How to open a tattoo studio

Updated February 21, 2017

As a business owner there is always a list of steps to follow in order to open your shop. Opening a tattoo studio is the same, but with a few differences in regard to state regulations that may be in place for this type of business. Each state has their own rules in regards to tattoo studios, so your first step is to check on these. Depending on your state's regulations, you may not have to complete every step.

Check with the Department of Health in the state where you are opening your tattoo studio. Find out which division, if any, is in charge of regulating the tattoo industry. Some states will be governed by the Department of Cosmetology instead of the Health Department, but the Health Department should be able to give you this information. A few states are unregulated, so you are on your own in regards to health and safety issues. If you are in a regulated state, then you usually have to purchase a license to operate and there may also be local ordinances to look into, as well.

Learn the business. Not only do you need to know the list of regulations you must follow if your shop is in a regulated state, you also need to learn the similarities and difference between running a tattoo shop compared to running other types of shops. If you've never owned your own business, then you'll be starting from scratch and may want to seek help from the Small Business Administration to find out about taxes, insurance and other aspects of business ownership.

Write a business plan. Having this in place will help make managing your finances easier and more efficient. You can find business plan software and companies to help you with this or hire an accountant to do much of this for you. A business plan will also let you know how much money you need to invest in your business, so you can justify this amount if you need to apply for a business loan.

Buy business software to track sales and expenses, schedule clients and employees, control inventory, manage accounts payable and provide other tools necessary to track every aspect of your business. Train any personnel that will be responsible in updating the various computer forms you'll be using. This could include a receptionist, bookkeeper and shop manager, but keep in mind that having too many people playing with the numbers could cause inaccuracies that will have to be fixed at the end of the week, month, quarter and year.

Create inventory sheets to track all the supplies needed to keep the shop running. Once you've taken the initial inventory counts, it's easier to track changes to this inventory and make daily or weekly ordering easier by entering the data into a program on the computer. There are different programs available for inventory control, so you can choose the one you are most comfortable using. Once this program has been set up, keep it updated on a regular basis to know what's in stock and what needs to be ordered.

Start a system for tracking appointments for each tattoo artist. You may keep this information on the computer and/or use a physical calendar that is accessible to every employee. Besides a way to track appointments, you will also need a filing system to keep client information together and easy to find. Keeping up with client information, especially when their next appointment is scheduled, is an important aspects of managing your shop. It will also help you set and track employee schedules.

Develop a marketing plan to manage your advertising campaign for the tattoo studio. Advertising your shop is a must to let people know what you offer, where you're located and how they can contact you. You can find adverting experts who can help you with this aspect, as well. Advertising will also include signage for the front of the shop and business cards.

Find a location to house your tattoo studio. Keep in mind the number of tattoo artists you will need stations for and how these stations need to be set up. If they need separate rooms and sinks, then you may have to remodel the location you find. You must check with the owner, if you're renting, to ensure this is okay. Once the shop is rented, or purchased, have the utilities turned on and any remodeling completed.

Hire tattoo artists. Write up contracts for each artist outlining what the shop will provide for them and what they will provide themselves in the form of tattooing supplies and earnings. Some shops will provide everything, except an artist's individual equipment; others will supply some of the artists' disposables including paper towels, gloves, green soap, bandaging supplies and ointment; still others won't provide anything and each artist takes care of their own inventory and ordering. The amount of items supplied may determine the percentage of money an artist keeps from each completed tattoo compared to what the shop gets.

Buy equipment and furniture to set up tattoo stations, and the lobby, office area and break room (if one is provided). Individual tattoo artists you hire should bring their own tattooing equipment including guns, power supplies and possibly needles and other supplies. You most likely will provide tattooing furniture, filing cabinets, desks or drawing tables. For the lobby area, you need places for customers to sit and a place to display artists' portfolios. In the office, you need office furniture and a computer to house your business software, daily records and inventory.

Set up a flash room. This is where you place your flash art for customers to look through. Some shops have a separate room for this area, but others will keep their flash in the lobby. Either way, you will need to purchase flash to display. Even shops that specialize in custom tattoos will generally have some flash available.

Purchase start up supplies. This is when your inventory software will come into play. The amount and type of supplies you purchase will depend on the agreement you've made with your individual tattoo artists. If the artists supply all of their own supplies, then the only supplies you need are you own personal supplies, office supplies and any items for resale including aftercare products; otherwise you'll not only need these items, but also a list of purchases based on what you agreed the shop would provide.

Decorate the shop. Add any final touches to the tattoo studio that makes it uniquely yours and to make it feel more inviting to your customers. This may include a sound system to play music, which is common or televisions if you want to provide entertainment to those waiting on friends getting tattooed. Turn on the open sign, you're ready to go.


Inked Nation Tattoo Community is an online community for tattooists and tattoo enthusiasts. You can find advice from other shop owners about what has been successful for them by joining one of the groups dedicated to those in the business end of tattooing. Find a company to pick up your biohazard waste. This not only include sharps, but also any items that may have blood on them such as paper towels and gloves used during the tattooing procedure. Individual state regulations may require more steps than what is outlined here. That's why step one is to learn what these regulations are.

Things You'll Need

  • Business plan
  • Business software
  • Inventory control sheets
  • Marketing plan
  • Studio space
  • Shop/office furniture
  • Shop/office equipment
  • Flash art
  • Business supplies
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