Tattoo artist

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Tattoo artist working at the Florence Tattoo Convention, 2010 Florence Tattoo Convention (5158061891).jpg
Tattoo artist working at the Florence Tattoo Convention, 2010

A tattoo artist (also tattooer or tattooist) is an individual who applies permanent decorative tattoos, often in an established business called a "tattoo shop", "tattoo studio" or "tattoo parlour". Tattoo artists usually learn their craft via an apprenticeship under a trained and experienced mentor.



A tattoo artist traditionally earns the title by completing an apprenticeship under the strict guidelines of an experienced senior tattoo artist. A tribal tattoo apprenticeship can last as long as five years. [1] The apprentice will be trained in sanitation and proper safety techniques, typically during the first six months to a year of the apprenticeship. During this time, the apprentice is not allowed to tattoo, but will be expected to maintain the cleanliness of the studio and learn by observation. [2] The cost of apprenticing can range from free labor around the shop to tens of thousands of dollars. [3] Apprentices are generally expected to be excellent at drawing, with an ability to excel at customizing design ideas and genres, as well as various other styles of art in general. [4]


Tattoo artists can create original tattoo designs for their customers, or they may use flash (pre-drawn, stock images) or variations of known designs.


"Rollomatic" tattoo machine used for lining 'Rollomatic' liner.JPG
"Rollomatic" tattoo machine used for lining

Some of the tools of the trade have greatly evolved while some have stayed the same, such as the tattoo machine. The traditional machine has not changed from its original design and/or concept. With the rise of new machine designs, however, both air- and electric-powered tools such as the rotary and pneumatic tattoo machine have made their way into the industry. [5] A practitioner may also use many different needle sets, such as round liner needles, round shader needles, flat shaders, and magnum (mag) needles. The number of needles attached to the needle bar change, as well. For instance, magnum needle groups range from 5 to 55 needles on one bar. A practitioner must have the basic tools to provide a tattoo. All other items at the artist's disposal are as different as each tattoo. Basic tools include the tattoo machine, power supply, clip cord, foot pedal, grip, tips, grip stem, needles, and tattoo ink. In the UK equipment must only be sold to registered studios who are provided a certificate by their local environmental health department.

Tattoo studio

Policies and regulations

Tattoo studio in Huckeswagen, Germany Huckeswagen - Marktstrasse 09 ies.jpg
Tattoo studio in Hückeswagen, Germany
Tattoo studio in Oulu, Finland Tattoo Studio Oulu 20091129.JPG
Tattoo studio in Oulu, Finland

The properly equipped tattoo studio will use biohazard containers for objects that have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids, sharps containers for old needles, and an autoclave for sterilizing tools. Certain jurisdictions also require studios by law to have a sink in the work area supplied with both hot and cold water.

Proper hygiene requires a body modification artist to wash his or her hands before starting to prepare a client for the stencil, between clients, after a tattoo has been completed, and at any other time where cross contamination can occur. The use of single use disposable gloves is also mandatory. In some countries and U.S. states it is illegal to tattoo a minor even with parental consent, and it is usually not allowed to tattoo impaired persons (e.g. someone intoxicated or under the influence of drugs), people with contraindicated skin conditions, those who are pregnant or nursing, or those incapable of consent due to mental incapacity. Before the tattooing begins the client is asked to approve the position of the applied stencil. After approval is given the artist will open new, sterile needle packages in front of the client, and always use new, sterile or sterile disposable instruments and supplies, and fresh ink for each session (loaded into disposable ink caps which are discarded after each client). Also, all areas which may be touched with contaminated gloves will be wrapped in clear plastic to prevent cross-contamination. Equipment that cannot be autoclaved (such as countertops, machines, and furniture) will be cleaned with a low level disinfectant and then wiped with an approved high level disinfectant.

The local health department can/will do a hands on inspection of tattoo studios every 4 months in the state of Tennessee. The venue will be graded based on the areas being inspected. If the studio passes an inspection, the health department will sign off on a passing scorecard and the studio will be required to show their score publicly. If the studio fails an inspection, they will be given the opportunity to correct the mistakes (if minor) or be fined (major health risks) and can also be placed out of business on the spot.

