The Perceived Worth of a Tattoo

Dec 5, 2011 by

I originally posted this on my old, crappy blog, so bear with me as I was kinda fond of this article and felt it needed to be reposted. It’s been edited a little for increased awesomeness.

Joy, Division!

Earlier this year, whilst I was still working at Dee Why Tattoo, I was confronted with a very rude individual. This asshat felt the enormous amount of time and painstaking effort I put into his 74-year-old* girlfriend’s tattoo was not worth the money she was paying for it. His embarrassing behaviour got me thinking about the value that people place on tattoos, and led me to write this article.

What is a Tattoo Worth?

This is something I have found confusing and puzzling in the past; I’ve become aware in my time tattooing that there is a rare subset of people that have very specific, unfair and outdated ideas on what a tattoo should cost, regardless of the actual worth of the tattoo. Worth in this case could be defined by how much the appearance or experience of the tattoo matters to someone, regardless of price; these people, I have noticed, aren’t too concerned with much except the monetary cost. Their attitudes got me considering what then is a fair way to price a tattoo, both for the client and the artist, so that both get what they are owed… in other words, how do you actually quantify the cost/worth of a tattoo?

Is the value of a tattoo what it costs in dollars? Or how the tattoo looks when finished? How well it looks in 20 years? How skillfully it’s done, or how quickly? How clean the artist and shop is, how well they treat you during the process? This is all complicated enough, but to further complicate things, with any tattoo you will come up against multiple factors that can influence the above; namely, the skill and speed of the artist, the complexity of the tattoo design (and how much editing it needs), if the design needs to be drawn from scratch, and very importantly the condition of the client’s skin and how well they handle the process. You can see that it then becomes incredibly hard to decide the value of a tattoo from any one of these factors, as all together in any combination can vastly alter the difficulty and time taken to complete the tattoo, and each client has their own ideas on what is most important to them (cost/appearance/experience etc).

Interestingly, I feel the need to also mention that there is also a common view that a larger tattoo should cost more and a smaller one should be cheaper. This might be a throwback to the days past when most tattoo art was of a similar style and detail, and so was probably priced according to size. Conversely, these days and especially with new tattooing technology and the influx of highly skilled artists into the tattoo industry, it’s more often the case that a small and intricate tattoo will be far more difficult than a same-sized but simpler tattoo, or the same design done on a larger scale. Of course a larger tattoo will often take longer; but it is guaranteed that a small but intricate tattoo is far more difficult and time consuming to do, and do well than a small, simple tattoo; so these days you really can’t fairly charge a tattoo by size.

So in deciding the cost, or worth of a tattoo, most shops consider the best and fairest way is to charge by the hour. Due to all the factors I listed above, time seems to be the most accurate way we have of quantifying the difficulty of a tattoo. If you start trying to charge by size, or any of the other factors alone, you run up against a whole host of problems; not only is it unfair to the tattoo artist, who puts in the effort, it can end up being quite bad for the customer too… as one of the guys I work with pointed out, you end up with shops that charge whatever they like, and then pump out fast awful tattoos for crazy prices, just so they can make more money.

If you’re one of those people who have old-fashioned ideas on what a tattoo should cost, before deciding what you think the tattoo should cost, consider what it is actually worth, to you- because a good tattoo, and I cannot stress this enough- a good tattoo, one worth having on your body for the absolute rest of your life, will take a lot of effort, whether that is in skill, or time, or concentration. If a tattoo is worth this to you, pick an artist who understands and appreciates this, and if not, then please don’t be a twat; don’t tell off a genuinely good, kind and caring artist. Save us all some time and go to shop that turns out cheap, fast tattoos.

Or better yet, get your buddies to do it for you in their garage for free… I guarantee you’ll get exactly what you pay for.

Joy, Division!

* Yes, you read that right-and due to her age she had very hard skin to tattoo, and to make it even more fun, the design she picked was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. Luckeeee!

I wasn’t actually too concerned over the boyfriend’s childish hissy fit. But the epic thought-train it sent me on (that subsequently led to this article being written) totally made up for his asshattery.

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