stencil placement tattoo

Tattooing – Cost of Set Up

In this week’s article, we look at the cost of setup for your tattoo!

We have come up with a handy cost of set up calculator located near the bottom of the page that uses the numbers collected in this article to create a total cost. You can modify it and see what a tattoo setup is worth.

What’s the cost of set up?

The cost of setup is how much actual money the artist or studio must spend to create that tattoo you want to get.

While this may not be the forefront in your mind when choosing your tattoo or choosing a place to get tattooed, you should know why and how the shops decide the pricing that affects you, dear reader.

What is the real cost of setting up a tattoo?

All costs found are hopefully the highest prices listed. I refrain from attempting to use a potential midground when selecting prices and hope that the high end of this pricing scheme is more beneficial to all who are concerned. We are also only using disposable supplies in this article. The total cost of reusable products is too variable depending on artist habits and traits. Due to the variability, we chose to ignore pricing reusables.

Onto the costs!

Needle Groupings and cost

You usually need a small needle grouping to do a smaller tattoo while you may have to change or utilize multiple needle groupings for larger tattoos. Taking that into account, create a grading system that allows for additional costs to the tattoo artist. This will be applied per sitting:

For all small tattoos- (Liner Needle X 1) + (Shader Needle X 1)

For all Medium tattoo sittings – (Liner Needle X 2) + (Shader Needle X 2)

For all Large tattoo sittings – (Liner Needle X 3) + (Shader Needle X 3)

Keep this in mind if you want to play around with the calculator.

Cost of Set up – Needles

Most needles chosen by artists come premade and sterilized, individually blister packed and are single use. They range from single needles to multiple needle configurations.

The fine art of needle making is slowly disappearing from the industry as the options for premade needles become less expensive and a better option for conservation of time. We will not be looking into the costs of making your own needles but please know, the costs of making your own needles is substantially less than anything listed below. The only cost really is time, and time as we know it, is money.

Onto the costs of needles.

Needle Costs – Liners

Liner needles are used to create borders and fine details inside a tattoo. While some of the larger groupings can cover huge areas quickly, they lack the softness given by a shader needle.

Liner Needle on Bar

Liner Needle on bar

The average cost of a single needle on bar, sterilized is:

 $15.00 per box of 50 needles ($15.00/50 = $0.30 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$25.99 per box of 50 needles ($25.99/50 = $0.52 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on
bar, is:

$83.98 per box of 50 needles ($83.98/50 = $1.68 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a liner needle grouping, premade and sterilized on bar, at $0.83 per liner needle.

Liner Cartridges

Liner cartridge

Another type of liner needle used is the cartridge type. These cartridges come premade, blister packed and sterile. We will use the same grading and costs system as we used above to come up with an average.

$10.49 per box of 10 needles ($10.49/10 = $1.05 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$20.20 per box of 10 needles ($20.20/10 = $2.02 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on bar, i:

$22.40 per box of 10 needles ($22.40/10 = $2.24 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’ take those numbers and create and average cost of a liner needle cartridge as $1.77 per cartridge.

Needle Costs – Shaders

Shader needles (associated mag needles and bug-pin groupings) are used to create gradients and\or fill large areas of skin when working through a tattoo. They lack the tightness of a liner needle and cannot do the same level of detail as the liner needles are capable of.

Shader Needle on Bar

mag needle on bar

The average cost of a shader needle on bar, sterilized is:

 $19.00 per box of 50 needles ($19.00/50 = $0.38 per 5 mag-needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 9-needle mag-shader grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$34.94 per box of 50 needles ($34.94/50 = $0.70 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 19–needle shader, sterilized on bar, is:

$83.98 per box of 50 needles ($83.98/50 = $1.68 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a shader needle grouping, premade and sterilized on bar, at $0.92 per liner needle.

Shader Cartridges

Mag cartridge

Shader cartridges come in a variety of flavors. They are commonly priced below:

$10.49 per box of 10 needles ($10.49/10 = $1.05 per needle grouping on bar)

The average cost of a standard, 7-needle round grouping, sterilized on bar is:

$20.99 per box of 10 needles ($20.99/10 = $2.10 per needle grouping on bar)

The highest cost (I could find) of a large grouping, like the superior graded 14-needle round liner, sterilized on
bar, is:

$23.51 per box of 10 needles ($23.51/10 = $2.35 per needle grouping on bar)

Let’s take those numbers and create and average cost of a shader needle cartridge as $1.83 per cartridge.

Now that needles are taken care of, let’s move onto the cost of inks (pigments).

