A dedicated female tattooist tattooing her client

Employing Tattoo Artists in a Tattoo Shop: What are my Options?

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Due to the creative nature of the ever-growing tattoo industry, all tattoo artists and studios tend to work differently when it comes to the relationship between tattoo artist and studio owner. What works for you and your business will depend on a few varying factors, like how many artists you have (or plan to have) and how independent you want them to be.

The majority of the time, tattoo artists working in a studio owned by someone else will technically work for themselves on a self-employed basis, but they’ll still expect to pay you something for letting them work in your studio. What that payment arrangement is will generally be decided on by the studio owner so before you set-up shop, you’ll need to have a think about what you want that to be, taking into account the long-term picture.

How do tattoo artists get paid?

As opposed to being a typical employee, most artists will still work as an independent contractor and simply rent a space from a studio. This is how it’s done in the majority studios, with very few actually being employed by the owner (an apprentice or studio manager might be the exception to this, or occasionally in really big studios).

There are a couple of different routes to consider though for how the artist would come to rent the space from you.

One route is to ask them to pay a flat day rate (or a weekly/monthly rate) and keep all the money they earn from tattooing.

A professional tattoo artist working with colour ink

Though it seems a simple enough way to charge artists for renting a space, there are some other things to take into account when someone is renting a space from you. You might want to create a few conditions around the agreement as things like lengthy time off (if they have a frequent guest spot elsewhere for example or like to travel) can end up putting you at a disadvantage cost-wise. These points should all be discussed beforehand.

Another path you can go down is to work on a percentage basis where the artist will give you a decided upon percentage of all their earnings. Again, it’s sensible to discuss conditions with the artists beforehand, to make sure you’re in agreement of how many hours and days they expect to be working in order for their presence in the studio to be beneficial to you.

This isn’t an either/or situation though. You might want an artist to work on a flat day rate or percentage but cap it at a fixed amount per week. Keep in mind though that whatever the arrangement, most artists will expect a studio to supply a few basic supplies for them to use like gloves, kitchen roll etc. Most of the time an artist will sort their own inks, needles and machines themselves.

A female client starting on an upper arm tattoo

Working out Prices and Percentages

When working out what day rate or percentages you should go for, think about the bigger picture. What do you need to cover your overheads? If one of your artists were to leave, would you have enough coming in from those remaining? Keep in mind though that the higher the rate you ask for, the more your artists will expect you to provide in terms of supplies and service.

At the same time, you also want to make sure you’re pricing is fair. For example, a lot of studio owners start by asking for 50% but will re-evaluate this figure based on the amount of time the artists have been working for them and how hard-working and busy they are. If an artist is constantly fully booked, you could consider rebalancing the percentage split in their favour so that they’ll want to stay working in your studio. Getting a reputation as a fare studio is definitely not a bad thing as it’s only going to attract more people to your studio too.

Responsibilities

Generally, if an artist is renting a space from you and is working as an independent contractor, it is their responsibility to ensure they have the correct licence to work in your studio, and that they are paying their taxes. However, if you do decide to take an employee of the business, you’ll need to make sure you’re registered to do so and that you have the correct level of insurance. GOV.UK have plenty of helpful information for how to go about this.

A professional tattoo artist applying black ink

There is nothing to say that the route you take in the first place is the one you need to stick to. Over time, you will realise what works best for you and what option will benefit your business the most. After all, that is the most important factor to consider when building the right team.

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Chris Harrison

Bridgend Tattoo Studio

Bridgend, South Wales, UK

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Gold Room Tattoo

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Armentières, France

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Immortal Ink
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Empire Ink
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