This is one of the most often heard questions about tattooing. Coming in right after inquiries about how painful they are, “Why are tattoos expensive?” is something that is asked so regularly that we thought we might help clear things up a bit.
Top 5 Reasons Tattoos Are Expensive
Reason #1: Cost of equipment, supplies, rent, and employee costs
Running a tattoo studio is very expensive, just like any other mom and pop shop. Unlike giant corporations, tattoo studios are very rarely part of a chain; instead they’re owned and operated by the artists themselves. Part of what you pay for a tattoo goes directly towards rental costs. This is another reason why your tattoo may be expensive: a nice studio in a choice part of town like New York City or Los Angeles will cost way more than a spot out in the suburbs. You’re helping the artist pay to keep their shopfront open!
Upkeep of a tattoo studio also includes great costs like equipment, furniture, supplies and employee pay for a shop manager or admin assistant. Almost all the supplies an artist uses are one time use...meaning all those paper towels, plastic wrap rolls, needles, trash bags, plastic cups, and more, are being reordered in large numbers and often.
Reason #2: Hidden costs such as tattoo licence, insurance and waste removal
Although it’s still the Wild West in some places, many countries have set up a lot of regulations that tattoo studios have to abide by. Because tattoo artists do such sensitive work, some locals require artists to carry tattoo licenses. This usually entails a test on hygiene and cleanliness as well as a fee. Studios may also need to be registered and own a certain level of health insurance in order to operate. These can be one time costs, yearly costs, and even monthly costs.
Waste removal is also important for tattoo shops. These special services offer medical waste removal which is integral for shop cleanup as used tattoo needles are a health hazard. No one wants those poking up out of random dumpsters around town!
Reason #3: You’re also paying for design time, not just sitting time.
A big part of the reason why your tattoo is so expensive is because the artist will be spending a lot of time working on not only tattooing your piece, but also designing your piece. This especially comes into play if it’s a custom tattoo. This is partly why custom work is usually much more expensive than flash. And even if your artist free-hands their artwork onto your skin, chances are they’ve put a lot of thought into the details they’ll be using, the motifs you’d like, and even placement.
You’re not getting charged just for the time it takes you to be tattooed, you’re also paying for all the behind the scenes work that goes into creating your perfect piece!
Reason #4: Size, placement, and details
This one is probably the most understandable, right? The bigger the piece, the bigger the price. But placement also comes into play. Think about it: a nice flat spot, like the front of your thigh or your sternum, is way easier to tattoo than, say, your ribs or your neck. Areas that are more difficult to tattoo come with a higher cost, partly because it will usually just take longer than an easy spot. There may also be changes to price if you want different colors of ink instead of just black. More inks equals more supply costs and more time the artist needs to invest in creating your tattoo!
There are also cost differences when it comes to the amount of detailed work in a tattoo, which is why, for example, an artist who does Hyperrealism charges more than someone who does Minimalism. Realism tattoos take a very long time and are usually highly detailed, very specific. So, the level of time, detail, and technical difficulty all comes into play when your artist prices your tattoo.
Reason #5: Years of Dedication and Expertise
Asking why a tattoo is expensive is sort of on par with asking why dentistry is so expensive. Or why therapy is so expensive. Or really any medical profession since all of them require a good deal of training, skill, and devotion.
Many tattoo artists will be an apprentice for a great deal of time before they become full fledged tattooers. This could be a year but can also be up to five years; it completely depends on the person and their mentor. During the time the apprentice is being taught, often they are not paid anything; most of the time they’re actually working for the shop in exchange for being taught to tattoo.
Apprentices will usually give out free tattoos, or will only charge a supplies fee, until they’re ready, skill-level wise, to charge clients in full. As a tattooer progresses, they may raise their prices for a number of reasons but usually a high level in price equals a high level in skill and technique. Most artists will have been tattooing for years, even a decade, before they charge a very high premium. But if you're astounded by their artwork, they're definitely worth the price.
Building a strong reputation and the high quality skills to back up a big price tag is something that takes time for an artist, but it's worth investing in as a client. If you’re asking, “is it worth it?”, this probably means you don’t understand the skill it takes to be a great tattooer or you don’t appreciate it as completely as you probably should! All the time that artists invested in their education is being paid back to you through incredible art that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for their years of dedication to the craft.
So, why is your tattoo so expensive? Hopefully our top 5 points helped to illustrate a few things. Clients don’t often get to peek into the inner workings of business, but that does have a lot to do with price. And perhaps, also, you’ve found new appreciation for the skill it takes to be a tattooer. It’s not as easy as simply picking up a cheap machine on Amazon!
But we’ll also touch upon one more bonus reason why your tattoo is worth the money: the time, effort, and cost it takes to cover up a bad tattoo. Paying good money for a tattoo you're happy with, up front, will make sure that you don’t spend years regretting a bad decision, and paying more money out of pocket to fix it.
Cover up tattoos are almost always more expensive, but sometimes laser removal is also necessary. So keep that in mind when throwing down coin for a cheap tattoo: good tattoos cost good money.
Top Tattoo Cost Questions
Hopefully these answers help you figure out if that tattoo artist's quote is worth the money...plus, just in case, we also have a guide on how to budget for a new tattoo! If you're serious about collecting really great work, checking that out will certainly help.
How much should tattoos cost?
A tattoo's cost depends on the artist and studio, as well as the tattoo you end up getting. The bigger or more detailed a design is, the more it will cost. The amount of time it takes, difficulty of the design and skill involved, and even location of the shop will all factor into the cost of your tattoo.
Are tattoos worth the money?
Yes, tattoos are worth the money. Having great tattoos from highly skilled tattooers is not only like becoming a walking art gallery, it’s a boost for self-esteem and confidence, links you with a global community, plus it’s one of the best ways to express yourself! And it lasts forever. What else can money buy that can do all of those things?
Is it rude to ask tattoo price?
It is not rude to ask for a tattoo’s price. When you’re in a consultation with a tattooer about a new tattoo, it’s perfectly natural to ask about the price of a tattoo and to discuss your budget. Tattoo artists will probably give you an estimate before a tattoo, and a final price once the tattoo is done. This is because they never know exactly what it will be like working with your skin or the amount of time it will take.
How much should I tip on a tattoo?
20% is about how much you should tip on a tattoo. Similar to other businesses in the service industry, 20% is a good baseline for how much you tip when you’re really pleased with the outcome of your experience. This means for a $200 tattoo, you’ll tip $40. A good measure on whether you can afford a tattoo, is whether or not you can afford to tip!
Keep in mind that tipping is only mandatory in the US, Canada, Mexico, Africa, and the Middle East, but tipping for excellent service is always appreciated no matter where you happen to be!
Why are tattoos cash only?
Tattoos are cash only partly because running credit and debit cards is actually expensive for a business to have. Card companies do require processing fees for each purchase, as well as any purchases that may bounce back.