Anj Marth is a really cool tattooer and fantastic blogger. She’s been tattooing since the 90s, and works at High Priestess and Laughing Buddha in America, as well as a billion other things like photography, writing books, and graphic design. Her website is a total time-pit, as you’ll spend ages looking through everything there (and maybe feeling a teensy bit jealous, and guilty for not updating your own blog as much).
One of her posts on there, though, was shared by a few friends of mine lately because it takes one of the most boring common questions people have about tattooers, and completely hits the nail on the head. It looks at whether tattooers are rich, and if they actually keep the full price you’re giving them for a tattoo.
When you look at tattooers’ Facebook or Twitter pages, and you see that they’re unhappy with people expecting cheap tattoos or not showing up for appointments, you can see why they’re annoyed when you consider how much it all costs them. I’ve been asked myself a few times whether tattooers make a lot of money, and the answer is normally ‘no’. I’m not going to pretend they’re all on the poverty line, but they’re mostly not rich either. With experience comes a decent amount of money, but there are few who would describe themselves as wealthy. This is because of everything that goes into your tattoo that you don’t see. Anj puts it really well when she explains it all:
A contractor usually is paid a straight percentage of the cost of each tattoo. Of course, raises come along with experience and repeat clientele. A contractor usually pays for all their own equipment and handles their own schedule, so they spend more money of their own on the job. They pay for all their own medical insurance and don’t have any unemployment coverage or workmen’s comp; they end up doing taxes and paying four times a year, and often have to pay for their own business license and such. Most tattoo artists are independent contractors.
An employee, on the other hand, has less overhead. While contractors usually provide all, or nearly all, of their own equipment, employees are often spared this cost. They are usually paid a lower percentage; sometimes, they also must pay into the same things any other employee would- insurance, taxes, and IRAs included. I’ve seen employees whose take-home is 40% of a tattoo.
A sole artist or shop owner is in the most profitable position, since they can reduce their overhead in various ways and keep all remaining profit. Anything they do pay out is going back into their own business, that they OWN, so they’re investing back into themselves. However this profit comes with a lot of extra work- owning a shop is three times the work, but only twice the pay.
You can read the whole post here, where Anj goes on to explain that you can earn good money tattooing after a hell of a lot experience, and that the job satisfaction she gets is often better than the amount of money made. It’s a really interesting read, and is something that’s worth keeping in your bookmarks for whenever someone expects a cheap tattoo or assume that tattooers have a load of money they’re willing to part with.