When I got my tattoos done a week ago I had a choice to make about money. After swiping my card the credit machine popped up with a prompt to leave a tip for the tattoo artist. I was surprised by this, not because I thought that you specifically don't tip tattoo artists, but simply because I hadn't thought about it at all. The hour was late, I was tired, and the people clearly wanted to close up and go home, so I didn't have time to google 'tipping tattoo artist' and figure it out. I ended up just tipping $40 even and hitting go.
Being me though I couldn't just leave it there. I had to find out what the correct tip was so I would not make the same mistake twice at the very least. It turns out that tipping tattoo artists is not so simple as tipping wait staff at restaurants - there doesn't seem to be any 15% standard agreement. Instead I was told to tip somewhere between 5% and 35%, which is not useful. Also the tip amount varies on whether the artist works for themselves, how much additional time they put in, and even the size of the bill. Tipping on a % is not a useful way to express your tip if the % varies based on how long you were in the chair!
At any rate my tip only worked out to about 5% of the cost. It seems like my artist probably gets to keep about half the take and the other half goes to the business, so she took home $450 for 4.5 hours of work. Pretty good!
But the setup and takedown and such for my tattoos filled up the remainder of her shift, so her billing hours were really only half the hours she spent. Plus they offer free touchups so she is definitely going to have to put in another bunch of time to fix me up perfectly after the healing is done.
Also there is the complication that tattoo artists have to pay for some of their own materials and tools, but how much is completely beyond me.
So there doesn't seem to be any real authority from which to determine a tip amount.
There also isn't any useful way for me to figure out what a 'proper' wage might be since there are so many variables and guesses.
However, my % is on the lowest end, and even though people mostly recommended tipping low % for relatively expensive work, I don't want to be the lowest.
As such I wandered back into the tattoo place a couple days ago and asked them to give the artist another $40 to double my tip. It still isn't a lot of money, but it seems like enough to be reasonable. They seemed pretty surprised by this. I guess most people coming in a few days after are asking questions, panicking about healing, or complaining. They probably don't often just show up to hand over more money voluntarily.
Anyhow I feel like my mission is accomplished. That is, I no longer feel self conscious about my tip and it seems defensible so I will just move on and think about other things. That is how people mostly make these sorts of decisions I imagine, though perhaps my research and consideration of the choices was an outlier.