What is the Future of Tattooing?

The Landscape of Tattooing

1995

Before I depart the earth, tattooing will change at a rate faster than what we have seen in the last 30 years.  In my career I have bore witness to many evolutions of tattooing.

When I started in 1995, there were only a handful of magazines, a few books, and no internet presence for information about tattooing. Most of the equipment was still handmade and only sold to tattooers working in reputable shops.  The atmosphere in the industry was more of mystery than of certainty. There was not a “de facto scientific method” for tuning machines, mixing ink or healing tattoos.  Only best practices that had a wide range depending on the region in the world in which you are tattooing.

I can say that it felt special. I assume it was comparable to exploring any unknown region of the earth for the first time.  We were still adventurers trading stories and notes of what had worked for us.  Sabotaging information helped slow down our competition. Those who did not understand our passion did not always celebrate our successes.  We were the original cancel culture.

It was an uphill battle.  We had to fight to rezone business districts to allow tattooing, help officials write regulations correctly, and undo the sins of our fathers. These struggles allowed tattooing to move from the seedy darkness it had survived in and exposed tattooing to the mainstream. This double-edged sword catapulted the industry into more uncharted territory.

E-bay made it possible for anyone to buy equipment.  Internet newsgroups discussed once coveted information.  Tattoo suppliers became abundant and the great wave of new tattooers brought the industry a new breed of artists looking to make their mark in this industry.  The tight community that tattooing once was shattered overnight.  You can learn the tricks of the trade but you will never learn the trade.  Fast tracking apprentices skipped crucial concepts that held the core principles of integrity and craftsmanship.  This author has the opinion that this is the real divide, the artist vs the competent practitioner.  The self-center artist pushes themselves through style and ego. The competent practitioner stays loyal the craft by serving the client.  While there are some tattooist who have bridged these two personalities, I believe the friction in the community is rooted in how each camp views its tattooing.  Is it all about me or is it all about the client?

Today

What I learned in my first six years of tattooing can easily be learned in under a year today.  I had struggled to find good intel, good equipment, correct maintenance of my equipment, willing clients and financial freedom to concentrate on larger work.  In the 90’s large work was sold a significant discounted rate resulting in smaller work being the bread and butter of my income.

Todays tattooer has the luxury of better equipment will low maintenance, good information and a community willing to help them succeed. Today’s clients are starting their collection with larger work!  Tattooing acceptance has deeply penetrated the mainstream and it is more common to get a tattoo in safer parts of the city.  The only limit an artist has today are the ones they put on themselves.

The Future

If you are tattooing in a tier one level shop, your tattoo client that may only get 1-4 smaller tattoos.  You may have a few artists that are doing large pieces but they will approach those bigger tattoos as more of a process than a deeper personalized connection with the client.  Tattooing will be very surface level and not allow room to explore the reasons of why the client is getting tattooed but the emphasis will be on satisfying what the client asks for.

The tier one market will be heavily franchised.  One city may see 20 studios that are all owned by the same company.  The center of their operations will be an intake call center that helps clients find the best match for them.  This will be based on availability, artist preference, or complexity of the design request.  The experience for the client will be very easy and smooth.  Smaller independent tier one shops will not be able to compete in the shadow of these franchises.

Teir two and three shops will serve the client who is looking to explore an idea and find an artist to bring it to fruition.   The difference between tier two and tier three is a shift in reputation.  Are you getting tattooed by the shop or the artist?  Teir two shops have a solid reputation for hiring artists that deliver specialized tattooing for the client. Any artist will be worthy.  Tier three shops hire artists whose reputations outshine the name of the shop.

The artist practicing in both of these tiers put more work into every level of their career.  The income gap between tier one and tier two will constantly widen.  The balance of the business side of tattooing and the artist side will be crucial in a long career.  They will only tattoo 3 days a week because the other days will be used for preparation and administration.  To buy time, most of these artists will not be able to grow without an assistant.   They will take advantage of CRM software (client relations management), scheduling software, unique billing systems and serve a higher-end client.  The more business practices they can adapt to, the healthier their careers will get.

Regulations

Currently the shop carries a liability insurance policy.  In the future the artist will be required by state law to have a form of malpractice insurance.  To be eligible, you and your shop must be compliant with a more stringent level of regulations.

To renew a tattoo license, artists will need to complete continuous education hours.  This may include more knowledge on blood borne pathogens, competency on knowledge of your equipment, a complete understanding of what foreign matter you are inserting into client’s skin and all things related to the practice of tattooing.

When new inks come into the studio, your shop will be required to have a barcode inventory system.  All inks and items used in the tattoo process will be given a barcode provided by the shop. This barcode will be scanned throughout the life of each item. You will scan your ink when you get it, the first time the seal is broken and every time you use the ink for a tattoo procedure. Then when you discard the bottle, you will scan it again thus ending the lifecycle.

Those who try to avoid these regulations will be limited in their success.  The public will come to accept these new practices as standards for getting a tattoo.  They will shy away from the rebel artist who will appear to be putting the client’s health at risk because the artist is avoiding regulations.  What about the income they bring in? The fear of being fined or prosecuted by the law for operating illegally will mean they can’t file taxes for their tattooing.  It will probably take more time and effort to operate underground than to run a clean establishment.

Conclusion

The growth of tattooing is a natural consequence. There is nothing that could have stopped it popularity.  It has had spurts of acceptance in the history of mankind with setbacks coming from society and disease. At this point, only a huge scandal concerning the safety of tattooing will set back its growth.  Even with such an event, it will adapt and move on to satisfy what requirements are need to move into the next rendition of tattooing.

Artists who fail to adapt as quickly as tattooing changes will be forced into early retirement. Those who embrace change as a condition of doing business will thrive.  We are not tattooing.  We are just one chapter of tattooing.  How the next chapter is written will depend on our choice as a community to be proactive or reactive.

Take Aways

1. Tattooing has evolved rapidly over the past few decades, transitioning from a mysterious, underground practice to a more mainstream and accepted art form.

2. The rise of the internet and e-commerce has made tattoo equipment and information more accessible, leading to a new generation of tattoo artists with different priorities and approaches.

3. In the future, the tattoo industry is likely to become more franchised and regulated, with tier one shops focusing on a streamlined, client-focused experience, while tier two and three shops cater to clients seeking a more personalized, artistic approach.

4. Tattoo artists will face increased regulations, such as mandatory malpractice insurance, continuing education requirements, and strict inventory management systems.

5. To thrive in the future of tattooing, artists must adapt to changes in the industry, strike a balance between their artistic vision and business practices, and embrace new technologies and regulations while maintaining the core principles of integrity and craftsmanship.

Matt Hodel

Tattooing Since 1995

Business Coach

matt@jackpotcoaching.com

Photo Jul 25 2023, 2 08 33 PM

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