Should You Tip Your Tattoo Artist?

(Making it easier to tip your tattoo artist – we have a tipping calculator located at the bottom of the page to help you figure out what is considered a “good” tip for your tattoo artist.)

Skip The Read And Go To The Helper!

Tipping your tattoo artist is something we get asked about quite often. Tipping is customary in many places across the globe, but it can often feel awkward trying to broach the subject after a painful session. In the United States, most people venturing into a shop are totally down to tip their tattoo artist, and since that is where I am writing from, let’s talk about tipping a tattoo artist in the US!

Should You Tip Your Tattoo Artist?

A client’s experience is, well, everything, and in the world of tattooing, most tattoo artists love the extra “cheddar” after a day of hard work.

You, the client who is overwrought with joy, adorned by a new piece of art that will last a lifetime, maybe ask yourself, “should I tip – or – should I go?

The answer is: Tip your tattoo artist according to your experience and the quality of the tattoo you received.

Suppose you were happy with the work and felt compelled to let them know how you feel, hand over that cash! Tattooing is a service-based industry, and tossing around some extra skrilla shows your artist that you love them!

Have doubts about whether you should tip your tattoo artist? Here are a few reasons you may not have known that can help influence your decision on how much to tip your tattoo artist:

The Whole System is Setup Like a Barbershop.

You may not know the ins and outs of tattoo business operations, but most tattoo artists out there do not make every dollar you pay them. Like barber shops, booths/chairs can come with a rental fee. This is a flat daily rate; in others, your artist pays the shop owner a percentage of what you pay them.

To Break Down the Cost to the Artist:

Let’s say your tattoo costs $300. An artist may get a percentage of that total in most places, somewhere around 40%-70% of the total. On the low end, your artist makes $120 out of that $300, and the shop takes the rest. This system is based on the shop’s more “old school” system charging you alongside the artist.

The 2-rate-system was a bit complicated at times so, in the sense of easing tensions among the clientele that just wanted a flat rate, shops started absorbing the total cost, breaking off a percentage to the tattoo artist, and giving the artist who stayed busy a few spiffs – free gloves, maybe a bottle of pigment, a bunch of paper towels…

Want to know how much a shop pays an artist through their spiff percentage? Follow the link below! | Tattooing – Cost of setup

Tattoo Artists Purchase Most of Their Supplies.

Tattoo shops do not purchase all the supplies for a tattoo artist, even if they load them up with spiffs (mostly disposable…). Some supply sterilization equipment and supplies, others just gloves and paper towels.

The artist covers everything else. All of the supplies are used to create your artwork, and others to do the tattoo. This is where their hourly charge comes into play. You pay them for their personality, years of training (sometimes!), and skill. Perhaps tipping your tattoo artists seems a little more reasonable now, eh?

art supplies

Tattooing is a Competitive Business – Not All Artists are Booked Out in Advance.

Have you seen how many shops are in the Portland, Oregon area? How about Austin, Texas? Even in the middle of nowhere, tattoo shops are springing up and offering their take on colorful modifications.

With the increased saturation of shops globally, there are fewer options for artists to book out long term. Due to this increase in competition, shop owners have been quick to lower artist pay rates, holding the clients as shop property during pay negotiations.

What does this all mean to you? All tattoo artists will jump for joy when presented with a tip at the end of a session.

You Don’t Pay For Draw Time.

If you are getting a back piece done or a full sleeve, the work done before the tattoo can take many hours. This work is something most clients never think about and even more rarely are a part of.

From a more personal vantage point: I spend so many hours on each design before requests for redesigns are given by the client. When a tip is tossed onto the table at the end of a tattoo session, I cry a little inside and thank that client. There is no way to fully express the warm and fuzzy feelings that fill my black, black heart but know that I love all y’all who have tossed extra cash my way.

You Can Tip at the End of Multiple Sessions or the End of Each.

If you enjoy the service and want to tip every sitting or have a fixed budget and don’t know if you will have enough to tip your artist, let them know upfront. Most artists will be thankful for the directness. I often suggest that clients rank and grade each session, tipping as they see fit and can afford. Each session is literal hell on a tattoo artist’s back, so keeping their chiropractors paid is a good thing!

One thing before we move on: please don’t lord a tip over them as if they were a dog begging for a treat. That habit is rude to dogs as well as skilled artisans.

You May Not Have To Tip A  Tattoo Shop Owner.

Shop owners make more money than the artists they employ. This aspect of the business is something artists under employ come to expect. The boss will always have a larger bankroll because they have a higher liability.

Sometimes though, bosses drag tips from the clientele (which I am not opposed to but am likely to question) like they are another employee. Talk to the owner before getting into the tattoo to combat this possible affront to your pocketbook. If they are the high-caliber type of person I think they are, they will not be expecting a tip after service. Be straight with them, and they will most likely reward you with an honest answer.

Gifts are Great Tips, But Cash is King!

I have received books, clothing, shot glasses, and artwork from clients over my career. While I have enjoyed the gifts, they rarely see any use past the curio-shelf in the shop. Unless the tattoo artist you go to likes being tipped with toys, give them cash and let them buy their own chowder.

Wait!… Sometimes other things are acceptable to give as tips after a tattoo:


Tacos. Yes, Tacos.

Tattoo artists love tacos.

So that’s it. Here are a few tips for the clients out there on how to tip your tattoo artist.

Tattoo Tipping Helper!

Below is an interactive widget that can help you figure out how much to tip if you are unsure. Also, take a second to take our poll about tipping a tattoo artist online! It only works on the non-mobile site!