There are several factors that affect the cost of a tattoo but, as a general rule, if you’re planning to get tattooed it’s a good idea to save up for it. Tattoos can cost quite a bit depending on their size and style, and the price of a shoulder tattoo in particular is highly variable.
At its smallest and simplest, a shoulder tattoo might not cost much, but at its largest, a full shoulder tattoo can require multiple sessions with your artist, setting you back hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars. Emma Anderson, Brooklyn-based tattooer and co-owner of smallshop studio, puts these costs into perspective, saying, “when it comes down to it, as a luxury purchase, tattoos have an extremely high-value proposition: no matter what you pay, you get to have it for the rest of your life.” So, how much does a shoulder tattoo cost? Read on to find out.
Time is money
One of the top determinants of how much your shoulder tattoo is going to cost is time. Most tattoo artists charge clients by the hour (although some charge flat rates based on the design) so the longer it takes the artist to tattoo, the more expensive it will be.
Tattoo duration is based on a myriad of factors. According to Helen Xu, who tattoos out of Golden Iron Studio in Toronto and often does large-scale shoulder pieces, this includes the level of detail and size. “If you have two similar designs but one is being done in a minimal black line style and the other being done in full color, the time an artist spends on the colored one could be four to five times longer than the minimal piece,” she says.
It’s also worth noting that some artists work more quickly than others. Anderson, for instance, says that for her, “tattoos almost never take more than two hours unless it’s a larger project.” She charges $200 per hour. Xu, on the other hand, says that “a small to medium design [something palm-sized or smaller] takes her about two to five hours to complete while a larger piece would be several sessions of three to six hours each.” For her signature, detailed back and grey work, she estimates that a medium-sized tattoo would usually cost between $500 and $700, and a larger piece could be anywhere from $700 to $2000.
Small design ≠ small bill
Even the most dainty, simple shoulder tattoos can cost upwards of $100; the average artist’s minimum price.
Minimums are fixed prices that help cover the hard costs of getting tattooed—things like needles, inks, rent, and other materials and set up fees. While it might seem strange that a tiny shoulder piece costs this much, minimums are put in place for good reason: to ensure artists are making a decent, living wage that accounts for these necessary hard costs as well as the time they spend drawing a design and communicating with their clients in the lead up to every appointment. Artist and shop minimums can vary though. At Golden Iron Studio, where Xu works, the minimum is only $50, while Anderson’s minimum is the standard $100.
You can usually find minimum costs on an artist or shop’s FAQ page, but if you can’t find them listed online, artists will typically provide this information via email or at an initial consultation.
Cachet comes at a cost
While time and minimums are extremely important in answering the question “how much does a shoulder tattoo cost?”, the ultimate determinant of cost is your artist. Artists who are well-known (whether personally or through their shops) and highly experienced charge more than less experienced artists or those with less cachet. This is why shops like Bang Bang in New York – whose founder Keith McCurdy has tattooed tons of celebrity clientele – is able to charge $20,000 for a full sleeve, and why JonBoy, who has tattooed the likes of Kendall Jenner, Justin Bieber and Zayn Malik, can charge $450 for a tattoo that takes only 20 minutes to complete.
As Anderson explains, the cost of a tattoo always takes cachet and artistic point of view into account. Compared to other tattooers, her $200 hourly rate is not particularly steep. Anderson notes that the reason for her slightly higher cost is because she has “spent thirty years honing [her] skill set and vision, and works over 60 hours a week on drawing, tattooing, and all of the other unending facets of owning [her] own business.”
It’s not impossible to get a great tattoo on a budget though. Not all experienced artists charge massive markups, and if you’re willing to take a chance on a new artist, you can also score a great deal since many novice tattooers and apprentices charge less than average (sometimes they even tattoo for free) while they build their portfolio and strengthen their skills.
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