The difference between tattoo studio and artist

5 Important Differences: Tattoo Studio vs. Freelance Tattoo Artist

By: Pacho Pacho Last updated: Oct 23, 2023

In the early days of tattooing, all studios were technically “private” tattoo spaces as tattooing was illegal in most countries. Now, times have changed and artists no longer need to hide. It can be quite overwhelming to book your first tattoo appointment as there are so many different tattoo artists, tattoo studios, and even traveling artists to choose from.

We understand how difficult it is to know where to book your first tattoo. This article will cover the main differences between getting tattooed at a tattoo studio vs by a freelance tattoo artist, how to spot the warning signs of a bad freelance tattoo artist, and help you decide which to choose to suit your needs.

Key Takeaways

  • When we talk about freelance tattoo artists, we mean tattoo artists that work in private tattoo spaces, NOT artists that work from their kitchen and travel to your house to tattoo you.
  • The reasons for visiting a tattoo studio vs a freelance tattoo artist are very different and you can decide which type of space would work best for you.
  • The atmosphere in a tattoo studio vs a freelance tattoo artist’s space is completely different.
  • Both can be trusted but one is easier to vet than the other.

1. What Is a Tattoo Studio

Simply put, a tattoo studio is a registered business that operates much like any other store, with a storefront, a receptionist, a team of staff, and an owner.

It will have set operating hours and a Google page or website. To get a job in a tattoo studio you will need a good portfolio, a blood-borne pathogens certificate, a PPE course, and a CV. You will need to work well alongside other artists and the shop will provide you with clients, advertise for you, and will take a certain percentage of your weekly earnings.

2. What Is a Freelance Tattoo Artist?

A freelance tattoo artist works out of a private tattoo space. There is usually only one artist working there, sometimes there will be two.

The space is usually a room in an office block, a cottage on a property, or a completely separate and professional room in a home. This is not the same as a Home Studio or a traveling tattoo artist. They work from a space that is completely dedicated to tattooing and nothing else. Freelance tattoo artists will only accept clients via appointment and will not have advertising and signage outside.

Booking a tattoo with a freelance tattoo artist is not risk-free – there is always a risk that the artist is not good and has not been able to get a job in a conventional tattoo studio setting. But most likely, the artist is very talented and may just be tired of working in a large shop and want to take time off for themselves. They may also want to have lower overheads and decide to open a private tattoo space instead of a large tattoo studio. They may want to spend more time with their family and have more control over when and what they tattoo.

3. Health and Safety: Annual Health Inspections

Street tattoo studios are supposed to be visited by the Department of Health and Human Safety to ensure that tattoo studios comply with licensing standards of your specific state.

If anything is not up to code, the tattoo studio will not be allowed to operate until it is fixed. In some states, individual artists within the studio also need their own licenses. These regulations ensure that you are going to get a tattoo in a safe and sanitary environment. You can also ask the studio to see their license to make sure that they are up to code.

Freelance tattoo artists, however, do not need to be licensed as they are not open to the public and you most likely will not even know that they exist unless you book with the artist who then gives you the address. Therefore, there is a risk to your health and safety when getting tattooed by a freelance tattoo artist.

This does not mean that all private tattoo studios are unsafe. If you know that the freelance artist has previously worked in a reputable studio, you can rest assured that they are following the correct health and safety protocols. You can also ask if your artist has completed any PPE and blood-borne pathogen training to put your mind at ease before your appointment. We do also have a list of signs of a safe freelance tattoo artist below.

4. Vibe and Atmosphere

One of our favorite parts about getting tattooed is experiencing the tattoo studio vibe and meeting all of the other artists and receptionists that work there. People that work in tattoo studios are usually very fun, down-to-earth, and kind people that can become life-long friends!

I have also been invited to great parties and events by other artists in the shop, especially when visiting a new city. In a tattoo studio, you will also be exposed to other artists’ work that you may want to get tattooed in the future. You will be offered coffee/tea, be shown professionalism (as the studio will have a reputation to keep up), and your safety will be guaranteed as there will be a lot of people in the store and a lot of other members of the public.

A freelance tattoo artist works from a private studio space, usually by themselves. This is a completely different experience, but not in a negative way. Not only will you have your artist’s full attention, but you may also be able to choose your music in the studio or the artist may have a TV for you to watch a movie.

It is a more personal and intimate experience. However, it can be a bit awkward if you do not get along with your artist. I would recommend bringing a friend with you the first time you visit a freelance tattoo artist. A freelance tattoo artist is a great option if you struggle with anxiety, are socially awkward, or do not enjoy crowded spaces. It is also a great option if you need an appointment after hours.

