How to Start a Tattoo Business

How to Start a Tattoo Business

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While some businesses may come and go with tastes an fashions, the tattoo industry has proved utterly resilient for centuries. At the same time with celebrity tattoo artists hosting their own reality shows and the mainstreaming of the industry, if anything the tattooing is seeing a new rejuvenation as well.

Today, there are around 21,000 active tattoo parlous operating across the United States. Researchers estimate one new artist sets up shop every day, and the American tattoo industry as a whole rakes in around $2.3 billion worth of revenue each year.

Bearing in mind that consumer demand has been relatively steady for the past couple millennia, it’s not difficult to see why budding artists or entrepreneurs continue to show interest in starting their own tattoo businesses.

But setting up a tattoo parlor isn’t just about obtaining funding and exhibiting a little creativity. There are a few things you’ll need to do first.

Here is a quick how-to guide in order to help you get started.

How to Start Your Own Tattoo Business

tattoo business

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Get Licensed

Unfortunately, being good at drawing does not make you a tattoo artist. In most states, you’ll need to obtain a license before you’re allowed to carry out tattooing or body piercings — and before you’re allowed a license, you’ll first be expected to gain a bit of experience.

The Alliance of Professional Tattooists recommends aspiring artists undergo an apprenticeship of at least three years before going it alone and setting up shop.

During these apprenticeships, you’ll generally be working under the direct supervision of a licensed artist designing tattoos, operating machines and sterilizing equipment. Some apprenticeships are paid, but many more are not.

In some states, the requirement to undergo an apprenticeship isn’t just a recommendation. For example, in order to comply with the Body Art Procedures Act and open up a tattoo shop in New Jersey, you must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of training.

In states like Oregon, you’ve only got to complete a minimum of 360 hours of training under an approved artist — as well as produce 50 tattoos.

Most states will expect you to pass a written test, as well as hold a current Bloodborne Pathogens certificate in order to become a licensed artist.

The same sort of procedures will generally apply to obtaining a license for a tattoo business as opposed to obtaining an individual artist license – but rules vary state by state. You’ll have to do your research.

Develop a Business Plan

Crafting a detailed business plan is a crucial step in launching your tattoo business. Your plan should include a clear description of your business concept, a market analysis identifying your target customers and competition, a marketing and operational plan, and a detailed financial forecast.

This plan will be essential not only for guiding your business decisions but also for securing funding or investors.

Get the Right Equipment

tattoo business

In order to set up your own tattoo business, you’ll need to cover a few basic start-up costs. Estimates range from around $25,000, but that depends entirely upon the type of business you’re starting and a wide array of variables.

Either way, there are quite a few basic pieces of equipment that you’ll definitely need to get started.

First and foremost, you’ll need reliable tattoo machines and various needles. Quality machines start from around $400, while sanitized, disposable needles will be an ongoing overhead cost. Likewise, you’ll need a steady supply of tubes and ink to feed the machines.

You’ll also need a load of other basic equipment like shaving supplies for customers, stencils for designs and plenty of sanitary items. Scanners, decent computer software and printers will probably be necessary if you plan on allowing customers to have a say in designing custom art.

You’ll also need to purchase special furniture. Most states have strict rules about the type of furniture used in tattoo areas, and if you do not conform to those standards you could get shut down. Purpose-built beds and chairs tend to start from around $500 each.

Establish Vendor Relationships

Establishing strong relationships with vendors is crucial for the continuous supply of high-quality tattoo equipment and materials. Research and connect with reliable suppliers for inks, needles, machines, and other supplies.

Negotiate favorable terms and maintain good communication to ensure you always have the necessary items in stock. Building good relationships can also lead to better pricing, quality, and service.

Choose the Right Location

Selecting the perfect location to set up shop is difficult for any business — but if you’re opening a tattoo business, you’ll face a few legal hurdles, too.

Quite a few municipal authorities have land use and zoning ordinances that limit where tattoo establishments can be located within a town or city. A lot of those rules end up tossing a high concentration of businesses into a relatively small area of town, which can make competition a real problem.

That being said, you may be able to skate past such regulations and open up in a different part of town by paying to obtain various municipal variances and approvals.

Again, you’ll need to check with your local and state authorities before falling in love with any particular location. If your preferred site does clash with current laws, it’s worth seeking professional legal advice to see if you can mitigate existing legislation.

Outside of the dull, regulatory mumbo-jumbo, there are other big factors to consider when choosing a location for your tattoo shop.

You’ll want a high traffic area, ideally near night life. You should also keep in mind that your ideal location might need logistical alterations for tattoo work — like adding partitions, sinks or new electrical outlets.

If you’re purchasing space, that won’t be a problem, but if you’re renting you will need to obtain written permission from the property owner.

Build a Strong Brand Identity

Your tattoo business needs a strong brand identity to stand out. This includes a memorable business name, a distinctive logo, and a unique theme for your shop’s decor.

Your brand should reflect the style and ethos of your artwork and attract your target clientele. Consider hiring a professional designer to help create a cohesive and appealing brand image.

Think About Marketing

tattoo business

Once you’ve gotten yourself certified and permitted and set up your new shop, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to market your business. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful within the tattoo industry — but you’re also going to need a decent web presence.

First and foremost, you’ll need to create a website with a simple and memorable URL. Clearly list your business services, location and key information.

But more important still, exhibit your work. Instead of choosing a fancy eCommerce web template, take on a site driven by prominent artwork and aesthetics. It’s also worth maintaining a company blog on your site outlining big or interesting art concepts.

But your single biggest marketing weapon will be social media. Image-based sites like Instagram are a great way to show off your artwork, and Facebook has got a built-in review platform that could help you to generate consumer confidence relatively quickly to earn more work.

