A tattoo artist (also tattooer or tattooist) is an individual who applies permanent decorative tattoos, often in an established business called a “tattoo shop,” “tattoo studio” or ‘”tattoo parlour.” Tattoo artists usually learn their craft via an apprenticeship under a trained and experienced mentor.
A tattoo artist traditionally earns the title by completing an apprenticeship under strict guidelines from an experienced senior tattoo artist. Apprentices are generally expected to be excellent at drawing, with an ability to excel at customizing design ideas and genres, as well as various other styles of art in general.
A tattoo apprenticeship traditionally lasts two years. For the first six months to a year, the apprentice is not allowed to tattoo but is trained in sanitation and proper safety techniques. The apprentice will be expected to clean and maintain the shop, as well as watch and continue to grow as an artist. This first year most apprentices quit and never achieve full completion. The cost of apprenticing can range from free labor around the shop to tens of thousands of dollars.
Some of the tools of the trade have greatly evolved while some have stayed the same, such as the tattoo machine. In itself, the traditional machine has not changed from its original design and/or concept. With the rise of new machine designs, however, both air- and electric-powered tools such as the rotary and pneumatic tattoo machine have made their way into the industry. A practitioner may also use many different needle sets, such as round liner needles, round shader needles, flat shaders, and magnum (mag) needles. The amount of needles attached to the needle bar change, as well. For instance, large magnum needle groups range from 15 to 55 needles on one bar. There are cheap needle alternatives that have poor hardness and therefore blunt quickly. A practitioner must have the basic tools to provide a tattoo. All other items at the artist’s disposal are as different as each tattoo. Basic tools include the tattoo machine, power supply, clip cord, foot pedal, grip, tips, grip stem, needles, and tattoo ink. In the UK equipment must only be sold to registered studios who are provided a certificate by their local environmental health department.