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Licensed Tattoo Artist: Job Description and Education Requirements

Licensed tattoo artists require no formal education. Learn about the training, job duties as well as licensure and certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Tattoo artists typically exhibit a love of tattooing, along with creative talent and a desire to work with people. There is no national protocol that must be followed in order to become a professional tattoo artist. A professional tattoo license or certification ensures that the tattoo artist's work is compliant with health standards for safe application of a tattoo, and that the artist is a capable technician.

Required EducationCompletion of training program or apprenticeship to earn licensure/certification (varies by state)
Other RequirementsMust be 18 years old
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*-1% for artists and related workers, all other
Median Salary (2014)**$31,121

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Job Description

Using needles and pigments, a tattoo artist applies a permanent design directly to a client's body, injecting ink under a layer of skin. Clients may come to a tattoo artist with a picture or design in mind or they may consult with the tattoo artist to create the desired image. Tattoo artists use their artistic skills to advise clients on size, color, design and placement of their body art. Some tattoo artists specialize in certain artistic styles, and many are able to offer clients a portfolio of work to examine.

Tattoo artists are responsible for maintaining a safe and clean work environment, including donning gloves when contact with broken skin is possible, sterilizing single-use tattoo equipment and tools using an autoclave after each tattoo application and ensuring that all work surfaces are properly disinfected to avoid the spread of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis, HIV and other communicable infectious diseases.

Education Requirements

In general, tattoo artists earn a license based on completion of a training program and passing an exam that measures their ability to understand and follow formally established health and safety protocols, not their creative ability in designing or applying body art. State licensing and certification requirements vary. In some cases, there are no statewide regulations, and requirements are left to county or city government. Typically, tattoo artists are required to be at least 18 years old. Licensed or certified tattoo artists may need to renew their credentials every few years.

Licensing or Certification Requirements

Certification or licensing standards may require a tattoo artist to complete training or an apprenticeship in an approved setting and under the supervision and guidance of another established professional in the field. This can take 1-2 years. Some states mandate that apprentices hold a special apprentice license or permit, usually earned by filling out an application and paying a fee.

Some applications for licensing or other state credentials may require submission of a photograph, fingerprints and personal history so that a background check can be performed. Proof of training may also be required.

While the government does not monitor the creativity of a licensed tattoo artist, certainly the clientele of a tattoo parlor finds this aspect critical. A licensed tattoo artist isn't required to complete formal artistic training or hold a degree in any specific art or design field; however, mastering the art of drawing and working with inks used for body art is important. Mastery of artistic and technical skills ensures that the recipient of a tattoo leaves with aesthetically-pleasing tattoo that has been professionally administered.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median salary of $53,720 for all other artists and related workers not listed individually, including tattoo artists. PayScale.com noted a median salary of $31,121 for tattoo artists in 2014. A decrease of 1% in job openings was expected for this group of artists and related workers from 2012-2022, per the BLS.

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