Tattoo laws and requirements for tattoo licenses differ widely from state to state and even county to county so how do you make a good decision?
Anytime something small grows into something vast and profitable there will be a tidal wave of people trying to get in on the ground level (I am looking at you legalized marijuana) and unfortunately a percentage of these people will only see dollar signs and not be overly concerned with “getting it right” (I am looking at you scratchers).
As a tattoo enthusiast and collector I have a responsibility to myself and the culture I love to seek out and select qualified artists to work with that are properly trained and maintain the highest standards of cleanliness and professionalism in their work. But do I need to be so picky? I mean doesn’t the long arm of the law guarantee a tattoo shop is a safe and clean place with qualified and vetted artists? Welll…yes and no.
Tattoo License – Is It the Law?
You would think a business that involves needles, blood, plasma and permanent body modifications would be strictly and aggressively controlled by the government. And you would only be half right.
“While tattoo businesses are required to be licensed, the same doesn’t always hold true for individual tattoo artists (though it is a misdemeanor crime to not have one in some states, like California). In fact, some states or counties don’t even offer individual tattoo licenses, and simply require all businesses where tattoos are conducted to be inspected and licensed.”
“The tattoo licensing process functions on a county-based level, and as such, obtaining one can vary greatly even within state lines. For instance, the state of Wisconsin does require every county to accept only licensed tattoo artists, but the application for this license only requires that an individual apply for the license and send in a fee amount. In Denver County in Colorado, applicants are required to submit proof of Bloodborne Pathogens certification along with their fee, while neighboring Jefferson County doesn’t require a tattoo license at all, only that the shop where an artists works practice OSHA standards and pass the annual inspection.” (by www.inkacademy.com)
What’s more – the bloodborne pathogen class – which sounds pretty official – can be taken online or in your own shop. Much like a CPR class it is a general overview and can be completed in several hours. Of course the information is critical but passing this class and receiving your certificate is no more challenging than showing up, paying attention and paying a small fee. It is not medical school folks – just guidelines on how not to spread disease.
Find a Great Artist That Does it Right
If you are thinking of getting a tattoo first tap the brakes and do some research on the shop itself. If they are in business then they have a business license which means they have a license for tattooing BUT this does not mean the artists are licensed. Check that out per your states laws. And if the artists are licensed that does not mean they are any good – that is on you to check out their portfolios and see what their work looks like. A good artist should be more than happy to show you multiple examples – if they are not willing that is a BIG red flag.
Next up you want to make sure the shop is squeaky clean and follows the best practices for keeping things sterile.
“Recently in Idaho, the Center for Disease Control traced 40 cases of MRSA, a very serious skin infection that can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and at its most severe a painful flesh-destroying condition, to an underground artist who was practicing tattooing unlicensed from his home. Everyone recovered, including the four who had to be hospitalized, however this case stands out as a harsh warning to would be tattoo enthusiasts, as well as a cry for State control over sterilization and licensure procedures for tattoo artists and tattoo studios.” by Inflicting Ink Tattoo
Scared yet? Hit the link to read the full article but here is another snippet;
“If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, check with your local State laws to determine whether there are any governing the licensure and sterilization process of the studio that you choose. At a minimum, the artist should be licensed, and the facility should practice sterile procedures including the use of gloves, no eating or drinking in the tattoo area, a clean sink with running water and soap available in the immediate vicinity, an autoclave that is used to sterilize equipment with a monthly report filed with the Department of Health regarding its use, and clean, fresh needles for each tattoo.”( by Inflicting Ink Tattoo)
You get What You Pay For
So we are all agreed that taking chances to save a few bucks is not the best of ideas. Sure it could work out fine and you could end up with some competitively priced ink that your really happy with – BUT to quote Dirty Harry, ” You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk? ”
And also think for a moment about your field. Are you in the trades? Work in the service industry? How about customer service? Then how do YOU feel about competitors who cut corners and then cut prices and edge YOU out of a job? Tattoo artists feel the same way about kitchen wizards. Support the tattoo industry but giving your hard-earned money to the artists and shops that are doing the hard work of providing excellent ink in a sterile environment.
At the end of the day the burden of vetting an artist is on You the Consumer. You can not rely on Uncle Sam or even an official looking piece of paper framed above the cash register to keep you safe. As for getting quality ink? That is all about the portfolio. And make sure you are looking at pictures of tattoos – not a bunch of drawings. Drawing something and tattooing it are two different animals. Do your research. Do NOT try to save money. Tattoos are a luxury item and quality artists charge what they charge for a very good reason.
If a tattoo artist is charging very low prices ask yourself what corners are they cutting with inks and needles, proper sterilization techniques and thorough artistic training to get you that steep discount – and then you have to ask yourself;
Do I feel Lucky?
Next Up; Part 2 – Tattoo Insurance and Tattoo Schools