My first tattoo wasn’t specifically a spine piece, but it does span the top of my back, hitting parts of the spine along the way. There were so many things I didn’t think about before getting that tattoo – things like placement, artist, and cost – things that we at Inside Out recommend considering in the lead up to any tattoo appointment. Because I wasn’t particularly thoughtful or thorough in my research, when the time came to pay, I was taken aback by the tattoo’s cost (it was around $200 and took less than a half hour for the artist to finish). I had no idea what average tattoo prices were and no concept of what determines the cost of a tattoo.
In the years since getting that first tattoo, I’ve learned a lot about the tattooing process. One of the most fundamental of those learnings is that, regardless of placement, tattoos can be quite the expense. Whether you’re getting something across a section of your spine or all the way down the length of your back, it’s likely going to cost quite a bit and that cost can vary significantly. So, how much does a spine tattoo cost? What decides its cost? Will you have to save up for it?
The reality is that tattoo cost is dependent on so many factors, from size and style to artist and studio. It’s these factors combined that control the cost of your spine tattoo, and every tattoo for that matter.
Size is central to cost
“The size and detail of a tattoo will define its price,” says Alba Rey, a tattoo artist at UNIKAT studio in Berlin. “In general, this is the case for every tattoo artist.”
The math behind it is simple: the longer it takes or the harder it is to tattoo, the more it costs. While a small spine piece might take less than an hour to complete, Rey says that in her style a medium tattoo can take between one to three hours. And a large piece (like this, for instance) could take over a day with multiple sessions of several hours (she limits her sessions to five hours) each.
For Portland-based tattooer Seven McDougall, the same guidelines apply. If you’re getting tattooed by her, a small tattoo that takes around an hour to complete costs an hourly rate of $150 (anything smaller costs her minimum of $100). Something bigger—say something that takes three hours to finish—would cost $450.
In terms of style and detail, generally speaking, the more intricate or involved a design is, the higher its price. This means that a minimal black-line design tends to be less expensive than a full color design which tends to be less expensive than a colored, hyper-realistic design.
Artist rates can vary significantly
Rey says the top factor affecting the price of a spine tattoo is the tattooer. So, with that in mind, how much does a spine tattoo cost? While size, detail, and time are necessary factors to keep in mind, knowing your individual artist’s rate is necessary to accurately estimating price.
There are a few different ways tattooers price their tattoo. Some price based on time (hours worked multiplied by their hourly rate), most will charge a minimum price for anything that takes less than an hour to complete, and others charge a flat rate per piece. In most tattoo studios, McDougall’s included, the minimum cost is around $100, meaning that at the very least, even the tiniest spine design will cost this much. But minimums vary based on studio, just as hourly rates vary depending on artist.
McDougall has an hourly rate of $150. In contrast, Toronto’s Jess Chen charges per piece and has a $200 minimum. Sang Bleu London (UK) charges a minimum of £100—about $130 in the US, while Sam Doyle, a Chicago-based tattooer working out of Ash & Ivory studio has a $200 minimum and charges $200 dollars hourly. And, New York’s infamous Bang Bang studio, charges a minimum of $500.
There are several reasons for the pricing variation between artists and studios. Prices are based on rental prices and the cost of living in the area, supply costs, and artist experience. The more experienced and sought-after the artist, the more expensive they are to work with. But many artists are cognizant of the fact that their prices can be out of reach for potential clients, so some offer sliding-scale costs for certain groups of people; typically marginalized groups including people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and low-income individuals.
Factor a tip into your budget
Although tipping your tattoo artist isn’t mandatory, it is highly recommended in most scenarios. Tipping norms for tattoo artists vary from country to country, but it’s customary to add an extra 20% to 30% to the final cost of your design. So, as you’re budgeting for your new spine tattoo, keep this additional cost in mind.
If you liked our post, “How Much Does a Spine Tattoo Cost?”, check out How Much Does a Back Tattoo Cost?