Why is Friday the 13th a Big Deal in the Tattoo Industry?

Friday the 13th tattoos
Credit: Instagram / @thetruetattoo

We all know the lore and superstition about Friday the 13th being an unlucky day—a day to actively avoid black cat crossings, shattered mirrors, mysterious ladders, and cracks in the sidewalk. But if you’re a fan of tattoos, the day isn’t unlucky at all. In fact, it’s more like a holiday. On Friday the 13th, tattoos are heavily discounted by many studios around the globe. Some even offer their specialty (often spooky-inspired) flash designs for as little as $13 plus tip.

How did the tradition start?

“The tradition was started in 1995 by Oliver Peck, a tattooer who adopted the idea from fellow artists who were holding a similar event on Halloween,” explains L’ain Freefall, resident artist at True Tattoo, an LA-based studio owned by Peck. (It’s worth noting that this tradition now exists separate from Peck who was recently ousted from his role as a judge on reality TV show Ink Master after several photos emerged of him wearing blackface).

How does it work?

At True Tattoo, they’ve mastered the art of Friday the 13th tattoos. “We pretty much have it down to a T now,” says Freefall. “Our shop starts prepping weeks before with our stencils and supplies. [It works] on a first come, first served basis. We advise clients to start queuing early. Once they reach the counter, they pick a design [the shop exclusively offers number 13 tattoos]. We attach the price to the consent form, which they fill out and sign while choosing which ’13’ they want, and then whichever artist is next available will call them up!”

For many shops, including True Tattoo, Friday the 13th is a 24-hour event. Tattooers work for the entire day in order to complete as many tattoos as possible. “It’s definitely a rush and we have such a blast doing it. It really shows a passion for tattooing,” says Freefall. “I worked my first Friday 13th five years ago and I’ve never missed one since. I was born on a Friday the 13th so it’s extra special for me.”

Other tattoo studios do it differently, though. New York’s West 4 Tattoo, for instance, offers separate flash sheets from each of its participating artists. Their designs are more expensive (ranging from $100 to $300 plus tip) but they’re also more complex. And at Rosewater Tattoo in Portland, the shop doesn’t do discounted Friday the 13th tattoos, but instead donates the proceeds of pieces done that day to various charities (today they’re donating to Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of abused and neglected farmed animals).

Should you get a Friday the 13th tattoo?

Friday the 13th tattoos definitely aren’t for everyone. Not all tattoo studios participate in the festivities and of those that do, it seems as though the vast majority specialize in American Traditional style designs (at least based on the #Fridaythe13thTattoo tag on Instagram). As a result, the designs shops offer through their Friday the 13th events may not be the ideal for someone with a very specific style preference. Clients also can’t make adjustments to most of these tattoos, so the pieces are best suited to an audience of tattoos enthusiasts who are comfortable committing to pre-drawn (AKA flash) designs. 

If you’re interested in getting a tattoo and have a very clear vision for your design, it’s probably best to sit out Friday the 13th tattoo events—yes, even though the designs come at such a discounted rate—and instead book a separate appointment and pay full price for a piece created just for you. 

Liked our story about Friday the 13th Tattoos? Be sure to check out The Fascinating History Behind Getting a Partner’s Name Tattooed, too.

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