Your average earnings as a tattoo artist will vary considerably depending on your level of experience, skill and talent, what type of agreement you establish with your employer, and whether or not you choose to own your own studio. The average salary for tattooists in the United States as of 2011 is £20,800, according to the Simply Hired website.
By law you don't have to have any type of formal education or degree to become a tattoo artist, not even a high school diploma. Most tattooists begin with an apprenticeship at an established tattoo studio to gain hands-on experience. During your apprenticeship you will assist professional artists and sometimes give tattoos to patrons free of charge. Apprenticeships are typically unpaid positions, and in some instances you may be required to pay your mentor for your training and allowance to work in the studio. In some cases you can reach an agreement with the management to work in the shop -- cleaning or handling reception, for example -- as payment for your training period.
How much you might earn as a tattooist will rely partially on the hourly service rate that your employer charges the patrons. In 2011, a standard hourly rate for tattooing is between £52 and £78, according to the Tattoo Training Information website. This amount is not what you can count on taking home with you, though. Generally, the shopkeeper is entitled to withhold a commission of somewhere between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the price of the artwork. So, if you're employed by a tattoo studio you might average £15 to £31 per hour.
Certain world-class and celebrity tattooists earn exorbitant salaries for their artwork and command salaries that are about three times as much -- or more -- as that of ordinary tattoo artists. According to the Rank My Tattoos website, world-renowned tattooists such as Paul Booth, Jonathan Shaw, Paul Timman, Anil Gupta and Kat Von D -- of well-known reality TV shows "Miami Ink" and "LA Ink" -- can charge customers up to £227 per hour for custom tattoo designs.
Most tattooists who work for studios are independent contractors. They are issued an IRS form 1099 at the end of the year and are responsible for paying their own taxes. In this situation, the shopkeeper will usually pay 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the retail price of each tattoo you perform, and supply you with all necessary working materials such as ink, needles, latex gloves, paper towels and water bottles, as well as advertisements, business cards and media exposure.
You can significantly increase your income as a tattoo artist by operating your own tattoo studio; however, you must take on a great deal of additional fiscal and administrative responsibilities. Tattoo artists who run their own shops retain 100 per cent of the retail price for all of their works, and they collect 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the income of each of their staff members. On the other hand, if you own a tattoo studio you'll be required to supply all working materials, pay for rent, insurance, utilities, marketing and all other business expenses. The Job Monkey website estimates that tattoo shop owners earn £65,000 per year, as of 2011.