How much should I charge for a tattoo design?

From @mycherrytattoo on twitter, comes the following question:

The full question is here, and reads:

I’ve bееn аѕkеd tο design a tattoo fοr a friend οf one οf mу teachers, аѕ I аm nοt actualy tattooing thіѕ person, i’d lіkе tο come up wіth a price solely fοr mу design. Whаt’s thе average pricing fοr a tattoo DESIGN (nοt thе actual tattoo). And whаt ѕhουld i consider whеn setting thе price. Alѕο, whаt аrе thе bіggеѕt factors іn thе design price?

So what is the secret to successful pricing of a tattoo design?

It’s an interesting question! I have never had to look at tattoo pricing before, though it could no doubt be compared to other kinds of design. Or it could be compared to other kinds of surgical intervention. Which would result in a better price for the designer?

Here are the factors that come to mind:

  • How long will it take? Of course, I would never recommend pricing just based on how long something takes – but this should provide a minimum floor to the price. It will give an indication of the lowest price your competition can afford to charge – especially if they do this for a living, as they will be unlikely to allow themselves to take a loss by charging too little per hour. A professional designer will have a floor price of no less than $50/hour – and many will aim for $100 or $150/hour. Effectively, this should govern whether it is even worth your while doing the work. If you are being paid less than you can earn from other clients or other work that you might do, you should turn down the work. I would imagine it might take around an hour to draw a good tattoo design – but if it’s in colour, or a large design, or has a lot of detail, it could be longer. And if you need to consult with the client, try out ideas on them, and go back and forth with a few changes, the time will add up to a few hours quite quickly.
  • What is it worth to the customer? This is a big deal for them. You are creating a piece of art which they will carry around and display for the rest of their life. It’s really important that it be beautiful, that it expresses their identity, and that the details be just right. Imagine all the situations where they’ll show it off to friends or lovers – and how much difference it will make if you can make it really stunning.
  • Is there any competition? If your potential customer is looking elsewhere, you will need to be mindful of the prices they will be offered by others. But also make sure they are aware of the difference in quality or aesthetic between you and the competitors. Are the competitors offering a unique design or just reusing one that is already walking around on many other bodies? Think of the difference in price between a Picasso original and a Picasso print. On the other hand, if there is no competition (you may be doing this for a friend who would not ask anyone else for a comparative price) then you don’t need to worry about what anyone else might charge (though see the last point in this list for a deeper issue).
  • How much are they spending alongside this purchase? Their main “complementary spending” in this case is for the tattoo itself. Tattoo prices vary widely but an online search shows a range from $50 to $200 per hour – and the process could take from 15 minutes to eight hours or more depending on size. Let’s imagine it’s a midsize tattoo taking an hour and a half, at $100/hour. Then they will be spending $150 – and the price of the design will inevitably be compared to this.
  • Perhaps most importantly: what does the customer expect? If the customer is expecting to pay $30, you are unlikely to persuade them to pay $3000. Likewise, if they think it will cost $3000, you will not only miss an opportunity but may actually put them off if you suggest charging just $30. The answer is that the customer probably doesn’t have a clear idea of what to expect – even if there is a figure in their mind, they probably have little confidence in it, and they will want to have something to compare with, to reassure themselves that they have made a choice that works for them. The best way to achieve this is to give them a range of prices with a rationale for the different price points. The customer can then pick their preferred price point and feel that they’ve been treated fairly because the choice was theirs.

Putting all these factors together, here is my recommendation.

Create a small list (6-8 items) of different size and colour options. Establish a baseline to reflect the fact that your creativity and time are going to be spent thinking about this client’s personality and wants. Point out that this decision is going to affect them for years into the future. And make sure that you put enough effort into the job to reflect and respect the weight of this responsibility.

