How to Become a Tattoo Artist

To become a tattoo artist you should be a good artist in general. Tattoo art does have some specific styles and symbols that repeat frequently in tattoo art, such as pin-up girls, so you should practice these symbols and figures to improve your skills. Portraits are also popular designs for tattoos, so some knowledge in this area is also useful. If you are not a great artist or have some problems with your designs, you can usually take a class at a local community college or community center that will help you perfect your technique.

You should also study fonts and typography since many clients will want to have lettering or symbols added to their tattoos and integrated into the art. Though there are some specific font faces traditionally used in tattoos, having a modest knowledge of fonts will also help you in designing tattoos. You may also want to learn some Chinese and Japanese character or pictograph symbols since these are often integrated into tattoos. This skill can be acquired through self-study with a book of characters.

Though it is not required, your clients will probably be relieved if you are a good speller as well as a good artist, and able to take direction while finding inspiration.


You can begin to work on a portfolio of tattoos before you find an apprenticeship, but you will complete your portfolio while working as an apprentice. The portfolio, or flash book, will include your original designs so a client can decide if you are the suitable artist for their tattoo. You can also use your portfolio to look for employment in a tattoo studio. The portfolio will include a mix of inspired art as well as completed tattoo pictures that show what your tattoos look like on skin.

Learning to Tattoo

There are a few schools for tattooing but there is no guarantee that a term in tattoo school will get you in with an established tattoo studio. Usually a beginning tattoo artist will pursue an apprenticeship at an established tattoo studio. If you don't know any tattoo artists personally you can try to find work in the front-desk of a tattoo studio, dealing with clients and appointments and meeting with the tattoo artists that work there.

You can also take your portfolio to tattooing conventions and meetings, though many of the tattoo artists will be busy promoting their own work and dealing with clients on site, and they will not be interested in your attempts to show your portfolio while they are busy. Or you can find out where your friends got their tattoos and then follow up with the artist to see if they have any apprenticeships, or administrative work to get your foot in the door, at their tattoo studio.


Since responsible tattooing involves knowledge of some public health issues, such as the transmission of blood pathogens, some states require that you have certification as a tattoo artist. You can determine if your state requires it by visiting the website of your local Department of Health. The American Tattooing Institute offers an online course that you can take to complete your initial certification. There is also a list of links on the same site to many of the Departments of Health so you can review the requirements for your state.