One skin-flint’s search for a cheap tattoo

And this is above the waist.
And this is above the waist.

I have two adorable (in my eyes, at least) rats tattooed across my shoulder blades, and I’ve been feeling a certain itch to add something to my menagerie. Maybe, say, a five-inch long alligator with flamingo wings. When you’re budgetarily challenged, though, you tend to put the kind of thought into choosing a tattoo artist as you would into, say, buying a house (ha!) or… maybe picking out a new laptop.

I saved on my rats by going to an apprentice. They came to $80, with tip (about a $100 savings). But that was back in Las Vegas. Now that I’m looking to go under the gun again, I’m on the hunt for someone good, friendly, patient and, most of all, affordable, in Brooklyn.

This could be a multi-year project, so I’m starting now. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find another good tattoo artist in training. They’re just like hairdressers and massage therapists; they need to practice on a lot of people when they’re just starting out. But my big question is who can a Brooklynite turn to for artistry at a fair price?

gatortattooWe did a Facebook poll that turned up a few names. I showed my crude sketch (right) to three of them and asked how much it would cost to redraw it and put it on my arm. Their answers weren’t too drastically different (all of them would require a $40 to $80 deposit for the drawing).

Diego Mannino at  Saved Tattoo: between $250 and $350 depending on the final size and complexity of the final design.
Marina Inoue at
Fly Rite Studio:
about $350.
Jess Versus at Glamour Garage: in the $200 and $250 range.

I also got some money-saving advice in the process:

Do the art yourself
Mannino said one cost-cutting measure is to bring a picture you want copied exactly to a lower-priced artist. “If you bring in your own artwork, you can go almost anywhere. People come here because our artists have a certain style,” Mannino said.

Look for promotions
Shops do occasionally run promotions that can lead to free or cheap tattoos, but, as with finding a good apprentice who’ll give you a discount, it helps to be in touch with your local tattooing scene. This often requires being a loyal customer at a friendly shop, or having friends who are tattoo artists. One thing to watch for is the occasional free-tattoo promotion, but these rarely leave you with the option of choosing a design. The most common deal is something on the order of a free lucky 13 or black cat tattoo to celebrate Friday the 13th.

Who’s the best?
So far, I’ve received strong recommendations from friends to consider Alex McWatt at Three Kings Tattoo and all the artists at Brooklyn Adorned. Then I got a pile of new suggestions from Brokelyn’s Facebook friends: Robert Bonhomme at Brooklyn Tattoo got big ups, along with Dave Wallin of Eight of Swords Tattoo, among others. But the deliberations are far from over. Who’s your favorite and (fairest-priced) Brooklyn tattoo artist?


  1. I got my piece at Da Brooklyn Ink Spot (Franklin Ave. at Park Place) and love it. The dudes are super cool and chill and always hanging out playing cornhole out front, so it’s a really friendly vibe. They charge by the hour, but I got a fairly good-sized back piece in color done for $140 plus tip. I brought in 3 pictures from a book and wanted them combined into one picture, so it wasn’t a totally new art piece, but wasn’t a direct copy either.

  2. catherine

    My tattoo artist mentioned that prices are sometimes cheaper in the fall/winter months when business is slow. I guess fewer people get tattoos done then since they can’t show them off immediately.

  3. megan

    golden rule in tattooing: you get what you pay for. good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. even today’s most phenomenal tattooers made shitty tattoos when they were starting out. just save some money and get something worthy of being permanently on your body

  4. If you’re shopping around for a price, you deserve the crap tattoo you’re gonna end up with. And I’ll assume you’re annoying every studio you go to with your cheap price hunting. Sorry, but it’s true. Why do people still think cheap tattoos are better? It’s basically a permanent way of saying “I’m cheap as hell”.

  5. Stephaboo

    This same marima at flyrite tatoo did the peice in the back of my nek a couple years ago (i payed about a wuarter of the price you quoted but my tat is less complex and smaller) i am very happy with it and i gt lots of ooh and aaahs over it. She was very diligent about making sure it was in propper allignment before starting whih i appreciated (she applied the drawinf probably 4x to make aure it was perfect). I didnt tip her enough (i still feel bad) but u was on a student budget and didn know any better. I would def recommend her.

  6. I’ve been to Rob at Brooklyn Tattoo, for two swallows on my collar bones. They’re pretty small for that kind of tattoo and all together it cost about $250, which blew me away. I have a tattoo on my hip about 4 times the size of the swallows put together and it cost less than that. Granted that artists wasn’t having to pay rent in Brooklyn, but it didn’t help that I’ve had to go back twice already for touch ups and the they’re only 2 years old.

  7. I got another bird on my rib cage by a guy at Fly Rite and was unimpressed by the guy that worked on me. Mostly for his lack of communication. I thought we were on the same page about what I wanted until we stopped for a break at the halfway point and found out I was mistaken. I don’t remember his name, but remember to be extremely clear about the idea you have.

  8. The thing about the price of tattoos is that, even though it seems expensive, it’s the best deal you will ever get….because they last forever.So spending $250 on a tattoo is worth it. Don’t choose a tattoo artist for price, ever, EVER. Tattoos are, for the most part, permanent, so every time you check it on the mirror, you aren’t going to think “yeah man, this thing was only $50!!”, you are going to think “I wish that line wasn’t so blurry”.

  9. Julia

    I had work done last year by Mike Drexler at Fly Rite and I am thrilled with his work. My piece was pretty small and didn’t take long but he really listened to me.

    Also, I was impressed that while I was waiting, he actually talked someone out of getting a tattoo over a not-yet-healed lazer removal. I have respect for a shop that is willing to turn away business to do the right thing.

  10. I love Ian & Pablo at Armageddon Tattoo in Bushwick. Their work is amazing and their prices are unbelievable. All of my friends, husband & myself use them.

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