How Much To Tip Your Tattoo Artist – Tipping 101 Guide
Tattoo tipping rates in the United States can start as low as 10%, however 15-20% is considered the ideal amount for top quality work and professional service.
There’re a lot of things in life you’ll give friendly tips for. The ride share driver who takes you and your heavy luggage to the airport, or for the experiences you have at restaurants, bars, hotels and for countless other services.
However, when it comes to tattoos, most newcomers – or those from cultures unaccustomed to tipping – aren’t really sure what a fair tip is. It can be hard to figure out what’s an accurate total, or over and above service for experiencing new ink.
This guide will deal with scenarios relating to tipping and pricing in the US and abroad, while also addressing questions that you may have around tipping etiquette and expectations.
Tattoo Tipping Rates
An excellent tip for tattoo work is anywhere from 20-25% of the total price of the piece.
If your tattoo artist charges $150 hour and you spend five hours in the chair, it puts you at $750. A very generous tip for this piece would be $150 to $200.
On bigger and more time consuming pieces with prices over $2,000 for example, you could be looking at a $400 to $600 tip when all said and done at this rate. For some clients that’s a bit too high, which is understandable. Often, with high price tags you can go down to 10-15% with no hard feelings or the tip can even be ‘baked in’ as part of your pricing.
At the opposite end of the scale, let’s say your tattoo is only $200, you might want to consider tipping at least 25%. In this case, it’s a fair $50 tip.
Also, if you’re the type get hyped for a Halloween or Friday the 13th flash day sale, and are lucky enough to get a cheeky $13 piece, it’s customary to take it up to $20. This tip is known as the lucky seven, and is never frowned upon by artists that are bashing out hundreds of pieces on a day when they would probably rather be partying.
My tipping experiences in the US
I’m an Australian. We lack the tipping culture found across the service industry of the USA. I spent a lot of time figuring this kind of stuff out before making my first foray over to the States for vacation and tattoo work.
I didn’t want to be seen as cheap or wasteful (the Aussie $$$ can be rough), but I wanted to clearly understand the kinds of costs and benefits involved for the artists and service providers I got to chill with on all levels of my US experience.
The US was a lot more transparent with pricing than other places where I’ve gotten work done so I usually factored an extra 20 percent on top of most of my work. It was a simple and effective way to handle the whole thing without hassles, and I never felt at any stage like I wasn’t tipping for a job well done.
One time I got inked literally hours before I flew home from Hawaii (think Forgetting Sarah Marshall without the puppets and crying) and my design was a lot more difficult than first thought. The artist went above and beyond to do the tattoo justice without having me miss my flight. He was worth the extra Benjamin Franklin on top of the 20% for that alone.
Tattoo tipping abroad
In Australia, the UK, and some parts of Europe tipping isn’t expected. I guarantee that it’s always welcome, and may lead to better opportunities for juicy time slots or deeper collaboration when you want more ink down the road.
In other countries pricing and tipping is murkier – things can get out of hand pretty quickly if you haven’t got a good idea of local tattoos value, etiquette, health and safety.
For example in Thailand my price started at ‘the foreigners price’ for a medium sized black and gray piece done freehand. It was the most expensive piece I received from my artist Long – with whom I ended up spending 50 hours, give or take.
His pricing came down considerably as I came back more often. I got my whole chest done and linked with my arms sleeves, and got a 16 hour black and gray octopus side tattoo on either side of New Years Eve.
He told me I was good for business and earned his ‘friend’s price,’ a scenario which also happened in Argentina when I racked up four tattoos in five days during a hectic week of bad weather.
Even in body art, building great relationships is awesome! I felt that paying the price was acceptable for the work I received and allowed me to get better terms as I got more work done as a repeat client.
Why tip if you don’t have to?
Tipping is not a requirement, although acting like a respectable and respectful human is.
You can get inked up and walk right out of the shop without leaving a tip behind if you feel inclined to do so. Sure, you’ll earn a few dirty looks and likely won’t be as popular on a return trip, but you’re certainly within your rights.
It all comes down to value. How much you value the artist, their art, your tattoo, and the time taken to bring it to life, and how they treated you when doing so.
You should know that most tattoo artists won’t be expecting a tip each and every time from their clients. It’s just not the way the world works.
In reality, countless people end up tipping anywhere from $5 to $20; in contrast to 20-30%, it’s not much at all. Yet, many people still do it regardless.
Just remember to tip what you can, when appropriate, and that being cheap can be worse than not tipping – it’s a way of saying that you don’t appreciate your artist’s skills, time, or commitment.
Think of your artist’s contribution to your body art
- The tattoo shop is going to take a cut out of it just for having them sit there and work. There’s electricity, lighting, shop space, the chairs, light boxes for drawings etc…
- Preparation. There’s a lot of time spent working on your tattoo that you don’t always see – stencils, drawings, alterations, research. It adds up quickly and should factor in, especially hectically dreamed up custom work
- Equipment. Artists often use two machines – one for linework, one for shading – and some can use three or four rigs on a big job. Plus there’s needles, ink, sterilization equipment, stencils, aftercare, not to mention the waste left after jobs are completed
- Tattoo artists are often independent contractors, so things like insurance, leave, licensing etc… is on them. Every tattoo they etch has to have a component of those costs in there.
So, when you think about tips, you might realize how large of an impact they have on helping to make your tattoo artist’s paycheck go further. It’s not all rock and roll and reality shows, there’s mortgages to pay and kids to send to school.
How to tip when you’re on a budget
If you’re looking at doing a large piece of many sessions, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to space out your tipping per each session.
Let’s say your new tattoo is $5,000 and your budget is literally maxed out. To conserve your finances just tip 20% (Or however, much you feel is necessary) after every session in the chair you take, and make sure to space them out as you go.
Doing it this way ensures you’ll always get the utmost care and skill on a large tattoo project from your artist and the shop without over extending the money you’ve put aside to invest in your art work.
When to tip and when not to tip
Remember, tipping is not mandatory at all, you can decline for any reason. Now, I know a lot of people today talk about it like it’s something you must always do, however, that’s just not the case.
If you receive poor service, a lack of kindness and consideration, or are unhappy with the professional elements of your tattoo then you have every right to withhold a tip.
Tipping is a direct reflection of the service you received! It is a representation of your appreciation for not only your artists time but also their work and care during the job.
You should only tip when you feel as if your artist has either met all your expectations or gone above and beyond. There are a considerable amount of artists who can be rude or simply do a botch job with your new ink.
Overcharging and repeat clients
It’s not uncommon to hear about someone getting their first tattoo and being considerably overcharged for it. Sometimes it happens, it really just depends on what shop you go to on the level of time you’ve taken to gain insight into potential time frames and pricing.
Remember, though, it’s not often the case, especially in the US. If you’re aware, you’ll know the value of the artist’s pricing.
Just like airlines, travel agents, and hotels, tattoo artists love repeat business, More than often, as a repeat customer the price lowers along with each new piece too, and that will definitely be the case for good tippers.
Being a good tipper also helps regarding things such as scheduling issues and changes, call ups at openings, party invites, and even pricing deposits for future work.
It’s true cash is king, however in other circumstances you can give gifts instead too. If you know what things your artist is into, or even if they just love to draw or eat (everyone tends to love cookies), then giving your artist a personal gift is always a good way to go if you’re light on cash.
It’s Up to You
Ultimately, the decision to tip or not is up to you and no one else. It is your responsibility. Try to do the right thing and be comfortable with the decision you make each time it’s a consideration.