When it comes to beauty and body art, a tattoo is about as permanent as you can get, so it stands to reason that you want to be as prepared as possible before taking your spot in the chair. If you've decided to take the plunge and get your first (or fifth) tattoo, you're not alone. In fact, studies have found that about 38 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo, with around 46 percent of all Americans having a tattoo.
If you're about to join in on the fun, you've probably done your fair share of research on the best parlor, artist, and design. But one other factor that is often overlooked in the tattoo planning process is cost. While the total cost can vary based on location on the body, geographic region, and the artist's level of expertise, there is a general threshold to expect to pay based on the type of tattoo you desire.
To help you avoid sticker shock when you show up for your appointment, and so you can best plan your tattoo to be within your budget—we spoke with New Jersey-based tattoo artist Nancy Rose McLaughlin and did a little digging of our own to learn just what you can expect to pay for your fresh ink. Ahead, Rose shares what how much tattoos cost, based on tattoo size, body placement, and the intricacy of the design.
Meet the Expert
Nancy Rose McLaughlin is a popular tattoo artist based at Hot Rod Inkin' in New Jersey. She specializes in floral and animal tattoos, including roses, lilies, birds, butterflies, and more.
Generally, all tattoo shops will begin at a minimum cost. This is to ensure the artist is compensated fairly for their time. So if you're looking for something super simple and tiny (like a heart outline) you can plan on spending, generally, $50-$200 (depending on where you live).
Though, McLaughlin explains, "It all really depends on the artist. The longer the artist has been tattooing and the more clientele they have, the more they can charge."
Most shops in the NYC metro area, she says, have a $150 minimum and it goes up from there. "The size, placement, the time it will take, and detail of the piece are all factors in pricing," she explains, adding, "some artists will give you a flat rate for the piece and some charge by the hour." It's important to ask these questions prior to making your appointment.
In her experience, McLaughlin says that full sleeves and full back pieces, or a full leg sleeve take the longest and are the most labor, time and cost-intensive. They are among the most expensive tattoos she's ever done, and she says, "They can take anywhere from two to three months to finish. One to two sessions to outline, and then another two to three sessions for shading and color, depending on the client's pain tolerance."
Each shop will have a minimum cost—McLaughlin's charges a floor of $60, though it's common for shops in larger metro areas to charge $150 or more as minimums. "Around that price, the tattoos are super simple black outlines like a heart, a star, or four-leaf clover," Mclaughlin explains.
Another financial factor? The deposit. Most popular parlors will require a deposit to hold your appointment, which is then applied towards the final cost. Now that you've gotten the basics, here are the general price ranges, broken down by area (keep in mind that you'll also need to tip your tattoo artist, anywhere from 15-30 percent of the total tattoo cost).
The Cost of Each Type of Tattoo
A full-sleeve tattoo is about as committed as you can get in terms of getting inked. It includes designs and color (if you prefer) and goes from wrist to shoulder, typically requiring multiple sessions and lots of patience. These can run you anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 for outline only, to upwards of $6,000 for full color, as it can take the artist over two full days, either in large chunks of time or multiple shorter sessions.
Similar in pricing to a full sleeve, this tattoo will typically cover your entire back, from the bottom of your neck to your waist. If you're looking for something complex, colorful and detailed it can cost you about $2,500-$5,000 for the outlining, and up to another $200 for filling in with color. All in all, you're looking at about 40-55 hours of work total, so be sure to keep that in mind when factoring costs.
To be a bit more budget-friendly, consider taking this slow and going piece by piece.
Half the length and more than half the price of a full sleeve, a forearm tat will run you anywhere from $250 to $1300 based on size, design, and color. As always, full color will find you on the higher side, with simple outlines or lettering on the lower side of the price range.
Depending on the design you're after, these will take anywhere from 6-10 hours of work, and can run $600-$2,000 depending on color, size, shading and of course the artist's level of expertise.
Considering a tattoo but not yet ready to commit to something large or colorful? Then a finger tattoo might be just what you're looking for. For a simple outline design, these can be as little as $50-$100. But if you want something with detail or perfectly sharp lines, you can expect to pay as much as $500. It really depends heavily upon the design, the artist, and where in the world you're getting your tattoo.
A standard size hip or thigh tattoo (about 1ft in length) will run you about $500 for outline only, or anywhere from $1,500-$2,000 for full color.
One of the more popular locations for a tattoo, a standard shoulder cap (think around the circular top of your shoulder) will begin around $800 or $850 and increase in cost from there.
A standard ankle tattoo will run you anywhere from $50-$250 depending on the details you're after.
If cosmetic tattoos are more your speed, those are of course an option too. For eyeliner, lip liner, or even freckles, these will generally cost between $500-$3,000 depending on the artist.
If you're looking to fully and fiercely commit to the world of tattoos, there's always the full body. From neck to toe, this can cost you a mere $100,000 or more. (Give or take a few thousand, that is.)
A subtle nod to tattoo artistry, something simple like a permanent wedding band, a tiny heart or cross, or another meaningful symbol will probably run you the shop's minimum, whether it be $50 or $150.
Regardless of the type of tattoo you're after, being prepared before you make your appointment, and certainly before you begin the actual process, can mean the difference between loving your new tat and buyers' remorse. Happy tattooing!