Be sure to respond to all reviews and engage with any questions or comments that may arise on different platforms.

That being said, you shouldn’t necessarily abandon some more basic concepts of traditional marketing just yet. Printed fliers and business cards still resonate well within the tattoo industry. Don’t be afraid to look at potential advertising opportunities in local media where appropriate, and dare to be different.

Remember: if you aren’t standing out, it will be very difficult to succeed.

Ensuring Health and Safety Compliance

tattoo business

As a tattoo artist and business owner, ensuring the health and safety of your clients is paramount. Tattooing involves breaking the skin, which can pose potential risks if proper precautions are not taken.

Prioritizing health and safety measures not only protects your clients but also safeguards the reputation of your tattoo business.

Here are essential steps to maintain health and safety compliance in your tattoo parlor:

  • Sterilization and Hygiene: Adhere to strict sterilization practices for all equipment and tools used in the tattooing process. Ensure that needles, tubes, and grips are single-use and disposed of properly. Regularly sanitize workstations, chairs, and surfaces to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Bloodborne Pathogen Training: Obtain proper training in bloodborne pathogen safety and infection control. This knowledge is crucial to prevent the transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B or C.
  • Informed Consent and Aftercare: Provide clients with detailed information about the tattooing process, potential risks, and aftercare instructions. Obtain written consent from clients before starting any procedure to ensure they understand the process and associated risks.
  • Quality Inks and Materials: Use high-quality, safe tattoo inks from reputable suppliers. Check the ingredients to avoid harmful substances and ensure compliance with industry standards.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and disposable aprons, during the tattooing process. Dispose of PPE properly after each session.
  • Health Department Regulations: Familiarize yourself with health department regulations and guidelines specific to tattoo businesses in your state or locality. Comply with licensing, inspections, and reporting requirements.
  • Client Health Screening: Prioritize client health by screening for any existing medical conditions that may affect the tattooing process or healing. Refrain from tattooing individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Be prepared for emergencies by having first-aid supplies readily available. Know the proper steps to take in case of adverse reactions or accidents.
Health and Safety MeasuresDescription
Sterilization and HygieneAdhere to strict sterilization practices for equipment and workstations. Sanitize surfaces regularly. Use single-use needles, tubes, and grips.
Bloodborne Pathogen TrainingObtain proper training in bloodborne pathogen safety and infection control to prevent disease transmission.
Informed Consent and AftercareProvide clients with detailed information on tattooing process, risks, and aftercare instructions. Obtain written consent from clients.
Quality Inks and MaterialsUse safe tattoo inks from reputable suppliers, avoiding harmful substances and complying with industry standards.
Personal Protective EquipmentWear gloves, disposable aprons, and other PPE during tattooing. Properly dispose of PPE after each session.

By maintaining strict health and safety standards, you not only create a safe environment for your clients but also build trust and credibility in the tattoo industry.

Prioritize ongoing education and updates on health and safety practices to ensure your business remains at the forefront of responsible tattooing.

Create a Comfortable and Inviting Shop Environment

The ambiance of your tattoo shop plays a significant role in attracting and retaining clients. Create a welcoming, clean, and comfortable environment.

Consider factors like lighting, privacy, and the overall aesthetic of your shop. Your space should not only comply with health and safety regulations but also provide a pleasant and reassuring atmosphere for your clients.


The tattoo industry’s resilience throughout centuries is evident in its continuous growth and adaptability. With around 21,000 active tattoo parlors in the United States and a steady stream of new artists entering the field, the industry is experiencing a new wave of rejuvenation.

The combination of celebrity tattoo artists, reality shows, and the mainstreaming of tattoos has contributed to the industry’s current popularity and profitability, generating approximately $2.3 billion in annual revenue.

Starting a tattoo business requires more than just artistic talent and funding. Aspiring tattoo artists must go through proper licensing and training, often involving apprenticeships and rigorous testing, to ensure they meet health and safety standards.

Additionally, selecting the right equipment, adhering to health department regulations, and choosing an ideal location are crucial steps in establishing a successful tattoo parlor.

Marketing plays a pivotal role in the success of a tattoo business. Creating a strong web presence, utilizing social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and engaging in traditional marketing methods such as fliers and business cards help promote the business and attract clients.

Moreover, prioritizing health and safety compliance is paramount. Following strict sterilization and hygiene practices, obtaining bloodborne pathogen training, using high-quality tattoo inks, and providing proper personal protective equipment demonstrate a commitment to clients’ well-being and reputation.

In conclusion, aspiring tattoo artists and entrepreneurs can flourish in the tattoo industry by combining creativity with business acumen.

Embracing the industry’s resilience, maintaining health and safety standards, and effectively marketing their services can lead to a successful and thriving tattoo business in today’s dynamic market.

Tattoo Photo via Shutterstock

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Nash Riggins Nash Riggins is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and an American journalist based in central Scotland. Nash covers industry studies, emerging trends and general business developments. His writing background includes The Huffington Post, World Finance and GuruFocus. His website is

4 Reactions
  1. I think that a tattoo business is a good outlet for artists. It allows them to express their artform in something more than just paper.

  2. Thanks for the information. tattoo is famous nowadays every one interested to have a tattoo I think the tattoo business is a very good idea. we are also thinking about it. so finally we are running tattoo services which are located in Hyderabad. our tattoo studio name is Koruink for more details u can visit our website thanks

  3. tattoo is famous nowadays every one interested to have a tattoo. the tattoo business is a very good idea. keep sharing more information about business ideas. it will help our business. thanks

  4. The market is becoming very over saturated and competition is pretty cutthroat right now. I think to start a solid shop you need a solid team first and a great location. Also make sure your team members are not on any drugs and drama free. Always make a plan b and have all finances in order.

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