Also, the possession of a working autoclave is mandatory in most states. An autoclave is a medical sterilization device used to sterilize stainless steel. The autoclave itself will be inspected by the health department and required to submit weekly spore tests. However if these jurisdictions are up to date, they will not require an autoclave if the practitioners are using 100% disposable tubes and grips which are made of plastic and some grips are made of rubber. These come pre-sterilized for one time use.

Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, generally helps artists to be aware of the latest trends. However, many of the most notable tattooists do not belong to any association. While specific requirements to become a tattooist vary between jurisdictions, many mandate only formal training in blood-borne pathogens, and cross contamination. The local department of health regulates tattoo studios in many jurisdictions. For example, according to the health departments in Oregon and Hawaii, tattoo artists in these states are required to take and pass a test ascertaining their knowledge of health and safety precautions, as well as the current state regulations. Performing a tattoo in Oregon state without a proper and current license or in an unlicensed facility is considered a felony offense. [6]

Even though the practice of tattooing dates back thousands of years, [7] in the 90s there was a social stigma around tattooing and their practitioners. [8] Many tattoo artists as well as people that had tattoos were perceived as social outsiders.

In recent years media coverage on [TV] and [social media] have transformed how modern society feels about tattooing and tattoo artists. Reality TV shows such as Ink Master, Miami Ink and LA Ink created a "hype" around the subject of tattooing which ultimately educated the public on the art of tattooing in detail. These events did not only make tattoos socially acceptable but created a "trend" and "catapulted" tattoos into popular culture. Nowadays, in the United States alone, more than a quarter of the population has at least one tattoo, in other countries that number reaches even higher. [9]

As the popularity of Reality TV shows grew, so did the idolization of the tattoo artists these shows featured. Artists like Kat von D and Ami James attained a celebrity status, which drove other media icons such as Rihanna and David Beckham to get tattooed by them. [10]

Tattoo artists also gained great popularity due to social media. Today, most tattoo artists display their art on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Many tattoo artists have gained thousands of followers, admirers, and clientele through these platforms. [11]


People who tattoo without proper training in the art of tattooing are commonly known as "scratchers". Scratchers often operate from home, but may also operate from an unlicensed studio. In addition, scratchers may offer reduced rates to attract customers away from professional tattoo shops. In the USA, practicing without a license is a criminal offense in many states. [12]

The practice of tattooing without proper training also carries serious health risks. Studies have shown that there is a significant risk of contracting Hepatitis C when tattoos are carried out using cheap, non-sterilized tattooing equipment. These risks are found to be higher on unregulated premises. [13]

In the UK, Plymouth City Council launched a campaign in 2014 to crack down on scratchers operating within the city "in an attempt to reduce infection and injury through better awareness and training around infection control". [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tattoo</span> Skin modification using ink to create designs

A tattoo is a form of body modification made by inserting tattoo ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design. Tattoo artists create these designs using several tattooing processes and techniques, including hand-tapped traditional tattoos and modern tattoo machines. The history of tattooing goes back to Neolithic times, practiced across the globe by many cultures, and the symbolism and impact of tattoos varies in different places and cultures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tattoo machine</span> Hand-held device used to create a tattoo

A tattoo machine is a hand-held device generally used to create a tattoo, a permanent marking of the skin with indelible ink. Modern tattoo machines use electromagnetic coils to move an armature bar up and down. Connected to the armature bar is a barred needle grouping that pushes ink into the skin. Tattoo artists generally use the term "machine", "pen", or even "iron", to refer to their equipment, and the word "gun" is also occasionally used. In addition to "coiled" tattoo machines, there are also rotary tattoo machines, which are powered by regulated motors rather than electromagnetic coils. "The basic machine is pretty much unchanged today, in recent years variations of the theme have crept into the market, namely Manfred Kohr’s Rotary machine of 1976 or Carson Hill’s pneumatic machine that uses compressed air rather than electricity, but the principle is essentially the same."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Autoclave</span> Temperature and pressure instrument

