How Much Do Tattoos Cost in 2020? Tattoo Prices 101
You spent months or even years dreaming up the perfect artwork for your new tattoo. You’ve got the size picked out, you know exactly where you want it, and what style of body art you want the design expressed in.
Then a question pops in your head: “how much is this going to cost me?”
It’s a tough question to answer too. There are many factors that go into that final price tag for a tattoo, including:
- Time taken to execute the work
- Tattoo artist’s level of experience and demand
- Your relationship with the artist (or lack thereof)
- Artist per hour or per piece pricing
- Size of the tattoo
- Style of the tattoo
- Use of colors and ink quality
The following piece will delve into these elements to give you a straightforward guide that can help you with tattoo prices and give you an understanding of the total cost for your next tattoo.
Negotiating on price
In general, I enjoy the process of negotiation. After living in Asia for a time and touring the Middle East, some level of haggling over price is usually expected when purchasing services.
However, when it comes to the tattoo cost, it’s one thing I recommend you don’t negotiate over. Artists charge a per piece or (most often) an hourly rate that is set, and you should abide by these rates, as they’ve been earned. They factor in all the elements of getting a tattoo, including some you may not consider.
First, understand that a tattoo is permanent ink and an investment. If you want the best, it is always a wise decision to pay the best. There’s an old saying, “you get what you pay for”, and well, it’s true in most cases for getting a tattoo in 2020.
If you’ve done your research into your tattoo and found the perfect tattoo artist for your design, then you shouldn’t rule them out over price. If it takes more saving to afford their work, then do it.
In reality, negotiation happens at more budget tattoo shops where people generally don’t care about quality. If you want a quick and grimy tattoo – I’ve gotten one of two like that on a whim – then doing it as cheaply as possible can be a consideration when getting a tattoo.
When you really care about the finished product and how it will look deep into the future the difference between $150 and $175 an hour shouldn’t worry you that much. Remember, it is $25 here and you’re getting artwork on your body that’s going to last a lifetime!
There are numerous studies that prove a higher financial gain does not always equate to better work performance. For some people, the opportunity to ink a certain piece of artwork can be incredibly more motivating. Just something to remember… Ultimately it comes down to honesty, trust your artist.
A better way to negotiate
You’re still on a fixed budget and you don’t want to negotiate. Don’t worry, you still can stay on budget while respecting your artist at the same time. It goes back to the honesty thing, in this case, be upfront with your artist.
Pick out a design and speak to your chosen artist. Tell them exactly what you are looking for and how much you are able to spend; in other words what meets your financial means. Ask if it’s possible and they’ll tell you their answer.
Sure, you may still get a no, however, you may be told yes too or given valuable information that can help you out, such as the possibility to change the size or style slightly and fit your budget.
If your artist has downtime you may get lucky, but you’re more likely directed to another artist in the tattoo shop that may still do quality but charge a lesser price due to inexperience, or apprenticeship.
Understand that are a considerable number of talented artists out there and that tattoo pricing is not standardized. By no means do you have to settle if you don’t want to; ultimately that’s up to you. Great artists can be found throughout the world – I’ve been inked on five continents and the tattoo cost disparity between talents can be huge (as can the long term results)
Even if you live in the US, you could take a trip to Mexico, save 30% and head back home with truly remarkable ink. Not to mention, traveling from CA to OH might save you about the same too. Again, there’re plenty of options out there to choose from. Make sure that you are aware of all them so you can make an informed decision on your choice of tattoo.
Hourly rates and fixed prices
Artists either charge an hourly rate or fixed price for the full design. Some do both depending on the tattoo art. You may settle on an artist who will give you an hourly rate and estimate, while another will give you a total flat fee for doing the work.
When you ask how many hours, it can be a difficult question to answer on the spot, but you’ll be given enough of an idea to get a firm understanding of how much the tattoo will cost. The time spent drawing and designing up your piece can greatly vary and takes some guesswork, however experienced artists and specialists in particular styles have spent a lot of time tattooing and can give you a clear indication simply.
If you already know exactly what tattoo design you want, it’s reasonable to ask for the fixed tattoo price or number of hours involved. Remember, a tattoo is generally a considerable sum for most people. Your artist is human, they’ll understand and want to help alleviate any worries over price.
Be upfront, be clearly communicated your budget, design expectations and be okay with asking questions to get a clear understanding of your full tattoo price prior to sitting in the artist’s tattoo chair. Be pleasant, clear, and courteous, and artists will respond in kind.
