How to become a professional tattoo artist | Best Starter Guide

Thanks to the recognition of reality tattoo tv there are a lot of aspiring tattoo artists. It looks like every artistic friend designs tattoos or draws tattoos or wants to be a tattoo artist. There are 20 aspiring “artists” to every one artist willing to give an apprenticeship. Most artists don’t want more competition, and most aspiring apprentices don’t have what it takes to be a tattoo artist. So what do you need?


how to become a tattoo artist

Tattooing is drawing 20 – 60 hours a week, more if you count the early mornings and days off spent sketching for the time you don’t have in the shop because you’re tattooing. Drawing, drawing and more drawing is what tattooing is about. If you don’t like to draw, or you’re not good at drawing, why would you want to be a tattoo artist?

If you’re not already drawing you should be. Remember that it’s all about quality over quantity. Showing up with 100 poor drawings versus 5 mediocre ones and one amazing one shows that you have the ability to be amazing. I have hired an apprentice based on a single drawing out of a sketchpad of junk. His drawing was awful, but he kept trying and that one drawing showed he had skills I thought were teachable.

Be Reliable

It’s amazing how flighty people can be. The apprentice who promises to be there, then claims car trouble and posts Instagram posts getting drunk with friends. Tattooing is a job, an apprenticeship is a job. If you can’t be trusted to show up as an apprentice then you can’t be trusted to show up as an artist and you’ll get fired.


As said, most artists don’t want apprentices. It’s not that they don’t want to pass on the knowledge, it’s just that most of the people they get asking are not the sort of people they want to follow them around for 70 hours a week or they just don’t have the artistic skills to be interesting enough to make it.

I knew one girl who got an apprenticeship simply because she wouldn’t go away. She showed up every day, eventually, she started answering the phones, cleaning around the shop, and doing the daily “chores” of an apprentice so it just became a natural progression to let her start one. Stubbornness will get you a long way to keep pushing if you’re serious and eventually space will open up.

Learn the Basic Elements of Graphic Design

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Whether you obtain an education in art or develop your drawing skills through experience, it is important to master the fundamentals of graphic design. You’ll need to learn the theories of line, shape, texture, colour, value, and size. You’ll also need to learn how to apply those theories on paper to create the image you want, how to stencil, and eventually, how to execute your designs on human skin.

Learn the Principles of Graphic Design

Other essential skills to master are the principles of graphic design, such as balance, alignment, repetition, proximity, contrast, and space. These principles help to build the foundation of art itself and no drawing is complete without them. How each manifests differs greatly from piece to piece, so it’s crucial to develop a strong ability to manipulate these principles in a wide variety of ways.

Include the Right Work

Put 25 to 100 completed drawings and tattoo designs in your portfolio; these can be either copies or original works. Make sure that the pieces you choose to include do an excellent job of showcasing your versatility as an artist. Include a few examples of work you have completed in black and grey, even if your strongest work is typically composed of colourful illustrations. Even if the piece might not necessarily translate well into a tattoo, it’ll demonstrate that you simply have strong technique and have the talent for designing tattoos.

Create a Professional Portfolio

Your portfolio should be both attention-grabbing and professional looking. Don’t use an old binder you found lying around or a single manila folder for all your art. Instead, use a new three-ring binder with sheet protectors, or have the pages matted. The outside of your portfolio should look sleek, uniform, and inviting.

Works at a reputable tattoo shop. 

Make sure they abide by basic hygiene guidelines and have plenty of clients. Avoid tattoo shops who seem to be empty, who can’t tell you about their hygiene practices, or that you just get a bad vibe in.

Avoid Tattoo Schools

Traditional apprenticeships are free. In exchange for your blood, sweat, and tears in the shop, plus a reasonable amount of time working as a paid artist you’ll learn skills. There are plenty of “tattoo schools” who say for an exorbitant fee they can teach you to tattoo “in a week” or some other arbitrary time.

Tattooing takes practice, muscles in your hand have to be built up and trained to do the job. You can’t benchpress 200lb in a week, so why do you think you could draw with a vibrating 1lb barbell on the end of a needle? Most places that charge for an apprenticeship are only in it for the money and not the craft. Don’t go to them.

Has mentored an apprentice before. 

Mentoring is difficult even for the most seasoned tattoo artist. Look for someone who has taken an apprentice before, so they have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Check Your State Requirements

Licensing requirements often vary by state. For example, tattoo artists in Oregon must complete no but 360 hours of coaching with an approved tattoo artist and 50 tattoos, also as pass a written exam and skills assessment to become licensed. In other states, only the shop needs a license. Review your state’s requirements for licensure, as well as the requirements for any other state you plan to tattoo in. Like healthcare, you can be licensed to tattoo in more than one state as long as you meet that state’s requirements.

Apply for Licensure

After you’ve met any necessary prerequisites, you’ll need to apply for your license. Often, this is simply filling out a form with your local department and paying a fee, however, this too differs from state to state.

Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t complicated, but it is hard work. You’ll also need to buy your own equipment, secure an apprenticeship, and acquire a license. But once you’ve done that, the rest is purely dedication, practice, patience and perseverance.