Expert Guide To Becoming a Tattoo Artist in 2021

The thought of becoming a tattoo artist has crossed the minds of thousands of artists this year. For some, becoming a tattoo artist has been a lifelong dream. For others, it’s a spur-of-the-moment thing, and not all of them actually go through with it.

The reasons for this vary. Upon doing the necessary research or talking to someone they trust about it, they may find that it is too demanding or volatile. Some are dissuaded by the liability aspect of things and the fact that tattoo artists are not accepted by certain members of society.

Good for them! It’s better to know what they’re getting themselves into and to understand what becoming a tattoo artist means and entails. 

Becoming a tattoo artist ultimately means you’ll have to be dedicated to the craft in order to succeed. It also includes a series of steps that will help you to kickstart your career in the right direction. Here we’ll take you down the typical road of becoming a tattoo artist and how you can maximize your potential.

Practice your drawing

Start with Drawing Exercises Every New Tattoo Artist Should Know About. All tattoo artists can draw, but not every artist can tattoo.

Your first set of tools or equipment will be a pad and some pencils. It’s a long way from your tattooing machine and needles, but don’t underestimate the value of these baby steps. Sketch every possible thing you can imagine as a tattoo. Yes, literally. 

Tattooing is more than just tracing lines. Expose yourself to various elements of art and design such as form, shape, color, space, and shade. Learn to also create digital sketches and drawings, and harness the use of technology in your practice.

If you have the opportunity to attend art classes, take it. You don’t need a college degree to learn and practice art. However, it would not hurt to get a degree in fine arts or graphic design. (Plus, if you ever decide to switch career paths, you’ll have it to fall back on). The internet is also a great tool for learning about how tattooing has developed over the years. You can also check out the work of famous tattoo artists and even try to mimic some of their work.

In this stage, you’ll learn some of your strengths and weaknesses. This is the perfect time to work on them since it will help you to become a better tattoo artist in the long run. Once you’ve worked on your art skills, you can move on to the next stage.


Receive some sort of training

Tattoo artists don’t just pick up a tattoo machine and start working. Tattooing is much different from drawing on a sketch pad. Therefore, you’ll need some sort of training. Plus, many studios are not willing to employ self-taught artists. 


In the past, the most popular way to receive tattooing training was through apprenticeships. Here, a potential tattoo artist would find an experienced tattoo artist that was willing to offer on-the-job training. This training would cover the day-to-day operations of the shop, the art of tattooing, and customer service skills.

The trainee would start with tasks such as keeping the shop clean, working the front of the studio, or manning the phones. From there, training would include setting up workstations and maintaining hygienic standards. Once mastered, the newbie would be expected to watch the experienced tattoo artist at work, and learn as he/she goes along. 

The trainee would also advance from drawing on sketch pads with pencils to irregularly shaped objects like bananas and grapefruits with pens and markers. These are usually weighted to mimic the weight of the tattoo machine until the trainee is deemed ready to operate the real thing. 

Next, materials that mimic human skin would be used, like fake skin, or even pig’s skin. Once the master is satisfied, the trainee will be allowed to tattoo clients, under close supervision, of course. He/she will also learn how to service and maintain a tattoo machine.

tattoo ink cups


Nowadays, there are tattooing schools and courses that replace what used to be a rite of passage. Some may be available at universities, but online tattoo schools have become increasingly popular. This is especially useful if you still have to maintain a job while training. These classes cover everything that a traditional apprenticeship would, and includes modern business and tattooing practices. The beauty of an online class is, you can do it at your own pace from the comfort of your home. You’ll also move at a faster pace since many apprentices sometimes spend weeks doing menial tasks, and take years to complete.

Interested in starting tattoo classes soon? Find out how you can register today.

Note that you will be expected to obtain your own tools and equipment during your training. You may purchase a tattooing starter kit, and it must include:

  • Tattooing machine for line work 
  • Tattoo machine for shading and color
  • Sterile tattooing needles of different sizes and variations
  • Rubber surgical gloves
  • Various colored tattoo inks
  • Power source and foot switch
  • Spray bottles
  • Stencil paper

Seek advice when purchasing a tattoo machine. An expert will be able to advise you on where you can purchase a machine ideal for beginners.

"Tattooing is more than just tracing lines"

Obtain certification and licensing

Many tattoo courses offer help with obtaining certification and licensing upon completion. However, it is still important to do research on the regulations regarding tattooing based on your location. 

In most countries, you’ll be required to attend health-based classes which will reinforce your knowledge of blood-borne pathogens. This includes demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of preventing their spread before you can obtain a license. You will also be required to complete a specified number of hours tattooing, or period working as an apprentice. 

Where regulations are lax, you are still encouraged to obtain some sort of certification. This will make clients feel more confident in choosing you to tattoo their skin. 

Create a portfolio

Combine your best art in a portfolio, along with pictures of tattoos you’ve completed. This should showcase your versatility and more importantly, skill. Start with 25-50 pieces. Note that you should never showcase a tattoo you’ve completed before you have your license. This is illegal in some places. The tattooing industry frowns on plagiarized work.

Seek inspiration for creating a professional portfolio from an established tattoo artist. Traditionally, these portfolios come in the form of binders, but more and more artists are creating websites and utilizing social media to show off their work. It’s a good idea to have both.

Networking and mentorship

If you choose to pursue formal training through tattoo courses and classes, be prepared to network. Meet with others in the industry whenever possible as this increases your chances of finding a job once your training is complete. If possible, seek mentorship from an experienced artist. This may include working for free as you would during an apprenticeship, but what you will learn is invaluable. 

There are tattooing organizations you can join, and this will vary based on your location. You should also join groups and interact with other tattoo artists online. 

Ensure you have access to your portfolio at all times because you never know when an opportunity will present itself.

Tattoo Needle

Find a job

“Find a job.” It’s much easier to say than to do in some cases. Keep your eyes open for postings and listings. Even if a shop is not actively hiring, you can still show off your portfolio for consideration or recommendation. 

Don’t be dismayed if you don’t get hired right away. It may have something to do with your location and is not necessarily a reflection of your skill. During this time, you may continue tattooing your friends and family for free. Update your portfolio with recent pieces you’re proud of, and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities.

Keep Practicing and Continue Education

Becoming a tattoo artist doesn’t end because you’re the young, hot artist at a great studio. You should always keep practicing and continue your education whenever possible. Some places require a demonstration of skill upon renewing a tattoo license.  

Keep your ear to the street about upcoming seminars and exhibits, and tattoo showcases, or even competitions. Anything can become an opportunity to hone your skill, network with other tattoo artists, and meet new clients. 


Becoming a tattoo artist isn’t always a straight path. Don’t be discouraged if your journey is longer than others, or if you haven’t mastered a technique yet. Even the greats have had their hurdles and difficulties. The difference is that you’ll have the right guidance.

Start your journey to becoming a tattoo artist by practicing your drawing. Once you have trained and obtained the required certifications and licensing, you can move on to creating your portfolio. Use your portfolio to market yourself to potential employers and clients. Once you have secured a job tattooing, continue to practice and keep up with the latest trends and events in the tattoo industry.

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