Do you want a career that lets you be creative? You can produce art so meaningful that people carry it with them everywhere they go. Through your designs, your clients can wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Tattoos are an ancient art form. Even a frozen man from over 5,300 years ago has ink. Decorating bodies is as old as humanity and today one in five UK adults are tattooed.

Thanks to visual social media platforms like Instagram, it’s become a lucrative industry. So if you want the freedom to draw out your artistic career, we’ve got you covered.

This guide discusses how to become a self-employed tattoo artist, which includes:

  • Planning ahead
  • Opening up
  • Getting clients
  • Managing finance

How to become a self-employed tattoo artist:

Planning ahead

Before you begin on your journey on how to become a tattoo artist, consider the preparation and planning you need. 

Style

An early decision should be which niche you would like to prioritise. There are many artists, and it’s a competitive industry. Still, clients will seek you out if your work is incredible in particular styles.

You might think that you should accept any styles that your client wants to get work. But to become highly skilled and sought after, it’s more beneficial to focus on one or two disciples.

Some of the most popular tattoo styles include:

  • Geometric — dot work mandalas, shapes and symbols.
  • Japanese — traditional dragons, koi fish and masks.
  • American — classic eagles, ships and anchors.
  • Tribal — Maori or Polynesian styles, waves and spirals.
  • Black and grey — realism or surrealism, portraits and photos.

Education

Tattoos are not as simple as drawing on paper, and it’s a skill to learn. As a self-employed artist, you can apply for apprenticeships within shops that allow you to rent chairs.

Many tattoo studios will take a set fee for the space or supplies and house multiple self-employed artists under one roof.

Alternatively, you could learn from courses and practice with fake skin. These practice sheets help build up your technique before applying it to someone permanently.

Eventually, you would need to tattoo actual skin, so you can tattoo yourself or friends and family. The more you do it, the better you’ll become and the stronger your portfolio will be.

Portfolio

You might have more experience with paper drawings early in your career. Still, even those can add some credibility to your catalogue of work. A portfolio is crucial to help open the business and get clients in through the door.

With all of the experience you pick up, put your best work together and show off what you can do. Printed portfolios might be great to offer ‘flash’ tattoos.

Flash — designs available to be picked from a selection you prepare. They are most popular with traditional American styles of tattoos.

Alternatively, to create custom work a website might help showcase your work. Wix is a site builder with free and paid versions, and it also has a wide range of templates.

Funding

Now you have a portfolio, you could open a studio to welcome clients. Rent and renovations can cost a lot of money. A small business loan could be an option to raise the funds.

You’ll need to put together a business plan and include some key features:

  • Executive summary — describe the business and have your portfolio.
  • Strategy — your goals for the company.
  • Financials — the amount of money you expect to make.

To find information about potential profits, ask artists what they charge. Multiply a rate per hour by the number of hours you hope to do. That will help you create a sales forecast for a month, quarter or year.

With a great business plan, you can also seek angel investors to get money in exchange for a stake in your company. These individuals often invest in industries they know well, so could provide valuable advice and contacts.

Find out more here: How to find angel investors for your small business.

Opening up

The second stage of how to become a self-employed tattoo artist is applying your plan and opening up your doors.

Location

When you open a studio, consider its location. Many tattoo shops are in high streets of cities or towns, which is convenient and accessible for most people.

Holiday destinations, like Magaluf or Zante, have lots of studios on streets with nightclubs and takeaways. Tourists often get tattooed on an impulse.

Often in the UK, clients will think through their ideas and research studios. You can have consultations with clients before you book them in, so it’s important to present a clean and safe space.

For accessibility choose a location with access to parking. To reassure quality, find a quiet spot away from bars.

Licences and regulation

You need a licence to legally tattoo someone. For a fee, you can apply for a Tattoo, Piercing and Electrolysis licence through the UK Government portal.

After your application, you receive a council inspection to check your property is hygienic and safe. If you meet your council’s standards, you’ll receive a certificate.

You must display a copy of your licence or face fines. The licence can vary between councils but often requires renewal every 18 months.

Each council considers their own requirements for a hygienic studio, so contact yours for their guidance. Some authorities only offer you a licence if you also have public liability insurance.

Inspectors will make sure that you follow their health and safety guidelines, but here are two critical tips:

  • Wear gloves — tattoos are open wounds, so wear gloves to avoid contamination of the areas.
  • Fresh needles — prevent the spread of disease by using new needles for each client.

The Tattooing of Minors Act 1969 means it’s illegal to tattoo anyone under 18 in the UK. Ask for identification to avoid breaking the law if someone looks young.

Insurance

As a tattoo artist, you’ll interact with the public, so take the necessary steps to ensure you protect yourself and your business legally.

There are specific insurers that provide cover for your tattoo business like Tattoo Insure.

