There is a saying in the tattoo community that goes like this…

“A Good Tattoo Isn’t Cheap, A Cheap Tattoo Isn’t Good”

Unfortunately I have also found out that an expensive one doesn’t mean a quality one either. “Buyer beware”, as the old adage goes.


There are two generally accepted methods of pricing a tattoo. A flat fee and an hourly fee. Most tattoo parlors will have both pricing methods in effect depending on what the shop’s policies and requirements are. Here is a description of the two methods and their pros and cons.

Flat Fee: This is the prefered method of pricing flash (the predesigned sheets on the shop walls) and small standards like roses, hearts and lettering. Pricing is estimated based on what it takes for an artist to complete the piece; length of time, complexity of design, number of colors, etc. Keep in mind that these prices are not set in stone and will fluctuate depending on other circumstances such as placement, resizing, adding and/or omiting elements from the design, etc.

– Pros: With the flat fee method you get a good feel for the shop’s pricing range. If you “price shop” between several parlors, you can compare work and match it to a price scale. This will help you tip the scales one way or the other.

(NOTE: If you want to get on an artist’s bad side just say, “the other shop had it cheaper.”)

Another pro is that if you happen to find a design that you like, you can tell whether you have enough money for it or if you’ll need to save a little more. If you don’t have enough, wait untill you do then come back for the tattoo.

– Cons: By having the price marked on the sheets, it’s easy for the artist to say, “That’s the price. Take it or leave it.” forcing the ‘impulse’ buyer out. Another drawback for a customer is that you may settle on a flat fee for a design that the artist estimated to take two hours but, because the planets aligned that night, in reality it only took one and a quarter hours. Even though it took less time you still have to pay the full amount. On an hourly rate you could have saved a few dollars.

Hourly Fee: Most custom artwork will be charged on a shop’s hourly rate. This is particularly true when the piece is large, takes more than one sitting to accomplish or is freehanded on the client. What determines a shop’s hourly rate is their operating cost, the artist’s time, and the artist’s quality and experience. I have been in shops that charge $50 to $60 per hour up to $100 per hour. I have also heard of some artists getting upwards of $200 – $250 per hour.

– Pros: In the long run, this type of pricing may be cheaper than the flat fee. If the artist is experienced and can layout a clean solid outline in a matter of a few minutes, the coloring put in with little effort, your time in the chair can be less than that estimated for the flash sheet, thereby making your price less than the flat fee.

– Cons: The most obvious drawback is that the artist can purposely take longer, forcing the cost to go higher.

Unfortunately there is no way of really knowing if the artist is killing time or just being meticulous. A good precaution is to ask for a time estimate beforehand.

However a tattoo is priced, be advised that once set, it is generaly not a good idea to try to haggle down the price. It belittles the artist and makes you look like a cheapskate. If you feel the price is too high, talk to the artist. If your concerns are legitimate, he may reduce it, otherwise look for alternatives. Not having the full amount right then is NOT a legitimate concern.


One of the most common faults I see customers do when they walk into a shop is limit the tattoo they are going to get to the amount of money they have in their pocket. Worse still, they go from the tattoo they want to something smaller and cheaper because they don’t have enough cash. I have actually seen people talk themselves into a tiny tattoo because they only have $50 or $60. I have run into some of these people later and have been told that they regreted going with the smaller tattoo. Worse yet is the customer that gets a little tattoo added on to another little tattoo because what they want is a larger tattoo but can’t afford the large one to begin with. After a while it just looks like a mess.

If you know what you want and you don’t have the money for it right then, there are a few options available to you. You can either wait, save up the full amount, then come back at a later time or do the tattoo in sessions. Be up front. Let the artist know that you are interested in the tattoo but you don’t have the full amount. Most artist are more than willing to work out a rudimentary budget for you. Get as much work as you can afford per session. Many artist prefer doing a larger tattoo in two or more sessions anyway. After the outline is done it allows the area to heal before color is applied.


Winged Heart 1
Figure 1

Figure 2

With a per session budget, it allows you the flexibility to get a better, more detailed or larger design without hitting you too hard at one time. In the example below I have taken a traditional theme and designed it in two ways. Fig. 1 is a basic winged heart with banner and flame. This would run in the neighborhood of $80 to $100 in most shops in my area. Fig. 2 is the same design upgraded to a higher price range. It is more elaborate, better use of color and larger in size allowing for more detail. This tattoo goes into the $200, $250 range. If you take the initial $100 that would have gotten you the smaller tattoo, you can get the outline of the second one done, allow it to heal then come back for the color as money permits. Yes, the process is a little longer, but you get a better tattoo in the end. With the two weeks healing for the outline and the two weeks healing for the color, you get a tattoo you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life. Remember, don’t let your purse dictate your tattoo.