As a tattoo artist and shop owner, I am quite well versed in what to look for when talking with a tattoo artist or entering a shop, so no surprise that one of my good friends that has moved abroad permanently phoned me and asked told me he is looking to extend his tattoo collection, but doesn’t know which artist to trust.
So how do you choose a tattoo artist or studio? Have a search on Google or Facebook and see what tattoo studios are in your area, then look for the reviews. If there are a lot of reviews and they underline the cleanliness and professionalism of the studio, then have a look at their portfolio and see if it’s the style you want.
This is the easiest way to find a reliable tattoo artist or studio, but there is so much more to picking the perfect one, and this is what I will expand on further. Here is what I have explained to my friend from my point of view.
Which Tattoo Artist Is Perfect For You
Sometimes choosing a tattoo artist can be a daunting task, as nowadays there are literally hundreds if not thousands of tattoo artists that are coming out of “the shadows”. Some of them are bad, some are good and some are just amazing.
So how to tell the difference between tattoo artists and how to spot an inexperienced or unprofessional one?
First of all having recommendations are a wonderful thing if you have friends or family that have tattoos and also have the experience of knowing how a professional tattoo artist looks like.
Here I am NOT talking about how they dress or things like that, I’m talking about professionalism, quality of the finished product and health and safety.
Best chances are that if one of your friend or family has a really good tattoo that is healed, they will be the best to inform you on who they would recommend, but sometimes it might be better to do your own research just to be that little more personal on your choice of tattoo artist.
If your uncle recommends his homie who can do your full sleeve for $20 and can do it even at your own house or maybe his, chances are that all the alarm bells will start ringing, as you can’t get anymore obvious of this being a very poor choice.
But with so many horror stories nowadays with actual “licensed” tattoo artists that turn out horrible tattoos, the days when going into a tattoo studio and getting a professional tattoo are gone. Now it’s the hardest it’s ever been to differentiate between real and fake, as some shady tattoo artists even go to the extent of posting online other well renowned artists work and pass it on as their own. Some tattoo artists might even write their own reviews on Facebook or google.
So here is the difference between a tattoo artist and a licensed or unlicensed “scratcher” (tattoo artist with no experience or regards for health and safety)
1. If a tattoo artists page has only 5 reviews and in all of them he is classed as the best tattoo artist around, chances are you have a scratcher. Usually tattoo artists that have business Facebook pages will have at least a hundred if not more of reviews all from genuine people that highlight different aspects: the quality of his/her work, professionalism, cleanliness, etc.
Although some tattoo artists only have their personal pages, in this case you might want to have a look at the tattoos that s/he has posted and try to gauge if it’s up to your standard and/or your style.
3. Portfolio and diversification is very important. Although some professional tattoo artists might specialize in only one style, you will be able to spot them straight away the good from the bad as it will be easy to differentiate from the pictures. But in most cases a good tattoo artist will always try to push himself into all styles of tattooing, even if they have specialized themselves in one tattoo style. A good tattoo artist will have hundreds of images of tattoos and videos they have done throughout the years, whilst a “scratcher” will post mostly other artist’s tattoos and ask if anybody would like something like that or say design up for grabs.
4. Photoshoped Images are usually a sign of hiding something. We come across a lot of times of images of tattoos where the white is literally pure white and colors are more bright than a rainbow. 9 times out of 10 they will not look like that in the real life. Although most of the times a tattoo artist can only take a picture of the tattoo they have created right after it was finished, you will find that reputable tattoo artists have recurring customers and they will also post pictures of their healed tattoos.
There are also a few absolutely brilliant tattoo artists, that still choose to photoshop their images to enhance certain features, but you will find that although they are brilliant artists, usually their own customers will be disappointed with the tattoo as the photoshoped image posted by the tattoo artist will create unrealistic expectations and will not reflect the healed reality.
5. Jumping ship often is quite common with less than excellent tattoo artists. If you find a tattoo artist has changed workplaces (tattoo studios) very often, then this might mean that this tattoo artist might be very difficult to deal with or maybe unreliable. Good professional tattoo artists tend to have very long periods of time in the same tattoo studio, and don’t move too often.