A good range of prices might look like this:

  • Large or wraparound design (6×12 inches or more), full colour and with two personal consultations and initial draft designs: $1400
  • Large or wraparound, black and white, two consultations and drafts: $950
  • Medium (around 4×6 inches), full colour, two consultations: $650
  • Medium, black and white: $400
  • Small (up to 2×3 inches), full colour, one consultation: $250
  • Small, black and white: $150
  • Micro (up to 1×1 inch) colour, one consultation: $95
  • Micro, black-and-white: $55

For reuse of an existing design which you already have, offer a 50% discount.

This list gives your client the ability to select a price that works for them with a commensurate amount of work for you. Whatever their expectations are, they’ll be able to find something that fits.

If you are a tattoo designer, please let me know what you think – or try this list and tell me how it works. And if you’re the original poster of this question, I’d love to hear what you ended up doing.

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16 Responses to How much should I charge for a tattoo design?

  1. Katie says:

    Question: I have about 15 friends, all asking me the same question since designing my own tattoo. I love drawing- but I do not have a degree or career in any kind of design field. Should my pricing be lower, as such?

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your question. I don’t think you should offer a discount based on lack of qualifications: if your friends like your tattoo and would like you to design one, then it indicates you have a talent for it that they put a value on. That talent is just as valuable – or even more – than a degree.

      Different friends will put a different value on their design, so I would suggest you offer each person a range of different prices for different sizes. If one friend values your design at $500 and another at $200, why not accept the full amount from each of them? The fact that they’re your friends gives you an opportunity to make each design reflect their personality and your relationship with them, so they will be getting a unique design that no competitor could ever replicate. That potentially makes it worth quite a lot.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have drawn a few tattoo designs for numerous people that I am acquainted with. Each design has ranged from size, style, and color; and I have not yet charged for any of them. I am beginning to recieve more requests and at larger sizes and limited amounts of time to get them done. I would like to be able to start making a little profit off of them, what would be a reasonable price to charge?

  3. sandeep says:

    i wan’t to design to tattoo in my body. so i waana understand about How much charge for a tattoo design?.

  4. elyse says:

    Hi I have decided to start selling my art but I dont know how to price my art and I dont know how I would advertise my lil business. Do u have any pointers for advertisement and pricing?

  5. Jacqueline says:

    I just wanted to know just where you’ve gotten your information from. I agree with it completely and just got finished talking to someone about a full color back piece he wants me to design for him. I asked $500 for it and he’s saying the most he’ll pay is $50 because that’s the highest tattoo designs go for. Period.
    I’m just a simple artist so I don’t know about this or any other art field, so I just wanted to know if you could provide me with some evidence that I can present to him to prove that I’m not alone in this and that this is really how it works.
    I feel like he’s trying to get one over on me and I don’t like that.

    • admin says:

      It’s hard to provide direct evidence in this field, but for a similar scale of design in any other graphic field, $500 would be a bargain. A full-colour design of equivalent size for a magazine advert or brochure would be quite a significant commission.

      If your client won’t pay $500 (and some clients will not pay the full price for anything, because value may be subjective and they may simply not think it is worth as much as you do) I suggest you offer him some different options. For example, $500 for full-colour full-back, $250 for monochrome full-back, $200 for a smaller colour piece covering part of the back, $100 for a monochrome version, or $50 for a smaller colour piece on the arm.

      I can’t guarantee you will get what you’re looking for – the client might find someone willing to do it for cheaper – but if it is your artwork he really wants, then he’ll have to pay appropriately for it.

      • coral says:

        My friend ask me to do a tattoo on his arm and he don’t want colors just want the out line what is the right price to charge him.

  6. natasha says:

    I just wanted to ask, my boyfriends friend asked me if i wanted to draw him a tattoo design, it was to be Hugin the raven, so i drew and he says he loves it, and what i wanted him to pay for it? i have no idea what to tell him i want? but since i already gave him the design other people have contacted me to ask i i can design something for them, woth money in return of the design of cause, but what can i ekspect to charge them? they are people i know and i feel bad if i charge more than 20$ for a detailed piece of art?

