How to Become a Tattoo Model

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Unique ink can be highly desirable in the modeling world. While not all companies want tattooed models, the fashion industry has seen a recent surge of inclusivity and diverse representation. Like other models, tattoo models must craft a compelling look and work their way up in the industry.

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What is a tattoo model?

Tattoo artRawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

A subset of alternative models, tattoo models pose for photographs, perform in videos, and appear in expos and live demos. They might appear in:

  • Commercial shoots
  • Tattoo product marketing
  • Magazine photo shoots
  • Runway shows
  • Tattoo shop ads
  • Social media promotions

For much of modeling history, it was uncommon to see models with tattoos. In the ever-shifting landscape of fashion and culture, however, tattoos have become a common (and often advantageous) characteristic for models.

What to consider when getting tattoos

Male tattoo modelDmytro Lobodenko/Shutterstock

You may be wondering, “Can models have tattoos?” The answer is yes—as long as the placement, originality, and style enhance the model’s unique personality and create a holistic look.

Placement

Tattoo placement is very important for a tattoo model. The arms, chest, back, and legs are highly visible areas, so any tattoos in these spaces contribute to a model’s overall look. Obscene, offensive, or derogatory art can prevent you from landing gigs, so it’s critical to consider the implications of any permanent artwork.

Originality

Unique tattoos can set a model apart and make them instantly recognizable. Have “something unique about the way you look or the way you’re built,” recommends Best Agency. While this can refer to physical traits such as Cindy Crawford’s iconic beauty mark, it also applies to tattoos. 

Copyright

Tattoo artists who create their own designs may own the copyright to their work. Or, if the tattoo artist is using someone else’s design, that person might own the copyright. To be considered the intellectual property of the artist, a tattoo must meet two conditions:

  • It is the artist’s original creation
  • It demonstrates creativity

If your tattoo meets those conditions, and you are using it to promote a product or service, then it may entail copyright infringement. To avoid a potentially messy legal battle, it’s best to either ensure your tattoos aren’t covered by copyright or to secure permissions from the artist for promotional use.

Style

It’s also good to have a comprehensive understanding of tattoo styles. Some tattoo modeling agencies, such as TattooModels, require that prospective models fill out an application that includes their tattoo styles. Your tattoo style might dictate the kind of work you can get as a model. For example, classic Americana is often used for liquor and nautical products; new school for comic books; biomechanical for alt scene conventions; and surrealism for art shoots.

Cohesiveness

All together, your tattoos should convey a cohesive aesthetic narrative. While they don’t need to all be the same style, none of them should seem jarringly out of place.

Requirements to become a tattoo model

Tattoo model wearing suspenderspio3/Shutterstock

To become a tattoo model, you should have: 

  • A unique look and ink: Strive to craft a style that showcases your authentic self. “The world is just a superficial place where everybody judges you because of your appearance,” says tattoo model Sebastian Wog on the importance of letting your personality shine through your look. “But that’s all just a matter of taste. I’m so honored that so many people like the way I present myself to the outside world. But I’m also aware that I don’t have to please everyone.” Spend some time considering how you want to present yourself to the world and how certain tattoos might help reflect that, and lean in from there.
  • Strong communication skills: Tattoo models must be able to collaborate with photographers, videographers, tattoo artists, agents, and other models. You must be able to follow instructions and communicate ideas to thrive. 
  • Flexibility: Any type of modeling requires long days posing and strutting your stuff. Depending on the type of work, tattoo modeling might even require that you get inked on camera, so adaptability is vital to success.

How much do tattoo models get paid?

Tattooed arms touching each otherAfrica Studio/Shutterstock.com

According to ZipRecruiter, the average yearly salary for a tattoo model is approximately $80,000, with most salaries ranging from $31,000 to $94,000. Tattoo models can expect to find more work and higher-paying gigs in larger cities, such as Los Angeles and New York—but beware, since more work potentially means more competition.

How to get started as a tattoo model

Tattoo model posingNew Africa/Shutterstock

Assuming you already have tattoos, a unique look, and plenty of practice posing, to jumpstart a modeling career showcasing your body art:

Familiarize yourself with the industry

Understanding the different areas of modeling is crucial to deciding which skills and styles to hone. Common types of tattoo modeling include: 

  • Runway: This type of modeling usually consists of working for high-end designers and fashion shows. Although tattoos used to be taboo on the catwalk, runway models including Bella Hadid, Sarah Brannon, Faretta, and Jamie Bochert have showcased their designs, ranging from birds to musical notes to word art.
  • Print: This includes catalog and editorial work for product ads or for tattoo-specific publications such as Inked and Tattoo Life. 
  • Lingerie: Lingerie and swimwear models show a lot of skin, making it a prime modeling type for those with skin art. 
  • Niche/alternative modeling: This catchall term encompasses plus-size, mature, fitness, piercings, nude, and tattoo modeling, which often intersect.

Prepare a portfolio

Your modeling portfolio is like a résumé—an easy way to showcase your range for agencies. It’s essential to have some simple, straightforward photos wearing minimal makeup and simple, form-fitting clothes. This will allow employers to visualize how you might fit their goals. Include both headshots and body shots, and create both a print and online portfolio. Having professional hard-copy photos in an easily accessible portfolio folder is absolutely necessary when meeting with potential clients. An online portfolio can be a website with some of the same photos as a hard-copy portfolio. The bonus of a website is the ability to create specific pages that feature an even wider range for modeling. 

Model showing off back tattooRawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Seek agency representation

Whether you go with a normative modeling agency that promotes models with tattoos (such as IMG and go-models) or a tattoo and alternative-specific one (such as TattooModels and the Dragonfly Agency), having agency representation is the best way to land gigs. Knowing which modeling agencies are open to (or even prefer working with) tattoo models can help you figure out where to focus your efforts. Always make sure to research modeling agencies before applying. There are plenty of legitimate agencies, but also a lot of scams. Ensure an agency has multiple clients, a professional website, and many reviews before providing any details or committing to anything.

Or try freelancing

For those just starting out as models, freelance modeling can be a great stepping stone into the industry. Many tattoo models who freelance promote brands on social media as influencers. While freelance models have complete control of their schedule and projects, it requires a lot of organization and time, including handling finances, contracts, recordkeeping, and communication.

Check out cosmetic tattoo schools

Follow the social media pages for local cosmetic tattoo schools, programs, and apprenticeships to see if they post casting calls for tattoo models.

Apply to job postings

Look for job postings on casting call databases, particularly ones that seek models with tattoos.

Self-promote

Promote yourself across social media platforms and in person at conventions and industry events.

  • Social media: Social media allows models to create a base of followers, which, in this era, is increasingly important. Many models can now find work with huge companies by promoting products on Instagram or TikTok. Social media is a great place to find a niche, network, and community. Utilize hashtags and post relevant content to find like-minded people. 
  • In-person: While social media is great, in-person interaction is even better. Attend modeling conventions and open casting calls, and take advantage of any opportunities to meet with agencies, photographers, or other industry organizations. Making an effort to get to know other people in the industry who can help you learn more about modeling—as well as any job opportunities. 

Prepare for rejections

Models don’t land every gig they audition for, so it’s best not to take it personal. Stay professional and keep putting yourself out there. The more you do, the better the chances at getting a positive response.

Famous tattoo models

Sara Mills, famous tattoo modelKathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Tattoo models who have left their mark on the industry include: 

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