Good tattoos are not cheap. While it’s not universally true that a cheap tattoo is not good, it’s a safe bet that an artist who doesn’t charge much isn’t giving much value. Building a reputation as an artist takes years, and building both the general artistic skill and the specific tattoo skill takes even longer. A doctor goes to school for seven years, and they miss out on their sleep, family, and social life to be on the bottom rung at a hospital as a resident. A tattoo artist can spend longer than a decade of learning. In fact, they never stop.
Why Tattoo Artists Charge So Much
For, tattoo artists, it’s a little different. There’s no Ph.D. in ink. Some artists began drawing before they started kindergarten. Many have degrees in art, or they’ve painted a hundred murals. Sometimes tattoo artists have inked thousands of people. In the counter-culture art world, this is how you earn your place among the elite. Artists learn their tattoo history and techniques. They work as unpaid slave labor at a shop where they’re treated horrifically. Clients cuss at them, scream at them, and sometimes pass out or throw up on them. In the end, it’s worth it to be able to create some of the world’s most stunning and permanent yet impermanent art.
Tattoo artists commemorate loved ones who have passed away. Sometimes they recreate paintings or photos worth thousands or millions on human skin. Cancer and accident survivors heal their pain by enduring more to turn their horrors into beauty. All these things cost money. Sometimes it’s a lot more than you think. Judging an individual tattoo’s price based on style or size is inaccurate at best. A full-body suit generally costs more than a full back piece, which in turn requires more than a leg or sleeve. However, this is not the whole story. What you pay for is the talent and reputation of the artist in question. Oddly this makes tattoo one of the fairest businesses to be in once an artist is established. Rather than trying to rank specific tattoos, We’re going to share the most expensive artists in the last decade.
10. Oliver Peck ($100/hr)
As the Guinness world record holder for the most tattoos done in twenty-four hours (four hundred and fifteen), Oliver is a very famous face. Fans of the tattoo world have probably seen him judging on Ink Masters. When he’s not on screen, he owns and operates two shops in Texas where you can engage his services for about a hundred dollars an hour.
9. Mike Rubendall ($125/hr)
This hot name in the ink world belongs to the owner of Kings Avenue in Long Island. He is well known internationally because his work has won over fifty awards. If you’re looking for a $25 regret-me-later tattoo, then you’re in the wrong place. Mike has worked and traveled all over, but he’s probably best known for his Japanese Style full back pieces. His traditional style is flawless and stunningly colorful, not to mention well worth the cost.
8. Bob Tyrrell ($150/hr)
As far as you can get from the ultra-traditional style of Mike Rubendall is this artist, Bob Tyrrell. Bob’s work is known for its photo-realistic quality and horror pieces. If you want the Bride of Frankenstein from a still shot of the original movie on your arm, this is the artist you need. Like most of the incredible artists on this list, Bob also does other forms of art and sells his own merchandise. However, this industry late bloomer is the go-to guy for horror portraits.
7. Dave Tedder ($150/hr)
Dave Tedder started his career as a piercer but only because he knew it would get him into the ink world. As it turns out, he was right, and he quickly moved on from piercings to tattoos, which was his life long dream. Like many artists, he’s well known for his massive and intricate Asian style full back pieces.
6. Stephanie Tamez or Kat Von D ($200/hr)
For fans of these lovely ladies, you can still get a booking if you make your arrangements far enough in advance. However, if you want to see their lovely faces in person and get inked by either one, you’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege. Kat Von D is arguably the most media-famous female tattoo artist on earth right now, but Stephanie Tamez is hot on her heels. You won’t go wrong getting inked by either of these dynamic women.
5. Paul Booth ($300/hr Plus)
Full disclosure, we love Paul. This fun and fabulous, freaky personality is one of the old masters in the tattoo art world. Paul draws his inspiration from artists like Boris Vallejo and has a famously twisted and dark sense of humor. If you rock, and we mean stadium concert rock and roll, then getting tattooed by Paul is probably on your bucket list. That is if you haven’t already gotten inked by him of course. If you’re not a rock star, you can still get ink from Paul, but you might want to consider bringing him a gothic gift as a token of respect for his talent and years in the business. Then ask him about the time some people tried to give him a human skull they found at a graveyard. It’s a great story.
4. Eva KRBDK or Bang Bang ($400/hr)
It’s no surprise that these two stunning artists, who work at the same shop, charge the same fees. Eva is known for her modern circle based designs that will take your breath away. Bang Bang himself, however, is probably most famous for tattooing Justen Beiber at thirty thousand feet (while flying). Whatever your style, you can get your art fix at Bang Bang’s shop, but you’ll have to foot the bill for top tier work.
3. Anil Gupta ($450/hr)
Once touted as the most expensive tattoo artist in the world, Anil is still in the top three. His biomechanical wonders are probably our favorite of any Biomech artist in the world other than H.R. Geiger (and he never tattooed). Of course, with talent like this, Anil does a whole lot more than just the Biomech pieces. Nevertheless, if you dream of being a cyborg, you can look like one while you wait for technology to catch up with your dreams.
2. Ami James ($500/hr)
Ami might be best known for his TV show, but it’s his art that stands out. As the co-owner of shops all over America and internationally, you’ll need to book him well in advance if you plan to visit for an Ami James original. Like many masters, Ami does several different styles, but his Japanese ink is what we like best.
1. Scott Campbell ($2000 for the first hour and $200 for every additional hour)
Though he should be best known for his absolutely breathtaking art, Scott might be the only artist on this list who’s known for his exorbitant fees. The Williamsburg artist does stunning work in almost any style you can dream up for him. Scott owns Saved Tattoo, and he has a long waiting list, so you’ll want to book now if you plan to see him in the next few years.
Bonus – Most Expensive “Tattoo” That Isn’t a Tattoo At All
Minky Van der Wurtzen is a South African model who has a “tattoo,” worth over nine hundred thousand dollars. Sadly it’s not actually a tattoo. Instead, she has 612 Shimansky Ideal Cut diamonds implanted in her skin. Technically this makes her the woman with the most expensive implants, but since everyone touts it as a tattoo, we thought she was worth an honorable mention here.
There are lots of artists who didn’t make this list because frankly, we could write a book about different tattoo artists and their prices. In general, this list covers some of the more famous and expensive artists in the world right now. However, rates are subject to change. As tattoo becomes more mainstream and accepted, these fantastic artists have become household names, and it’s about time too. The level of education, skill, and talent that goes into painting a living canvas with needles and ink is truly next level, so it’s only fair the prices are as well.