There’s an old saying- “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good.” – Let’s talk about why.
Once the decision has been made to get a tattoo, the next thing people generally want to know is- “How much will it cost?” Though typical, it is my contention that there are far more important questions needing answered first that should guide the next steps of those seeking their first (or next) tattoo. Quite often it is what one PAYS for a tattoo, (rather than what it might COST them in the long run), which can most easily send the gullible down dark alleys and into the back-room dangers of illegal, unlicensed, and untrained “kitchen magicians”, (better known as “scratchers”). (Hear them howl!)
People are sucked into this delusion/illusion of (e)quality by the misguided BELIEF that they can obtain some the MYTHICAL ‘deal’ by going to a non-professional, (*in GENERAL, a non-professional is one willing to do tattoos OUTSIDE of a shop. Period. Even if they ‘work at one’, or ‘used to’, or ‘are going to, one day’, etc- they are conducting themselves in a non-professional way, ALREADY, and it is at your risk; so it becomes very easy to imagine ALL THE OTHER health and safety guidelines they’ll choose to ignore, on your behalf.
**NOTE- it’s NEVER too late to WAKE UP and start making better decisions– ‘Artists’ and customers! Trust me, we ALL do, eventually, no matter where we start from. So relax and join the club.) Yet, this “deal” they’re seeking, in a certain sense, (financial), is absolutely true; no doubt about it, a non-professional job is generally cheaper than a professional one, whether we’re talking about carpentry, dentistry or haircuts. But cheaper is not better. And you each deserve to have GOOD TATTOOS. In this day and age, with so many young, talented artists and seasoned pros to choose from, there’s NO reason not to get a good tattoo! From the perspective of pros and experienced tattoo collectors, alike, the utter tragedy of it all is that these people (our family, friends and neighbors) are choosing to put themselves in danger, first of all, and then, adding insult to their own injury, the also even expect to obtain the same level of quality & experience as available at a reputable shop. And the pricing may not even really be all that different between an average tattoo and a superb one. You’re worth it- Safety and quality are what counts MOST in the real world of tattooing.
THE STATE OF THINGS:
It IS a reality that tattoos are sometimes considered to be ‘expensive’ by newbie tattoo enthusiasts, and to anyone, really, who isn’t ‘in the know’, (experienced enough to truly KNOW something of actual relevance). Let’s pause for just a minute to consider- WHY? In the age of mass-produced gadgets, gear and clothing assembled in third world countries for pennies on the dollar, I guess it’s understandable as to why this misconception abounds. People want more and pay less. Well, I submit that art, (and, specifically, tattoos) cannot be outsourced. This is a one on one sort of job. Whether people understand it or not, tattooing is a craft, and crafts require craftsmen/women. The authentic men and women of tattooing are trained, professional service providers; there are no shortcuts to professionalism. Tattooing (on this professional level) cannot be done well without training, practice, eventual expertise, and the earned merits of licensing, safety and accountability. And shops provide this, (if they don’t, go to a BETTER shop!), NOT hacks. (They will protest all this, of course, even though it’s all for your safety, and their accountability.)
It’s rather laughable, actually, to think this way, and a great many tattooers believe anyone who chooses this path deserves what they get. I tend to disagree, (if only on a few minor points), because I feel it is we, tattooers, who have been failing to educate people on these important topics as well as we could/should have been doing whilst television shows, Facebook and YouTube quietly took the reigns of tattooing from our feeble hands. Our community is somewhat busted, you see, but it is in light of the near-constant bombardment of miss-information beaming at millions from across the internet and social media alone, that I’ve come to the personal conclusion that it’s often not really (SOME) peoples’ fault that they are vulnerable enough to be taken in by con-men/women playing the part of a tattoo artist.
The majority simply don’t know any better. Hell, just look at the work quality they see 90% of the ‘professional level’ tattooers/contestants appearing weekly on any number of tattoo-themed, (non)-reality television shows. This is what people THINK is indicative of professional tattooing. Without our guidance, (those professionals who KNOW), how can they possibly know any different? We shouldn’t be so baffled by (or dismissive of) good people who might make bad decisions, simply by being ignorant of the things WE’VE spent a life-time learning. (Yes, you too!) In my opinion, (and that’s all it is), if we aren’t actively engaged in educating others, (on at least on the same scale as we are advertising ourselves on social media), then we aren’t doing our part to protect the public, tattooing, or its future. So, yeah- for me (and others) it starts with us, with education, and with taking the time to point out that…
…the really important question people should be asking isn’t, “How cheap can I get my tattoo”, but, instead, “Where am I most guaranteed to obtain the highest degree of QUALITY and SAFETY?”
