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How to Get Tattoo License Without an Apprenticeship

Do you want to get a tattoo license and are wondering how to get a tattoo license without an apprenticeship? If YES, here is everything you need to know.

You more or less need to get an apprenticeship to get your initial license as a tattoo artist. The first question any Board of Health is going to ask you is where you apprenticed, where your paperwork is, and where they can contact your mentor.

If you can’t produce it, then you can’t get a license, and with no license, you can’t get a job. Indeed, the rules and regulations tighten every year. It was once possible but now it really is nearly impossible to get into tattooing without an Apprenticeship.

In the United States, an apprenticeship is one of the first steps you must take to become a full fledged tattoo artist. Doing a formal apprenticeship is like enrolling in a trade school—you do it for the skills and knowledge you will acquire, for the connections you will make, as a step towards certification, and for your professional résumé.

There is a long list of reasons why you will have to go down this route, but mostly it is because most states require a tattoo artist or piercer to have a license. Since most licenses require training, and one of the only ways to get training is an apprenticeship with a licensed artist, you need an apprenticeship.

You need to find a veteran tattooer who thinks you have enough talent to merit the time and energy it will take to train you. State laws define tattooing slightly differently from one another, but they all encompass any instance where someone uses a needle to inject pigments or dyes into another person’s skin in order to leave indelible marks.

The definition of tattooing does not require that any kind of compensation be exchanged between the person giving the tattoo and the person receiving it. This means, for instance, that if a friend gives you a tattoo for free and he is not licensed to do so, he has committed a crime even though he never asked for or received any payment from you.

In states that require or allow for tattoo artist apprenticeships, the apprentice can practice only under the guidance or supervision of a properly licensed artist. For instance, if you are an apprentice tattoo artist you cannot give tattoos unless you are being supervised by the licensed tattooist.

The potential penalties involved for anyone convicted of tattooing without a license differ significantly from state to state.

Some states allow for both monetary fines and possible jail or prison time, while others do not. In the vast majority of states, violating tattoo licensing requirements is a misdemeanor offense, though felony punishments are possible in some limited situations.

What is a Tattoo Apprenticeship?

A tattoo apprenticeship is a way for a student to learn everything they can from an established tattoo artist. It more or less starts as a hands-off experience where they are trained on safety, proper sanitation, and how to build a machine. The average apprenticeship takes about 2 years, but it is still not the only way to acquire an industry license. Here are steps to becoming licensed without an apprenticeship.

Steps to Get a Tattoo License Without an Apprenticeship

  1. Be an Artist

Some people hear the term “tattoo artist” and fixate on the word “tattoo” instead of the word “artist.” Indeed, it is a fascinating job, but you are expected not only have to have natural talent as an artist; you have to practice, learn, and work that talent into something special.

Everyone wants to be a tattoo artist these days, so the competition is pretty fierce. Have it in mind that no tattoo artist wants to teach you to draw. They can only teach you to tattoo. So the purpose of your portfolio is to show them that you have the artistry it will take to succeed.

  1. Build a Portfolio

Remember not to walk into any shop with a portfolio of actual tattoos you’ve done. This will probably backfire on you for several reasons:

  • You don’t have any idea what you are doing, and that will be obvious to anyone who sees it.
  • You may have caused harm or irreparable damage to the people you tattooed . . . and then you took a picture of it. This shows a lack of respect for both the client and the art itself.
  • Any artist who takes you on as an apprentice will have to take time to not only teach you the right way to tattoo but also to wean you off “scratcher” habits. So your portfolio full of amateur work warns them that you’ll be extra difficult to mentor.

You should not be tattooing unless you have been trained by a licensed professional—and if you have, it is nothing to brag about.

  1. Attend Tattoo Schools

As the tattoo industry continues to grow, more and more state-licensed tattoo schools have opened thus providing additional ways for students to get licensed. If you look back into the days of being a barber for instance the process evolved in a similar way.

Tattoo apprenticeships are still the ideal way to become a licensed artist but they are not the only way. The majority of apprenticeships are not bad but they all will take time with the average one taking about 2 years to complete, plus you are not in control of when you start or complete your journey to becoming a tattoo artist.

  1. Get Licensed

Every state and country has different requirements, but you’ll more or less need to clock a certain number of tattoo school hours, take some health and safety courses, and pass an exam on hygienic tattooing practices. Take your time to find out what requirements you need to fulfill in order to work where you want to.

Then, when the time comes, fill out all the forms, take the tests, and provide all the documents required to be licensed. You will also be expected to be certified to tattoo, or you will risk your reputation and possibly get into trouble with the law. Once you have gotten your certification, you may start tattooing and charging for it! So congratulations! You’ve made it.

  1. Find a Job as a Licensed Tattoo Artist

At this point, keep working hard, taking pictures of every tattoo you do, and adding them to a new portfolio. A huge part of your success depends on your networking and self-promotion skills. A large portion of the work you get will be through word of mouth, so get to know other artists and collectors.

Go to conventions! Put yourself out there, don’t become complacent. You are responsible for your success at this point, no more coddling or hand-holding. Go for it! Your future is yours to shape.


No matter which you choose to pursue, in many aspects, learning to tattoo never truly ends. You will continue to learn for the rest of your life whether it is continual knowledge you gain from your mentor directly or through your peers in the workplace.

State laws and municipal ordinances on tattooing differ significantly, and you need advice from an attorney who understands the laws that apply to your case and who has experience dealing with area police, prosecutors, and criminal courts.