Tipping Your Tattoo Artist

"I have been wondering about what is the proper etiquette for tipping tattoo artist so I turned to that bastion of accuracy - The Internet."

All opinions on tips are the random observations of www.thetattootourist.com 

TIP (tĭp)

TIP (tĭp)

 1. The end of a pointed or projecting object.
2. A piece or an attachment, such as a cap or ferrule, meant to be fitted to the end of something else: the barbed tip of a harpoon.
tr.v. tipped, tip·ping, tips
Doesn't it just figure they missed the most important kind of tip? So here is my (slightly) modified definition;


1. Still not a city in China.

2. Still not nice to do to cows.

3. Should be a part of your tattoo experience.


I have been wondering about what is the proper etiquette for tipping tattoo artist so I turned to that bastion of accuracy - The Internet.  Geesh people - get your facts straight!  Opinions on tipping a tattoo artist range from;

"I'm pretty sure they would prefer a heartfelt awesome work dude to a cash tip" (seriously?!) to "they make way too much money to tip" to "I always tip 25%". The consensus? There appears to be none. Except - Inked Magazine and a host of non-Grinch-like people agree - tipping a tattoo artist is based on the Salon Model. No no not that kind of salon...
Tipping your tattoo artist
This kind - you know with hair n stuff!
Basically hair, nails, waxing etc. are done in a salon, yes?  And unless you are a total tool you are tipping your salon professional 15-20% - yes? (better be yes otherwise - you're a tool).  The only exception to this rule is if you are being taken care of by the shop owner and then tipping falls into more of a grey area.
Like hair stylists most tattoo artists either rent shop space from an owner OR they pay a hefty % of their "take" to "The House"
Tattoo design
This can be as high as 60% of their hourly tattoo rate and is rarely less than 40%.  Shop rental rates are also high - many artists pay a "day rate" so if someone cancels or doesn't show up they are screwed because they didn't earn much- if any- money for the day but they still have to pay the house. Not to mention artists pay for the inks, needles, disposables, machines and the use of flash. etc. etc.  Shit really adds up.
You may also have an artist who does an original drawing for you and may spend hours getting it right - most charge a nominal fee or no fee at all for the drawing - it is sort of factored into the hourly rate- but still- that is a boatload of work on your behalf.
So what is the right thing to do?
Here is my unofficial guide based on research, talking to artists and other collectors and too many years experience as a waitress.
1.  Tipping is expected.  It is people.  If you are getting tattooed plan on tacking on 10-20%  (15% is the average) of the cost of your tattoo as a tip.  Don't stiff an artist because your tattoo is expensive or you can't afford to tip.  That is an a-hole move.  The only exception would be if you had a rotten experience and then you should be talking to the artist and the shop owner about how to make things right.  Bottom line - if you like the tattoo you ended up with; tip - if you freakin love it - tip heavy.
2. If you are having multiple sessions done when you tip is up to you. If you are going back to the same artist 2,3,6 times to complete a large piece then you can tip per session based on what each session costs OR you can wait til the end and tip then. If you are going for the latter I would let your artist know that is your plan so they don't feel as if you are stiffing them. (and if you are having a $6,000 sleeve done? Then a 10% tip is probably cool - use your judgement and tip what you can afford).
3.  If you are being tattooed by the shop owner the % may be lower.  This can be a little controversial and I am not suggesting shop owners do not deserve tips but you do have more leeway here.  Plan on 10% as a starting point.  If you are not sure if the owner accepts tips ask - they will gladly tell you if they do (or don't)
4. Gifts and compliments are lovely BUT tattoo artists are not there to make friends - they are there to make money. Don't give what is known in the service industry as a "verbal tip". What is that you say? It goes something like this;
"That was the best massage/haircut/manicure/tattoo experience I have ever had! You are the best and so awesome and I want to name my first-born child after you!" followed by; a shitty tip or even no tip. I'm not sure if you verbal tippers know this but as a waitress I have never been able to buy food with compliments. Ever.
Now I have given baked goods and mix-tapes (do they still call them that?) and even a really cool coat rack (I gave one of these to the amazing Hannah Aitchison and she LOVED it!)
Cool coat rack
and finally...
5. Tattoo artists DESERVE tips.  As I scrolled through the comment sections on multiple threads concerning this topic I saw a particular opinion repeated more than a few times.  Tattoo artists don't deserve tips.  Really?  They don't deserve them because:
1. They make too much money

2. They do it for the love of the art and don't want money
3. Tattoos are expensive so tipping should not be expected
and on and on...
Yes, tattoo artists can make a lot of money but MOST tattoo artists make a decent living, NOT a killing.  Overhead is high, competition is fierce, apprenticeships come out of your hide and can last months or years with virtually (or actually) no pay.  Tattoo artists have to pay their dues in a major way and most will never be able to afford their own shop.  Your artist is marking your body for life.  Do you really want bad blood attached to all that blood?  OK, maybe if you are getting tattooed by this guy you can skip the tip...
But seriously - don't be a jerk and don't forget to tip your tattoo artist!
Postscript;  I do want to add a single footnote; technically tips ARE optional and you should only tip what you can comfortably afford.  A little something given in all sincerity with gratitude is always better than nothing. As for lasering, touch-ups, and 30 second single word tattoos - use your judgement and err on the side of being awesome.
You want MORE tattoo randomness? Visit me at www.thetattootourist.com