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What Kind of Education Do You Need to Be a Tattoo Artist?

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Being tattooed has become considerably more socially acceptable over the years. As a result, more and more people are getting tattoos and lucrative careers can be found in the tattoo industry. You don't need any type of college education to become a tattooist, but the appropriate training is a must. Though a few schools and online courses exist to provide basic tattoo artist training, most industry professionals get started with apprenticeships that provide hands-on comprehensive training in all aspects of the art.

Artistic Trainning

One of the main requirements to become a tattoo artist is artistic talent. In order to succeed in the industry, you must have a passion for creating art. This would include the ability to draw, trace, shade and color images to be applied to the skin. Though it is not a specific requirement for tattooists, taking a basic art class can help you on your way; particularly if you are a novice artist. Drawing lessons are generally not included in a tattoo apprenticeship. Depending on your level of artistic skill, you might consider enrolling in an art or drawing class at a local community college to hone your drawing skills.

Skin and Anatomy

Tattoo artists are required to have significant knowledge about the human skin and anatomy. During your training course or apprenticeship, one of the first topics studied will be skin anatomy and physiology, which will cover the topics of dermis, epidermis and hypodermis; study of the skin, flesh and underlying muscles. Such knowledge is essential to tattoo artists because tattoo needles penetrate the epidermis by breaking skin to permanently stain it with inks. This portion of your training also aids in the prevention of scarring.

Bloodborne Pathogens Training

At the time of publication, the United States Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that workers exposed to blood and other infectious materials, such as tattoo artists, participate in some type of universal precautions training on an annual basis. This type of training is essential in protecting yourself and your clients from the spread of dangerous viral infections such as hepatitis and HIV. This training typically includes study topics such as epidemiology, symptoms of bloodborne diseases, transmission, prevention and emergency procedures.

Sanitation Education

Whether you take a tattoo artistry course or participate in an apprenticeship, you will be required to learn all state-required sanitation procedures before attempting to tattoo people. Sanitation training generally consists of a set of operational procedures that ensure the physical safety of the artist and the client. Instruction usually includes the proper use of latex gloves, stencil paper, antibacterial solutions and disposable razors. You will also learn how to safely and properly dispose of such items after their use as well as equipment sterilization procedures.

Equipment and Supplies

Once you have successfully completed all of your health and sanitation related-training, you must learn to identify and maintain all the materials and equipment used to administer tattoos to the human body. Your instructor or mentor will go over each piece of equipment and how it is used. Items include 8-, 10- and 12-coil tattoo machines, power supplies, needles, bars, tubes and tips. Supply and materials training generally includes the study of inks and colors and stencil creation and application.


The final phase of tattooist education is a comprehensive introduction to technique. At this point of your training you will learn how to administer a tattoo onto the human flesh. If you are participating in an apprenticeship, you will assist your mentor and gain hands-on experience working with real clients. This segment of training includes instruction on positioning clients for procedures, how to hold a tattoo gun, outlining, shading, coloring and "practice skins," such as leathers and oranges, used by novice tattooists.


Michelle Renee is a professional trainer and quality assurance consultant in the career, education and customer service industries, with two decades of experience in food/beverage and event coordinating management. Renee has been published by Lumino and Career Flight as well as various food, education and business publications.