How Do I Become a Tattoo Artist?

If you possess artistic talent and have an interest in body art, you may be wondering how to become a tattoo artist.

A tattoo artist is a professional designer and applier of body art in the form of permanent tattoos. Tattoo artists differ from other professionals who apply tattoos, like tattooists, in the scope of their work. Tattooists mainly apply tattoo flashes, which are standardized designs that they have not personally created. Tattooists may make variations to these designs. In contrast, talented tattoo artists may use tattoo flashes as inspiration for themselves and their customers, but they also can design customized tattoos based on their customers’ desires and preferences. Tattoo artists work in studios that specialize in body art.

Success in the field of tattoo art requires both artistic and technical skills. Like other types of artists, tattoo artists should possess skills in the visual arts. Successful tattoo artists can hone their natural creative talents through formal art classes or independent study, but they may spend years perfecting their technique and building a portfolio of work that they can use to gain an apprenticeship under an experienced tattoo artist. Portfolios may include drawings, paintings, and photographs of art completed in other forms, like sculptures, and should always include the artist’s best work. Artwork that could be used as a tattoo is especially welcome in an aspiring tattoo artist’s portfolio. Tattoo artists must know how to correctly use the tools needed to make tattoos, like the tattoo machine, a handheld device that applies a tattoo to a customer’s skin using needles and ink. Knowledge of proper safety measures is also important.

Tattoo artists train for their career through apprenticeships, in which they work under the supervision of an experienced tattoo artist. These apprenticeships last an estimated three years, according to the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. Tattoo artist apprenticeships typically do not provide compensation and instead require the apprentice to pay dues or tuition to the fully-qualified artist. During their apprenticeships, tattoo artist apprentices will learn about the equipment used to apply tattoos and methods used for sterilization in order to prevent the transmission of diseases and infections. Since human skin is the canvas on which tattoo artists work, an aspiring tattoo artist must also learn about skin conditions.

The termination of an apprenticeship typically ends when the supervising tattoo artist and the apprentice agree that the apprentice has sufficiently learned the craft, including artistic techniques and safety requirements. Regulations on tattooing vary by state, but nearly all states require tattoo artists to acquire a license. Because the risk of infections in tattoo studios that fail to practice proper safety regulations, tattoo artists may be required to attend courses and acquire certification in subjects like CPR and blood borne pathogens.

Body art is a profitable field, largely thanks to the high popularity of tattoos. If you possess artistic talent and have an interest in tattoos, knowing how to become a tattoo artist can help you begin a creative career.

Featured Degree Programs