It’s important that regardless if you want to know a rough estimate of how long it will take and what their rates are, or whether you know exactly what you want, always aim to provide as much detail as possible on size, color, style, placement to get an accurate quote.
Honesty and communication is the key for both parties in creating a fantastic tattoo.
What you’ll end up paying
One tattoo shop might charge $100 while another just down the road will want a $1,000. Your best bet is to always choose a shop that you believe is going to do the best work for the budget you have set for the piece!
Common rates: $75 -$150 hour. However, it’s not unheard of to see hourly rates as low as $50-$60 or even well above $200-$250 an hour. For certain in-demand artists, $350-$500+ per hour should be expected as the minimum rate.
In comparison, think about the cost of tattoo removals for a moment here. Over seven treatments, each will cost $200 and generally take 15 mins. That’s $800 per hour! Don’t get bummed out by hourly rates for new tattoos that seem expensive, they are reasonable all said and done, with everything considered!
What affects the price?
When getting a tattoo its best to think about your price in units of time to discover the average tattoo prices.
Artists’ per hour or per piece rates are built on time taken to accomplish the finished result – whether it’s from creating the design from an idea and drawing up, doing tattoo flash, or even working freehand.
The larger or more complex the piece is then the higher the tattoo cost! There is significantly more work and time involved with a full back tattoo than a simple wrist tattoo for example, and prices vary accordingly.
The color is another factor to consider when thinking about tattoo prices. With black ink and simple lines, the piece is fairly simple to design, etch, and execute.
However, adding a range of color inks or variety in black and gray shading often results in a considerable addition of time and complexity for the tattoo artist.
Also, the quality of the ink is always a factor. In my experience, it is the one area more than everything else – except maybe for tattoo healing and aftercare – that should absolutely be the highest quality always. Good ink means a good tattoo long term and better overall experience.
Placement can often vary the prices too. If you think about it, an elbow tattoo is an extremely sensitive area to tattoo. It’s not easy to work with for both the client and the artist. An arm tattoo is a cake walk in comparison.
Design elements. The more complex it is, and the more your artist needs to do to create then more you pay in the final tattoo prices. It’s quite simple to do a flash tattoo from off the wall of the tattoo shop versus a killer custom piece, but all tattoo prices are a reflection.
When you get a tattoo or a large scale piece of body art like a sleeve tattoo, make sure to factor in tipping your tattoo artist for their work.
While not an established practice in other western countries such as Australia, New Zealand, parts of Canada, and the UK – tipping should be done after every session you complete with your tattoo artist in the US,or baked into the final tattoo price for per piece tattoo designs.
Generally speaking, tipping starts at 15%. I always tipped 20% for my artist when getting inked in the States, and if I was considering making a particular person my tattoo artist of choice then I would definitely consider tipping 25%.
If they’re that good you want to come back to them to get a tattoo again, they’ll remember you, your body art, and your tip when looking at their availability to do more tattoo designs.
Also, if you’re getting tattoos at a special promotion day like Friday the 13th or Halloween, and there’s $13 walk up tattoos on offer from participating tattoo shops , make sure you throw a lucky $7 tip on top and make it a twenty!
Full Sleeve Tattoo Prices
There is no fixed price for a full sleeve tattoo. The rate of tattoo artists for large scale pieces’ average at about $150, depending on the skill and tenure of the artist, size of the tattoo design, the complexity of the design and the length of time taken to execute the art work.
Keep in mind that a full sleeve tattoo may take at least 10-15 hours depending on the design, so a full sleeve tattoo may cost from $1,500 to $2,000 before tips at a minimum.
If there are more colors involved and the level of intricacy is high, cost can run up to $7,000.
There are celebrity tattoo artists whose waitlist is too long that it’s almost impossible to get an appointment. Scott Campbell is one of the most sought after at $2,000 per hour, while legendary Dark Surrealist Paul Booth has a two year waitlist and prices starting at $350 per hour for freehand work. New York tattoo artist Bangbang, whose client list includes Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and NBA superstar Lebron James rate starts at $500 per hour.
Both Arms – Full Sleeve Prices
You could simply double the full sleeve prices above for twin sleeve tattoos. A simple example would be 40 hours, spaced out over 4 to 5-hour sessions at $125/hour. That would still put you at $2,500 per arm, $5,000 total.