Cost of Set up – Tattoo Tubes

Tattoo tubes are used with needle bars. They act like reservoirs for the pigment when transferring between the ink caps (listed next section below) and the skin. They also control the oscillating motion (up and down) the machine provides.

Tattoo Tubes and grip sizes - Taken from Painful Pleasures

Tattoo Tubes – Disposable Costs

The cost of tubes ranges from $0.69, up to $2.50, per unit (with some single units priced at $25.00 being deemed an outlier). The average price being $1.50 per tube. Cartridge machines do not need separate tubes

Cost of Set up – Ink

On average, a single ounce (oz.) of tattoo ink runs around $8.00-$9.00. Taking into account that a single square inch of your skin takes roughly 1/25 oz. of pigment to fully saturate. The normal, small sized ink cap (#9) requires 1/25 oz. to fill.

Choosing Ink Caps

When setting up for the tattoo, the artists should pick and fill the appropriate sized ink cap. I personally use only #9 ink caps. One big reason why is dipping.

When working on skin that is being tattooed the needles and tube pick up things that are being excreted by the skin. Your body dumps exudate, a substance made up of cells and fluid ejected during an inflammatory response
(Like what happens during tattooing). This fluid waters down the pigment you are placing and, when dipping into the ink caps, dilutes your pure pigment.

Back to the math, let’s give the average ink cap used a total value.

#9 ink cap filled – average – $0.36 per cap

When doing larger compositions or tattoos that require multiple colors, the cost can be multiplied by how many ink caps are used during the duration.

Cost of Set up – Disposables

Here is a list and the total cost associated with the average disposables used in a tattoo.


Gloves are a must have when doing a tattoo. The good thing about the (past keeping you clean and safe from infection) is their low cost. The industry standard is using nitrile, latex free gloves, at a 4 mil. thickness.

 Nitrile Gloves

The average cost for a box of gloves is around $8.50. You may be able to find them at different prices based on your location globally. My location dictates these price estimates.

Cost per glove used during a tattoo is $0.01 ($8.50/1000 per case = $0.0085)


Razors are used to prep the skin by removing hair from the procedure site. This keeps the needles clean and free from plugs (image a round grouping filled with broken hairs. It forces the needle into a new shape which is not round) and allows better adherence for dressing adhesives after the tattoo
is finished.

A razor

**An aside –> There is evidence that using a razor is not as effective as clippers when prepping a site for any procedure. Clippers have been show through meta-analysis to have better results at keeping infections at bay. **

Razors cost on average $0.09 per unit ($52.50/600 per case = $0.0875).

If you are a very hairy person, or are getting a large area prepped, you may use more than a single razor per tattoo session.

Dental Bibs

Dental bibs are used to cover prep areas, clean sites for placing instruments and other spaces that may encounter bodily fluids.

Dental Bibs

Dental bibs cost on average $0.05 per unit ($23.95/500 per case = $0.0479)

I use at minimum 1 dental bib per procedure. On average 3 per tattoo session but each artist has different habits.

Drop Sheets

Drop sheets are larger than dental bibs and are used to cover procedure areas.

The cost of a drop sheet per unit, on average, is $0.52 ($78.00/150 per case)

I use at least a single drop sheet every tattoo.

Clip cord Sleeves

These are used to cover and protect the cord that powers the tattoo machine. While you have two options when choosing to purchase these disposable covers, I will stick with the precut option.

On average a clip cord sleeve costs $0.02 per unit ($28.50/1500 per case = $0.019)

Bottle Covers

Bottle covers… cover bottles. They look like zip lock baggies without the zip lock. Surprisingly, there were little to no usable pictures from Alibaba or Amazon I wanted to throw up here.

The average bottle cover costs $0.02 per unit ($25.50/1500 per case = $0.017)

I typically use 4 bottle covers per tattoo. 2 for each wash bottle.

Barrier Film

Whether it be a load of saran wrap (not up to industry standard) or proper tack-back barrier film, this is used to cover things that may be a weird shape or are unable to be fitted with a cover.

Barrier Film

A roll of barrier film (tack-back) costs $0.01 per sheet. ($45.00/4500 sheets = $0.01)

I typically use 5-10 pieces a tattoo.

Plastic (or Clingwrap) is used by many artists. Go to Costco and you can find the megalithic rolls for sale at a cost of around $15.00 for 36,000 sq/ft. That’s equivalent to 4.16^e-4 per sq/ft. (Jesus that’s cheap… No wonder they last 6-12 months when used frequently)


This product is used to fix ink caps to a station and lubricate the skin during a procedure. (Hydrophilic substances repel the water-based
pigments so they don’t dye the skin during a procedure)

A box of A&D packets

The individual packets are priced at $0.07 per unit ($63.00/864 per case = $0.07292).

