Tattoosday: Tattoo Etiquette – Artist Edition

Tattooed Martha - Tattoosday - Tattoo Etiquette - Artist Edition (1)

A while back I wrote an article about tattoo etiquette which highlighted the do’s and don’t’s of interacting with tattooed individuals. You’ve heard from the “tattoo-ee” stand point, but what about the tattoo-er? I asked around to local artists to get the scoop on everything from tipping to hygiene. Here’s what they had to say!


The number one subject that came up? TIPPING.. or lack thereof!

Don’t stiff your artist. He or she may have charged you $500 for your tattoo session, but they may only end up taking home 50% of that. That’s not including the pigment, needles, and disposables that they pay for out of pocket and just used for YOUR tattoo. They just permanently altered your body and quite possibly your life, so if you’re happy with the work that was done, tip well!

While we’re on the subject of money..

Don’t haggle. It costs what it costs. When you try to barter with an artist, you’re inadvertently telling them their skill and artwork isn’t worth what they’re charging. How would you like to be told that you’re worth less than you think? You can shop around and get a “bargain price” tattoo, but in the long run you’re likely to get a “bargain quality” tattoo. Instead of saving those hard-earned dollars that you so desperately tried to hang onto, you’ll end up shelling out more for cover ups or even laser removal. If you’re not serious about investing in a quality piece of artwork on your body, then you’re probably not ready for a tattoo.

Do ask your artist upfront what their rate is, how much you can expect to pay, and then even save a little bit more than the quoted amount. Your tattoo session may run slightly longer than what you both originally thought, so you can either walk out with unfinished work at the 4 hour mark or spend the extra $150 for that 5th hour and extra attention to detail. If you stay within the projected time, then great! You now have money to tip your artist generously (see above subject) and possibly a bit extra to go towards your next tattoo!

Don’t bring your small children to an appointment. You’re not going to be able to hang onto a squirming toddler while getting tattooed and letting your kid roam free in a tattoo shop is not a practical option either. Tattooing can create a five foot radius of micro spray! Do you really want your kid crawling around on the floor or knocking over a water cup filled with blood and biohazard into their sticky, punch stained mouth? Mmm… Hawaiian Fruit Hepatitis!

Do line up a babysitter for your tattoo session. If something comes up last minute, just give your artist a call and explain the situation. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to move your appointment if it means they won’t have to worry about the liabilities of a small child in their shop.

Tattooed Martha - Tattoosday - Tattoo Etiquette - Artist Edition (2)

Don’t dress uncomfortable or inappropriately. I hear most often that ladies are the biggest offenders on this one. You’re getting tattooed, not going out for a night of dancing. Wearing your nicest clothes will not get you through the tattoo any easier and your artist will have to spend extra time taping back your outfit or covering you in dental bibs to avoid ruining your clothing.

Do dress comfortably and accordingly. Be mindful of the tattoo placement and wear something that will allow your artist to work on that area without having you strip down naked! If you know you’re getting your rib cage tattooed, don’t wear a dress. Its common sense and you’ll look like you have none if you show up that way.

Don’t mix booze and tattoos. I’m totally guilty of having a few drinks the night before or even having a beer DURING a tattoo, but anything in excess is probably not a good idea. You wouldn’t drink heavily the night before or morning of running a marathon, so why would you do it before a long tattoo session?

Do get plenty of rest, have something (other than booze) in your stomach, and stay hydrated. Your artist will definitely appreciate you being able to sit through your entire session without fainting or vomiting in their trash can!

Don’t have unrealistic expectations.  Asking your artist over and over if the tattoo will get finished that day will get you nowhere. As one artist put it, “..basically asking “Are we there yet?” repeatedly just fosters a feeling of impatience that leads to pressure to cut corners in order to please you.” –tattoo artist of 13 years. And remember: tattoos hurt! Be prepared to experience at least mild pain during your session. If you know that you have a low pain tolerance you might not want to jump into a throat or rib tattoo for your first one. It’s hard for anyone to create something on a moving canvas, so prepare yourself mentally and remember to breathe!

Do ask your artist a projected time frame or the amount of sessions it will take to complete the piece. This is a reasonable question, but needs asked only once. It’s better to have a quality piece of work that may have taken 2-3 sessions than a lackluster tattoo that you were in a rush to finish so you could show it off to your buddies that night.

Don’t ask your artist to commit plagiarism. An artist will typically ask you to bring or send them references for the idea or design you want for your tattoo which is meant for them to ‘refer’ to when creating a custom tattoo for you. Too often I’ve had my fiancé show me artwork that he spent numerous hours on for a client that said no, because they actually wanted a line for line copy of the image they brought in. If you want a cookie cutter tattoo, you should make that known before they invest their time and skills on a piece that you never intended getting in the first place.

Do be clear on the design, concept, and your expectations for the tattoo. Clear communication will result in you getting the tattoo you want and less time wasted for both parties.

The last question I asked was, “What should a client always do before an appointment?”

