How to Start a Tattoo Business

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Tattooing all day beats sitting in an office.
Tattooing all day beats sitting in an office. (Image: Photo of Ryn tattooing by Robert Alarcon)

Your art screams out for you to start a tattoo business. Before you run to rent a shop, make sure you know the basics. You can start a tattoo business by first becoming a connoisseur of the art of tattooing yourself. Having some really cool illustrations won’t help you much if you can’t translate them onto skin. The rest depends on how big you want to go. Successful shops have been run from basements, as long as you keep health and cleanliness as your utmost priority. A few steps will help you start a tattoo business.

Things You'll Need

  • Tattoo supplies
  • Place to run your shop
  • Skill
  • Proper licenses

Learn how to tattoo. You can get an apprenticeship from another artist or at least make friends with one so you can hang around her shop and watch how it’s done. If you are eager and talented enough, a shop may hire you on. This will give you the chance to gauge all the supplies you’ll need, from rubbing alcohol to sterile needles, and will also get you experience and exposure.

Get licensed. Some states require tattoo licenses. Check your area to make sure you follow all the guidelines and requirements. Other states have no license requirements but cleanliness and health should be your utmost priority whether you need a license or not.

Establish clients. Hopefully your work will begin to speak for itself and people will start to flock to you for tattoos. If not, practice some more. You can buy fake skin on which to practice all you want without botching up anyone’s bicep.

Get your own supplies. Buy a tattoo gun or two, one for lining and one for shading, power supply for your guns, your own cache of ink, your own spray bottles, rubbing alcohol, stencil paper, sterile gloves, sterile needles and all else you’ve seen at the shop that you’ll need.

Set up shop. Start small, like in your basement or an extra room in your home, just to get your reputation going even further and insure you have everything you need to tattoo on your own. Here come more supplies like an autoclave for sterilizing your gun, reclining chairs or benches for people to sit and get tattooed, and lots of paper towels.

Move to a bigger shop, if you wish, and hire employees as needed. This will require a business license, at least two separate rooms for tattooing, a waiting area, a cash register, flash for the walls, portfolios of your work and probably much more you’ll find out as you move along.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can cut costs on furniture by starting out with old dentist chairs or similar chairs for your clients to sit on while getting tattooed.
  • As you go along you will find you’ll want or need extra things perhaps not mentioned here. Add them as you go. Some of these items may include a light table for tracing designs,
  • Make sure you have saved plenty of money. That’s why it’s best to start your tattoo business in stages, as the supplies can be very costly at first but will soon pay for themselves, hopefully, with all the business you bring in.
  • Get yourself some really flashy business cards to advertise your business at every turn.
  • Attend tattoo conventions, workshops and other gatherings to see what’s hot and what’s new. Stay up on the latest techniques.
  • Don’t rent a shop until you are sure you can afford the rent.
  • Don’t steal artists from other shops. The tattoo business is a small world and word will get around that you are backstabbing.
  • Never, ever skimp on cleanliness. That's one cost that is worth all the money in the world.

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