Tattoo Prices: How Much Do They Cost?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: March 13, 2022

Questions surrounding tattoo prices can rarely be answered accurately by anybody besides a tattoo artist who knows exactly what you want for your new tattoo. Even then, it may still be impossible to give you an exact answer until your tattoo is completely finished.

However, we can definitely help to shed some light on the many factors involved in deciding how much money any particular tattoo is likely to cost. We can also help to explain why some tattoo prices add up to mere dollars, while others can end up costing many thousands.


Average Tattoo Cost

The average cost for a small tattoo like a flower or an anchor is $70 to $300. For a medium-sized tattoo like a portrait of an animal or person, expect to spend between $300 and $700. Choosing to get inked by an experienced and talented tattoo artist will likely cost you somewhere in the region of $110 to $180 per hour, and prices will largely depend on how long the tattoo takes to complete.

For a large custom piece, prices generally start at around $700 and can increase all the way up to $7000+ for a highly customized and detailed tattoo. These prices are usually reserved for full sleeve or back tattoos.

Tattoo Cost Factors

There are many reasons why two very similar-looking tattoos can be priced so differently from each other. A lot of the reasons are obvious, but there are also many obscure explanations as to why some tattoos are more expensive than others.

Below are some of the main factors involved in pricing up a tattoo.

Artist Skill & Experience

Tattoo artist skill levels vary incredibly from artist to artist. At one end of the scale, you’ll likely be getting ripped off if you’re charged any more than $20 by a friend who was bought their first tattoo kit for Christmas from eBay. Or by the guy dishing out tattoos on the sofa of a friend’s house during a party.

Bad Tattoo
You get what you pay for

At the other end of the scale, if you walk into a top tattoo parlor and ask an artist with 20+ years’ experience what their rate is, don’t be too shocked if they turn around and say $200+ an hour.

tattoo prices
Carlos Torres is renowned worldwide for his stunning artwork

Nevertheless, it’s important to take into account that an artist doesn’t need to have years of experience to be highly skilled, and an artist is not necessarily guaranteed to be highly skilled even after years of experience.

What I mean by this is: there are some extremely talented and gifted tattoo artists around who only have a few years of experience under their belts, while there are artists who have many years of experience that simply don’t have what it takes, or never work to improve themselves.

Therefore, always make a point to check out a potential artist’s previous work to make sure that they warrant their price tag; and don’t immediately knock artists with seemingly less experience than others.

Check out the video below for some rough tattoo prices according to various sizes:

Artist Popularity

A pretty obvious factor. Naturally, if a tattoo artist is extremely popular and in high demand, they’re going to be able to charge as much as they like while still getting business – so if you walk into a popular studio asking to get tattooed by a popular artist, be ready to pay a premium price for your ink.

Artist Exposure

Even if an artist isn’t anything greater than average, once they’ve appeared on one or two popular tattooing TV shows, or within a couple of trendy tattoo magazines, their prices are likely to soar. Demand increases due to people wanting to get inked by ‘that famous tattoo artist’. Keep this in mind if you’re wanting any ‘a-list artists’ to tattoo you.

Artist Technique

Probably not a factor that will affect most people wanting a tattoo, but some artists from various cultures around the world still practice the art of tattooing using older, more traditional methods. These methods include using cultural techniques and tools that the vast majority of current artists around the world have no experience in using or implementing.

Therefore, if you wish to be tattooed by an artist using traditional tattooing methods, you’re most likely going to have to pay out more for the privilege.

Watch how a traditional Japanese tattoo is created

Artist Speed

All artists work at different speeds. Some artists are incredibly quick with their work while others take a lot longer. No single way is better, but if you’re paying by the hour, the slower artist is going to cost more than the quicker one.

Studio Popularity

A tattoo artist working within a very popular studio is going to demand a higher price for their work. When artists work within a studio, they usually ‘rent’ a chair from the tattoo shop. The tattoo shop normally then takes a cut of the artist’s earnings as a return for the chair-space.

The more popular a studio is, the more revenue it will be able to generate by recruiting artists who can demand and charge higher tattoo prices. If you go to a world-famous tattoo studio, you will definitely be paying a premium for the pleasure.

High Voltage Tattoo Studio
Kat Von D’s famous High Voltage Tattoo Studio

Studio Location

A less-popular tattoo studio in a small town is likely to charge less for a tattoo when compared with a bigger studio in a large city. This is because their customer base will be smaller and they will need to be much more careful with their tattoo pricing structure so they don’t risk turning away their smaller (but extremely important) customer-base.

Another reason why shops in more obscure areas may have cheaper tattoo prices is that the good artists in these areas are normally harder to find when compared to more population-dense areas like bigger towns and cities. These places are where many more tattoo studios are usually situated.

