The increased acceptance of tattoos as an expressive art form has given rise to surge in popularity that has people rushing to get body art. Whereas before one might expect a tattoo on a sailor or a member of a motorcycle gang, nowadays even doctors, lawyers and teachers are proudly displaying their ink. With an increase in demand comes more artists and tattoo shops in every city, which means a wide variety of pricing. Since there are so many factors involved in how much a tattoo costs, it is best to understand a little about how all these things come into play.
Pricing Factors – An Overview
There are several aspects which will affect the pricing of a tattoo. In brief, these things are:
- Complexity – Including location on the body, number of colors, detail work and whether it is a custom design.
- Artist skill
- Shop location
- Fame of the artist and/or shop
- Familiarity with the artist – Repeat customers get discounts.
- Whether touch-ups are required
- Size of tip one chooses to leave
- Artist’s personality
Tattoo artists charge by the hour, which means the bigger the tattoo, the more it is going to cost. An average small shop might charge anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour of work, while a shop in a big city or with a better reputation can charge as much as $300 an hour or even more. Small pieces that take less than an hour usually have set prices, though generally cost less than $100. The number of hours required for a tattoo is not just sized based, of course, but also varies greatly upon the complexity and design.
The complexity of the tattoo is based on several things, all of which are determined by the preferences of the customer. When looking at prices for body art, one gets what they pay for and pays for what they get.
Location on the body is one thing to think about. Certain areas which are hard to reach, such as behind the ear or on-or-around the genital area, will cost more. Places that are particularly sensitive and will have a customer constantly jumping or twitching also command a higher price. Such areas as the lower back, neck, ankles, hands or feet are all known for their sensitivity.
The number of colors in a tattoo will make it more complex and require greater attention to detail by an artist. One or two colors is typical, but for a highly colored piece of art an artist will need to make sure that colors do not mix, that they blend properly and that they are of a uniform hue. More colors will generally mean touch-ups will be needed, which also adds to the price.
Custom designs from an artist are one more expense. If an artist has to put together a customer’s piece themselves, there will be an added cost for the design work. Depending on the level of detail, this can be an extra $100 or more, but if the artist is good at what they do then a custom design can be well worth the additional costs.
More highly skilled artists will, naturally, ask for more money. Sometimes, however, one may find a skilled but unknown artist who is trying to build their portfolio and is willing to offer great discounts. Finding an artist of acceptable skill should always be the first priority when looking at getting work done, so one should browse their portfolio and look at recent work when possible.
Certain locations are going to create more expenses for shops and thus they have to put their prices a little higher. A shop in a small town may charge significantly less than one in the middle of New York City, for example. This is a double-edged sword, however, since many of the top artists are going to be attracted to bigger cities where they can make more money.
Well known shops and artists are going to command higher prices. There is also the added complication that many of these artists have extensive waiting lists and a customer may require months to get an appointment. Lots of fame does not necessarily mean that the artists at a particular shop are better simply because of that fame, however. Each artist specializes in certain styles, and even a body ink guru may not be the best choice when a particular design is outside their area of preference.
Familiarity, Tipping and Temperament
Artists who know their customers will tend to give them discounts, as repeat clientele means regular work. It is important to build a rapport with one’s artist if there is a possibility of multiple tattoos.
Tipping is a common practice when getting a tattoo. An average tip is between 15 and 20%, which adds that much more to the total cost.
The temperament of an artist is perhaps one of the most overlooked factors in tattoo pricing. If an artist is asked to do something that they constantly do or that they do not enjoy doing, they will tend to quote standard prices. If asked to create a piece of art that is unique and interesting to them, they may lower the price simply on the basis that they really want to do the work.
Many tattoos, especially complex ones, will require touch-ups. This involves going back for a visit or two and having the small details, such as color filling and lines, fixed and adjusted. The cost of a touch-up is generally negligible, however, at around $50 or less.
As one can see, the cost of a tattoo is affected by a great number of things. In order to get the best price, one should shop around before committing, but never forget that finding an artist that is capable is more important than finding one that is cheap. Still, do not discount an artist just because they are “too cheap.” All of the best artists in the world started small and worked their way up, and there may just be a hidden gem out there that can do some truly amazing work for an affordable price.