Many first-time tattoo purchasers are looking for something small or personal to start out. The most common question for newbies is what does a tattoo cost? While the answer is varied by geographic location, the placement of the art, and the intricacy of the design, there are some industry averages that can help consumer be more informed in their research.
What Does a Tattoo Cost by the Hour?
One way for an artist to price his or her work is via an hourly wage. The more experienced an artist is (or the higher the demand is for an artist’s work), the more they can ask for hourly. The range is wide, starting at $80-100 an hour and reaching up to $300 or more for the most sought-after artists.
When might it be a good idea to get a tattoo done by the hour? If the artist is known for being quick with their work and very experienced, you might find your money better spent with an hourly price. If you don’t tolerate pain well, however, and need to stop many times during a session, an hourly model could end up costing you quite a bit more over time.
What Does a Tattoo Cost by the Piece?
Some tattoo artists may quote a per tattoo price. This is usually more common for stock designs (also known as “tattoo flash”.) These are the designs you see in a book or on the wall that you can choose from with minimal (if any) customizations. For a stock piece, you can pay the house or shop minimum, usually $50 or more. Projects will range widely in price, depending on the placement and requirements for the artwork. Copying a photograph, for example, is very time-consuming and only done well by the best of the best; expect to pay big for the privilege.
For a custom piece that requires lots of planning and multiple visits, the artist may quote a per piece price, but it is more likely that they choose to charge by the hour. Unexpected challenges may come up that can prolong the process (sensitive areas of the body may not allow the customer to sit for as long per session, for example) or the intricacy of the coloring can require an additional cost for materials or detail work. For these more detailed pieces, the artist may choose a combination of pricing methods.
There are also other factors that can affect both the hourly and fixed-fee pricing model, including:
A popular tourist locale in California, for example, will usually be able to ask more per hour than some small town in the middle of Nebraska. Areas with a high-cost of living will naturally be able to ask for more to cover their operating costs, including rent, materials, utilities, and any licensing needed to run a tattoo shop. The more depressed an area is in terms of economy, the more likely you can get a lower overall price for your work.
If an artist has been featured in a magazine or on a television show, expect the hourly fee to be even higher. Since the industry of tattooing is a very niche one, there are fans and followers who devote their lives to learning more about tattoos, getting their own art done by the best artists, and continually improving their ink. The wait times for the most famous artists can be long, and some famous artists will travel to their client’s homes to do work – for a high additional fee, of course. Celebrities have their own preferred artists, as well, and you can expect that the answer to what does a tattoo cost for them is a high one.
Materials and Methods
Does the artist use a different technique, such as 3D drawing? Are they experienced in a long-lost art used in just a specific part of the world? Specialized techniques that are rarely mastered can cost much more than your average work. Will your tattoo be done with standard ink, or something like the newer vegan and organic colors? The cost per bottle of ink might be higher for some applications, and this cost will usually be passed on to the customer.
What Does a Tattoo Cost for Touchups?
Tattoos may last a lifetime, but they may need a little maintenance down the road. For some colors (such as yellows or oranges), a regular addition of pigment may be needed to preserve the life and art of the piece. Touchups obviously don’t cost as much as an original design, but they can be costly. If you can’t go back to the original artist who did it, you will want to be sure the new artist is comfortable with your touch-ups requests. The cost for adding pigment or darkening lines will usually be an hourly cost, consistent with the pricing model of the parlor or artist.
What Customers Say
We did an informal poll of 20 tattoo customers from all over the U.S. to find out their answers to what does a tattoo cost and the responses were all over the board. What we discovered was that for hard-core tattoo enthusiasts who required more well-planned and expansive projects, they were comfortable paying $300 – 1000 for their large works. The average customer who got a simple tattoo on an ankle or their shoulder felt that the house minimum (ranging from $85 – 150) was adequate.
Regardless of your tattoo needs, one common rule within the tattoo industry is well-known: “A Good Tattoo Isn’t Cheap, A Cheap Tattoo Isn’t Good.” And while it is possible to pay a lot for a bad tattoo, your odds of getting a great experience increase when you’re not afraid to part with your money.