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Licensed Tattoo Artist: Job Description and Education Requirements

Tattoo artists typically exhibit a love of tattooing, along with creative talent and a desire to work with people. A professional tattoo license or certification ensures that the tattoo artist's work is compliant with health standards for safe application of a tattoo, and that the artist is a capable technician.

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Job Description

Using needles and pigments, a tattoo artist applies a permanent design directly to a client's body, injecting ink under a layer of skin. Clients may come to a tattoo artist with a picture or design in mind or they may consult with the tattoo artist to create the desired image. Tattoo artists use their artistic skills to advise clients on size, color, design and placement of their body art. Some tattoo artists specialize in certain artistic styles, and many are able to offer clients a portfolio of work to examine.

Tattoo artists are responsible for maintaining a safe and clean work environment, including donning gloves when contact with broken skin is possible, sterilizing single-use tattoo equipment and tools using an autoclave after each tattoo application and ensuring that all work surfaces are properly disinfected to avoid the spread of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis, HIV and other communicable infectious diseases.

Education Requirements

There is no national protocol that must be followed in order to become a professional tattoo artist. State licensing and certification requirements vary. In some cases, there are no statewide regulations, and requirements are left to county or city government. In general, tattoo artists earn a license based on completion of a training program and passing an exam that measures their ability to understand and follow formally established health and safety protocols, not their creative ability in designing or applying body art. Typically, tattoo artists are required to be at least 18 years old. Licensed or certified tattoo artists may need to renew their credentials every few years.

Licensing or Certification Requirements

Certification or licensing standards may require a tattoo artist to complete training or an apprenticeship in an approved setting and under the supervision and guidance of another established professional in the field. This can take 1-2 years. Some states mandate that apprentices hold a special apprentice license or permit, usually earned by filling out an application and paying a fee.

As apprentice or trainee tattoo artists, they learn how to use tattooing tools and equipment, including sterilizing and packaging equipment using an autoclave. They also learn how to prepare single-use, disposable containers of ink and how to properly dispose of used needles and ink containers. Training in required recordkeeping, workplace sanitation and infection control measures are also covered. First aid and CPR training may also be required.

Some applications for licensing or other state credentials may require submission of a photograph, fingerprints and personal history so that a background check can be performed. Proof of training may also be required.

While the government does not monitor the creativity of a licensed tattoo artist, certainly the clientele of a tattoo parlor finds this aspect critical. A licensed tattoo artist isn't required to complete formal artistic training or hold a degree in any specific art or design field; however, mastering the art of drawing and working with inks used for body art is important. Mastery of artistic and technical skills ensure that the recipient of a tattoo leaves with aesthetically-pleasing tattoo that has been professionally administered.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median salary of $59,840 for all other artists and related workers not listed individually, including tattoo artists. A slower than average job increase of only 1% was expected for this group of artists and related workers, from 2010-2020, per the BLS.

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