We at Cardinal Tattoo get asked all the time what an appropriate amount to tip would be. You may expect us to say 'how much ya got?' but really that isn't the case. Every tattoo session shouldn't necessarily end with the customer dishing out more of their hard-earned cash than the work costs. Tattooers should charge what the work costs and any gratuity is above and beyond that, not an extra hidden fee that's expected after every session. Tipping may be advised in those instances where the artist goes above and beyond what is normally expected: Working past normal hours to finish your tattoo or arriving early to accommodate your schedule; taking exceptional care of you if you feel faint or queasy; those times when the work genuinely surpasses your expectations; if you've had to reschedule on that artist more than once or last-minute for a previous session a small tip serves as a great apology and goes a long way to let us know we're more than just a means to an end for you; if you brought your child with you but didn't bring an adult to watch them during your tattoo session; or if you're just plain hard to deal with sometime and you know it. Oftentimes people will wait until a large, several-session piece is completed before tipping.
Truly, no one should ever feel pressured to leave a tip and there aren't any widely accepted norms for it either. Twenty percent is the going rate for servers nowadays but the ticket for tattoos is usually much greater than than of a meal, so don't feel obligated to keep to that standard. Most tattoo shops make their money by splitting the cost of a given tattoo with the house. Most shops also allow artists to keep 100% of their tips. So for most artists a twenty dollar tip goes further than you might think, it could equal to twice as much or more depending on the cost of doing business with the shop itself.
We hope this helps clear up some of the confusion and very real anxiety some people feel regarding the 'tip or no-tip, and how much?' scenario. It's easiest to just remember that if you're well pleased with the service and the finished product, a tip is a great way to show your appreciation to your artist and that you know Tipping isn't just a city in China.