I typically use a single packet for a small tattoo, 2-3 for a medium sized tattoo sitting and 4-5 (or more) for a large sitting.

Face Mask

Face masks should be used in every tattoo session. While most tattoo artists do not, those who sit especially close to the skin they are
working on should really consider getting some. (Wear a plastic face shield for a day tattooing and see how much crap gets built up on the outside of it).

Face masks cost around $0.09 per unit ($4.50/50 per box = $0.09)

I am guilty of using face masks only occasionally but after reading this number… I feel obliged to start wearing them for every client.

Disposable Sleeves

Disposable sleeves are used to cover the arms during a procedure. These are key to infection control like the above stated face masks.

Disposable sleeves cost around $0.07 per unit ($7.00/100 per bag = $0.07)

Tongue Depressors

While I do not utilize tongue depressors, many people do. They are used to get products out of containers or move things around in the procedure and equipment site. They are sticks and I hope that all artists get the sterilized version.

A sterilized tongue depressor costs $0.04 per unit ($25.50/600 per case = $0.0425).


Aprons keep our clothes clean and are essential for infection control. Please don’t use leather aprons as they cannot be properly disinfected!

Disposale apron

Disposable aprons cost around $0.10 per unit ($9.99/100 per box = $0.0999)

Rinse Cups

These are used to rinse out the tubes when switching between pigments (inks). They are also used by some as a way to wet towels to clean an area during a tattoo (better infection control)

Rinse cups are cheap, and you can get them everywhere. They way to make thee a bit more expensive was to price Red Solo Cups. I know, that is ridiculous.

Rinse cups cost $0.05 per unit ($12.99/240 per bag = $0.054125)

Bandages – Dri-Loc

Dri Loc bandages

Used to cover a tattoo after the procedure. (I have left out the Tegaderm/Saniderm pricing for now. Maybe I’ll add it into the spreadsheet if people call for it.)

Dri-loc bandages cost roughly $0.07 per unit ($41.70/600 per case = $0.0695)

These cover roughly 12 sq/in (or 3 inches linear) of skin when used.

Medical Tape

Medical tape

Used to stick stuff to you or things!

Medical tape costs around $0.13 per yard of 1-inch-wide tape. ($93/720 yard per case = $0.12917)

I split the 1-inch-thick piece in half and use the two bits for a small tattoo (approx.)

Cohesive Bandages

cohesive bandages

Many artists are using these to pad their machine tubes.

Cohesive bandages cost approximately $0.18 per yard ($32.95/180 yards per case = $0.1830 per yard)

Paper Towels

Paper towels

We use a lot of paper towels in the industry. Most choices are not similar to the Scott Blue Shop Towels some artists use, but those are
the most expensive, so they are determining prices here.

Shop towels cost around $0.03 per sheet ($17.99/550 sheets per case = $0.032709)

I can admit that the shop towels do last longer, that price is just nuts! So here is another cost analysis of Costco brand paper towels,
per sheet Costco Brand Paper Towels cost $0.01 ($18.99/1920 sheets per case = $0.00989) Literally 30% the price so stop using those shop towel ya wierdos! (It’s still not as wild as the pre-packaged sterile towels that go for $0.25 per sheet)

Disinfectant Wipes

These are used to clean up the area and disinfect all surfaces exposed or used during a procedure.

I’ll use Opti-cide3 wipes versus any you-make solutions as I really like the brand and I don’t know how you mix your solutions.

Per sheet, Opti-cide3 costs nearly $0.09 ($105.00/1200 sheets per case = $0.0875)

Cost of Set up – Non-Disposables

This is going to get a little tricky. I am going to get assumptive here and apply lifetime values to various things so we can get a
depreciation value that applies to a single tattoo. These may be far from correct and if so, I apologize.


This one is going to get me in trouble… I know it.

Coil Machines

coil tattoo machine

Coil machines, if used properly and have their routine maintenance done by someone who knows what they are doing, last forever. Seriously. The average price for a decent machine runs from $250-500 and they last 30 years. Springs are about the only thing that breaks on these machine types and those cost around $2.00 to purchase. I have had springs last 5 years at a stretch.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.05. {[$500/(365*30)]+[(6*2)/(365*30)]} = $0.046758

Rotary Machines

rotary tattoo machine

Rotary machines have a variable lifespan. Their DC motors have something called a mean time to failure (MTTF) which can make assumptions about how long the motor will last. I won’t go into detail about how you should run your machines but, be warned: The larger the grouping and bigger the needle (larger load placed on the machine) the shorter it’s lifespan will be. I have had a rotary for a few years and have been murderous to it. In 3-years I have replaced the motor once. A replacement motor cost me about $15.00. If the wiring starts to go you are in for a whole new model.

