Are Tattoo Apprenticeships Paid?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 10, 2020
    Last Updated: January 3, 2021

Tattoo artists do not follow a traditional career path. Though you need to complete some classroom time to learn about the health aspects of the job, most of the training comes from hands-on work.

Whether you’re paid as a tattoo apprentice depends on where you undertake the apprenticeship, your level of skill, previous experience, licensing requirements and other factors that we’ll get into below.

In short, most tattoo apprenticeships are not paid, though there will always be some exceptions.

Most Tattoo Apprenticeships are Unpaid

In some fields, apprentices get paid while they complete their on-the-job training. That is usually not the case in the tattoo industry. Many professional tattoo artists who offer apprenticeship programs charge for their services.  

Apprenticeships usually take about a year to complete. In addition to receiving instruction and guidance from the pro tattoo artists under whom you work, you may perform other tasks, such as setting appointments, greeting customers and cleaning.

State laws may govern what you can do during your apprenticeship. In most states, you cannot assist with the actual tattooing process until you receive health and safety training to deal with blood-borne pathogens and infectious diseases. 

Will You Have to Pay Tuition?

Most tattoo studios charge tuition to apprentices. The cost can vary, though it could be as much as $10,000. Tuition pays the artist for the time they spend mentoring an apprentice, and it also serves to weed out people who aren’t serious about the career. If someone is investing that much money, they are undoubtedly serious about working in the industry. 

Is There Any Chance of Getting Paid as an Apprentice? 

If you are exceptionally talented, you may be able to get a mentor who does not charge for an apprenticeship. 

You can study college-level art or graphic design as a way to hone your skills and create a portfolio that you can use to show your abilities when seeking an apprenticeship. 

If a professional finds your work especially promising, they may agree to work as your mentor for free. Though such an apprenticeship is still typically unpaid, you may get a small wage for performing other tasks in the shop while you learn. Any wage is at the discretion of the shop and your mentor. 

If you do get a free apprenticeship, there may be other stipulations, such as working at the shop for a set period after obtaining your license. Even if you do have to pay for an apprenticeship, you may need to sign a contract that outlines specific requirements. 

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements vary widely from state to state. However, all require that you undergo classroom training and pass an exam related to health and safety. You take this step for the first time during your apprenticeship and you may need to repeat it to renew your license in the future. 

Many states also require that you get on-the-job training for a set number of hours before applying for a license. States charge a modest fee to process a license application.

Some tattoo studios arrange health and safety classes as part of the apprenticeships, while others may require that you sign up and pay tuition and fees separately. In some cases, you may need to complete health requirements before setting foot in the tattoo studio to start your apprenticeship. 

Are There Other Costs?

Aside from possible apprenticeship costs, licensing and training fees, and living expenses while you complete your unpaid year, you may need to invest in equipment eventually. Once you start working on tattooing, you will need your own tattoo guns and supplies, such as needles, ink, pens and personal protective equipment. 

It is helpful to weigh these costs alongside the other expenses when you undertake an apprenticeship.

How Do Tattoo Apprentices Make Money?

Though tattoo apprenticeships are not like attending a traditional college or technical school, they require a similar financial commitment. During your training, you may need to live with your parents or other family members, have a part-time job to pay your bills, or take out a loan to cover living costs. 

Once you finish your apprenticeship, you can expect to earn a living wage. Tattoo artist salaries vary widely from place to place, yet intermediate tattoo artists usually expect to earn between $30,000 and $60,000 per year. With this salary, you would eventually be able to pay off any debts associated with the apprenticeship. 


Are tattoo apprenticeships paid? Most are not, though there are some exceptions. Despite the non-traditional way you prepare for this career, you will have to invest time and money to become a professional tattoo artist, just as you would for most other occupations. 

If you are committed and skilled, however, the process and investment will be worthwhile.

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