If you cause injury or infection to your clients, you could face legal damages. Public liability insurance covers the court fees and compensation in that scenario.

Lastly, you will likely use valuable equipment, and contents insurance will reimburse you for stolen or damaged items.

Equipment

There are a variety of equipment or products available for tattoo artists. Still, there are a few essentials you need:

  • Tattoo gun — machine to apply ink into the skin.
  • Needles — different sizes and weights.
  • Inks — a variety of colours available.
  • Gloves — surgical standard gloves to tattoo safely.
  • Caps — holders to keep ink in while you tattoo.
  • Numbing cream — can make areas of the skin less sensitive to pain.
  • Water squirter — washes off excess ink or blood.
  • Paper towels — soak up the water, ink or blood.
  • Razor and shaving foam — clears hair from the areas.
  • Stencil paper and printer — lets you apply the design outline to skin.
  • Skin cream or butter — soothes and heals skin (e.g. Bepathen).
  • Cling film and tape — wrap the fresh tattoo to avoid infection.

Getting clients

A legal and accessible studio deserves customers, so the next step in how to become a tattoo artist involves finding clients.

Marketing

There’s probably more than one tattoo studio in your area, so you need to understand how to market yourself and stand out as an artist.

To do that, carry out market research of your competition and see what they do through their websites or social media. Additionally, consider who their clients are.

You can carry out further research by interviewing or surveying the public and asking what they would want from a new tattoo studio:

  • Styles — which do most people like in your area?
  • Costs — what are potential customers willing to pay?
  • Service — public expectations for their experience?
  • Channels  –– how do they find tattoo artists?

Alongside the opinions, note the groups that say they’d use your studio. You might find similarities between them (e.g. ages between 20-35).

Use information and insights to decide your target audience. These are the ideal customers you hope to attract. Think about their lives and choose which channels will be best to reach them.

Your audience may use TikTok and Instagram, so focus on marketing your business on those.

Events

Tattoo conventions are widespread across the UK, where artists come together and welcome customers to booths. You can expose your work to new clients and seek advice from experienced professionals.

The launch of a new business can be exciting for your community. If you put on an event in your studio, you could welcome local ink lovers. Maybe create tattoo-related games, like a vending machine full of flash designs.

Use your marketing channels to promote your events. Once you have people in your studio with a welcoming environment, they’re more likely to want tattoos in the future.

Customer service

Successful tattoo artists keep customers coming back. Through marketing or events, they might get a small piece. Still, the level of service you provide will dictate whether you want something more substantial in the future.

As a customer-facing role, the way you engage with your clients is crucial. You can’t expect to see people returning if you mistreat them –– or to want to sit with you for hours.

Beyond how you talk to the customers, it’s also vital that you listen to their ideas and design art to look good on their bodies. Clients trust you to mark them for the rest of their lives, so ensure they can look at their tatts fondly.

Booking

Aside from the marketing side of getting customers, another element is booking. You don’t want it to be too difficult for your clients to get an appointment with you.

Paper diaries can be helpful to keep track of schedules. Still, digital solutions make them easier to change.

Allow clients to email you their ideas or speak to you over Google Meet, and book them through Google Calendar. That would mean you can keep a digital schedule while you find out the critical information beforehand.

Many artists ask for a deposit when they book a new client. That way, you will be compensated if they don’t turn up for their appointment. 

Managing finance with Countingup

The last step for how to become a self-employed tattoo artist is to manage your business effectively.

Payments

It’s common for artists to ask for cash if they need to pay rent for a space in a studio. But with your own shop, you might benefit from accepting card payments.

Accepting lots of cash can complicate your taxes because it’s more challenging to keep track of it. To pay for utilities and wifi, you’d likely pay by direct debit, so cash payments would mean a lot of trips to the bank as well.

Aside from the practicality, a lot of cash in the studio is a security risk for yourself. Additionally, if you ask clients to take out large sums of money, you put them at risk too.

Countingup is a business account with built-in accounting software. You can accept payments and view them quickly with the app so that you can keep track of your earnings safely.

Expenses

We’ve discussed many points that contribute to your costs throughout this article. These include:

  • Rent
  • Courses
  • Licences
  • Insurance
  • Equipment

With so much spending needed to run your business, it’s essential to keep track of it. Countingup features expense categorisation can automatically sort your costs by HMRC approved labels. 

You’ll always be aware of how much you spend and exactly to which areas that money goes. In addition, Countingup will label your expenses so you know which you can write off at the end of the tax year.

Taxes

A significant complication for the self-employed is your income tax Self Assessment. It requires you to go through your year and work out how much you owe the tax office. 

Countingup’s design makes that process easy. Tax estimates mean you are told throughout the year how much to put aside, so in the end, it’s straightforward to do.

Get started for free.