An autoclave is a machine used to carry out industrial and scientific processes requiring elevated temperature and pressure in relation to ambient pressure and/or temperature. Autoclaves are used before surgical procedures to perform sterilization and in the chemical industry to cure coatings and vulcanize rubber and for hydrothermal synthesis. Industrial autoclaves are used in industrial applications, especially in the manufacturing of composites.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scalpel</span> Sharp bladed instrument used for surgery

A scalpel, lancet, or bistoury is a small and extremely sharp bladed instrument used for surgery, anatomical dissection, podiatry and various arts and crafts. Scalpels may be single-use disposable or re-usable. Re-usable scalpels can have permanently attached blades that can be sharpened or, more commonly, removable single-use blades. Disposable scalpels usually have a plastic handle with an extensible blade and are used once, then the entire instrument is discarded. Scalpel blades are usually individually packed in sterile pouches but are also offered non-sterile. Double-edged scalpels are referred to as "lancets".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Play piercing</span>

Play piercing, needle play, or recreational acupuncture is body piercing done for the purpose of enjoying the experience rather than producing a permanent body decoration. Needles, sharpened bones, or other tools used in play piercing are removed from the body when the episode is complete, allowing the wounds to heal. Those who engage in play piercing may do so for self-expression, imitating tribal rituals, spiritual self-discovery, sexual pleasure, or entertainment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sterilization (microbiology)</span> Process that eliminates all biological agents on an object or in a volume

Sterilization refers to any process that removes, kills, or deactivates all forms of life and other biological agents such as prions present in or on a specific surface, object, or fluid. Sterilization can be achieved through various means, including heat, chemicals, irradiation, high pressure, and filtration. Sterilization is distinct from disinfection, sanitization, and pasteurization, in that those methods reduce rather than eliminate all forms of life and biological agents present. After sterilization, an object is referred to as being sterile or aseptic.

Irezumi is the Japanese word for tattoo, and is used in English to refer to a distinctive style of Japanese tattooing, though it is also used as a blanket term to describe a number of tattoo styles originating in Japan, including tattooing traditions from both the Ainu people and the Ryukyuan Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ear piercing instrument</span>

An ear piercing instrument is a device designed to pierce earlobes by driving a pointed starter earring through the lobe. Piercing guns may be reusable or disposable. Piercing guns are typically used in mall jewelry shops.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Permanent makeup</span> Cosmetic technique

Permanent makeup is a cosmetic technique which employs tattoos as a means of producing designs that resemble makeup, such as eye-lining and other permanent enhancing colors to the skin of the face, lips, and eyelids. It is also used to produce artificial eyebrows, particularly in people who have lost them as a consequence of old age, disease, such as alopecia totalis, chemotherapy, or a genetic disturbance, and to disguise scars and hypopigmentation in the skin such as in vitiligo. It is also used to restore or enhance the breast's areola, such as after breast surgery.

Infection prevention and control is the discipline concerned with preventing healthcare-associated infections; a practical rather than academic sub-discipline of epidemiology. In Northern Europe, infection prevention and control is expanded from healthcare into a component in public health, known as "infection protection". It is an essential part of the infrastructure of health care. Infection control and hospital epidemiology are akin to public health practice, practiced within the confines of a particular health-care delivery system rather than directed at society as a whole.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sharps waste</span>

Sharps waste is a form of biomedical waste composed of used "sharps", which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. Sharps waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled. Common medical materials treated as sharps waste are hypodermic needles, disposable scalpels and blades, contaminated glass and certain plastics, and guidewires used in surgery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horiyoshi III</span> Japanese tattoo artist

Horiyoshi III is a horishi, specializing in Japanese traditional full-body tattoos, or "suits," called Irezumi or Horimono.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Guy Aitchison</span> American painter and tattoo artist

Guy Aitchison is an American tattoo artist and painter born in Michigan. Aitchison began painting album covers in 1985 and began tattooing in 1988. He has also released several books. He owns a studio called Hyper Space Studios with his wife, Michele Wortman, who is also a tattoo artist and painter. They were both on TLC's Tattoo Wars in 2007. He is the brother of former LA Ink TV personality, Hannah Aitchison. He was also a guest artist on LA Ink. He gave Rob Zombie his first tattoo in 1989 when he was 21.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peʻa</span> Traditional male tatau of Samoa

The Peʻa is the popular name of the traditional male tatau (tattoo) of Samoa, also known as the malofie. It covers the body from the middle of the back to the knees, and consists of heavy black lines, arrows, and dots.

