Tattoo Prices & Deciding How Much A Tattoo Should Cost
Questions surrounding tattoo prices are extremely tough to answer, and as such can rarely be answered accurately by anyone besides an actual 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.
How Much Do Tattoos Cost? The Factors Involved…
There are many, many reasons why two very similar-looking tattoos can be priced so differently to 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 the process of deciding how much a tattoo is going to cost.
Artist Skill & Experience
This is definitely one of the biggest factors when it comes to working out how much your next tattoo might cost. Tattoo artist skill levels vary incredibly from artist-to-artist.
At one end of the scale, you’ll most likely be getting ripped off if you’re charged any more than $20 by a friend who got bought a tattoo kit from eBay for Christmas and has yet to try it out. Or by the guy dishing out tattoos on the sofa of a friend’s house during a party.
At the other end of the scale, if you walk into a top studio and ask an artist with 20+ years’ experience what their rate is, don’t be too shocked if they turn around say $150+ an hour.
However, it is 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, whilst there are many artists who have 4x as many years in experience, but are still as mediocre as the day they first started if they just simply don’t have what it takes, or never work to improve themselves.
Also, remember that tipping a tattoo artist is seen as a great way of showing your appreciation for them if they've ended up doing an awesome job with your ink. Just remember that a tip will bump up the overall cost slightly.
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.
These artists with fewer years under their belt could be highly talented and demand a much lower tattooing price when compared to an artist with 20+ years’ experience who hasn't progressed their skill levels much during their whole career.
Check out the video below for some rough artist prices according to various tattoo sizes:
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 whilst 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.
Even if an artist isn't that great, 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 as 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.
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 using cultural techniques and tools that the vast majority of current artists around the world have no experience in using or implementing.
Watch how a traditional Japanese tattoo is created
Therefore, if you wish to be tattooed by a traditional artist from a specific culture using traditional tattooing methods, then you’re most likely going to have to pay out for the privilege.
You must remember that all artists work at different speeds. Some artists are incredibly quick with their work while some take a lot longer. No single way is better, but if you're paying by the hour, the slower artist is obviously going to cost more than the quicker one.
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 shop. The shop normally then takes a cut of the artist's earnings as a return for the chair-space, and sometimes for various material costs for things such as ink and disposable needles, etc.
The more popular a studio is, the more revenue they will be able to generate by recruiting artists who can demand and charge higher prices for their work.
If you go to world-famous tattoo studio, you will definitely be paying a premium for the pleasure.
This factor ties in with the popularity factor above. 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 much smaller, and they will need to be much more careful with their tattoo pricing structure in order to not put off and turn away their smaller (but extremely important) customer-base.
Another reason why smaller studios in more obscure areas may have cheaper prices is that good artists in these areas are normally harder to find when compared to more population-dense areas like bigger towns and cities, where many more tattoo studios are usually situated.
As with artists, if a specific studio has appeared in a few TV shows or magazines etc., then it is likely to become much more popular with potential customers, and therefore will be able to demand higher prices from customers.
Many walk-in studios have hundreds of pre-drawn tattoos (tattoo flash) within their waiting rooms displayed within books and stuck onto walls that you can choose from. As these tattoos are already designed, the artist can transfer them 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 tattoo 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 designs can be extremely detailed and can take up a lot of the artist's time. Therefore, many artists will rightly charge extra to draw up something more personalized and intricate for you.
When it comes to the costs involved in getting a custom design drawn up, prices vary between each artist.
Commonly, though, artists will charge around 1 tattooing hour for the planning phase. So, if your artist charges $100 an hour for a tattoo, this will potentially be what you pay to have the artist draw a design up for you.
This design charge is also a way to warn off the small minority of clients who will ask for a tattoo to be drawn up, only to then take the design and give it to another (usually cheaper) artist to do for them.
Of course, as mentioned, the costs do vary widely between different artists and studios.
You may be lucky, however, as many artists do not charge extra for designing custom, highly detailed tattoos.
Be careful, though - if your artist continues to draw designs up for you, and you continue to ask for many changes to be made, your artist may ask for additional cash from you to cover the costs involved in perfecting your ideas. Time equals money, and artists need to make a living!
Tattoo Size & Detail
Another rather obvious factor. If you're planning to get a huge back-piece or a full sleeve, it's going to cost considerably more than a small ankle tattoo.
Remember, though, that not all small tattoos will necessarily cost less than larger ones. For example, an extremely intricate and detailed half-sleeve is likely going to 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 line work.
Generally, color tattoos will cost more than black/gray ones, but only marginally. As colored inks generally cost more to buy than black inks, some artists choose to charge a slightly higher price, although this isn’t a standardized practice, and many artists decide to charge the same 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 artist will generally have to take more time out between tattooing in order to change and mix colors ready for the next section.
This chopping-and-changing of colors can bump up the final price of your tattoo, especially if it's a bigger piece. This is because 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.
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 an artist in order to apply the tattoo to an exacting standard.
An armpit tattoo is going to take longer to complete due to its awkward shape and positioning when compared to another easier location, such as a forearm or thigh.
Therefore, if most/all of your tattoo needs to be placed on an awkward area of your body, your artist may charge you extra.
Also, it will usually take longer for your artist to do a great job at tattooing on an awkward piece on skin, and therefore the price is going to rise as the time required to do the tattoo increases.
