Numbers beginning to fall for the first time in a decade

Over the past 30 years, personal body art has soared in popularity to the stage where YouGov estimates that more than one in four of us (26%) has one or more tattoos. 

So popular is the art form that the UK has 8% of all tattoo studios in the world, behind only Germany and the USA. 

But there are warning signs that the market is becoming saturated and more artists and illustrators are leaving the industry as there is not enough skin to go around. 

Dip in studio numbers 

YearNumber of Insolvencies*

Figures from The Insolvency Service 

* Tattoo Studios are classed as “other personal service activities”

The nation was home to 1,637 tattoo parlours in 2014, yet in nearly ten years this number has more than doubled to 3,394 (107%). 

The number of insolvencies of personal service activities, of which tattooists are industrially classified) has also been rising year-on-year since 2020 and a recent study of tattooists claims that 2024 will see this expansion stop and begin to decline for the first time in a decade. 

The dip in studio numbers is a classic sign of when a market has reached or is reaching its maximum capacity which could be worrying for any new artists or existing inkers who are looking to branch out for themselves. 

Fewer artists are putting skin in the game

The headline numbers also contain an interesting caveat as industry experts have blamed the number of UK parlours doubling in a decade on the rise of DIY-tattooists and unethical studio owners operating in non-standard premises. 

John Foster, secretary of the British Tattoo Arts Federation (BTAF), blames some of the boom on a surge in ‘unscrupulous’ non-tattooists opening studios for the money to be made from hosting and training ‘naive’ beginners. 

They say the availability of cheap equipment and training online has flooded the industry with DIY-tattooists to the point where studios were overstaffed and soon they may ‘run out of skin to ink’.

John said: “My view is that many studios were opened by non-tattooers because they saw, sometimes falsely, that there was huge amounts of money to be made. 

“They opened then overstaffed the shops with newcomers to the trade who were finding it easier to obtain knowledge and often-inferior equipment from the internet.

“Also unscrupulous tattooers have been charging vast amounts of money to the naive to teach them. All this absolutely saturated the trade and so many artists working in studios that were overstaffed couldn’t make a living or worked without paying taxes. 

“Tattoo studios and artists reached saturation point and now it is stalling or falling until it levels out. The amount of new artists who come into it then fade quickly away is not good for the trade as no long-term experience is being built up.”

Too much red ink?

Running a successful tattoo business involves far more than being a great illustrator. 

On top of competing in an oversaturated market, tattoo artists also have to ensure they are compliant with various pieces of legislation and ensure they hold the correct licences in order to avoid legal action to be taken against them.

Some of the sector specific areas they need to consider before opening a studio includes:- 

  • Anaesthetics 

Anaesthetic creams and sprays that are lignocaine-based are only available from pharmacies and medical practitioners. A body artist who does not have the necessary medical training to apply such products is likely to be in breach of Medicines law. 

  • Age limits and other restrictions 

In the UK it is illegal to tattoo any person under 18 years of age, whether or not they have their parents’ permission.

If a tattoo artist carries out a tattoo on a person who is under 18, the tattoo artist could face a fine of up to £1000 and could be at risk of losing their registration as a result.

  • Registering with their local environmental health department 

All tattoo artists and their premises must be registered with their local authority environmental health department. It is illegal to carry out permanent or semi-permanent skin colouring without being registered. Their registration certificate should be visible at the premises.

More council’s are taking these responsibilities seriously and are raiding suspected unlicensed premises and bringing charges against those involved as a result. 

The environment health department are also concerned with the following:

  • Waste Disposal and Hazardous Substances

Some of the waste produced by a tattoo artist is classified as clinical or hazardous waste and therefore must only be taken away and disposed of by a registered, authorised waste carrier. 

Similarly, tattoo studios also handle potentially hazardous substances and therefore must be aware of and comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.

  • Copyright 

Artists must be aware that if they copy another artist’s design without their permission then they could be in breach of copyright law and open to a lawsuit. It’s rare but as artists build their reputation and portfolio, the risks also rise. 

  • Music Licence 

If a studio decides to play background music they will require a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd. Failure to do so could also incur unexpected costs including fines. 

The right tattoo can be transformative both for the artist and client.

This is why so many artists are considering or have taken the leap into becoming tattoo artists in their own right but several need to consider the realities of running a small business. 

Even experienced tattooists can struggle to strike the right balance between making art and making a profit. 

This is why it’s imperative for any director or business owner to get professional advice when they feel they’re approaching their limits. 

We offer a free initial consultation to anybody who would like to better understand what options they have for their business and what they can do to improve their prospects. 

Get in touch with us today and we’ll do our best to help you do whatever it is you do best.