Yes! It would be the lamest breach of Tattoo Parlor etiquette not to hand your Artist a reasonable tip for his time and efforts!!
It's a common first-timers mistake not to tip, but you don't have to be that guy! Here is how and why you should add 15-20% tip money to your "Tattoo Savings Plan."
Tattoos are a salon service- think of Hairstylists, Nail Technicians, Brow Threaders, Massage Therapists and Aestheticians. Most artists, unless they own the store, pay to rent their booth space. They either pay a monthly lease, or a percentage of each tattoo they sling. These kinds of agreements in particular can get very pricy for a talented artist that keeps his books full, sometimes running up to 60%. That's why a big handshake and a promise to "tell all my friends on Twitter about you!" is really nice, but it doesn't help him cover those business expenses. Coincidentally, these business experiences are the same reason artists ask for a deposit- if you don't show, they still need to pay the bills!
The other behind-the-scenes part of getting a tattoo that is easy to forget about, is the amount of time and effort the artist puts into working your concept into an actual tattoo. Most artists won't book an appointment with you until you have a solid idea of what you want, and you have put down a cash deposit. At your booking appointment you'll usually visit with them for a half an hour or so and discuss the piece you want and its placement. Many artists are happy to take a loose idea or a few important elements and create a custom piece for you- and that's actually a lot of work! Artists work on your piece when you're not around, doing sketches and testing colors. Pre-planning is crucial for quality work, so even though you don't see it happening, the work certainly deserves acknowledgement and compensation.
If you plan to return to the Artist for more sessions on the same piece, you should talk over your tipping strategy with them. If you want to leave one big tip at the end of the work, let them know so that they understand they won't be stiffed in the end. It's usually preferred for you to leave a tip on each visit- and honestly, that's a better way to spread out the cost of new ink.
If you have questions about any part of the tattooing or payment processes, you shouldn't be afraid to ask. Don't feel silly, it's in everyone's best interest for these questions to be answered honestly, and reputable artists are happy to share their thoughts with you. They want you to feel comfortable, after all, you're a walking billboard for their work- they want you to be positive when you talk about your experience under their irons!
So start collecting ideas- AND CASH! It's always better to err on the side of "cool" when tipping, so save a little extra, starting today!
**UPDATE** Since originally posting this blog and Tweeting it out to the Twitsphere, I've been frequently asked:
"Do I even have to tip if the cost of the tattoo is over $500?"
YES! Absolutely! First of all, expence is reletive. For some, $500 is the most they'd ever thing of paying, but to others, $500 may only cover a portion of a piece. An artist should be tipped based on his hours and work, not whatever our own individual idea of "a lot of money" is.
The best example I can think of, is that for some folks, a dinner costing $100 is the most they'd ever pay for a meal, but for others, a fine dinner will START with a bottle of wine that costs $100 and wind up costing $680! In both cases, the waiters should be tipped 20% for their efforts!