Becoming a tattoo artist requires more than just knowing how to create body art. Most of these independent professionals study under licensed tattooists for several years, learning how to use the equipment, apply the designs and sanitize equipment, tubes and needles to prevent the spread of disease. When they operate their own tattoo parlors, they meet with clients, discuss the locations, colors and sizes of tattoos, instruct people how to care for tattoos, process payments and promote their businesses through advertising. They typically earn relatively average salaries compared to other occupations.
Income and Qualifications:
Some tattoo artists make $40,000 or more per year, according to the College Foundation of North Carolina. Their incomes are usually dictated by the business they generate. Average annual incomes for these body artists were $32,000 as of 2013, according to the job website SimplyHired.com. Most have high school degrees and at least a couple years experience in the industry. They typically train as apprentices for two or three years before obtaining the required state license through the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, or other trade association. Other key qualifications include an attention to detail and customer service and communication skills. Tattoo artists who are employed by other tattooists must show portfolios of their work before getting hired.
Income by State or District:
Average incomes for tattoo artists vary somewhat by district or state. In 2013, they earned the highest annual incomes of $50,000 in the District of Columbia, according to SimplyHired.com. They also earned relatively high incomes Massachusetts, New York and California -- $38,000, $37,000 and $36,000 per year, respectively. Those in Florida made closer to the industry average at $29,000 annually. And tattoo artists in Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Dakota earned somewhat less at $27,000, $26,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Tattoo artists' incomes are highly contingent on the number of clients they service each year. Clients are usually generated through yellow pages, direct mail and online advertising. Referrals from highly satisfied clients can also increase a tattoo artist's income. Tattoo artists learn the best ways to market themselves through experience, which is another factor that impacts their earnings. Highly experienced -- or even famous -- tattoists might charge higher rates that lead to higher incomes. Those who live in states such as New York or Massachusetts might charge more -- and earn higher incomes -- because of higher living costs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't report job trend data for tattoo artists. They do, however, report job opportunities for craft and fine artists, which are expected to increase at a slower-than-average pace of five percent in the next decade. But job opportunities for tattoo artists are usually commensurate with the popularity of tattoos, and 14 percent of people in the United States have tattoos, according to "Forbes." Peoples' fascination and interest in getting tattoos continue to grow in 2013, and there's no indication of any slowdown within the next 10 years.