Tattoo Parlor Etiquette

Updated on August 21, 2007
You are a guest in the tattoo establishment, so act like one
You are a guest in the tattoo establishment, so act like one

In a recent hub I explained how to go about getting a tattoo for the first time, discussed the decision-making process and reviewed how to be assertive with your ideas. But I only touched briefly on tattoo shop etiquette, and it is certainly a topic that needs adequate discussion. I have had the honor of taking several people to get their first tattoos, and while most newbies were on their best behavior and we had a positive experience, there was one instance I wish I could forget. Names will be withheld to protect the guilty, but basically my girlfriend at the time and I took a friend of ours to get her first piece of ink--a small shooting star on her lower back. She was unprepared for the unexplainable (and in my opinion, not very excruciating) pain associated with a tattoo needle penetrating your flesh. Most people deal with this pain by gritting their teeth and bearing it, maybe whimpering a little; she dealt with it by belting out show tunes at the top of her lungs, medleys consisting of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". Because we made the mistake of letting her get tattooed on an empty stomach, when a wave of nausea hit midway through the process she had to make a run for the bathroom. But instead of running, she threw herself to the floor and crawled across the parlor floor. When she was done vomiting, she proceeded to crawl back and hoist herself up into the tattoo chair. I felt bad for her, because some people are just not equipped to handle pain, but I was mortified as well. Like any other business establishment, tattoo parlors have rules of etiquette and unspoken codes of conduct that should be followed.

The tattoo artist will give you a price quote for the work you want done before he begins. You can either accept the price and begin the procedure, or disagree with the price and walk out. But DO NOT try to bargain with the artist to lower the price. Tattoo prices are not set in stone; they vary from store to store and artist to artist. Some places charge by the hour whereas others charge by the size of the tattoo. Even if you are getting a single, small letter "A" on your wrist, keep in mind that all shops have a bare minimum that is usually set around $40. If you are in desperate need of a tattoo and cannot afford the quoted price, ask if the store offers payment plans or multi-session tattooing. However, because tattoo prices are generally up to the discretion of the artist (and not all artists are honorable) it is possible to be overcharged. If you feel you are being ripped off by a disreputable individual, walk away and find another shop.

DO NOT freak out when the pain starts. It might be hard, but try your best to bite your tongue and keep your emotions in check. Getting a tattoo involves a needle rapidly penetrating your skin at dozens of pinches per second. It is not a walk in the park, and it will serve you well to remember this before arriving at the parlor. If you already know you have a low tolerance for pain, a tattoo might not be for you. If you decide to get inked anyway and can't control yourself, you're going to end up looking like this girl, and the tattoo artist will end up hating your guts.

The tattoo artist isn't laughing.

DO NOT leave without tipping. Tattooists do not get paid a set hourly wage. They earn a small percentage of the total cost of the tattoo but otherwise rely on tips to support themselves. Just like in a restaurant, 10% is the absolute minimum you should leave. 15% or even 20% is better and is usually the standard. Hand the tip to your artist at the end of the procedure after he is done bandaging the ink.

DO NOT enter the shop while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Not only will you probably end up making a fool out of yourself, but it will be a fruitless endeavor as tattoo shops reserve the right to refuse service to you if you're messed up. If for some reason they do not notice your inebriated state, you are still likely to make a bad decision and choose to get a tattoo you'll later regret. Besides, alcohol in the system will cause you to bleed profusely, which will affect the coloring of the ink.

Bad tattoos happen.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Getting tattooed while drunk could lead to a decision you'll regret when sober
Getting tattooed while drunk could lead to a decision you'll regret when sober
Getting tattooed while drunk could lead to a decision you'll regret when sober

DO be polite. If you've brought along a friend with you, ask the tattoo artist if it's alright for her to come back to the chair with you, whether it's to hold your hand or take pictures. Not all shops will allow either. If it's the latter, ask permission to do this as well. Some places will not allow photography whereas others will as long as there is no flash, or if you notify the artist before the flash goes off. Snapping away wildly is distracting for the tattooist and can cause him to distort the tattoo. Bringing children with you is also highly distracting as tattooing is a precise art that requires total stillness and complete concentration.

Remember, even if you're being inked by a hairy 300-pound man named "Spider", you are still in a business atmosphere. Conduct yourself as a customer, have respect for the proprietor and your experience will be a pleasant one.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Neeko 

        5 months ago

        As the author of this article had said, tattoo prices vary greatly. But no matter the price, NEVER SKIMP the tatooist for his/her artistic ability, creativity, patience, talent, and time. I'm always so stoked after seeing a finished addition to my life story. However, my friends think I'm crazy and throwing money away for I am a 50%-75% tipper on top of a non negotiated price for the tattoo(s). I just tell my friends whether one is happy with the tattoo or not, the price will be the price. Verbal compliments and gratuity given shows one's appreciation and satisfaction for the tatooist's work. I pay for the tattoo via credit/debit card, but tip only using cash. Additionally, how I tip definitely helps me get back in the seat quicker if I want another, just saying!

