Let’s break it down...
Money, money, money. It’s one of those subjects that’s always hard to talk about. And it’s also a tricky topic when it comes to tattoos, too. There’s no one price fits all when it comes to tattooing. And, it seems, every tattoo artist charges differently: some charge per piece, others price tattoos on an hourly rate while others charge a day rate. Yes, tattoos also often cost a lot of money: “good tattoos aren’t cheap, cheap tattoos aren’t good,” so goes the famous quote by tattooist Sailor Jerry.
So we asked tattoo artist and owner of Cock A Snook tattoo parlour, Kerry-Anne (Kezz) Richardson – who also works as a tattoo mentor @tattoosmarter – why tattoos cost so much money… “There’s a metric fuck-tonne of stuff artists and studios pay for that contributes to the cost of a tattoo,” she explains. “The majority of clients, and tbf some artists, don’t even consider.” Okay, let’s get into it…
Money is the mother of all tattooing taboos, why is it so hard to talk about? And why are tattoos so hard to put a value on?
“People are terrified of being judged or looking greedy,” says Kezz. “Some of it is also perception. I’ve seen lots of great tattoos deemed ‘too expensive’ by both tattooers and clients, and shit tattoos deemed too cheap.”
But mostly it comes back to money being a taboo, doesn’t it? “If a tattooer comes back with a price that’s out of your budget, you might feel embarrassed,” says Kezz. “This could easily be fixed by tattooers being more transparent with their pricing. Tattoo artists should price stuff straight off the bat so clients have already decided they want to buy it before they even make contact."
Okay, let's break down the actual cost of a tattoo
Consider this the anatomy of the final cost of a tattoo – all the things that go into the creation of the design that ends up in your skin. Next time you hand over your cash, think about all of this.
“The cost of a tattoo covers: equipment such as machines and power packs, needles and ink, tattoo furniture like armrests and lights, as well as consumables that go far beyond kitchen roll and cling film,” explains Kezz. “Tattooers also pay a studio rate to work there.” The rate that the tattooist pays could be a set amount per day, or it could be a percentage taken from the final cost of the tattoo.
The price of a tattoo also includes: “admin, time on social media, advertising costs, education and courses for professional development, insurance, tax and national insurance, accounting fees, holiday pay, sick pay, a pension pot [most tattooers work freelance, FYI], app/technology fees, bank/card fees,” lists Kezz. Phew, so much we hadn’t thought of. And that’s just the beginning.
What else should we consider when it comes to the final price
“Experience,” says Kezz. You wouldn’t expect to pay as much for a tattoo from an apprentice who’s just starting out in the tattoo world as you would for a tattoo artist who’s honed their craft over decades. There’s also research and drawing time, the hours the tattooist has spent on your tattoo before you sit down in their chair ready to get tattooed. “You should also think about how visible or difficult the tattoo is,” explains Kezz, different areas of the body are much harder to tattoo than others.
And it doesn’t end there. There’s also the cost of running a tattoo studio. “Energy bills, rent, water, paying the shop manager, hazardous waste removal, commercial waste, cleaning costs and hospital grade cleaning chemicals, shop maintenance, autoclave and stencil machine maintenance – the list is endless,” says Kezz.
Why is tattooing a cash industry?
“For some tattooers, cash only is two fingers up to 'the man' but lots are moving with the times and have card machines now,” explains Kezz.
So if you pay with cash, can you get a receipt for a tattoo? “You absolutely can get a receipt for tattoo,” says Kezz, “but tbh lots of studios wouldn’t have the facilities to give you a physical receipt.”
Are some tattoos too expensive? And some too cheap?
Turns out, it’s complicated. “Too many tattooers use emotion or price a tattoo based on how they feel about their clients, or some tattooers even price on what they think their clients can afford,” explains Kezz, on the subjectivity of pricing. “But when a tattoo isn’t technically sound or if a tattoo experience was poor, then that tattoo could be deemed too expensive. If it’s shit, it’s shit. There’s no value in that.”
Okay, so what if an artist can only give you an estimated price for your tattoo?
And what if you can't actually afford the total when the tattoo is done and your fresh new ink is being wrapped up in cling film? The panic starts to rise, as you think, wtf, how much? “With bigger pieces, it can be harder to give an accurate price,” explains Kezz. “But with experience a tattooer should be able to say: ‘this will be X number of sittings at £XX per day’, so you have a quote for the full piece. Giving a price range with a max is a good idea so a client can plan for that. I also think we, as tattooists, have a responsibility to try our best to stick to our quotes so that clients aren’t caught out. There are exceptions, of course, where some skin is way harder to tattoo or clients struggle to sit – but this should be discussed with the client so everyone’s expectations are managed.”
Transparency should be key. “Fuck any tattooer that drops a surprise price increase on a client,” asserts Kezz. “It’s unethical bullshit.”
Don't compare prices, it's damaging to the industry
When we first started compiling this guide, we imagined sharing images of tattoos and stating how much they cost – perhaps even showing an "expensive" tattoo next to a "cheap" one. However Kezz wants to point out – to tattooers and clients – that we shouldn't compare prices between artists. "You'll never get the same tattoo from two different artists," she asserts, "I wouldn't want to do a comparison – prices are based on data (costs, demand, etc) as I said above. Prices shouldn't be plucked out of nowhere. A tattooer should be transparent, and if a potential client thinks that's too expensive, then they don't book in."
And finally, should I tip my tattoo artist?
If you want to then, yes, go ahead. “I always try to tip anybody who’s self-employed for their service,” says Kezz. “But I don’t expect it from clients. Tattooers who get their pricing right don’t need tips, but they’d still be grateful.”
Wow, so much we hadn’t thought of. So next time you sit down to get tattooed, think about all the hours, experience, studio costs etc that go into the design that you’ll carry on your skin for the rest of your life… There’s a lot more to it that you might at first think.