THE PRICE OF SAFETY:
Let’s start this discussion on prices right here, ASSUMING one has already decided that the professional route is the ONLY ROUTE worth taking. *HERE’S SOME INSIDER INFO- shhhhhhhhh– Obviously, it’s likely that there are lots of expenses taken on by licensed tattoo studios and their artists which the ill-informed rarely consider– the majority of expenses are being taken on for YOU, the customer/client, in order to ensure your safety. They do this FIRST by simply meeting the local city, county and state operating requirements- taking legal responsibility for their actions, obtaining the proper permits, insurance, inoculations, blood-borne pathogen training, regulated health inspections and fees, assorted testings, annual CPR training, etc, etc, etc. THIS IS THE BARE MINIMUM anyone should REQUIRE from another human being opening up their skin and working with/around your blood. The risks are NO JOKE.
This information, though commonly known by professionals, may help rational newcomers understand WHY most professional studios have a “shop minimum” set for even the smallest of tattoo marks. This minimum can often range anywhere from $50-100 or more, depending on the artist, the shop &/or the location. This minimum fee also has to cover the basic set-up costs of materials, gloves, barrier film, germicides, sterilizing units & processes, disposables, bandaging, janitorial and receptionist expenses, any administrative fees, and, (yuk yuk, last but not least), the artist giving you their time, attention and service. Get it? The artist (even if he OWNS the joint) isn’t getting but a fraction of what is paid, because, in order to ensure everyone’s safety, they earn less than some guy working in a hotel room for $25 names). The shop minimum is their guarantee to keep you safe and their people paid. It’s also only for small, one-shot tattoos, such as a small star or average cursive name on the arm.
On average, small to medium sized tattoos, (even off-the-wall designs), generally carry a price tag of one to several hundred dollars, with equally sized custom tattoos able to go up to a grand or more, all depending on size, detail, location, and the amount of time involved. That’s what it REALLY boils down to. Want a big tattoo, with lots of details? It’s going to take more time to accomplish than a smaller or simpler design. Basic stuff. But what if you want some bigger tattoos? Once we get into what is considered ‘large scale’ work, (such as full sleeves, chests, backs, leg-sleeves, or even full body suits; – which should really only be done by experienced and respected professionals in the upper echelon of working tattooists, else one risks a huge amount of potential regret), this type of work can easily escalate into tens of thousands of dollars before completion, (no foolin’!), not to mention the years of dedicated time for both artist and client on a monthly or even bi-monthly basis, for regular sessions.
(*Fun Fact: Some of the most sought after artists in the world have waiting lists of hundreds or even thousands of eager tattoo collectors wanting his/her work on their bodies…and they may wait for years. **It is not abnormal for some of the very best artists to require a contract (of both time and money) before deciding to take on clients for large, 10-session tattoos or more. Each enters into a binding agreement to demonstrate their commitment to completing the tattoo project, and terms and expectations are agreed upon. This is simply because the artist cannot afford to waste their (in-demand) time on clients who will not finish their co-created masterpieces, once started. Who can blame them? When an artist has 300 people or more just waiting to get work, and each one will require a commitment of dozens or hundreds of hours of their time and diligent efforts, it is wise to choose carefully whom you will spend that time with.)
JUST THE BASICS:
The expense of a tattoo is one of the most usual concerns for individuals prior to getting a tattoo. Although they can be relatively pricey, they are still within your reach. GOOD TATTOOS may not be CHEAP, but they ARE AFFORDABLE! The majority of people who realize this understand they are getting a tattoo, it is worth something, and they will save their money up in order to get what they REALLY WANT. When it comes to your body art, there’s nothing worse than being forced to live with a tattoo you regret: (know, except scarring, infection, disease, mutilation, etc). Even though you may have an average job in the world, and not make a great deal of money, a tattoo can still be well within your reach if you conserve your expenditures and save up for a couple of months. (Hint, hint: *This way, you’ll have money to spare for a TIP, when you finally get the tattoo you have been saving up for.)