      • profile image

        Mandy. 

        2 years ago

        I wish the standard shop min was only $40 in Australia!

        Don't be afraid to email different shops. I didn't check prices for my first tattoo and ended up being over charged. Also stress balls actually do help to bare the pain and you're far less likely to damage your teeth from clenching them. The more effort it takes for you to squeze the stress ball the easier it is to distract you from the pain.

      • profile image

        Tattoo Artist 

        3 years ago

        Tips are always appreciated. And as for the user comment about overpriced tattoos, obviously they dont realize that the artist doesn't usually take that home. There are so many expenditures involved that most of the time the artist is lucky to make minimum wage earnings. I have worked in a couple shops that charged me 50% of whatever i made, as rent for the day ($50 tattoo, $25 in my pocket.. $1000 tattoo, $500 for me) tattoos are a permanent addition to your body, and if you like your artists work, then by all means show them you like it. And keep coming back!

      • profile image

        me 

        6 years ago

        I used to work at a tattoo shop and was floored on how customers were made fun of and ridiculed as soon as they left the establishment after a tattoo. If anyone ever overheared what these guys were saying they would never get a tattoo there again. All so very nice to your face when you have all that money in your hand..not so nice when everything is said and done.

      • KikiCobain profile image

        KikiCobain 

        6 years ago from Lancaster, Lancashire

        This was great! :)

      • profile image

        Strange 

        6 years ago

        Aren't tatoos expensive enough already. Just seems ridiculous to me. A large reason why you tip a server well is because they make less than minimum wage. Hmmm I still think it's strange more power to you if you tip your artist, on an over priced tattoo.

      • profile image

        Krash 

        7 years ago

        Oh, and try to remember to relax. Tense muscles can make the tat not look right when it is done (learned this, not by a bad tattoo, luckily my artist kept reminding me to relax). That was the 3 hour sitting, on the spine, going over the same area many times because of how intricate/detailed the tat is and it came out AMAZING!

      • profile image

        Krash 

        7 years ago

        Wow, I always hoped that I was on the side of over tipping than under tipping. Now reading the above, I guess I am okay. I usually tip between 20-40%, but my guys are worth it. They know me by name, take the time to talk out/draw out what I want and are great artists and sometimes we chat, other times we don't, we just go with whatever feels right. I think that is a big thing, knowing when to shut up and let them focus on their work.

      • profile image

        Tara 

        7 years ago

        I do make sure to do these things. That girl in the video had me LMAO. I could also tell that the artist was on the verge of laughing. I did feel pain with both of mine, but it wasn't THAT bad. I thought the healing hurt way more. I do make sure I tip the artist I go to AT LEAST 10%. The last one I got I actually saved that up as well.

      • profile image

        HoDunk 

        7 years ago

        Thanks for the tip on tipping :)

      • profile image

        nita 

        7 years ago

        thanks for the information about how to act in a tattoo parlor I'm getting a tribal tattoo down my back soon and I didn't even know you were supposed to tip them. My friend has been to get two tattoos at the same place and she never tipped the artist, she just paid the agreed amount for the tattoo. I don't know maybe she didn't know about tipping the artist either, or the tip was included in the set pricing. How exactly do you go about doing that anyway? Just hand it to them with the agreed upon amount. Anyway I'll just include the tip in the set price or something

      • profile image

        ashley 

        8 years ago

        im dating an artist and he absolutely hates when people try to bargin the price of the tattoo, the shop minimum is exactly that, THE MINIMUM! also i brought my best friend to him and she would not sit still. ahe kept shaking and it looked like she was having a seizure. he now has a not so nice nickname for her and refuses to tattoo her again.

      • profile image

        Samizzle 

        8 years ago

        AB, I had almost the same thing happen to me. I called back and they were happy to fix it. It did not cost me anything and I think, sadly they fired the person who did my tattoo.

        It is a serious thing to mess up someones tattoo, especially since i had drawn it out for her with explicit color detail. Call up, and ask to schedule an appt to fix it and they should do it for free.

        If not, it is an extremely unprofessional place and you should go elsewhere to get it fixed. Depending on what you need done, you might have to pay the shop minimum but its worth it, seeing as this is your tattoo and its there for life. Good luck!

      • profile image

        AB  

        8 years ago

        I just got a piece done on my shoulder blade area. It's 3 words in the Sanskrit text. Soon as it was done, before the bandage went on, I looked at it in the mirror & I loved it! But later on in the night, at home when I took the bandage off, I noticed that the artist had forgotten one of the lines in the text, which would change the meaning of the word. I feel like an idiot that I didn't noticed while I was at the shop :/.

        So I want to know what are the rules of calling back and asking for a fix? Do I have to pay more?

      • profile image

        katy 

        8 years ago

        goodness me... I didn't scream that much during childbirth - drug free and a 10 pound baby!

        Thanks for the hub - getting my first in a week or so and while most of it is obvious its nice to have as much info as possible!