Another option is trying to get a per piece rate with set tip baked into the total, so you know exactly how much your tattoo will be, as the time element is removed and everything can be calculated more simply. You book in regular sessions with your tattoo artist and do the work until it’s finished.
Full Sleeve Leg Tattoo Prices
Most leg sleeves will take at least 15 hours. Some – such as a tribal leg tattoo or Japanese thigh tattoo – may take significantly more. A safe estimate will have a full leg sleeve costing around $2000 -$2500 before tips.
The good news is that a full leg tattoo is almost always broken up into multiple sessions, generally comprising the outline, plus upper piece and lower leg tattoo shading and color sessions.
The tattoo shops usually recommend that you wait until the completed portion has finished the tattoo healing process before continuing with the piece. In my experience it is always pay as you go for a large design, you never pay at the start or the end.
This means that you can wait months, or even years—the design isn’t going anywhere!—to complete a large tattoo, which allows for a more realistic time frame in terms of budgeting and full tattoo prices.
Half Sleeve Tattoo Prices
An upper arm half sleeve piece can take 8 hours minimum, with a more reasonable estimate being in the 12-15 hour bracket for work using complex lines, color and shading.
Some leg half sleeve tattoos on the thigh can reach as high as 20 hours, especially if doing Japanese style Irezumi or animal realist types of tattoo.
With heavily detailed heavily black ink being part of many rights of passage in Polynesian tribal tattoos, they are generally the most expensive tattoos created in the half sleeve style.
Small Tattoo Prices
Small tattoos can take as little as 5 minutes to an hour or more. For the very quick, very simple tattoos shops institute a shop minimum for time and effort. Shop minimum prices can be $50-80 for some stores or as much as $150 for others.
Simple designs such as roman numerals, lines or initials cost the shop minimum or can be inked occasionally at special promotional prices.
More complex work can cost around $200 for an hour from a well established, skilled professional for a small tattoo.
Highly skilled, in demand artists and single needle specialists can charge up to $500 per hour, while apprentices and less experienced artists can cost as little as $75.00 per hour.
A Note on Single Needle Tattoos
Source: @erikdamasco via Instagram
Currently, the most expensive small tattoo prices you’ll get for detailed single needle tattoo designs. Both color and black and gray designs are comparatively expensive, but look awesome.
Single needle tattoos are characterized by the high levels of detail that can be achieved in comparatively small designs. Most tattoo machines operate with a range of different needles, however in single needle technique the tattoo machine is loaded with a solo tattoo needle to etch the skin.
Unless you’re getting a small tattoo piece done by a rock star artist, then a single needle tattoo will cost more for a small tattoo. They can take anywhere from 3 -6 hours more than a simpler tattoo of the same size.
Modern single needle and fine line tattoo use an approach reminiscent of a technical drawing pencil, with smooth shading and hyper-realistic detail amongst the usual bold lines of outline.
Due to the time taken to execute these small designs, and artist’s value is tied to time and skill, they tend to be a more expensive tattoo cost, but one well worth it when the small image is finished and settled into the skin.
The Cost of Full Back Tattoos
The average back tattoo can take from 10-20 hours minimum for less complex or pure linework tattoo designs. You can look at anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 on upwards depending on the artist you choose.
For full back tattoos etched with considerable detail and expert skill, you can expect anywhere from 25-40 hours worth of work and the tattoo will cost at least $5000 USD before tip.
A Final Note on 2020 Tattoo Costs and Pricing
Many factors go into the cost when you get a tattoo. Be smart, and be sensible in your preparation.
If you want a cheap tattoo, it’s often a surefire way to get a bad one. I’ve done it, and while I don’t regret doing it cheaply, I definitely could have worked smarter to find the right tattoo artist for the job, even when they were spur of the moment decisions.
Try not to choose your tattoo artist based solely on their pricing – get an understanding of their skill level, the price structure, your style and designs ideas, and your level of comfort before making a decision. See more than one artist if you need to in doing your research
Always communicate clearly and respectfully with the tattoo shop or artist before committing to making a booking or doing a walk in piece for your next tattoo, and make sure if trying to get a quote online that you provide as many tattoo details as possible for accuracy
Focus on the tattoo shop’s reputation, the tattoo artists’ portfolio and matching your ideas to your total budget and keep expectations clear on what the tattoo will cost from the outset.
You’ll be glad you did for years to come with an exceptional piece of tattoo art, that every ink collector would be proud of.
And remember to tip your artist!