6. Professionalism in communication. A professional tattoo artist will not reply to your e-mail or private message with “Sup Homie?” or “Nae bother!”. You will find that a professional tattoo artist will keep their professionalism when dealing with customers and will offer and request respect. They will not use foul language or hood slang, as this reflect poorly on the way they present themselves to their potential customers.
7. Consultations are an absolute necessity when talking about a new project, as a professional tattoo will always try to understand the customers vision and will discuss the details (style, location, black and grey or color). Whilst a “scratcher”will only offer a price and ask for a deposit, as he will not care about the details, but rather to do the minimum necessary to take your money.
8. Deals Deals Deals – Any professional tattoo artist will make a discount every now and then to fill out the open spaces in his diary, or a special offer now and then. But when an artist is always advertising 50% off or deals constantly, that should be an alarm bell. Also, every other post being about a full day available tomorrow at a discounted rate is not a sign of a good professional tattoo artist. Don’t forget: “Cheap tattoos aren’t good, and good tattoos aren’t cheap!”. So better save up and get a proper tattoo then regretting the one you got because it was the cheapest artist around.
A professional tattoo artist that has a good reputation will not be the cheapest in the area, sometimes they might be the most expensive in the area or just about, as a professional tattoo artist will compete with other artists on artwork and not on price. Quality over quantity.
9. Gut feeling – this is probably one of the most important signal to indicate if a tattoo artist is right for you. If your “gut feeling” is telling you something is not right, chances are that it’s true. A true professional tattoo artist will ask you a lot of questions about your next tattoo and will also explain as many aspects of the tattooing as possible, before you even ask them.
There is no guidebook to distinguish a professional tattoo artist from a “scratcher” and there is also no definitive answer as we are all unique and a tattoo being so personal and a matter of preference, when you meet or chat to the perfect tattoo artist for you, you will know, as you should “click” with said tattoo artist.
How To Tell If A Tattoo Studio Is Right For You
When walking into a tattoo studio, you will notice a lot of things around you, but you might also miss a lot of important clues to what that tattoo studio actually has to offer.
Tattoo studios are meant to abide by the laws that apply to the Health and Safety aspect of tattooing, and nowadays tattoo studios need to abide by rules and regulations that are just as strict as a dental surgery or a family doctors practice.
Although having a license or permit does not always insure you will have a good experience.
Here are some of the thing I would expect, or not expect a professional tattoo studio to have:
1. Massive Discounts – before you even walk in a tattoo studio, if you notice outside or in the windows big massive writing offering massive discounts, this might mean that the tattoo studio is struggling for customers. If a tattoo studio doesn’t have enough customers that means that there are some reasons behind it. Either their etiquette regarding customer relationships is not up to scratch, or their artwork is failing them, or other negative reasons.
Things like “We will match or beat any price!” might work for appliances where there are 100 shops selling the exact same product, but when it comes to tattoos, every artist is at a different level of experience and quality, so how can Mr Scratcher that has been tattooing for 3 months and using cheap products and consumables offer the same thing as Mr Tattoo Artist that has been tattooing for 10 years and uses the most renowned products and the best quality consumables?
2. Shop Front – if walking towards the tattoo studio you notice a clean, well-kept and maintained shop front, this usually means that the owners or artists take great pride in appearances and this can relate to their work. This is not a clear indication, but it might does help.
3. First impression – when entering a tattoo studio, your first impression is probably the correct one. The reasons I’m saying this is that if you enter a tattoo studio and whoever is at the reception growls at you, this might me the right moment and walk out. A tattoo studio is a happy place where art is created, so a grim looking face might not be the indication of that.
4. Cleanliness – a tattoo studio should be well-kept and clean at all times. If you walk in the person at the reception is cleaning a window or wiping a frame on the wall, this is actually a very good sign. You don’t want to see somebody brushing when you enter a tattoo studio as this raises dust into the air, and this should have been done before opening the studio, but cleanliness is very important. If there is a lot of dirty or dusty areas in the reception, that usually means that cleanliness is not the most important thing for the studio.