    • admin says:

      Hi Natasha

      It’s up to you, of course. But what THEY think is an appropriate price for a friend might not be the same as what YOU think. So don’t restrict yourself by worrying about what they’ll think. In a subtle way, you want to “ask” them what they think is appropriate, but without asking them directly.

      So what I would do is, like it says above, offer them some different options (e.g. different size of design, colour or not colour) at different price levels and they can let you know what they want. By choosing one option, they’ll implicitly be sending you a signal of what they think is an appropriate price. If you want to use lower price levels than I’ve suggested in the post, that’s fine. The prices on this list are reasonably top-end, so even if you offer them one of those prices and they say it’s too much, you can give them a discount and you’ll still be left with a good amount of money.

      As for your boyfriend’s friend, why don’t you say to him: “I found a web page about this and it says that $95-250 is a good price, what do you think? But that’s for a professional designer, so if you think that’s too much I’ll charge you less because you’re a friend.” Then let him offer you whatever amount he wants. You could even send him this URL if you want.

  7. Davina says:

    I was recently asked to draw a few tattoos for someone who lives across the state from me, so I’ve never met him i just wanted to know how i should work the whole process. How do i make sure im paid and he doesn`t just take my drawing and get it done? I don’t have a way to charge a card or have a PayPal, do i just ask him to send cash then i start it and if he doesn’t like it too bad? I do glass etching so drawing someone’s tattoo is a really unexpected opportunity and i don’t want to ket them down.

    • admin says:

      Interesting question – not directly about pricing, but it’s all related. Trust is a big factor in most economic decisions.

      First, it’s quite easy to set up Paypal – even if you’re not a formal business, you can just link it to your bank account or credit card and receive payments that way.

      But perhaps another way to do it – since you said he wants a few tattoos – is to do it in stages? You could ask him to send the payment for the first one, then send him your first design. If he’s happy and wants to continue, then he can pay for the second one and so on.

      Or if you don’t want to ask him for cash upfront, you could send him one design, ask him to pay, and then draw the others after that.

      However I’d think it is OK to ask for payment in advance at least for the first one, when it’s someone you haven’t dealt with before. You can still offer him a money-back guarantee if he doesn’t like it (though you don’t have to).

  8. Anne says:

    Recently I was asked if one of my fantasy illustrations could be used as a tattoo design. I’ve not been asked this before and therefore do not have any idea what I should charge to use my image. Help?!

  9. James Burrus says:

    Tattoo designs are different. I am a Graphic Designer and occassionally I design tattoos for a friend. I almost never charge him for them as there is little money to be made in tattos art design. Go online and look up tattoo flash art work. (Flash is what tattoo artwork is called) It selld really cheap. You can buy a cd of several thousand designs for about$10 to 15$. The reason for this is that most good tattoo artists are just that…artists themselves. They design their own. Now with that being said. If a person comes to you and says I want you to design me a tattoo that someone else is going to put on my body then yes you are a designer and should get paid as such and this answer is an excellent guide to pricing. Personally my designs are done in Illustrator and then made into a truetype font so they can be simply typed to scale and printed and then put on flash paper and traced, but it is seldom done and done for a very close friend who like me has life challenges to overcome.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for the reply James: always great to get an insight directly from the field we’re talking about. A pricing strategy always needs on-the-ground knowledge from someone like you, as well as the psychological/economic analysis that I do.

  10. Brent says:

    Hello, I’m only 18 and haven’t done anything professional, but a friend of a friend I’ve never met before asked me to design a large, stretching hip and back tattoo, half coloured for them. I felt quite flattered and again, I’m not a professional, so I didn’t even think about charging them, but they offered me $50 for it, and after reading this, I realised I’m giving them about 95% off. Honestly, I’m happy to design it for fun and experience but should I ask for more since its such a huge reduction?

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