5. Critique and Vetting by Other Artists

A tattoo studio usually has 3 or more artists working in it. There will be a variety of experience levels and the artists often give critique to each other. This means that your artist will always be learning and growing through those around them.

The shop owner will also never let a bad tattoo leave the studio, and if a mistake does happen other artists can fix the tattoo for you. A tattoo studio will also have a public page like Google Maps or Hello Peter which means that you will be able to read unbiased reviews from the public.

Because freelance tattoo artists usually work on their own, there is no critique or vetting from other artists done within the private tattoo space. You may be able to see on Instagram if reputable artists follow and comment on their photos, but generally, there is not much vetting to be done beforehand. Freelance tattoo artists also come with biased reviews as you will often see them working with a group of loyal clients and their friends and family – these reviews will almost always be positive as the general public are more likely to share their bad experiences online. The best way to avoid this is to choose a freelance artist who has previously worked in a reputable studio and is well-known.

6. Legal Recourse

legal problems with tattooing

Hopefully, your first tattoo experience doesn’t result in you needing to take legal action against your artist or the tattoo studio. If you do though, it is much easier if you have gotten your tattoo from a registered tattoo studio. Freelance tattoo artists are much for difficult to go after in a legal matter.

In a tattoo studio, you are more likely to sign an indemnity form and to have all of your details on file and proof of visiting. If you do decide to get tattooed by a freelance tattoo artist, make sure beforehand that they have an indemnity form for you to sign. This is in place to protect both you and the artist.

7. Signs That a Freelance Tattoo Artist’s Studio Is Safe

  • If the artist was originally from a reputable tattoo studio, you can be assured that their hygiene and safety are up to code. You can also see if other artists are commenting positive things on their work and if they are, they can be considered a “good” artist.
  • Make sure that the tattoo space is completely separate from the living space or the other workspace. An office in an office block, a separate cottage on a house property, or a separate room just for tattooing are examples of this. If the space is used for anything other than tattooing, leave.
  • A freelance tattoo artist should still have competitive pricing. If they are a lot cheaper than other tattoo artists in your area, they may be considered to be a bad tattoo artist. Good tattoo artists know what to charge and are worth the money.
  • Do they let you bring a friend with you? If not, I would not necessarily trust this artist. When visiting a freelance artist, you should feel safe at all times and if they do not allow friends this might be a red flag.
  • Good basic hygiene. Always make sure that the artist is following the correct hygiene procedures in their private space. There are many articles about correct tattoo hygiene but the basics include saran wrap on exposed surfaces, new needles for every client, and their machine must be completely covered.

Tattooer green flags


Who can draw me a tattoo?

You would think that any artist would be able to draw a tattoo for you. But, we recommend that you chose a tattoo artist to draw your tattoo for you. Tattoo artists know what works for a tattoo in terms of what will flow with the body, what will age well over time, and what will be tattooable! Some drawings do not leave enough negative space, use lines that are too close together, or use colors that don’t work well together.

Is it cheaper to get tattoos in Europe?

In the US, the average hourly rate for a tattoo artist is $150, and in Europe, the average is around £150 per hour. Therefore, it is more expensive on average to get tattooed in Europe.

Which country has the best tattoo artists?

Art is subjective and therefore “the best tattoo artist” cannot be determined easily. Each country has some of the best tattoo artists in the world, specializing in different styles. I love Spanish Traditional tattoo artists. They have such strong linework and well-saturated color and the subject matter is very interesting.

In which countries is tattooing the most popular?

Italy has the highest rate of tattooed people, with 48% of the population having a tattoo. Sweden is not far behind with 47% of the population having at least one tattoo.

5 Key Differences Between Visiting a Tattoo Studio vs. Freelance Tattoo Artist

A professional tattooist

When booking your first tattoo, you have a choice between going to a tattoo studio or going to a freelance tattoo artist. Both options have their pros and cons, and you need to decide which atmosphere will work best for your personality and your tattoo needs.

It may seem like a freelance tattoo artist comes with more risks, however, there are a few key things to look out for to make sure that the private space is safe. It is always a good idea to ask your friends who have good tattoos for artists’ suggestions if you are still unsure of who to get tattooed by.

Hopefully, this article has helped you make a decision, and good luck with your first tattoo!

About the AuthorPacho

Based in Miami, FL and I’m a tattoo artist. I work hard and learn new techniques every day to improve my tattooing skills.On my website, you will find an amazing tattoo collection which I use myself too for inspiration and help my clients to find the perfect piece of masterwork.Learn more about Pacho here.