The answer: Shower! I’d say that one is pretty self-explanatory! 😉

In summary, use common sense, good manners, and show respect towards your artist and their profession.

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Comments: 11

  1. Lisa Marie March 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm Reply

    Hmmm… I’m a firm believer that if you ask for a quote on a specific design then that’s the price you pay. If the artist can’t finish in the amount of time he said he would then that should be on him. Or her. I once paid $300 for a tattoo where the artist didn’t do what I had asked and spent a lot of time mucking around only to say he wanted another $150 to finish it. What I left with was something I didn’t ask for and was embarrassed of. What’s worse is he was a friend and someone who’d tattooed me before.

    As for tipping… we don’t tip in NZ. And I wouldn’t tip for anything unless the person went above and beyond what they were already paid to do. If I’ve already forked out hundreds for something I’m not going to pay extra just because they did the job I’d hired and paid them for.

    • Sasha March 25, 2014 at 2:32 pm Reply

      I could understand not wanting to pay extra if someone was wasting time and not actually tattooing you. Every artist is different and may stand by their quoted price whereas others stick firmly to their hourly rate since a quote is just an estimation of the cost that can change with variables like time or size.

      It could be different in other areas of the world, but in the U.S. it’s much like dining out, getting a haircut, or taking a taxi ride. You’re tipping for their good service. Many bartenders or servers are paid UNDER minimum wage because it’s projected that they will make up for that in tips. Just as a tattoo artist makes a percentage of the tattoo and not the full price of what you actually paid them. That other 40 or 50% goes to the shop, not your tattoo artist, so it’s nice to express your gratitude for their skill and service.

  2. Stacia March 25, 2014 at 8:45 pm Reply

    This was really helpful for me. I’ve heard several of these opinions before, but I’m gleaning all I can before jumping in to my first tattoo. I know the more prepared I feel going in, the better the experience will be for both me and the artist – because I want to respect their work place, too.

  3. Scott August 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm Reply

    While it is true that US law screws over servers it is not the case with Tattoo artists. You are essentially a contract employee, just because you don’t like the chair rental fee or the fact that you have to buy supplies does not mean you are entitled to a tip. I only tip for excellent service, except for wait staff. I am a contractor in my field, I buy my own supplies, I charge you what I need to make a profit and cover my expenses (oh wait I am an engineer so I am not entitled to a tip, rolls eyes). It seems that tattoo artists need to learn how to properly charge.

    I am really sick of this tattoo artists thinking they deserve a tip for doing what they agreed to at a set price, guess what basic Econ 101 says you are not charging enough apparently. I agree with Lisa Marie, you do outstanding work and you are eligible for a tip.

    Also the 30% markup is laughable at best that I see thrown around, you better have went way beyond the call of duty to pull down that kind of tip.

  4. sarah September 13, 2014 at 12:15 pm Reply

    Does the same go if your artist is the owner? My guy co owns the shop with a friend and it is only the two of them. They charge a creative fee to draw the design based on size. I felt like $150 per hour is pretty substantial, but didn’t want to be THAT girl, so I tipped on top of it. I have a second session this week and am wondering what would be appropriate? Thanks!

    • Sasha September 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm Reply

      Great question Sarah! In this case I would say it might be okay to skip the tip since they’re charging a creative fee + the guys are making 100%. Obviously they have supply costs, shop rent/mortgage, and other expenses to think about, but since they’re not paying a percentage of your tattoo cost to anyone but their own business, I’d say skip it. A lot of times my husband gets fun tips from longtime clients instead of cash. His nickname is Bacon so you can imagine we get A LOT of bacon and pig paraphernalia! Haha or sometimes they’ll just bring him lunch or dinner before or during their session. I hope this gives you some ideas or at least alleviates the worry of being “that person.” Have a great second session!

  5. Tatts Lover September 15, 2014 at 7:27 am Reply

    Hi Martha! I really enjoyed this article! I love how you almost scream out loud what most people think in their head. 🙂 Thank you so much!

  6. joanna September 26, 2014 at 6:20 pm Reply

    I had a consultation & booked an appointment with my artist a couple of weeks ago. Is it ok to ask what piece looks like before the day of?

    • Sasha September 26, 2014 at 8:14 pm Reply

      Of course! Unless it’s a piece that they’ll be drawing right on you and then tattooing, most artists won’t mind sharing a sketch or even the final product the day before. Good luck at your appointment! 🙂

  7. joanna September 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm Reply

    Thanks a bunch!

  8. Jane Hobson March 3, 2016 at 3:26 pm Reply

    Tipping?! WTEVENF?! You wouldn’t tip a designer, an illustrator or a photographer – they are professionals, not servers. As a professional, you quote, the quote is accepted (or negotiated and accepted/rejected) and then you do the job, to the agreed parameters, and you get paid. Simples. When was the last time you tipped your builder (and no, running over on the spec is not a ‘tip’)? Plumber? Portrait photographer? etc.Speaking as a photographer, I’ve never been tipped, and would find it insulting if I was. Tipping is for SERVICE, not craft/art.

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