If your artist uses top of the range inks, needles and soaps/creams etc., then they will likely command a slightly higher price compared to if materials of a lesser quality were used.
However, the price difference will probably not be worth thinking about for most of you readers, as I'm quite sure that many of you reading this would rather have your artist equip themselves with the best tools available for the job to ensure your tattoo comes out looking as best as it possibly can.
Average Tattoo Prices
Below is a table summarizing how much a certain type of tattoo may cost you. Remember, these prices are highly estimated, and prices can vary wildly depending on each of the factors already mentioned within this section.
(Table scrolls left/right on mobile devices)
Experienced / Popular Artist
Small Tat (3-7in)
$20 - $50
$40 - $80
$80 - $200+
Medium Tat (8-19in)
$40 - $100
$80 - $200
$150 - $350+
Large Tat (20+in)
$100 - $800
$300 - $1200
$500 - $4000+
Hourly Rate ($)
$20 - $50
$50 - $90
How Much Does A Small Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?
A small black and gray tattoo will cost somewhere between $20 - $160 depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Small Color Tattoo Cost?
A small color tattoo will cost somewhere between $30 - $200 depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Medium Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?
A medium black and gray tattoo will cost somewhere between $40 - $300 depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Medium Color Tattoo Cost?
A medium color tattoo will cost somewhere between $50 - $350 depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Large Black & Gray Tattoo Cost?
A large black and gray tattoo will cost somewhere between $100 - $3500 depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Large Color Tattoo Cost?
A large color tattoo will cost somewhere between $140 - $4000+ depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Half-Sleeve Tattoo Cost?
A half sleeve tattoo will cost somewhere between $300 - $1500+ depending on the artist and studio.
How Much Does A Full Sleeve Tattoo Cost?
A full sleeve tattoo will cost somewhere between $500 - $3000+ depending on the artist and studio.
Different Ways That Artists Charge for Tattoos
Different artists have different ways of taking payment when it comes to tattooing. Below are the two most common ways in which you might pay your artist for their work.
Many artists 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 likely going to be paying for an hour’s worth of work.
The main reason for the minimum charge is that the artist is still going to be using brand new, single-use needles and sterilizing equipment for your tattoo, and this all costs money.
Hourly charging is normally done on bigger, custom and more complex pieces where an accurate price/time of completion is usually impossible to predict until the tattoo is completed, or very near
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 of time at the end of the session.
When you go in the next time – say for 3 more hours on the same tattoo if it still isn’t finished, you will pay your artist for another 3 hours of work at the end – and so-on.
If the tattoo design is pre-drawn or is a simple, small piece of work, then your artist may charge for the whole tattoo up-front as a one-off payment.
If your tattoo is already in a design book, or on the wall of the tattoo studio, your artist will likely have already tattooed the design on somebody else previously, and will, therefore, know quite accurately how long the tattoo is going to take.
Also, smaller tattoos are generally easier to predict in terms of times, so your artist may just decide to charge you for the piece as a whole instead of by the hour, even if the tattoo isn't already a pre-designed one.
If you're not very good with pain, you might have to ask your artist to stop for breaks quite regularly throughout the sitting if the process becomes too unbearable. This can add time onto 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 probably won't be charged extra if they take one or two small breaks during the session, so don't worry too much about asking for a little time-out. Many people need it.
Sometimes, especially if your tattoo is a bigger piece, certain artists may have deals in-place whereby, for example, if you have a wholes days’ worth of tattooing done, you get a discount for the day’s work.
Or, if your work has taken many days to complete, and if your artist is extremely nice, they may even knock a couple of hours off of the total price to say thanks for committing to them for such a big, expensive design.
You must remember, though, that not all artists put on discounts, especially if they’re extremely popular and/or highly regarded. It may be worth asking up-front, though, if the artist can cut you any kind of deal, but don’t act/feel hard-done-by if they advise you that no deals or discounts are available. Money-off deals are an exception rather than a rule.
Again, most artists tend to do things differently from one another with regard to deposits, but the vast majority of them will require at least some amount of payment upfront, unless it's a walk-in session whereby you're getting a tattoo done there-and-then, in which case a deposit is pointless.
Deposits are usually required to secure your booking, and also to cover the artist in case you don’t show for your appointment and they’re left potentially out of pocket.
If you fail to turn up when previously arranged, or you cancel without much notice, you will likely lose your deposit for wasting the artist’s time and for causing them to lose out on the money they would have gained by tattooing somebody else in their now-empty timeslot.
Usually, tattoo deposits cost what your artist will normally charge for an hour or two of their work, and your deposit cost will be deducted from the total amount after the final tattooing session is complete.
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 studio to get your artist to go over certain areas of the tattoo again. This is known as a touch-up.
Most 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).
Although most 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 an artist 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 is vital.
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching and irritation.
Tattoo Prices Aren't Everything – Don’t Get Something You Might Regret!
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 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 that you’ll continue to love for years to come, and if you can’t afford the tattoo that 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 you, apart from your artist. And even then, they might not even be able to give you an accurate price until the tattoo is complete, especially if it’s a large, and/or complex piece of artwork.
Hopefully, though, by studying the main pricing factors listed above, 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 price.
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