You’ve spent hours on Instagram, gone down rabbit holes on Pinterest, and asked around for advice on where to get the best tattoo and how to make your vision a reality. Everyone has an opinion, or seven, and the fact of the matter is that you have no idea what to set aside financially for the piece.

Will it be a few thousand dollars? Should you get that $13 tattoo the next Friday the 13th? Can you save a few bucks by going to the questionable-looking shop on the corner? Should you just let that friend of your friend give it a whirl?

The Value of a Quality Tattoo

Tattoo art is an investment in lifelong expression. Cut a few corners now and you’ll surely be disappointed with the finished product in a few years or even days. As with much in life, you can always save a few pennies by checking out other providers. The better question to ask yourself is whether you should.

You should be proud of your finished piece. It should be the outward expression of your personal desires, collaboration with a talented artist, and something meaningful and symbolic to you for whatever reasons you’ve intended. All to say, it’s vital you understand some of the factors that go into a tattoo price so you not only ensure you don’t pay for garbage but also so you don’t pay a fortune for it when it’s all said and done.

Tattooing As a Craft

When you pay for a quality tattoo, you’re paying for years and years of mentorship, research, and practice. Some states even require licensing fees for artists to practice so your fees may be helping to offset an artist’s cost to practice. Depending on the person doing your piece, they might also be in the midst of a rotating journey, tattooing in new places and spaces to expand their creativity and perfect their craft. Not to mention, many artists come from art school backgrounds and even degrees.

Rates may vary based on seniority, the intricacy of your piece, the demand of the season, your availability, and more. Sure, some artists may offer discounts here and there to select individuals, but a sound artist knows the value they provide clients in their ability to translate art into effective personal expression.

The Cost of Tattoo Materials

From tattoo machines and ink to needles, sanitation, and more, a tattoo requires special resources and materials to come to fruition. Like a painter with personal preferences on brushes and canvases, tattoo artists develop an affinity for particular tools to achieve desired end products. Your style and preference will undoubtedly inform how an artist approaches your piece and the elements they need to make it happen.

Toss into the mix the cost of running a shop (rent, hard materials, tablets, utilities), and owners have to make rate decisions, too. It is a business after all. They not only have to make sure they provide top artists but ultimately maintain an environment where the best people and pieces thrive.

Tattoo Consultation and Staging

Sure, people have fun stories of dropping into a shop late at night for a $13 banger on Friday the 13th. There will always be a place for spontaneity and flash art in the world of tattooing, but larger, more-detailed pieces demand a relationship and consultation from an experienced professional.

Here’s what your experience may look like in a nutshell:

1) Brainstorming consultation with a few artists
2) Portfolio reviews and selection
3) Drafting of your piece and revisions
4) Color selection and sizing considerations
5) First session: line work, and healing
6) Second session: shading, and healing

You begin to realize that the few hours in the chair are only a piece of the pie. Rates have to take into consideration the amount of planning, preparation, and professionalism that goes on behind the scenes. Oh, and all those paper towels, sketchbooks, and everything between doesn’t come free.

Cover Up Tattoos, Legacy Pieces, and More

A fresh slate is one thing, but building upon an existing tattoo piece requires some serious skill. Whether your artist is building upon a theme you’ve discussed on prior projects or you’ve tasked them with salvaging someone else’s work that you’re no longer proud to show off, complicated pieces may involve different pay scales.

Tattoo Technology

From computer programs to tattoo machines and more, the state of tattooing is always advancing. Take for instance the shift some artists have made from paper sketches to tablet previews and editing software. While the investment in this technology may afford more nimble edits and presentations for customers, there is still a costly barrier to entry. Your streamlined experience may come at a heavy price for tattoo artists and shops.

Comfort Level, Convenience, and Complexity

Perhaps the most subjective factor of all, the nature of your desired tattoo may come with price implications. If your vision is totally in an artist’s wheelhouse, you may find you receive a very competitive price. If your vision is extremely complex, progressive, or outside an artist’s typical comfort zone, you may discover that rates are a bit higher.

It’s important you try to empathize with this reality. Sometimes you have to pay a little more out of pocket to get the look you really want. And, ultimately, it’ll always be your decision whether or not you move forward.

Tattoo Markets and Competition

Competition in the tattoo field has always been fierce. There have always been shops and individuals willing to bend on pricing or shoot far above the going norms. In such a competitive market, and in some tattoo meccas, the price of services may vary due to market factors like the number of shops in a region, a collective level of talent, and more.

How to Pay for the Best Tattoo

While we can’t tell you how to make the money for your piece, there are a few tips and tricks for affording your dream piece.

  1. Do your homework on shops, rates, styles, and ideal artists
  2. Ask for estimates on the number of sessions and hours it might take
  3. Save for your down payment to ensure the piece gets off the launch pad
  4. Don’t ask for a discount unless something’s clearly advertised
  5. Do save a bit more than the lump sum total estimate in case there are any unforeseen changes in the tattoo process
  6. Ask if there are any cancellation or rescheduling fees before altering your dates
  7. Do consider tipping your talented artist if they’ve done a tremendous job – this doesn’t have to be cash.
  8. $tart saving for your next piece 🙂