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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37 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?

    • Stephanie says:

      I do the same thing, and I’ve even been asked by a local tattoo artist how much I would charge him to buy one of my designs. Someone told me to charge half of what the tattoo would be (ex: if someone is willing to pay $600 for a tattoo, then charge at least $300 for the drawing) I’m going to try that out here in a bit

  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?

    • Celi says:

      Try instagram. Make an account with your art pictures put up. Use hash tags like “#art” “#artist”, you know? People search those kinds of hashtags; i do as well. Good luck

  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.

    • I’m a Graphic Design professor and my fiancé is a tattoo artist. Think about this: Can the person that told you that “he would only pay $50 because that’s the highest a design goes for” do what you do? The only person that can tell you the worth of your design is you. It is quite offensive when other people try to devalue your work just because they can’t afford it. But do you want your future clients to come to you because you’re cheap or because you’re good? Food for thought.

  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. Isabel says:

    I’m designing a tattoo for my friend, it’s about a half sleeve but does not wrap around his arm, it’s all words (a RIP tattoo) with the golden gate bridge in the background, I told him I would tell him the price of the design when it was finished but I’m not sure what to charge him. And yes we are both still in high school (reason why I wont actually tattoo him and still not sure if he’s going to wait for me to be the one to tattoo him or not)

  11. 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?

    • Katie H says:

      If u feel like u need to charge more for the effort u put in, then of course charge more. Just keep in mind that u cant go too high or “customers” might be dissatisfied.. And go else where for a design.

  12. Komarisky says:

    If you approached a dentist or mechanic and asked them to do work for you, $50/hr wouldn’t be unreasonable. Unfortunately, because art is seen as a skill people don’t need to get a degree in or have formal training in in order to do well, both consumer and artist don’t place high value in the products or skills being purchased. My suggestion to all those reading this thread is to charge a reasonable amount as suggested and never give your work away for free. Ideas are the business we are in and that’s intellectual property.

  13. Jeanne Palomino says:

    These prices- $50 an hour and presuming a minimum of an hour- that is far more than what good tattoo artists charge for entire sheets full of designs. That might bebe what an extremely experienced, respected tattoo master might charge. Hats off if you can get that. But a tattooist might do a small or medium custom design well in a lot less than an hour, including the sizing, adjustments and making the stencil, and fold the design price into the cost of the finished tattoo. It might be different if this were a professional job (and also, not off the books- no user head nor taxes…) or if it were particularly indicate and difficult, or if it were specifically a work of that person ‘ s art, like a brand- ‘I want a Jane Smith tattoo design’ from an in – demand tattoo artist.

    I could be wrong. See what you can get, but the tattoo artist also then has to turn the source art into workable tattoo flash and stecil. So the overall design fee starting at 50, absent any tattoo cost, unless there is something uniquely desireabke, or its, a friend or family, seems high.

  14. Rich Tunnell says:

    What if you just want to get something they have already done? I have several friends who are artist and I thought it would be cool to get something of theirs they have already done TRANSLATED by my tattoo artist into a tattoo. I’d still have to pay my tattoo artist to do the work? Would the pricing recommendation listed above still be valid? I want to offer my freinds money for their design but I can’t afford 6 – 7 hundred dollars for each peice; especially since I will have to pay about that much to get it tattood on my body. So would the price be less if they are not designing it FOR you?

    • Katie H says:

      Whether its for you or not its still a piece of art… So yes its fair for them to atill charge u that much.

  15. cindy baxter says:

    Thank you I found the information you gave a big help. I’m an artist of Animation, film, 2d, murals and known for my work. I have also been asked to design tattoo’s and I’m also thinking of doing them.

  16. Shantai says:

    Okay I am starting on my tattoos and I am really wondering how much can I charge for little tattoos, black? For and example,(small Chinese symbol),They never ask me what prices they would pay but I really want to know know how much it actually cost, so I will know next time.

    • Katie H says:

      In my opinion if its not an original design or if ur not recreating the symbol that emulates ur own style, then u might not get satisfaction by charging alot for the design u give. Id estimate $10-20. But if u are adding ur own flair.. Charge more! Like $40-70.

  17. Iona says:

    I have recently been contacted by a company that sell bamboo iPhone cases with designs etched onto them. They have asked if they can use one of my designs for their phone case and have asked what my price would be for a two year use. I have never been asked something like this before I havent got a clue how much to charge.
    Could you help me figure out how to price something like this?

    • admin says:

      Very interesting. Why don’t you ask them for a projected range of sales numbers (they should be able to do this based on previous experience, though of course it will vary according to how much their customers like the design). Then you could look at the price they sell the case for, and estimate how much money they will make off the back of your design.

      I would look at basing your price on perhaps $1-5 per case sold (if they sell them for $10 you will probably get $1 at most, but if their price is more like $40 then $5 might be achievable). You could ask them for a royalty for every individual case sold. But it might be more advantageous (upfront cash for you, less admin for them) to agree a fixed price for up to 1,000 sales, another price for up to 5,000 and then a royalty per sale above that.