A variety of health effects can result from tattooing -Because it requires breaking the skin barrier, tattooing carries inherent health risks, including infection and allergic reactions. Modern tattooists reduce such risks by following universal precautions, working with single-use disposable needles, and sterilising equipment after each use. Many jurisdictions require tattooists to undergo periodic bloodborne pathogen training, such as is provided through the Red Cross and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prison tattooing</span> Creation and display of tattoos in prison

Prison tattooing is the practice of creating and displaying tattoos in a prison environment. Present-day American and Russian prisoners may convey gang membership, code, or hidden meanings for origin or criminal deeds. Lack of proper equipment and sterile environments lead to health risks such as infection or disease from contaminated needles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Jane Haake</span> American tattoo artist

Mary Jane Haake born 1951) is an American tattoo artist and authority on medical tattooing and permanent makeup. She was instrumental in bringing topical anesthetics to the tattooing and body modification industries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Central sterile services department</span>

The central sterile services department (CSSD), also called sterile processing department (SPD), sterile processing, central supply department (CSD), or central supply, is an integrated place in hospitals and other health care facilities that performs sterilization and other actions on medical devices, equipment and consumables; for subsequent use by health workers in the operating theatre of the hospital and also for other aseptic procedures, e.g. catheterization, wound stitching and bandaging in a medical, surgical, maternity or paediatric ward.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Process of tattooing</span> Overview of the process or technique of tattooing

The process or technique of tattooing, creating a tattoo, involves the insertion of pigment into the skin's dermis. Traditionally, tattooing often involved rubbing pigment into cuts. Modern tattooing almost always requires the use of a tattoo machine and often procedures and accessories to reduce the risk to human health.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inoculation needle</span>

An inoculation needle is a laboratory equipment used in the field of microbiology to transfer and inoculate living microorganisms. It is one of the most commonly implicated biological laboratory tools and can be disposable or re-usable. A standard reusable inoculation needle is made from nichrome or platinum wire affixed to a metallic handle. A disposable inoculation needle is often made from plastic resin. The base of the needle is dulled, resulting in a blunted end.


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  2. Sapp, Jessica L.C. (Spring 2016). "Evaluation of Tattoo Artists' Perceptions of Tattoo Regulations in the United States". Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1410 via Digital Commons@Georgia Southern University.
  3. Sky, Adam. "Before You Ask Me For An Apprenticeship". Swallows&Daggers. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  4. Hudson, Karen L. (30 May 2019). "How To Become a Tattoo Artist". liveaboutdotcom. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  5. "Pneumatic Tattoo Machine". Tattoo Machine Advisor. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  6. Amazing Tattoos –
  7. "History of Tattoos: A Complete Timeline". AuthorityTattoo. 28 November 2019. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  8. Barron, Lee (26 October 2020). Tattoos and Popular Culture. Emerald Publishing Limited. ISBN   978-1-83909-218-3.
  9. "United States – number of tattoos 2019". Statista. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  10. Thobo-Carlsen, Mik; ContributorEntrepreneur; investor; Speaker, Public; passionate (27 October 2014). "How Tattoos Went From Subculture to Pop Culture". HuffPost. Retrieved 4 November 2020.{{cite web}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  11. Staff, Inked Mag. "Social Media Tips for Tattoo Artists". Tattoo Ideas, Artists and Models. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  12. ‘Scratchers:’ They’re illegal and they could be putting your health at risk –
  13. Transmission of Hepatitis C Virus Infection Through Tattooing and Piercing: A Critical Review –
  14. Tattoo ‘scratchers’ targeted in Plymouth raid –