5. NO pets – pets are illegal in tattoo studios in most countries, and if you ask me, although I have to hairy dogs at home, pets don’t have what to do in a tattoo studio. Regardless if we are talking about dogs, cats, snakes, turtles or fish at one point or another somebody has to clean their poos and wees, and although most might argue that they will wash their hands, can you really trust that they have not touched any other surfaces that people customers come in contact with?
One of the most important things to avoid in a tattoo studio is cross contamination. This meant that if you touched a “dirty” or unsanitary surface, you should not touch anything else and dispose of gloves or wash and sanitize hands immediately.
I have heard of people that forget to wash their hands after going to the toilet, so I wouldn’t be surprised about pets and cross contamination. I say pets should never be allowed in a tattoo studio, regardless of species.
6. Talking to an artist – if you ask in a tattoo shop to speak to an artist, one should never be far away, or at least you should be able to arrange an appointment with them to speak about the details. If you can’t meet the artist that will tattoo you beforehand, chances are that the tattoo studio cares about bringing money in and are not customer focused.
7. Gang Hut – I call a gang hut any place where a group of friends stand and chat away with no regards to their surroundings. A tattoo artist or tattoo studio owner should always be customer focused, and try to be helpful to his customer, rather then prioritizing friends.
8. Artwork – have a look on the walls. A professional tattoo studio will have displayed some of the tattoos done by the artists working there on their walls. I am yet to find a professional tattoo studio that doesn’t display their own artists work on the walls, to showcase the quality of their artists. If unsure, don’t be afraid to ask if the artwork displayed is their own or generic images. If there is no artwork done in that studio on the walls, I would turn away and run the other way.
Any tattoo artist or studio owner will take pride in displaying to their potential customers the level of their skill.
9. NO Smoking, Drinking or Drugs – if you ever find yourself walking into a tattoo studio and anybody is smoking, drinking, or taking drugs run as fast as you can see. This is illegal and dangerous. The reason I’m saying it’s dangerous is that you are about to let somebody tattoo you that might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
10. Being rushed – when looking for the tattoo studio where you will get your next tattoo, don’t let yourself be rushed or belittled. You are the customer, and any tattoo artist or studio owner will have great pride in answering any questions you might have regarding the tattoo studio, the tattoo procedure, or even showing you around if it’s possible.
11. Social Media – the most ruthless portfolio of any tattoo studio. Before, there were always book in tattoo studio where artists showcase their individual work. Nowadays with social media, if a tattoo studio is not producing great artwork, they can’t hide it or are bound to slip and show the truth about the quality of their artwork on social media, especially in videos. If they won’t, I’m sure a quick search will reveal if customers were unhappy with any aspect of the tattoo studio.
12. License, permits and restrictions – I’m most countries any tattoo studio is required by law to display their license and insurance coverage in a clear and visible manner, where any customer walking in the tattoo studio can clearly see it and read it. In fact this is public information, and if you can’t see the license it within your right to ask to see it and there should be no argument about this. If there is any hesitation, or you see the person getting annoyed or angry, just thank them for their time and walk away.
I always look for restriction signs when walking into tattoo studios, for the following reason. If a tattoo studio doesn’t have a big sign saying they won’t tattoo anybody under 18 years old, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, what other laws are they not conforming to?
But I am more than sure that when looking around tattoo studios once your mind will be settled and ensured that the place you are in is professional and might be the right tattoo studio for you, your gut feeling will be the one that will approve or disprove. Listen to that inner voice, as it’s usually right.
How much is a deposit for a tattoo? Most tattoo studios or artists will charge anywhere between 30% to 50% of the price of the full tattoo as a deposit, and in most cases the deposit is non-refundable. So, before you book in make sure you can make it on the date your proposed tattoo session will be.
Does a tattoo studio need a permit or license to operate? All tattoo studio in USA, UK and Europe need a permit or license to operate, and this is usually obtained after a very thorough inspection from the local Council’s Health and Safety Department and other departments to ensure the clients safety.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will try to answer them as soon as possible.