Just like any industry, tattooing has its own etiquette about everything from getting inked while intoxicated to bringing friends to an appointment. Tipping is a major part of tattoo etiquette, but it also has a number of guidelines that can sometimes make tipping seem confusing or unnecessary. And while tipping isn’t fully mandatory, it is necessary—especially if you want to build solid bonds with your artists.
While exactly how much to tip is up for debate and fairly dependant on your tattoo design and experience, it still plays a significant role in the ink experience. Almost all service-based careers have tipping as a component, and it’s generally the same for tattoos.
Meet the Expert
Why You Should Tip Your Tattoo Artist
“Tattooing is a service, and just like any other service industry, clients should consider tipping their tattoo artists,” said Tyson Weed, owner and tattoo artist at Sentient Tattoo Collective in Tempe, AZ. “Many people don't know how much time and effort goes into creating a tattoo.
That’s especially true if you’re getting a custom design, says Weed. He notes that, between consultations with clients and the actual appointment, a lot of work goes into the artist process. Artists will spend several hours drawing, designing, choosing colors if applicable, looking for reference photos, laying out the design, and sometimes doing it all again. Plus, most artists are responsible for a lot of finances behind the scenes, like buying their own supplies or paying rent to their shop, which can add up fast.
While tips are always appreciated and encouraged by tattoo artists, Michaelle Fiore of Beaver Tattoo in Queens, NY says that they’re not something that artists expect. It’s more of a way to let your artists know you love your tattoo and value their hard work. Not tipping is an option, but realize that it will probably leave a sour taste in your artist’s mouth. At the very least, it won’t help you build a solid bond with them.
“A tip is a courtesy that shows the tattoo artist that you appreciate the time, effort, and expertise they put into your tattoo,” said Fiore
How Much to Tip
If you decide to tip, the next step is to calculate exactly how much to add to the final tattoo price. The general consensus in the tattoo community is that 20 percent is the typical amount to tip — just like at a restaurant or a hair salon. However, consider this number a baseline, as some tattoos require more or less work than others. Just like there is no one tattoo experience or price, there’s no one-size-fits-all tipping option.
“The more you spend on the tattoo, the more you should tip, as they are putting more work into the piece,” said Fiore.
Weed, however, notes that there is one thing that every tattoo experience needs to have to warrant a tip: It needs to be great. Your artist is putting time into the behind-the-scenes of your tattoo, but it’s also their responsibility to ensure you’re comfortable and having a good time while it’s happening.
“A great experience doesn't just mean that you love your new tattoo,” said Weed. “Your artist should listen to you, make you feel comfortable, explain tattoo aftercare, and ensure a sterile environment.”
What If You Don't Like Your Tattoo?
Finding yourself in a bad tattoo experience is never fun, but Weed suggests talking to your artist to give them a chance to correct it; no one wants to leave the studio upset. If you can’t talk through it or it just doesn’t get better, then you can skip the tip. However, a bad tattoo experience is pretty much the only reason to not tip your artist, so really make sure you and your artist have communicated as much as possible before forgoing the extra finances.
“If your artist is taking the time to create a completely custom design for you, is putting in multiple sessions to execute the design successfully, has excellent bedside manner, is walking you through what makes for a good tattoo with your vision in consideration, and is openly answering any questions regarding safety or cleanliness, those are all things that would warrant a tip,” said Fiore. “If they are tattooing a pre-drawn design and you’ve had a pleasant experience, that warrants a tip as well.”
Being on a budget but wanting to give your artist something may be a situation you find yourself in, and Fiore suggests considering gifting something to your artist in that situation. This is a bit out of the norm, though, so check-in with your artist pre-appointment to see if a gift would be an acceptable tip. However, because many artists only accept monetary tips, it’s not suggested to even consider getting a tattoo if you can’t afford the tip.
“If you were going out to dinner at a sit-down restaurant, would you not tip your server because you were on a budget?” asked Weed. “Probably not.”
How to Show Appreciation to Your Tattoo Artist (in Addition to Tipping)
On top of any monetary tips, tattoo artists also appreciate the tip of a social media shoutout and a good, five-star review, says Weed. If you enjoyed your experience, let the world know! That’s how people not only figure out if an artist is good or not, but it also boosts their names on search engines. In turn, this gives them a lot more exposure.
Tipping may not be mandatory, but it’s a way to show that you appreciate all of the hard work and effort—physical and monetary—that your artist put into your new tattoo. Remember: A Tip isn’t about you, it’s about the artist. If your artist made your tattoo experience good, great, or amazing, a tip is a sincere way to show your gratitude. Plus, it helps their business out in the long-run. “When you show your artist you’re grateful for their work, it helps them create and share more artwork with the world—which, at the end of the day, is what it’s all really about!” said Fiore. The best rule of thumb you can follow is to tip at least 20 percent of the total cost of your service, and tip even more for custom, intricate designs. It's the human thing to do.