      • profile image

        Anon Amuz 

        8 years ago

        Tips aren't a must. Like a restaurant worker, if they do things half @ssed, they do not deserve anything, except for the customer telling their friends NEVER to use that artist. If one of my customers wasn't happy with anything of my service, then I did a bad job.

        Most GOOD artists take pride in their work, but there are a lot of shops that mistreat their talent. This result equals poor work in the long run. A good shop gives the artist a lot of their profits.

        I do agree that someone should not be high during any of the consultation process, but me and other artists I know recommend a painkiller for people with larger tattoos getting done (like a back piece or full sleeve).

        Etiquette depends on the artist, but this is a good blueprint to go by.

        I know probably a million artists/shops will disagree, but I'm speaking as an artist that my only huge pet peeve, besides that girl in the video (lol), is someone not picking the right tattoo for their body. I've never had a complaint, or an unhappy customer, because I love my work, and I think most artists need to get off of their high-horses.

      • profile image

        IĆ°unn 

        8 years ago

        haha, iskra, me too. (on the slinging thing) what a wuss she was. I was inspired to actually watch the vid because of your comment. I have a few myself but I don't guess I would if I had acted like that O.O

        becauseilive, great hub, good advice.

      • iskra1916 profile image

        iskra1916 

        8 years ago from Belfast, Ireland.

        A chara,

        good advice for tattoo novices! That girl in the video was a friggin half-wit! I'd have slung her ass out on the street.

        I must get round to writing a tattoo related hub to showcase my own 16+ tatts which are all black ink.

        Go raibh maith agat leis an 'hub' cara,

        is mise le meas,

        Iskra 1916.

        Beir bua !

        Tiocfaidh ar la!

      • profile image

        Neil 

        8 years ago

        I'm getting my first tattoo this weekend and was wondering about tattoo parlor etiquette, especially tipping. I have a lot of trust in my tattoo artist and now I know I won't be short changing him when it comes to the tip. Thanks!

      • profile image

        just_got_one 

        9 years ago

        Thanks a bunch!!! I'm an artist type in a different field and I had no idea what an appropriate tattoo tip was. I accidentally short changed my tattoo artist(12%) I'll be sure to make up for it when he does my other one next week. Also, talking v. not talking might be a good subject to mention as well. I know some artists don't like being distracted by conversation.

      • profile image

        Whitney 

        9 years ago

        Thank you soo much for posting this, I am getting my first tattoo tomorrow and knew absolutely nothing about the etiquette of the situation, this helped soo incredibly much. thank you.

      • profile image

        Andrew 

        9 years ago

        Dear Anon,

        Go get a temporary tattoo and get your mom to help put it on if you can deal with the pain and stress of getting a tattoo in a sensible manner. Crying is fine, but acting like a childish fool because of a little pain is unheard of for people old enough to get tattoo's. Behavior like that girl is unacceptable and clearly she should not have gotten a tattoo in the first place so if you think acting like that is fine but laughing at the behavior is not then I think you should reconsider. Also, I got my first tattoo and was told it was the most unbearable pain in the world, and I barely winced at most of it. It's about six inches long across my forearm and took 2.5 hours to do with only an outline needle, the artists thicker needle for filling hadn't come in the mail yet, and I was fine. He told me after that it probably would have taken an hour less and been 10 times less painful. You should be able to handle it.

      • profile image

        anon 

        9 years ago

        Seriously, I can understand the importance of etiquette. At the same time, I think it is wrong to laugh at someone who is paying you for a service. I plan on getting a tattoo for personal reasons, I have low pain tolerance, I will probably cry, and I might scream a bit, I will be paying them enough that they should be respectful. If I went there for a tattoo, and saw that I would get up and leave and find someone else. As you said it is a business, and there are standards of etiquette. The tattoo artist should be held to the same.

      • profile image

        Donny 

        10 years ago

        I am a co-owner in a Tattoo parlor.We are located inside a Bar,so I see people with bad etiquette very often!!!More people should follow your example..

      • Sadie_H profile image

        Sadie_H 

        10 years ago

        I wish I had known this before I went in to get my first tattoo! (I didn't act like that girl, I promise) So many people just wander in with no sense, looking for bargains. Yes, it's painful--I have a large one directly over my kidney, and I couldn't even talk at times--but it's totally worth it. Tattooing is an art and people who do tattoos are artists, and should be treated that way!

      • organized living profile image

        Adrian Walker 

        10 years ago from Magnolia, AR

        This is great! REally useful information, gives you a good idea what to expect.

      • profile image

        Katherine 

        10 years ago

        Thanks for this. Not many people out there discuss the (inexplicably unobvious) etiquette. I'm getting ready to get my first one sometime soon and I've been nervous about my reaction - nausea, crying, etc. haha but after seeing THAT girl, I know I'll be fine :) hahaha I did see another video of a girl getting a pretty green butterfly on her upper back. She was obviously in pain, but handled it so well. I think I even saw her wiping tears away after. Really, compared to this girl in the video you posted, I don't mind a little wet face if it means not making a total ass of myself haha. Thanks for posting this :D

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