You have made up your mind to finally get permanently marked. Before you go and “do it”, you better think twice about who does the work. Remember that your tattoo will be in your skin for the rest of your life, so be sure the artist you choose can do quality work.


• Capable of drawing just about anything, though drawing ability and style may vary from artist to artist. • Requires time to draw a custom tattoo or make instant changes on a flash piece.
• Works easily with flash or custom created artwork but prefers custom work. • Relies heavily on flash or work done by others.
• Can create ‘on the spot’ art without difficulty for customers. • Usually combines different elements from various flash sheets to create something new.
• May have a background in fine or commercial art or art education. • May have unrefined natural ability to draw and not much else.

Professional Artists

In the world of tattooing there are two basic type of professional ‘artists’. Tattoo Artists and Tattooists. The table at right takes a look at the differences in a nutshell. Keep in mind that these differences are a generalization and not the rule. This is not to say that one is better than the other, you must evaluate each on their own grounds according to their individual abilities. I have met so-called professional ‘tattoo artists’ whose drawing abilities are amateurish at the best and accomplished ‘tattooists’ who do unbelievably excellent work from flash but can’t draw their own stuff very well. Both of these types can be found working professionally in a tattoo parlor.

Scratch Artists

There is another type of artist I should mention here; the scratcher. This artist is not professional and usually tattoos friends at cheap rates with a ‘tattoo kit’ purchased from some dealer. Usually they are self-taught, have some artistic ability but no training in the mechanics of tattooing. Health issues are a major consideration. Scratchers usually cut corners to save money by reusing needles, often only sanitized in alcohol or bleach. Rarely is an autoclave used. It is also not that unusual to see scratchers open up a shop in order to look legitimate. As a consumer, you need to be aware that there are many disreputable individuals out there only interested in making fast money.

Underground Artists

While we may think that professional artists all work in tattoo shops, this is not always the fact. There are many good tattoo artists who work ‘underground’, produce quality work and maintain high safety and health standards. The reasons why they prefer to work underground rather than at a shop can vary and are often for personal reasons. Perhaps they can’t find employment in an established shop, or due to family obligations can’t afford to give up full time work because of benefits. Whatever the case, these artists are often looked on with distrust and often confused with scratch artists. The same warning applies to underground artists as to any other tattoo artist. Common sense and knowledge are your primary defense against potential problems. Always ask questions and never take anything for granted.


When searching for an artist you must keep in mind that each one has their own individual style of work. Find an artist whose style and quality of artwork is to your liking. Here is a quick run-down of what to look for when selecting an artist;

  • Always ask to see their portfolio. Take a close look at their previous work. It should have clean, smooth, unbroken lines, even color saturation, good use of color and contrast. The overall quality of the artwork should be consistent and professional looking not amateurish. Keep in mind that photos can sometimes hide irregularities.
  • Ask them what their favorite style of work is. Every artist has a personal preference for a style of work (i.e. fine line, new school, gray wash, etc.). The closer to your chosen artist’s style of work, the better the overall results will be on getting the tattoo you desire.
  • Talk to other customers. Ask to see tattoos done by the particular artist you are interested in and judge for yourself if the quality is there.
  • Always remember that once you leave the tattoo shop, your tattoo artist will only have a memory and a photo. The tattoo you get will be with you for the rest of your life.