For most people the words ‘unlicensed tattooist’ sets off the alarm bells. It doesn’t need to be explained to you; you just know that it means allowing someone with no qualifications, possibly no actual training and no strict health and safety standards to tattoo you. You’re more likely to get a crude drawing carved too deep with too much or too little ink than a nice tattoo. If they were a good tattooist they would not be charging you half the usual price and doing it in their kitchen; so do not assume that the person you’re getting to do your tattoo is a rare case of an excellent tattooist who just happens to work out of his own living room.

There are simply too many risks involved in backyard tattooing for it to be worth it. There is the risk of infection that comes from the needles, the environment, the tattooist, the ink, even the way they wipe the area before, after and during the tattooing process (or the lack thereof) can cause infection.

Additional risks of course include the actual tattoo you’re going to end up with. There will always be a risk that the tattoo you get will not be the one you imagined you would come away with, but in some cases it will be completely different. The quality of the tattoo is likely to be poor; the human body is not easy to draw directly on to, the shape changes and the skin can be tough in places and soft in others, it takes years of training and experience to be able to tattoo the skin cleanly and well. One particular gentleman, who allowed a pair of intoxicated companions to tattoo his back learnt the hard way.

tattoo artist

The incident occurred in Queensland, Australia, but has been discussed around the world as one of the worst pranks in the tattoo industry. Matthew Brady was known to be an unlicensed tattoo artist and while he, the victim and his friend Lorde, were drinking one evening they persuaded the victim to get a large tattoo on his back of a dragon with a yin-yang symbol.

Seems harmless enough, however this is not even close to what he actually received. Instead of a dragon and Chinese symbol the gentleman ended up with a 40cm tattoo of a male genitalia over an incorrectly spelled implication that the victim was homosexual. Aside from having a rather large penis drawn on his back in permanent ink the victim also endured pain as a result of the poor conditions provided by the tattoo artist. During the process of getting the tattoo the victim had asked the tattooist to stop, due to the pain, however the artists had continued with his companion insisting that the tattoo was looking good.


Another fairly well known case that emerged at the beginning of the year including a second unlicensed tattoo artist who spent two days tattooing a large Alice in Wonderland tattoo on a young woman’s back. The cost of this was around £100, the victim explained that the process was performed in the kitchen of the tattooist’s property, there was a cat in the room and the artist was drinking during the process and taking breaks to smoke.

Not surprisingly the result was a poorly done, unfinished tattoo that became so badly infected it prevented the victim from sleeping for a number of days. The scaring from the infection is suspected to be so bad that it will make both tattoo removal and covering difficult and one local expert suggested that a good cover piece for the botched tattoo would cost upwards of £900. The only surprise is that she stayed long enough to be tattooed, the warning signs are all there and should not be ignored. The victim spoke in court, saying that she had been tattooed in a kitchen, that the tattooist had been drinking, that a deodorant stick had been used to transfer the design, that a dirty toothbrush had been used to ‘clean’ the tattoo tools and even that a cat had been seen in the property.

Common indicators that the artist is operating illegally;

  • Not asking for any verification of your age
  • Operating from a home and not a listed premises
  • Animals on the property
  • Failure to show you the sterilised equipment
  • Drinking and or smoking on the premises
  • Failure to wear gloves
  • Unusually low price

Author Bio:

Kate is a keen writer interested in the development of tattoos. She often writes about tattoo ink (tattoo-inkt) and tattoo machines.

Image source – © RomainQuéré –