How Much Should You Tip a Tattoo Artist?

How Much Should You Tip a Tattoo Artist
Credit: Nicco Calvello

The most painful part of getting a tattoo should not be wondering how much to tip the artist at the end of the session. Use this quick guide to know the proper etiquette when it comes to tipping on your ink.

Let’s face it, the decision to tip and the practice of tipping, in general, can be awkward. In many situations, you know exactly what you’re doing. The bartender hands over a pint of beer poured to the top and you leave $1 or $2 on the counter. The Uber driver helps unload some heavy luggage at the airport and you press an appropriate amount on the app. But, what happens after you get a tattoo? Do you tip the artist and how much?

Here’s everything to know about how much should you tip a tattoo artist, according to the pros.

Yes, in most cases you should leave a tip

Like any service, tipping isn’t mandatory after getting a tattoo. But, before you walk out of the shop without leaving a gratuity, consider the fact that your artist isn’t pocketing the full amount you paid for your tattoo.

First, the tattoo studio has to get its cut. For example, if you were charged $1,000, the artist may only be getting about a $300 paycheck for their work. Next, most artists are required to pay for their own equipment. Things like ink, needles, and machines, cost money and are not delivered by the ink fairy each month. Finally, no matter how many arms an artist fills with American flags and bald eagles, Uncle Sam still requires his share in taxes.

A tip goes a long way to making sure the artist gets fairly compensated for performing their craft. So, make sure to show your artist a little love with some dollar bills before you leave.

The amount you tip should factor in the service

20 to 30 percents a fair and generous tip for a tattoo, but there is more to consider when deciding what to leave your artist. Did you just pick something off the wall of the shop or did you spend a few weeks back and forth with the artist to create your vision? Think about how much time the artist actually spent on your piece (actively tattooing and preparing) and make sure that is reflected in your gratuity. Sometimes custom work deserves a custom tip.

Keep in mind that you’re tipping based upon a service, so the quality of the work and the experience should be a factor in deciding how much to tip. Did your tattoo meet your expectations? Did your artist make you feel comfortable?

If you get a great tattoo, leave a great tip. If your artist was overly rude or inattentive, or if you aren’t happy with the work, don’t feel bad about not leaving a gratuity in those (hopefully rare) situations.

Be prepared for the expense

Call ahead, or better yet, schedule a consultation. This way you can learn everything you’ll need to know about your session, including an approximate quote and what type of payment methods the studio accepts. This will ensure that you’re ready with enough funds to pay for the work and a sufficient tip for your artist.

Asking these questions in advance will also help eliminate any surprises as to how long the work will take and what you’re going to spend on your piece.

Tip at the end of your session

Similar to eating at a restaurant, getting a haircut, or taking a taxi, give your gratuity at the end of your service. If a piece requires multiple sessions, pay and tip after each session—think of it as an artwork payment plan and an opportunity to thank the artist each time. You may have the option of paying for the entire tattoo at once, but it’s easier on the wallet and more courteous to your artist to spread it out over time.  

Sometimes the more you give, the more you get

Artists that have regular customers know which ones tip well and which ones don’t. It’s no surprise that if you’re generous to your tattoo artist, you will likely get better service.

“You remember the clients who take care of you,” says Fernando Valdez aka Menso One, owner of the Memory Lane Studio in Hollywood, CA. “Those clients are more likely to find a tray of fresh fruit, some beverages, and the WiFi password waiting for them at their next session.”

Artists also understand the difference between being cheap and maybe not having enough cash when things are tight. “Sometimes 10 percent, or 20 bucks, is cool for a $150 to $200 piece,” says Menso One. “I know some of my clients don’t always have the funds, so I appreciate the gesture.”

Keep it simple

Some people have already established their tipping methods with an artist. Clients may tip $100 every time, regardless of how big or small the work. This is an accepted practice, but don’t do it unless you plan on sticking to it.

Also, don’t try to be clever and bring a present in lieu of a gratuity (even if your grandma does make the best cookies in Wisconsin). A gift is only appropriate when you are legitimately friends with your artist or you’re supplementing a tip on a special occasion, like bringing a bottle of their favorite tequila for the holidays.

Pay it forward

Tipping is only the first step in gratefully showing that you’re super happy with an artist’s work. You can do even more after leaving the shop by recommending them to your friends, tagging them in a picture of your awesome new tattoo on social media, and referring anyone that compliments your ink to that studio.

Related: Here’s the Average Salary of a Tattoo Artist

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