How to Start & Operate a Tattoo Shop

by Andrew Latham
Only provide your clients with professional, trained and licensed tattoo artists.

Only provide your clients with professional, trained and licensed tattoo artists.

According to a 2008 research study by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 had a tattoo. A 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control, estimates 21 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo. That bodes well for the tattoo industry, which -- according to an estimate published in the November 1, 2007 edition of "Inc. Magazine" -- was worth around $2.3 billion. However, despite the outlaw and underground connotations tattoo parlors may have, opening a tattoo shop is an involved operation that -- to be successful -- requires a well-honed business plan, highly-trained workers, and a thorough understanding of the industry's standards and regulations.


Find a location in a commercial area with high pedestrian and vehicular traffic to increase your exposure. Ensure the building meets local and state requirements for tattoo parlors. The requirements vary from state to state and municipality to municipality, so visit your local Department of Environmental Health before signing a lease. For instance, depending on where you open shop, there might be restrictions on the size and type of equipment in your cleaning room; or you may be required to provide clients with access to a restroom that doesn't involve them walking through the cleaning room or the tattooing area.


Before you send in your first order for inks, needles and tattoo machines, you must meet certain bureaucratic requirements from local and state government authorities. Call your City Zoning Department and make sure your prospective location meets zoning requirements. For example, in South Carolina, a tattoo parlor must be no less than 1,000 feet from a church or a playground, regardless of other zoning considerations. Choose a business name for your tattoo shop, unless you plan to do business under your own legal name. Request a business license from your city or county, which may require passing an inspection by the Department of Environmental Health first. If you plan to sell other products, such as skincare products and tattoo paraphernalia, you will also need a seller's permit.

Tattoo Artist Training

Performing tattoos is a highly skilled and artistic skill that requires years of training and practice. Make sure all the tattooists in your shop have received the necessary training and have sufficient experience to work unsupervised. This obviously includes yourself, if you plan to work as a tattooist in your own shop. According to the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, the best way to learn the trade is to through an apprenticeship. Ask for references from every tattooist you employ and check their authenticity before you expose your clients and yourself to the costly mistakes of hiring an amateur body artist.


Performing tattoos carries the inherent danger of spreading serious diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and AIDS, through bloodborne pathogens. With few exceptions, such as New Mexico, Washington D.C. and North Dakota, states require tattoo artists to apply for a registration, a license or a permit before they can work. The requirements for registration and licensing vary widely but usually require special training in tattoo infection control, first aid and the risks of bloodborne pathogens. Make sure that you and your workers are fully registered and licensed before opening your doors for business.

About the Author

Andrew Latham has worked as a professional copywriter since 2005 and is the owner of LanguageVox, a Spanish and English language services provider. His work has been published in "Property News" and on the San Francisco Chronicle's website, SFGate. Latham holds a Bachelor of Science in English and a diploma in linguistics from Open University.

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