How Much Does a Tattoo Cost?
One of the most common questions I hear—besides "Is it going to hurt?" and "What should I get?"—is, "How much is it going to cost?" The short answer is: It depends!
The price of a tattoo depends on a number of elements (see the long answer below), so it's impossible to just throw out a dollar amount. It is always best to ask your artist for a proper estimate first, but still, here are the factors that will play a part in the total cost of your permanent tattoo.
What Does a Tattoo Typically Cost?
Tattoo shops commonly charge by the hour, with quality artists generally charging between $100 and $250 per hour ($150 per hour is the industry standard). A full sleeve might take over 15 hours: At $150 per hour that could end up costing $1500, not including the tip.
Most shops have a minimum charge of around $100, so that even if you only want a tiny, simple design that would take less than an hour, you still have to pay the minimum charge.
Unless you talk to the artist and get a quote, you can't know for sure how much you'll end up paying, but to make a rough estimate, you'll probably pay about $10 per square inch. So if your design is 5" by 5", you might pay in the range of $250. A huge 8" by 10" back piece might cost more like $810.
Those who are getting text tattooed might want to know how much each letter will cost, but artists do not charge by the letter. There is no industry standard for the price of tattooed text, since it depends on the font, size, detail, and location of the text. Artists generally charge by the hour, so you'll have to ask for an estimate for how long your text tattoo will take.
For small designs that take less than an hour or medium-sized tattoos that take less than two, the artist will often quote a flat fee up front.
Which Factors Determine the Price of a Tattoo?
- Placement: Where you decide to place the tattoo on your body makes a difference, because some spots are more difficult to work on than others. Typically, the more sensitive (feet, hands, genitals, sternum, and neck) or difficult-to-reach places will cost more.
- Flash or original art: Most artists factor the time spent designing the tattoo into the total cost. If you choose flash right off the wall, the artist just needs to copy and tweak rather than come up with an original, custom design, so flash will typically cost less.
- Design: The more elaborate the design, the more it will cost you, since it will require more time, skill, and focus. (For design ideas, read Where to Find Inspiration for Tattoos.)
- Colors: The more colors the design entails, the more it will cost.
- Size: Bigger tattoos are more expensive, of course, since they take more time.
- Time: Some tattoo shops charge an hourly rate, so the final price depends on how long it takes.
- The artist's skill, reputation, and experience. You might find a friend who will tattoo you for free, but don't be surprised if a skilled artist charges $200 or more per hour. If an artist is well-known, widely publicized, and has a great reputation, they can charge more. Remember that veteran artists will likely work faster than noobs, so even though they charge more per hour, they might get the job done faster. (To learn more, read How to Pick a Tattoo Artist.)
- Location: Price will vary by location, shop, and artist. For example, urban centers tend to have higher prices than parlors in remote rural settings, and if you're traveling abroad, you'll find a wide range of costs.
Speed: An Invisible Cost Factor of a Tattoo!
Artists work at different speeds. If you pay by the hour, a tattoo from a slower artist will end up costing more.
What Are the Hidden Costs of Getting a Tattoo?
Above and beyond the factors already mentioned, there are some hidden costs involved with getting a tattoo, things you don't normally factor into the purchase price but do add up. Here are some additional things you should expect to pay for:
Do you have to tip your tattoo artist?
Yes you do, and 15% is the average. Don't be cheap and pretend not to know you're supposed to tip, just factor at least an extra 15% into your total cost.
Does aftercare cost much?
Just after the tattoo, you will need to have a mild antibacterial soap and vitamin A and D ointment. Plus, you'll need to protect your skin with sunscreen for the rest of your life to prevent the ink from fading. Read my other article on aftercare for more information.
Do touch-ups cost extra?
Tattoos fade no matter how much sunscreen you use, and inevitably, you'll want to go back in and reapply the ink to brighten and clarify the design. Some artists do this for free, but some will charge you.
What about the non-refundable deposit?
This won't affect you if you get your tattoo, but it still should be mentioned here. At most shops you secure your appointment with a non-refundable amount that is deducted from the total cost at the end, but if you don't show up, you don't get it back.
What about laser removal?
You can't imagine ever not loving your tattoo, but future you wants you to seriously consider how much tattoo removal costs. Having a tattoo removed is much more expensive than having one put on. The cost of laser removal can range from several hundred dollars up into the thousands. The price depends on the size, type, and location of the tattoo and the number of visits it takes for complete removal. Remember that medical insurance generally doesn't pay for this since it is considered cosmetic.
Do You Have to Tip Your Tattoo Artist?
YES! 15% is the industry standard.
What's the Difference Between a Cheap Tattoo and an Expensive One?
If this is your first tattoo, you will want to make sure to find a good artist, not just the cheapest.
- Ask friends and family for personal recommendations.
- If someone has a tattoo you admire, don't be afraid to ask where they got it. (But think twice about copying someone else's tattoo!)
- Visit tattoo shops or go online to browse portfolios.
You want to make sure that you get your money's worth, especially since if you get a tattoo that looks as cheap as it cost, you'll probably end up spending extra money to get it removed. Consider this:
- Artist A charges $100 for poor quality.
- Artist B charges $200 for average quality.
- Artist C charges $150 for decent (better-than-average) quality.
- Artist D charges $250 for great quality.
- Laser tattoo removal costs from $200-$500 per session, and several treatments might be needed.
Which tattoo sounds like the best deal? The final decision is up to you.
"You Get What You Pay For"
This old saying might be the important thing to keep in mind when getting a tattoo.