The Rotary machines run about the same price as a coil-based machine and can have an assumed lifespan for those not mechanically inclined of 5-7 years.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.21.

{[$500/(365*7)]+[(15*2)/(365*7)]} = $0.2074388

Cartridge Machines

cartridge tattoo machine

These are dressed up rotary machines with a great ability to run smooth and act like a coil machine. The issue with these machines comes from their smaller load capacity and higher initial load placed on the motors. Remember above? The MTTF is dictated by load forces exerted on the machines during use. Higher load = Shorter lifespan.

Cartridge machines run around $500 and have a lifespan of 1-3 years. Replacement repairs are free if the device is deemed worthy by
manufacturer. You are still stuck with the shipping costs for rebuilding/replacement which is around $30.

Cost per tattoo @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.46.

[$500/{3*365)] = $0.456621

Power Supplies

National Tattoo Power SUPPLY!

A good power supply should last you forever. I have a friend who is 3rd gen with an analogue National “brick” power supply. It
cost him $100 bucks. My power supply is digital and cost around $250 and feels kind of cheap. If I get 5 years out of it, I will be happy.

Cheap Power Supply

Just like everything in life now-a-days, manufactured obsolescence is a part of any new purchase.  You can expect a half-decent power supply to last 3-5 years and at a cost around $250 per unit.

Cost per operation of tattoo power supply per day is approximately $0.14. ($250/(5*365)] = $0.1369863

Clip Cords

Clip cords connect the machine to the power supply. They come in a couple varieties such as 2 prongs, RCA, Phono, etc. Clip cords commonly cost $20 and have a lifetime of around 5 years.

The cost per day of using a clip cord @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.01 [20/(5*365)] = $0.0109589

Foot Switches

tattoo foot switch

Foot switches connect to the power supply and are used to operate the tattoo machine. Foot switches commonly cost $50 and have a lifespan of 10 years if cleaned and maintained.

The cost of operating a foot switch per day @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.01 [50/(10*365)] = $0.01369863

Arm Rests

Tattoo arm Rest

This shop furniture is used to prop body parts up for easy access during a procedure. Arm rests cost approximately $150 and have a usable lifespan of around 15 years. Longer if they are well maintained.

The cost of using an armrest per day @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.03 [150/(15*365)] = $0.02739726

Massage Tables

Massage Table

Massage tables are going to be listed here versus barber chairs because I hate moving barber chairs.

The average massage table costs $250 and has a lifespan of around 10 years if cared for properly.

The cost of using a massage table for tattooing @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.07 [250/(10*365)] = $0.0684931


Medical Lamp

Lamps are bright. We use them and they need bulbs. The LED lightbulbs they utilize now in these exam lamps are rad and have a lifespan of nearly 10 years. Which, coincidently, is about the same lifespan of the fixture. Exam lamps run around $170.

The cost of using an exam lamp for tattooing @ 1 tattoo per day is $0.04 {$150/(10*365)] = $0.04109589

Cost of Set up Calculator

I did up a little calculator on Google Sheets. It can be clumsy, but it works well.

Here’s the link – It’s external and hosted on Google Sheets:

Some Questions about Cost of Set up

Let’s toss out a few questions that I have heard from clients regarding the cost of set up . Here is a few that I have heard to start us off:

All shops charge the same rate near where I live… Isn’t this an industry standard?

No. There is no industry standard that dictates what a shop or artist can charge. On average, shops and artists charge what is common to keep competition focused on artwork or style. This way most of the shops in an area fill a specific demand and leave little for those less qualified.

Why would we want to talk about the costs with the artist? It makes me uncomfortable to discuss money!

If you are concerned about the price or if you have a budget, speak up. There is a need to be upfront with a person that is going to mark you permanently. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing something as trivial as pricing when marking yourself permanently, wait for that tattoo.

They claim to use only the best supplies, is that why the cost is so high?

Most likely not. Sometimes artists charge what they do because they are really good. Other times it is because the area of operation influences the prices.

Think about large cities like New York or San Francisco; would you want to get a tattoo from a person who charges $50 an hour when the tattoo artists on average charge $250 an hour? Probably not.