Tattoo Apprenticeships

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 16, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

There are so many talented tattoo artists out there that just need to be given a chance to shine. The tattoo industry is competitive and filled with many talented, highly-motivated artists. When starting your career as a tattoo artist, you can’t just begin working on people right away.

As with many professions, there needs to be a period of training. Doctors have residency, right? That’s what tattoo apprenticeships are like for prospective artists.

Tattoo apprenticeships provide you with the opportunity to shadow an experienced artist. During this time, you’ll be able to practice and develop your tattooing skills. It requires a lot of persistence, patience and dedication, but that hands-on experience will be worth all your troubles in the end.

The best ways on how to get into the tattoo industry are:

  • Build an impressive portfolio
  • Apply for tattoo apprenticeships
  • Get hands-on tattooing experience

Why You Shouldn’t Self-Teach

You could teach yourself how to tattoo, but you’d be missing out on a world of things. Having a tattoo apprenticeship means having access to a wealth of experience and knowledge. Aside from the invaluable insight, you’ll also get hands-on-training and enjoy the experience of working in a tattoo parlor. Shadowing an experienced artist is critical.

You might not have the time for a full-time tattoo apprenticeship, but that shouldn’t mean giving up on the idea altogether. Contact a few artists and see if they’d be willing to offer you a tattoo apprenticeship with fewer hours.

Things You Should Consider

When searching for the ideal tattoo artist to shadow and learn from, you should consider a few key things:

Experience of the Artist

You want someone reputable who has at least five years of consecutive experience. Look at their portfolios and see if their work is of a good quality. Make sure they have experience mentoring as well.

Your Mentor’s Style

It’s also essential that you like their style and way of working. They may be a great artist but work in a completely different style than yours. If you find someone less experienced, but their work closely resembles your style, go for it. Just always check their portfolios first. This person will help you lay down the foundation for your tattoo career.

Do They Match Your Vibe?

Aside from experience and style, you need to make sure that you’ll get along with the artist. Keep in mind that you’ll be working under their wing for an extended period. It’s vital that you have a healthy relationship.

We humans absorb knowledge and improve when our working environment and personal connections are strong. Don’t sacrifice someone’s fame just to be their apprentice — resentment can build.

Don’t Get Scammed

You probably won’t find any artist offering a free apprenticeship, but be on the lookout for artists who charge exorbitant amounts. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re amazing — there’s a segment of artists who do this solely for business.

Sadly, some tattoo artists are more interested in making money than educating you. You should look for something that has a price that’s suitable for you and can provide you with a good education.

Ask around and get independent reviews from people you trust. There’s nothing worse than getting sucked into a contract without building some information around your potential mentor.

Don’t Scam Yourself

Don’t be tempted by short, quick and easy apprenticeships. Search for one that’ll last long enough to teach you all the proper skills you’ll need to be successful. Tattooing goes beyond just the physical act of tattooing.

You should definitely be learning about needle making, stencil creation and prep work. You also need to learn sterilization, proper cleaning methods and even business management. This takes time and practice. Don’t take the easy way out. A good mentor won’t let you begin tattooing until you’ve mastered every other part of the job.

How to Land a Tattoo Apprenticeship

A tattoo apprenticeship is your ticket into the tattooing industry. You need to impress your potential mentor and show off your raw talent, most of the time for free. You don’t have to be certified to be considered for an apprenticeship — an artist may like your work and think you have potential based on that alone.


To impress your prospective mentor with your artistic abilities, you need to bring a portfolio of your work. This can be portraits, paintings, or even sculptures, if that’s something you do. This is the most crucial part, so make sure your portfolio is top-notch. Your portfolio is your resume, here.

Keep in mind that no tattoo artist will want to teach you how to draw. They’ll only teach you how to tattoo. If you don’t have an extensive portfolio ready, you need to start drawing every day and building your portfolio.

To build up your portfolio, draw things you’d want to tattoo. This will reflect your style and allow the tattoo artist to gauge your skill level.

Why An Apprenticeship is Absolutely Necessary

Aside from the knowledge and experience you’ll get, apprenticeships are necessary if you legally want to work as a tattoo artist. Most states require a tattoo artist to have a license. These licenses require training, and one of the few ways you can get graining is through an apprenticeship.

The key is that the apprenticeship must be with a licensed tattoo artist. It’s critical to find a veteran artist who sees potential in your abilities and is willing to train you.

Persistence, Persistence, Persistence

Now you know what to search for in a mentor and what red flags to look out for. All that’s left is that you go out into the real world and find someone who’ll take you. Be forward at the tattoo parlor, and ask if they offer apprenticeships. Show them your portfolio and ask if you can shadow for a bit.

Be persistent, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get offered an apprenticeship right away. Keep building and improving your portfolio. Eventually, you’ll land an apprenticeship with a good, reputable artist.

Remember, every no that you get means you’re another step closer to a yes!

How Much Does a Tattoo Apprenticeship Cost?

Tattoo apprenticeships can sometimes be free if you’re an amazing artist and a shop wants you to work for them. This isn’t usually the case, though, so you’ll have to pay your way.

You’ll probably be looking at around $5,000 for a suitable apprenticeship, so choose wisely.


Tattoo apprenticeships are one of your only ways of getting into the tattoo industry. They provide you with the essential tools needed for tattooing. They’re meant to be intensive, holistic courses that offer you practical hands-on experience. Getting an apprenticeship takes dedication and persistence. 

Choose your mentor wisely and make sure you’re in good hands. You can be a fantastic artist with great potential but get bogged down by an incompetent mentor. Go out there and take the first step. Start drawing!

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