Tattoo Planning

Many walk-in studios have hundreds of pre-drawn tattoos (tattoo flash) to choose from. As these tattoos are already designed, the artist can transfer them near-instantly onto your body part of choice.

These tattoos are normally small and relatively simple, and the fact that they’re already pre-drawn means there’s very little planning involved before getting the session underway. This means there are very rarely any costs involved with the planning of these types of tattoos.

On the other hand, many larger tattoos are custom-drawn to exacting requirements. These tattoo designs can be extremely detailed and can take up a lot of the tattoo artist’s schedule to think up and plan. Many artists will rightly charge extra to create something more personalized and intricate for you.

Space Sleeve Tattoo
Extremely complex and colorful tattoos such as this one take very long to plan

Commonly, artists will charge around 1 tattooing hour for the planning phase. So if your tattoo artist charges $100 an hour for a tattoo, this will potentially be what you pay to have the tattoo artist draw a design up for you.

This design charge can also be a way to ward off the small minority of clients who ask for a tattoo to be drawn up, only to then take the design to another (usually cheaper) artist to get the work done.

Of course, the planning costs do vary widely between different tattoo artists and tattoo shops. You may be lucky, however, as many professionals do not charge extra for designing custom, highly detailed tattoos.

Be careful, though. If your tattoo artist continues to draw designs up for you and you continue to ask for multiple changes to be made, they may ask for additional cash from you to cover the costs involved in perfecting your ideas. Time equals money, and tattoo artists need to make a living.

Size & Detail

Another rather obvious factor is the size of the tattoo and how detailed it’s going to be. If you’re planning to get a huge back-piece or a full sleeve, it’s going to cost considerably more than what smaller designs will.

Nevertheless, small tattoos will not necessarily cost less than larger ones. For example, an extremely intricate and detailed half-sleeve will likely cost more than a full-sleeve consisting of basic shapes with no shading. Small, intricate details will always take much longer to tattoo than basic linework.

Tattoo Colors

As colored inks generally cost more to buy than black inks, some tattoo artists choose to charge a slightly higher price, although this isn’t a standardized practice. Many tattoo artists decide to charge the same hourly rate regardless of color. This usually includes specialized pieces such as white ink tattoos.

Another reason why getting a tattoo in color may be more expensive is that your tattoo artist will generally have to take longer between sections in order to change and mix colors. This chopping-and-changing of colors can bump up the final price of your tattoo, especially if it’s a bigger piece.

The length of time it takes to mix and maintain colors throughout your entire tattooing session can add up; especially if you’re in the chair for many hours.

Finally, some colors fade faster than others, meaning that in the long run, a tattoo done using a lighter color palette may run out costing considerably more if you need the tattoo touching up at a later date to fill in any significant fading.

Tattoo Location

Most tattoos can be created with little difficulty on many parts of the body, but other, more awkward areas of skin can cause bigger issues and will require greater care and attention from the tattoo artist.

Armpit tattoos are going to take longer to complete due to the awkward shape and positioning when compared to other easier locations, such as forearms or thighs.

It will usually take longer for your tattoo artist to complete a design on an awkward piece of skin and so the price is going to rise if you’re being charged by the hour.

Tattoo Materials

If your tattoo artist uses top of the range inks, needles and soaps/creams etc., then they will likely command a slightly higher price.

However, the price difference will probably not be worth thinking about for most customers. I’m quite sure that many of you reading this would rather have your tattoo artist equip themselves with the best tools available for the job to ensure your tattoo comes out looking as best as it possibly can.

How Much Do Tattoo Touch Ups Cost?

Sometimes, your tattoo doesn’t heal quite as well as it should do during the tattoo healing process and you need to go back to the studio to get certain areas of the tattoo redone. This is known as a touch up.

Most tattoo artists do touch ups on their tattoos for free as long as you go back to the studio within a certain time-frame after your last session (normally a month or two).

Keep in mind that although most tattoo artists will be happy to perform a touch up for you, some may refuse if you’ve clearly neglected your tattoo during the aftercare process. 

Once-in-a-while, you might come across a professional who will charge for all touch ups, although this is relatively rare. In this scenario, the cost of a touch up does vary, but should normally only be a small fee.

If you want the best chance of ensuring your tattoo heals brilliantly, and to minimize the risk of having to go back to the studio for a touch up, then a good tattoo aftercare lotion can make a real difference.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

How Much Do Tattoo Cover Ups Costs?

In theory, while tattoo cover ups shouldn’t cost any more than a regular tattoo, there is a little extra work that needs to be done in order for the tattoo to be considered a success.

In order for a previous tattoo to be covered up and completely hidden with a new one, some extra design work and creativity might need to be undertaken by the artist. This could add on an hour or so of their standard rate, so keep this in mind.

