As tattoos move into the mainstream, there is a greater need for tattoo
studios to meet the demand for safely applied tattoos. If you love the way
art looks on the human canvas, you might be inspired to open your own tattoo
But let's get one thing out of the way first. Even if opening a tattoo
studio sounds like your dream job, being your own boss is a lot of work in
"Running a tattoo studio takes all of my time," says Robin Dutcher. She
is a tattoo artist and studio owner.
"Running a tattoo studio is pretty much like running any other business,
in a business sense. You need to understand how your books balance, in terms
of income and expenses; you need to watch your supplies and know when to order
and the right amount; you need to understand your market niche and its future."
Along with the long hours that owning your own business entails, there's
also the little matter of contaminated waste. Because you won't just be shredding
and recycling paper in this trade -- you'll also be dealing with used needles.
In the U.S., you'll need to know the Federal Bloodborne Pathogens standard,
the guideline text for people working with these kinds of materials. These
guidelines are a vital part of opening up your own shop. And that's just the
"The state regulations are just guidelines that are the minimum requirements
for opening a studio," says Alicia Cardenas. Cardenas is the president of
the Association of Professional Piercers. She also owns a tattoo studio. "There
are in-store standards that need to be implemented by the owner."
Regulations change from state to state.
"The states vary widely from limited regulations -- more of a health department
registration and inspection -- to an exam and required number of training
hours," says Kate Ciampi. She owns a tattoo studio and is the executive director
of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals.
Just like starting any business, you'll also need some money to get things
going. "One needs a fair amount of capital, and it's expensive to have the
proper setup," says Ciampi.
There are no courses (yet!) on how to open up your own tattoo studio,
but the more you can educate yourself on the basics of running a business,
"Any schooling, from business to marketing to human resources would help,"
says Dutcher. "These three areas all intertwine and make up the basic structure
of maintaining your business and enabling your business to grow."
And what about making the big bucks? Well, one thing that most tattoo studio
owners agree on is that people should not get into this field just to make
money. A love and understanding of the art is essential.
"A tattoo studio is not a cash cow, and you aren't going to make your millions
at running one," says Dutcher.
"As the owner, I have to make sure bills get paid at the end of the month.
And if my other artists haven't brought in as much as they need to cover their
own costs, I have to make up the difference by pulling money from personal
savings. It's an up and down business. You never know when the ups are and
you never know when the downs are."
Speaking of financial ups and downs, Ciampi adds that you should know your
math (or have a good accountant) if you open a studio.
"The daily financial dealings can become quite complicated," she says.
"[For example] most times the artists pay a portion to the studio, but there
may be a shop credit card machine, so the shop needs to pay the artist and
file taxes accordingly. One must have a very good business sense and a good
accountant to help with all this."
But something that you can't rely on accountants to help out with is hiring
tattoo artists. After all, even if you're a tattoo artist yourself, you'll
most likely need at least one other artist in the studio. If things get busy,
it's not uncommon for tattoo studios to have several artists working every
"Absolutely, this is a very hard part of the business," says Cardenas.
"Hiring a tattooist at my studio requires an interview, an impressive portfolio,
exhibition of a tattoo, specific training for our studio, blood borne pathogens
training and a trial period before a commitment is made."
It can be tough finding the right employees. "Artists are the keys to a
successful studio," says Ciampi. "Anyone can be a flash monkey. It's hard
to find someone with the right amount of talent, business sense, integrity
Lots of tattoo studios also provide piercing services. Body piercing has
also become popular and is a way to help get more business.
Then there's the matter of whether or not a tattoo studio owner should
be a tattoo artist themselves. This is something that tattoo shop owners don't
always agree on.
Ciampi elaborates on both sides of the issue. "I think it clearly has an
advantage to be one in that there are no unrealistic expectations," she says.
"Non-artist owners may not realize how time-consuming some pieces are over
others -- even the artistic designing before the tattooing even starts. They
may feel certain artists are slacking or not bringing in enough work. They
run the risk of being more about the volume than the quality.
"On the other hand," she continues, "artist owners may have preconceived
ideas as to what is 'good' work or how they want the other artists to produce,
so there may be some issues there. Artists have a reputation of being temperamental,
so that always has to be a consideration."
Something else they all agree on is that tattoos are more popular than
ever. This, of course, bodes well for those thinking about entering this field.
"Tattooing is more mainstream now, and more popular than ever," says Ciampi.
Cardenas agrees. "People from every walk of life are now beginning
to enjoy tattooing," she says.
Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals
A non-profit organization providing education and industry guidelines
in the name of safety
Alliance of Professional Tattooists
Read about their work for safety standards
Tattoo and Body Piercing Studios Health and Safety Code
Find out how Texas regulates the field