As tattoos become more mainstream, job prospects for artists look good: Americans spend 1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos, and there are about 21,000 tattoo parlors in the U.S. alone. Though each state's requirements for tattoo artist certification vary, there are similar steps you need to take to become a professional. However, before you can obtain work as a professional tattoo artist and get a certificate, you must develop your skills through education and apprenticeship.
Hone Your Skills as an Artist
Although there's no college degree required to become a tattoo artist, it's wise to obtain an art degree so you can perfect your drawing and painting skills. When you become a tattoo artist, clients will often ask you to design original pieces so you'll need the creativity and skill to interpret and translate their requests into beautiful, original artwork. If a client isn't impressed with your artistic ability, he'll probably go elsewhere for his tattoo.
Build a Portfolio
The ideal portfolio should include at least 50 drawings, with a mix of full-color and black-and-white pieces. Although you may specialize in a certain kind of artwork, you'll obtain a larger clientele if you can demonstrate your ability to design a variety of tattoos. Ask a professional tattoo artist to look over your portfolio and give you feedback -- she'll be able to tell you if you're lacking in a certain skill set, or if you might be ready to move on to an apprenticeship.
Land an Apprenticeship
Much of what you'll need to know as a tattoo artist is learned on the job. Meet with local tattoo parlors to get a feel for where you might enjoy doing an apprenticeship. Make sure you choose an environment in which you feel comfortable, because you'll likely be doing "grunt" work in the beginning like sterilizing supplies, sweeping floors and running errands for your boss. As you progress, you'll learn how to use a tattoo machine and perform free tattoos on clients for practice.
Contact Your State Health Department or Boss About Certification
Your state will have its own requirements for certification, but generally you must pass a test to demonstrate you have knowledge about safe tattoo practices, sterilization and disease prevention. For example, the state of Florida provides a list of approved courses for learning about blood-borne pathogens and communicable diseases so you may become licensed. Oftentimes, the tattoo parlor where you complete your apprenticeship will offer this certification. Otherwise, contact your state's department of health for local information.