It’s important to understand the fundamental differences in the tattoo industry weather you are interested in getting a tattoo in the future, you’ve had many tattoos, or you’re a tattoo artist yourself. This article is meant to educate the general public on these differences, and hopefully allow them to make educated decisions. First, let’s begin with the differences between scratchers, tattooists and tattoo artists:


  • Scratchers have little to no artistic experience. This means that all of the tattoos they do will most likely be premade images (taken from Google or other tattoo artists) or they will be poorly drawn. If the person tattooing you can’t draw the image, how can you expect them to tattoo that image on your body?
  • Scratchers use the cheapest equipment and supplies in the industry. Using cheap supplies such as machines, inks & needles can result in an inferior tattoo. Many inks can be too thick, or even cause adverse reactions to the skin. Machines and needles that lack in “industry standard quality” can also cause scarring and damage to the skin.
  • Scratchers may not understand how to use their equipment properly. Most tattoo artists have gone through years of training to understand the fundamentals of tattooing. Scratchers may not understand the thousands of variables in tattooing to produce a quality tattoo, such as needle depth, appropriate power, and ink consistency.
  • The risk of infection is far greater when getting tattooed by a scratcher. Most scratchers have not had blood borne pathogens training, or hepatitis A & B vaccinations (this is a requirement in the tattoo industry). They can’t afford the type of equipment necessary to keep their products sterile, such as an auto clave to clean grips and machines to “industry standard”. Yes, scratchers can buy PRE-sterilized, disposable products to decrease the chance of infection, however, usually the products they purchase are from China (where sterilization standards are lower) and the gloves and barriers used may not hold up through a procedure, also increasing the risk of infection.
  • Tattooing without the proper certification, licenses, or insurance is illegal. Scratchers don’t usually go through the headache of getting certified in their industry. In most States it’s illegal to tattoo without a blood borne pathogens certification, or a license, but scratchers do it anyway. A good tattoo shop will also carry insurance to cover the cost of severe allergic reactions, or negligence that may occur. Good luck finding a scratcher who is insured.
  • Scratchers cheapen the industry. Getting a tattoo for $20 may seem like a killer deal, but in reality you’re taking a huge health risk and lowering the standards of tattoos when getting one done from a scratcher. Tattoo artist have a great deal of overhead costs such as ink, needles, machines, autoclaves, insurance, advertising, rent and training costs. These costs make it almost impossible for a tattoo artist to charge $20 for a tattoo and still make a profit. When people brag to their friends about getting a $20 tattoo, it spreads the misconception that tattoo shops are overcharging and pushes clients away from legitimate shops.


  • Tattooists usually have some artistic experience. A tattooist may have some formal art training, but it’s usually limited to a few “popular” designs such as skulls, roses, anchors, infinity knots, script and other “flash” designs. Although tattooists usually understand tattooing techniques far better than a scratcher, you need to ask yourself if the tattoo you want is within their scope of abilities. If you want something “custom”, you may need to find a true tattoo artist.
  • Tattooists usually charge the same prices as tattoo artists. Tattooists work at legal tattoo shops just like tattoo artists, so they tend to charge the same even though they may not have the same artistic or technical ability.
  • Tattooists don’t care if your tattoo looks flattering or not. Tattooists may posses the technical skills to apply a tattoo to your body, but they usually don’t care how it looks BEFORE it’s actually applied. They are usually more concerned about moving on to the next client, than spending the time to find out if the tattoo is “right” for the client. For this reason, you will rarely see a tattooist progress in their ability since they only tattoo what they are comfortable with.


  • Tattoo Artists have years of artistic training and experience. Most tattoo artists have gone through 4-5 years of art training (the equivalent of having a four year college degree), and have the ability to draw “custom” compositions that fit your body in a flattering way.
  • Tattoo Artists use the best equipment in the industry. It takes years to become extremely proficient in various styles of tattooing, so when you see a portfolio that looks absolutely amazing, you can almost be certain they have learned to use the best tool for the job. It’s true that 95% of a quality tattoo is the artist and not the machine, but good tattoo artists are willing to pay $500 more for their machine just for the 5% improvement.
  • Tattoo Artists are more concerned with the quality of the tattoo than making money. A good tattoo artist tries to make every tattoo better than the last, and because of this they worry about how it looks on your body and how it will heal over time. Don’t take it personal if a tattoo artist wants to change your hand drawn design to make it better. Understanding how something is going to look on your body is their job and they are passionate about it, so they wont just slap a tattoo on your body if they know it won’t fit right or look flattering.



Not every scratcher or tattooist falls into the categories described. Occasionally there are those who put out amazing work from their home, or maybe a tattooist understands how to “fit” a tattoo onto your body, but it’s rare. The odds of finding someone who is capable of doing the same quality work as a tattoo artist in a home is like winning the lottery. Even if you do find someone with the talent to do what you want for pennies, chances are it wont last long. Once a tattoo artist builds enough following and reputation, they will be forced to upgrade to a legitimate shop and raise prices accordingly to produce the best quality work.


scratcher, tattooist, tattoo artist

  1. SCRATCHER – Notice this first one is not the worst example from a scratcher, but it points out the problems that arise with such an inexperienced artist. The shaky line work, uneven shading and blotchy color packing are all signs of someone with a lack of experience and you can guarantee the tools used were low quality products.
  2. TATTOOIST – This second image has some good elements such as high contrast and solid fill, however this artist is lacking some fundamental knowledge of light and shadow. The black has been overdone throughout the tattoo and some detail is lost by lack of proper shadow and highlight.
  3. TATTOO ARTIST – The last image is a great example of what can be done with a strong artistic background combined with great technical application. This artist has a good understanding of values that range from solid black to skin tone, and uses highlights in a minimal fashion to emphasize contrast and focal depth.

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