Becoming a Tattoo Artist: Requirements & Certification

Research what it takes to become a tattoo artist. Get the facts about apprenticing and ongoing training, wages, and expected outlook to determine if this career is right for you. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

A tattoo artist is responsible for using ink to create works of art on the skin while adhering to health standards and local regulations. While there is no federal certification or national board for becoming a tattoo artist, many states and counties have their own requirements. Check out the following table for more details.

Typical Training Apprenticeship for certification or licensure (various state and county requirements)
Typical Age Requirement Must be 18 years old
Key Skills Communication skills, artistic ability, attention to detail, high standards for health and sanitation
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)*6% (for all Craft and Fine Artists)
Median Salary (2019)** $31,103

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Payscale.com

What Education or Training Is Necessary?

Requirements differ between states and counties, but some require at least a high school diploma in addition to an apprenticeship that leads to certification or licensure. The requirements for a successful apprenticeship may include knowledge of sanitation, disposal procedures and infection prevention even before tattooing begins. An apprentice must have direct observation hours, in addition to hours cleaning and preparing a workstation, and will then perform a specified number of hours and pieces of varying levels of difficulty, recording photographic evidence for each level.

Is There Ongoing Certification or Training?

Employees in a tattoo parlor must complete OSHA-approved bloodborne pathogens (BBP) training, but those functioning in the workplace as independent contractors are not required to fulfill that training unless otherwise stipulated by state law, according to OSHA info as recently as 2016. After completing an apprenticeship, some states require yearly continuing education in subjects either directly related to tattooing and art or in more general business, ethics, and communications courses. Finally, it is common to continually add to an online or physical portfolio both for personal growth and marketing.

Is a Tattoo Artist an Employee or Self-Employed?

Classification as an employee or independent contractor depends on the shop. An artist's status could be affected by state requirements for certification and permits. In many cases, however, a tattoo artist is considered an independent contractor.

How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?

According to Payscale.com, tattoo artists can earn salaries as low as around $18,000 per year. The median pay is $31,103 as of February 2019, but artists with five to ten years of experience can make between $30,000 and $55,000 per year. As tattooing is craftsmanship rather than a traditional hourly position, the pay will be affected by both the number of tattoos completed and the demand for an artist's work. The median hourly pay was $85, in that same year.

What Is the Job Outlook for this Career?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs are expected to grow 6% for all craft and fine artists, from 2016-2026. This is on par with the growth for all careers and reflects the economy allowing people to feel comfortable spending money on art. A tattoo artist's job prospects could also be affected by their level of talent and ability to market their services, either through word-of-mouth or a social media presence.

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