If you have a passion for body ink and possess artistic skills, you've probably already considered starting a tattoo shop. If you open your own tattoo shop, you can use your passion to make money. You'll get to meet a diversity of people while providing them with memorable body ink that will last them a lifetime. Read on for a quick guide to opening a tattoo shop.

What Training Do You Need as a Tattoo Artist?

State regulations for tattoo artist licensing vary significantly. Some states will require you to complete a verified apprenticeship meeting a minimum number of hours to obtain a license. Even if your state doesn't have these educational requirements, it's important to complete some form of training as a tattoo artist.

Tattoo ink is permanent and the canvas you use is another person's body. You want to ensure that you can deliver top-quality work before opening your own tattoo shop. An apprenticeship is a great way to get your feet wet and learn about the tattoo industry. When it comes to perfecting your actual craft, it's all about practice.

Put in as many hours as possible drawing and tracing designs. Try drawing on contoured objects, like rocks, to simulate the challenges that come with tattooing a living body. You can also test your drawing on yourself (or a good friend) using a nontoxic marker. You can use a weighted pencil or pen to simulate the feel of a tattoo machine.

As your skills progress, you can practice using a tattoo machine on a piece of fruit, like a grapefruit, melon, or banana. This will let you get used to the feel of the vibrating machine in your hand so you can learn to control it. These days, it's even possible to practice on synthetic skin (you can order it online).

What to Do Before Opening Your Tattoo Parlor

Once you're confident in your tattoo artist skills, you can start charting your path to becoming a tattoo shop owner. Follow these steps.

Define Your Services and Target Audience

Start by writing down exactly what services you plan to provide. For example, some tattoo shops also offer piercings. If you plan to go this route, you'll also have to make sure your business abides by your state's requirements for piercing licensing. Also, consider what type of clientele you want to attract. For example, piercing may open up your target market to more individuals.

Create a Price List

Tattoo prices vary depending on factors like size, ink, and placement. In general, the more complex and bigger the tattoo, the more you can charge. Highly detailed color tattoos cost more than a basic black-and-gray image. Artists may also charge more for tattooing sensitive body parts, like the feet, which have a lot of nerve endings. This requires more attention to detail and a finer touch.

The skill of the tattoo artist is also a factor. Famous names in the industry can command prices upward of $500 per hour. Scott Campbell, a highly successful tattoo artist for celebrities, reportedly charges $2,000 per hour. Of course, your rates probably won't be that high - at least, not until you establish a name for yourself! In general, a new artist might charge $80 to $120 per hour while an experienced artist can typically charge $150 or more per hour.

As you gain experience, expand your portfolio, and build a reputation, you will be able to charge more. To start, scope out how much other tattoo shops in your area are charging to get a sense of the local price bracket. Consulting a more experienced tattooist (like the person you did your apprenticeship under) is also a great idea.

Calculate Your Tattoo Business Startup Costs

Your tattoo shop will require some initial investment to get off the ground. Making a list of your anticipated startup costs will allow you to prepare financially. Here are some costs you may have to cover:

  • Commercial rent and insurance
  • Furniture (e.g., tattoo tables and chairs for customers to sit or lie in as they get inked)
  • Tattoo supplies and equipment (tattoo guns, inks, needles, etc.)
  • Sanitation equipment (gloves, sterile wipes, disinfectant for tools, etc.)
  • Marketing materials like signage, business cards, etc.
  • Employee wages (if applicable)
  • Fees for any required business licenses and insurance

Write a Business Plan for Your Tattoo Shop

You can take the above information and organize it into a business plan for your tattoo shop. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides an overview of all the elements your business plan should include, like business description, market analysis, marketing plan, financial projections, and more. If you've discovered that you will need external funding to cover your startup costs, you can present your business plan to investors, banks, or other lenders to convince them to fund you.

How to Officially Open Your Tattoo Shop

With the planning stage complete, you can start taking the formal steps to officially establish a tattoo shop. While the process will vary a bit between states, these are the basic steps you'll likely need to complete.

Research What Licenses and Insurance Your Tattoo Shop Needs

State requirements for tattoo artists and business licensing vary significantly. For example, in Louisiana, you don't need a license to practice as an individual artist but you do need to get a license for a tattoo business (e.g., confirming that the area you wish to operate in is permitted for body art purposes according to the local zoning authority).

In contrast, every tattoo artist living in Alaska needs to get a license, which involves completing an apprenticeship of at least 380 hours, providing verified proof of your training record, finishing a certified CPR class, and submitting a bloodborne pathogen card. You also have to complete a notarized application.

