How Much Does a Small Tattoo Cost?

How Much Is a Small Tattoo
Credit: Sarah Harvey

It wasn’t that long ago that tattoos held a stigma. But times have changed. Few industries would look down on a job applicant with visible tattoos and they are finally being appreciated as the works of art they always have been.

Even still, many people who are ready for a tattoo or are looking to add to their collection, opt for small, discrete pieces over sleeves or elaborate designs wrapping their torso. Small tattoos please a variety of ink-lovers, but just because their size isn’t considerable does not mean they warrant the same level of planning before you decide on an artist and placement. Here is a primer for anyone looking to get a small tattoo, as well as the answer to the question: how much does is a small tattoo?

Small means cheap, right?

If you’re looking for a bargain, tattoos aren’t for you. Or, rather, quality tattoos aren’t. You might find a shop willing to charge you $25 for a 10 minute tattoo, but customers should be weary of such cheap pricing. According to Michael Stapleton, a full-time tattoo artist at San Francisco’s One Shot Tattoo, “the same care—such as sterilization or wrapping up the tattoo—risk for the tattoo artist, tools like needles, machines, and tubes, along with processes go into a five-minute tattoo as go into a multi-session back piece,” which is why most shops charge a minimum price that, for a small tattoo, may seem steep. For instance, in New York City, minimums range anywhere between $65 and $300, depending on the shop. On the higher end of that, you’re likely looking at an artist or shop in high-demand, like West 4 Tattoo, which has inked Kardashians and other Insta-famous celebrities.

Even if a shop’s minimum is $100, the artist you request might have a higher hourly rate, so be sure to ask about both when booking your appointment. The best piece of price-shopping advice came from Tyson Weed, an artist at Sentient Tattoo in Tempe, Arizona, who says, “always remember the bitterness of poor quality far outlasts the sweetness of a good deal.”, especially when trying to find out how much does a small tattoo cost.

Keep it simple, but get what you want

Weed tells us that most small tattoos (approximately three inches) can be executed in less than an hour. The level of detail your tattoo requires will also affect how much a small tattoo costs, and small tattoos require a greater attention to detail if you’ve picked an elaborate design—which Weed advices against. He suggests keeping it simple and listening to your artist’s advice in terms of placement, as they have experience with how well tattoos hold up on certain areas of the body.

It’s possible to get a three-inch portrait of your grandma, but you’ll want to be even more careful about the artist you select and be willing to pay for the extra time it takes for grandma to look good. According to Michaelle Fiore, an artist with NY Heart and Dagger in Brooklyn, artists also consider the placement of a tattoo in order to determine what technique they’ll need to implement. Grandma’s face on your inner-forearm requires delicate maneuvering, for example. Similarly, black or single-ink tattoos will always be faster and, therefore, less expensive, than a multi-colored piece, so be sure to give all these details when getting a quote.

Plan aheador, live in the moment

While most small tattoos can be designed on the spot and taken as a walk-in appointment, Stapleton says to take a look at a shop or artist’s website or Instagram to get a sense of their work before stopping into a random shop on your way home from work for a quick tattoo. No matter the size, this is still permanent ink that won’t wash off no matter how much you scrub (and will cost hundreds more than you paid to get it removed).

Like you would with a haircut, bring photos of designs you like and are similar to what you’re looking for if your artist doesn’t ask for this ahead of time. But depending on your request, the shop might require a deposit so their artist can take some time to create a custom design that you sign off on before your appointment. Since most small tattoos tend to be fairly simple, it’s not likely you’ll run into this. Overall, planning ahead can definitely drill down exactly how much a small tattoo costs.

What else?

While it’s nice to live in the moment and that tattoo artists can accommodate our impulsive behavior, Fiore asks that you heed one crucial piece of advice: don’t get stick and pokes in your friend’s houses! Sure it’s fun to say your best friend gave you a tattoo, but even stick and pokes require skill to make sure it does not look like a blown-out blob.

After confirming the minimum fee for the shop or artist you select, design, color, and placement are what will determine the final cost of you tiny ink. Regardless of how small and quick your tattoo is, be mindful of your artist’s time and tip accordingly, if your shop accepts them. It might take 10 minutes and $100 of your hard-earned money, but it takes an artist time to clean up and prepare for their next client after you’re long gone, so no $10 tips, please.

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