Average Tattoo Prices

Below is a section summarizing how much a certain type of tattoo may cost you. Remember, these prices are highly estimated, and prices can vary wildly.

How Much Does A Small Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?

A small black and gray tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $100 – $300.

How Much Does A Small Color Tattoo Cost?

A small color tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $120 – $350.

How Much Does A Medium Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?

A medium black and gray tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $300 – $1500.

How Much Does A Medium Color Tattoo Cost?

A medium color tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $400 – $2000.

How Much Does A Large Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?

A large black and gray tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $700 – $3000.

How Much Does A Large Color Tattoo Cost?

A large color tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $800 – $2500+.

How Much Does A Half-Sleeve Tattoo Cost?

A half sleeve tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $800 – $2500+.

How Much Does A Full Sleeve Tattoo Cost?

A full sleeve tattoo done by a good/excellent artist will cost $1000 – $5000+.

Different Ways Tattoo Prices Are Calculated

Different professionals have different ways of taking payment when it comes to tattooing. Below are the two most common ways in which you might pay your tattoo artist for their work.

Hourly

Keep in mind that many tattooists prefer to charge by the hour, and usually, their minimum charge is for one hour’s work. Therefore, if you go in wanting a tattoo that will take 10 minutes to complete, you’re still probably going to be paying for an hour’s worth of work.

The minimum charge is there because artists will still be using brand new, single-use needles and sterilizing equipment for your tattoo, and this all costs money. Not to mention they may have missed out on a bigger, more expensive tattoo in order to do your ten-minute one.

Hourly charging is normally done on bigger, custom and more complex tattoos where an accurate price is usually impossible to predict until the tattoo has been completed or is very close to completion.

Generally, when you’re paying by the hour, you will pay the artist after each session at the studio. For example, if you go in one day for 4 hours’ worth of a new tattoo, you will pay the artist 4 hours’ worth at the end of the session.

Per-Piece

If the tattoo design is pre-drawn or simple, your artist may charge for the whole tattoo up-front as a one-off payment.

Flash tattoos and smaller custom tattoos are generally easier to predict in terms of times, so your tattoo artist may just decide to charge you for the piece as a whole instead of by the hour, even if the tattoo isn’t a pre-designed one.

Remember

If you’re not very good with pain, you might have to ask your tattoo artist to stop for breaks quite regularly throughout the sitting if the process becomes too unbearable. This can add minutes to your session, thus increasing the overall cost of your tattoo, especially if you’re being charged by the hour.

Generally, if the designs are small and the tattoo prices have been predetermined, customers won’t be charged extra if they take one or two small breaks during the session, so don’t worry about asking for a little rest. Many people need it.

Discounts/Deals

Sometimes, especially if your tattoo is a bigger piece, certain artists may have deals in-place whereby, for example, if you have a whole days’ worth of tattooing done, you get a small discount.

Or, if your work has taken many days to complete, they may even knock a couple of hours off the total price to say thanks for committing to them for such a big, expensive design.

Not all studios put on discounts, though, especially if they’re extremely popular or are highly regarded. Don’t feel hard-done-by if there are no deals or discounts available at your chosen shop. Money-off deals are an exception rather than a rule.

Deposits

Artists tend to do things differently from one another with regard to tattoo deposits, but the vast majority of them will require at least some amount of payment upfront unless it’s a walk-in session.

Deposits are usually required to secure your booking and to cover the studio in case you don’t show for your appointment so they’re not left out of pocket. If you fail to turn up when previously arranged, or you cancel without much notice, you will likely lose your deposit.

Usually, tattoo deposits cost what your tattoo artist will normally charge for an hour or two of their work. Your deposit cost will be deducted from the total amount after the final tattooing session is complete. You should also be aware that while most shops take credit cards these days, some still don’t, so bring cash just in case or ask beforehand.

Tattoo Prices Aren’t Everything

Remember – “A GOOD TATTOO IS NOT CHEAP, AND A CHEAP TATTOO IS NOT GOOD”.

I cannot stress this enough. Do not get a tattoo just because it’s cheap! A tattoo is with you for life and you shouldn’t get a sub-optimal piece of artwork on your body just because your shoddy tattoo artist was a bit cheaper than the next guy. You get what you pay for, folks.

Always ensure the tattoo you’re getting is one you’ll continue to love for years to come, and if you can’t afford the tattoo you’ve been dreaming of, save up and wait! You’ll appreciate your decision in the long run.

Unfortunately, nobody in the world can tell you what your tattoo is going to cost apart from your tattoo artist. You can try asking people you know about their tattoo expenditures, but some individuals just don’t like talking about it.

Luckily, by studying this guide, you can give yourself a very rough idea of how much your desired piece of artwork might cost, and you can hopefully end up getting an amazing tattoo that you’ll appreciate for the rest of your life; regardless of expense.