The people who apply tattoos in a tattoo shop are typically not employees in the traditional sense. They are often considered independent contractors rather than employees of the business. They either may pay the business owner rent for their space or pay the owner a percentage of sales. There are a couple of different ways to pay tattoo shop employees and the decision on how to pay them rests with the business owner.
Tattoo artists can command $80 an hour or more based on their skill level and experience making tattooing a lucrative business. Unless you are the tattoo shop owner, however, you must find a place that has room for you, and that has enough customers to be profitable. Typically, several artists will share space in a tattoo parlor.
If the tattoo artists are independent contractors, they can typically set their own hours, decide who they will work for, who they will tattoo, how they do their work, what they wear while working, how much they charge and other basic business operating decisions. Those freedoms are benefits that make the lifestyle of an independent tattoo artist a desirable one.
However, the business owner should also consider whether they wish to have their contractors sign agreements that they will not work at competing tattoo shops, or will not do tattoos on the side where the business owner is not receiving their percentage.
Tattoo shop employees are typically paid one of two ways: They receive a percentage of the price of their tattoos, or they pay the business owner a weekly or monthly booth rental payment, then keep the rest of their income.
If tattooists are paid a percentage, the business owner takes a percentage of each tattoo, and the tattooist keeps the rest. The artist usually keeps a slightly higher percentage, such as 60/40, or else splits the payment with the business owner 50/50. In a 60/40 split of a $100 tattoo, the business owner receives $40, and the artist keeps $60.
Since the tattooists are independent contractors, they are responsible for paying their taxes, insurance and licensing. If tattooists choose the percentage method, they often receive their payment at the end of each working day based on what they earned that day.
In a booth rental scenario, the business owner may expect that each independent contractor pays, for example, $500 per month for their space in the tattoo parlor. Whether they have customers or not, the contractor is expected to pay the shop owner that $500 per month. For example, if the tattooist pays $500 per month in rent and receives $2,000 in tattoo commissions that month, the tattooist keeps $1,500.
From the business owner's standpoint, a skilled and experienced tattoo artist can bring in a lot of customers. Therefore, having the tattoo shop employee sign an agreement that he will receive a percentage can be in the business owner’s best interest. However, if business is slow, the percentage that the business owner receives will also be low.
If the tattoo shop employee agrees to pay the business owner rent for the booth, the business owner receives rent whether the tattooist has any customers or not. The booth rental option motivates the tattoo artist to bring in enough customers to pay their rent plus make a profit.