Check your state's official guidelines to see what the requirements are in your area. Wet Tattoo offers a comprehensive overview of state regulations that can serve as a starting point. The National Conference of State Legislatures also provides a roundup of tattoo and body piercing regulations, including points about who can be tattooed (e.g., you can't tattoo a minor in many states).

In addition to a license to practice as a tattoo artist, you may be required to get a separate license for your business. Again, this depends on the state in which you're operating. The relevant regulatory body will vary depending on location. For example, in Virginia, tattooing is regulated by the Board for Barbers and Cosmetology. In Missouri, the Office of Tattooing, Body Piercing, and Branding is the responsible body.

In addition to licensure requirements for individual tattooists or tattoo businesses, states may also have general regulations governing tattoo facilities. A brick-and-mortar facility must meet set standards in terms of hygiene and sanitation (e.g., safely disposing of needles). There are also general laws regarding business safety, such as having the requisite number of fire exits.

Finally, you will probably want to invest in a professional liability insurance policy. This can help cover you in case of lawsuits. Tattoo artists have faced legal issues for reasons ranging from copyright infringement to health department violations. If you sign a lease on a commercial property, you will also want to check what type of property insurance you may need.

Establish Your Tattoo Shop as a Legal Entity With the State

In addition to getting any licenses you may need to legally operate a tattoo studio, you should also consider registering your shop as a formal entity with your state. The types of business entities include a corporation, sole proprietorship, and limited liability company (LLC). Establishing your business as a formally recognized entity like an LLC can provide tax benefits and protect your personal assets in case your business experiences legal difficulties.

Different types of business entities are subject to different state and federal regulations and tax reporting requirements. If you aren't sure which model is best for you, consult a business attorney. Whichever type of entity you opt for, you will have to designate a formal business name when you register the business. This is also the name you'll have to use on all business paperwork and marketing materials going forward, so choose wisely.

Ideally, you will select a name that is unique. You don't want to have the same moniker as another tattoo shop in the area. Your name should make it clear what services you provide while also being memorable and to the point. You'll also use this name for customer-facing materials like your website domain name.

Organize Your Banking, Bookkeeping, and Tax Reporting

Once you've legally registered your tattoo shop as a business, take the confirmation of your entity registration that you receive from the state to your chosen bank to open a business account. A business bank account makes it easy to separate your business and personal finances. This will make your bookkeeping and tax paperwork easier down the line. You might also consider whether you want to hire a bookkeeper and/or tax professional to help with your finances going forward.

Start Marketing Your Services to Attract Your First Customers

At this point, you're now technically a business owner. With the above steps taken care of, you can open the doors of your tattoo shop. But how will you get your first customers? It's all about the marketing. Here's a quick guide to marketing your own tattoo shop:

  • Define your brand. Your brand is basically how you present your business to the world and how the world perceives your business. Many details make up a brand, including a logo, a slogan, a color palette, language used in marketing materials, images, and more. If you want branding help, you can find skilled professionals via a work-for-hire outlet like Upwork.
  • Design a website. Your website is a great place to showcase your portfolio with a top-tier photo gallery. It should also include basic details your customers will want to know, like your studio's location and your contact info. You can create your website using a tool like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix. You can also find professional designers on Upwork.
  • Join social media platforms. Create a dedicated account for your tattoo studio on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. These visually driven platforms are a great way to show off your skills and connect with the broader tattoo community.
  • Set up internet business profiles. Also, create dedicated business pages on outlets like Yelp and Google My Business. Your customers can leave testimonials on these platforms, giving you free "word of mouth" marketing.

For more tips on how to market a tattoo business, check out this guide from Solo Press and this one from Barber DTS.

Find Innovative Ways to Streamline Your New Business

As your tattoo business gains ground, you will get increasingly busier. At this point, it's important to look for ways to streamline your daily operations. For instance, consider implementing an online appointment scheduling system if you find that you're wasting a lot of time on the phone scheduling appointments with customers.

As your client base grows, your profits will grow too. Use Skynova's accounting software to help you handle money management issues and keep all of your financial documentation in one place. Skynova offers ready-made business templates that can streamline tedious tasks like issuing invoices. This means you waste less time on paperwork and have more time for inking customers.

Open a Tattoo Shop With Support From Skynova

You became a tattooist because you love to create beautiful body art that your customers can cherish. You definitely didn't become a tattoo artist to deal with financial paperwork. Skynova's accounting software and other software products make it faster and easier to manage your finances, freeing up more time for you to focus on doing what you truly love - growing a successful business.