For artistically-inclined people, tattooing is a lucrative business that requires perseverance and patience every step of the way. In the United States, tattooing regulations vary between states; for example, most states require you to obtain your license before becoming a tattoo artist, but some require you to maintain a commercial location. Still, a few fundamental things will help you regardless of your age and experience level.
It’s important to note that no federal law regulates tattooing, leaving it up to the states to regulate the industry.
How Much Do Tattoo Artists Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, tattooists and other fine artists earn a median salary of $49,960 per year. But, of course, because tattooing is craftsmanship rather than a typical salary position, the demand for an artist’s work and the number of tattoos completed influences pay.
Tattoo License Requirements
Historically, tattoos were thought of as unprofessional and a sort of ward against employment. However, nowadays, the art has become more widely accepted, making tattoo artistry a profitable business for creative types.
As tattooing became more popular, states have worked hard to keep up, ensuring today’s artists have a certain minimum of knowledge in various subjects, like bloodborne pathogens and first aid.
The following are general criteria for getting your tattoo license in the United States:
CPR Certification (Some states)
To earn a CPR certification, you must successfully complete a certified first aid course at an accredited training facility, health care facility, or hospital. Courses cover practical and theoretical aspects of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, teaching you how to perform lifesaving measures if and when it is necessary for your tattoo studio.
First Aid Certification (Some states)
Earning a complete first-aid certificate empowers you to help in a medical emergency. While you might consider this course for tattooing purposes, the abilities you learn can help you day-to-day, too. For example, you can learn how to assist injured people during emergencies like fractures, cuts, and choking.
OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Certification (All states)
This certification is the most pertinent to tattoo studios as it’s required under the federal standard for bloodborne pathogen training. Every state requires tattoo artists, micro-bladers, body artists, body modification artists, and piercers to receive this training.
Bloodborne pathogens courses train students who will be exposed to blood on how to protect themselves from such potentially infectious materials in their work. The class must meet OSHA’s minimum requirements and any other state-specified criteria.
Practical or Written Exam (Varies by state)
Written tests cover the laws governing the profession and the knowledge a professional tattoo artist must have. You must score 75% or better to pass the exam.
The practical exam requires you to exhibit your new abilities on a live model; you’ll perform a service that examiners will assess for safety and skill.
Completing an apprenticeship is one of the final stages of license eligibility.
Formal apprenticeships are like trade school; you apply to the right one for the information and skills you’ll learn, the networking you can tap into, the certification you’ll earn for licensure, and the history on your professional resume. You should seek out skilled artists with established roots who believe you’re worth the time and effort to train.
All artists need a portfolio to prove what they can do. For tattoo artists, a portfolio may be a physical binder, a website, or some other digital showcase; most artists have a web portfolio and printed copy. Regardless of the format, it should display sketches, designs, and examples of prior work.
What to Do Next
Now that you know what you’ll need, we’ll go through step-by-step to explain how to get it all.
1. CPR Certification
In most states, you need CPR and first aid certification, which you can get through the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. There are other places to get CPR and first aid training online, but the American Red Cross has something of a dominating presence here; it’s often best just to use their CPR training to guarantee your state accepts the certification.
To that end, we don’t recommend obtaining bloodborne pathogen training through the American Red Cross; their information is outdated and not specific to tattooing.
2. First Aid Certificate
You’ll also need a hybrid first aid course, containing both an online element and a hands-on session with a certified instructor.
3. Bloodborne Pathogen Certificate
A current, authorized bloodborne pathogen course teaches tattoo artists to prevent exposure to potentially infectious material, including blood. This course is required for your desired license’s OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens Standard criteria.
Completing this course earns you a certificate valid for one year.
4. Creating a Portfolio
Once you pick the pieces you want to exhibit, set up a portfolio large enough to hold your most enormous outputs. Then, include a signature and watermark on your works, whether digital or physical.
Online portfolios are versatile and loaded with options; you can host your own site on Wix or WordPress, or you could make a dedicated page on social media.
5. Tattoo Apprenticeship
The fastest way to get an apprenticeship is the straightforward path; take a walk through your neighborhood and pop into a shop to ask if they’re taking apprentices. But, of course, you’ll want to bring your tattoo portfolio and required certifications, too.
6. State License Written and Practical Exams
Finally, you must undergo the written and practical exams to earn your tattoo license and become a fully-certified artist ready for business. The cost to take the licensure exam and obtain your permit varies by state.
Tattoo artists must get a license, and most states require particular certifications first. Although not all states mandate qualifications, it’s wise to look into them; having the appropriate credentials and licensure lends baseline trustworthiness that infection-aware clients and employers seek.