of years of experience that showcases designs of great beauty, detail, and skill.

You will be hired based on the quality of your work which can also lead to a strong clientele.


When your art is great and detailed, your clients will be more likely to tip you well. Tips can be an important boost for your income as a tattoo artist because they will not be collected by the shop-owner. Also, there is no exact reported estimate to how much tattoo artists make from tips so making your clients happy to tip big is the key to a good salary.


If you’re seriously considering a long career in being a tattoo artist, then you need to be wise about where you chose to work.

It will be more difficult in small towns to charge a high rate for your tattoo work. On the contrary, cities like New York and Los Angeles have not only high demand for tattoos, as 38% of adults between the ages of 18-29 already have a tattoo, but you can also charge much higher rates for the work.

If you build your reputation in a location like Manhattan, you might even find yourself tattooing celebrities, in which you can charge up to $1,000 an hour for your work!

Social Media

Using social media and building your platform might the most important aspect of growing your salary as a freelance tattoo artist. Sites like Instagram allow you to gain a large following, boosting your popularity by showing off your previous designs and work. Many people who like the look of your past tattoos in pictures might even reach out to you directly and soon you have a much bigger clientele.

Mastering social media is a wonderful way to ensure a tattoo artist salary for yourself.


The sooner you build your reputation as an independent, freelance artist in the tattoo world, then the sooner you won’t have to be subject to shop-owners taking so much of your profits. In fact, after years of experience, you might even consider opening your own tattoo shop where you can be in full control of your wages and equipment.

How To Find Work

The most desirable route is to establish a one-on-one relationship with your clients through your social media platforms and make personal contact with them. This way you can arrange your schedule as an independent project basis.

However, if you’re still starting out building your reputation then you can look for job opportunities on freelancing website portals.

Remember, the salary and opportunities of this job are highly dependent on how much experience you have and how skilled you are.

To ensure you will always find work in such a competitive market, focus on developing your sketching abilities, attention to detail, developing a steady hand, and marketing strategies to promote yourself.

An Exciting Career

What once was an art form associated with biker dudes and pirates has become an employment opportunity for talented artists looking to make their work permanent.

Of course, if you’re going to pursue such a committed lifestyle career, it’s essential to know how much do tattoo artists make. A lot determines the exact factors of salary but the most important aspect of being a freelancer is to build experience and a reputation.

From there, being a freelance tattoo artist can be a truly exciting, diverse, and interesting career that takes you many places and allows you to meet many new people, as well as form great relationships with returning clients.

Looking for more tips to build your tattoo career? Be sure to browse the rest of this site.

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