      Be prepared to negotiate as they could go to other designers if you are charging too much and don’t want to be flexible. But if they like your design they should be willing to pay for it, even if it means they have to charge more for phone cases with your design than for their other, “ordinary” cases.

      Good luck!

  18. Katie H says:

    I designed a 8″ x 7″ design for someone and am thinking because i am just starting out with tattoo design commissions i qould charge $100.
    My question though is should i be giving them the original copy of the art as well? Should i be making the design an actual art piece for them? I know there isnt any “protocol”… But i dont want to scare away potential customers if im missing a step to a sale…

  19. Lelo says:

    I’ve been doing Tattoos for about 16 years now on and off, in Prison and out of Prison. So my Question is: Will I get into trouble for doing Tattoos without the proper degree?

  20. Alex Ham says:

    I’m looking to get a friend to do a design for me. It’s gonna be like 4x4inch and black and white. I don’t think she expects to be paid but I obviously will. Roughly how much should I give her?

  21. Thanks for this article!

    I agree with the comments that tattoo illustrations (pre designed flash) are a dime a dozen unless you want something exclusive.

    I was very upset, recently, to have found one of my dog portraits (german shepherd) pinned (Pinterest) on the board of a tattoo artist and designer!!! She removed my name from the image. I am surprised because I took for granted that most tattoo artists and technicians know that you don’t need an official copyright for it to be copyrighted… To use an artist’s illustration or idea for a tattoo is illegal. Copyright can be a tricky thing but basically, at the moment my artwork is created, I have instant ownership/copyrights. And once this artwork is published (internet, books, magazines, ads, etc.) the copyright is a given. You don’t have to register it. Therefore, she can’t just take people’s images (whether they be illustrations or photos) and use them, copy them, or even copy some of it… So, I’m adding a comment to her pin stating that it is copyrighted and is available for purchase of one time use or multiple uses (royalties per use).

    I also, found in an article about tattoo designs this statement that I completely disagree with…

    “Remember that a tattoo commission is a one-of-a-kind artwork, designed especially for that client. You can’t use the artwork anywhere else or sell it to other clients. So price your work with that in mind.”

    This is just not true. Just because you create a commission for someone doesn’t mean, you as the intellectual owner of the artwork, can’t resell it, make posters from it, put it on t-shirts, etc. I do know that once I create a commissioned work, that the person who commissioned me does not have sole ownership or rights to that image/illustration. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite… just like with writing an article/book, taking a photograph, etc. Just because you did the exclusive work for them and they paid you, doesn’t give them any rights to reproduce it without the artist’s permission and/or fees. What they paid you for is tangible… they paid you for a piece of paper/canvas covered in art. They paid you for the physical piece. Not the intellectual rights. For instance, once they receive a commissioned portrait of their family, dog, etc. from me, they can’t go and make copies to give to friends and family, or they can’t use it to make t-shirts, or use it for a business logo, or use it for a tattoo, etc. It would be like be like buying someone’s book or photograph and using it as they wished… There are limits to what they can do with that commission and you have the power to set those limits. UNLESS, you completely sell the royalties (intellectual properties) of that work. Then you have no rights to it ever again.

    So, if the tattoo business wants to use your illustration or even commission an illustration from you, I would advise you to be specific as to how they are going to use it and let them know they need signed permission and your fees to reuse or make copies in any illustrations.

  22. Ab saddam says:

    i always love tattoo….even i can make tattoo with pen on papers, skin, wall…but i want make a tattoo shop in my country.Now i am a student so i can not affort too much investment…can u help me by giving idea that how can i open my new shop in bangladesh with minimum invenstments???

  23. Super Teacher says:

    I am a teacher, my hourly wage is probably around $50/hour.
    I am also a (mostly) self-trained artist in a relatively obscure kind of Arabic calligraphy, very difficult to come by where I live in this day and age. I stopped engaging in this art a while back until I was recently requested to design a tattoo using my skill. Unsure of whether or not I’d produce anything like the prints I have in my past, I went into this as an experiment to see if I still have any of my skill left. Turns out I’ve lost none of it, and I’ve designed something quite remarkable, which my commissioner also would like to hang up as an art print in his home, which I think is a fantastic idea. Being the perfectionist that I am, the entire time this project will take me will probably be around 10 hours minimum, including the time it will take to finalize the design on Adobe illustrator.
    I’m having a great time re-discovering this part of myself (which I owe to my commissioner), do not want to over-charge, do want to offer a bit of a discount given that this is my first commission, he’s an acquaintance of my sister, and the Adobe Illustrator part takes a while because I’ve gotten rusty. Nevertheless I plan on copywriting my work and am aware that my artwork is one of a kind and may have pursued it as a serious art career if it were not so obscure and if I weren’t so terrified of financial instability. If I were not so rusty on Illustrator, the entire design process (not including our unstructured consultations) would only take about 8 hours. Help! I want to be reasonable and fair to both myself and my commissioner. What shall I charge?

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