I spend a lot of time at work. Far more time than I spend at home. I guess it's a good thing that I really do love what I do. I see the workplace and my coworkers more than I see my family. It's been that way for well over 20 years now. I'd like to get to see my family more or do things outside of the shop, but that's just how my life is. I take my free time when I can get it. Which is why when someone says to me "you can just draw this up in your free time..." no. No I can't. My free time, what little there is, is mine. If I'm drawing for someone aside from myself or my family, that's considered work. As it is, I'm booked a fairly consistent month out. That means if you're booking a time to get tattooed by me, chances are you'll be waiting nearly a month, maybe more if you absolutely need to get in on a weekend or if we're doing the initial setup on a large project which can take a major part of the day to get set up/laid out/drawn on and then start tattooing. Days like that can require a lot of extra time that isn't actually on skin, but prep time.
As you could imagine, I talk to a lot of people. I talk to clients, I talk to strangers, I talk to their friends and family, and of course, all of them have questions. Some of the most common are about cost.
Me? I'm $140 an hour. I think "average" falls somewhere between $120 and $160 nationally (United States). Variances in price can depend on the area where the shop is located, how in demand tattoos are in that area, how many shops or artists are in the area as well as the skill level, experience and demand of each individual artist. So, what is considered reasonable? I guess that depends on what you're looking for and who you want to work with. Your focus should always be on the art. Period. If the cost concerns you, to which it does for most people, including me, wait. That's easier said than done, I know.
Why do some artists charge so much? Sometimes it's simply because they have to. If an artist is extremely in demand, their schedule can fill up very quickly. Of course this is a good thing. But once an artists schedule becomes backed up a few months to a year or even more, it really starts to wear on a person. People aren't machines, so it's an unrealistic expectation to think that a person can work hours upon hours with little to no downtime. So if an artist is that in demand, the price goes up. In this way, the artist can focus more on people who are really serious about collecting that artists personal art style. It also frees up their schedule a little so that they have time to consult with other potential clients as well as draw for approaching appointments - as well as spend much needed time at home with family and take some free time to themselves to avoid burnout. Because seriously, we all need a break sometimes. If an artist is that busy, they may not be able to take on every project asked of them. Nor are they required to. The truth is, tattoos are a luxury. A want, not a need.
So, how do you know if you're being ripped off?
Art on canvas can be difficult to price. Knowledge and skill + supplies x hours spent = price. I find that the majority of people who don't know how much time was invested either in schooling for or production of the art will balk at prices that are set for an original piece... believing that the price of a print or a poster that's mass produced is the standard.
In the case of custom tattoos, you have a one off piece of artwork that the artist will only do that single time. It was or should be created specifically for you and you alone. Prints will not be made or mass produced and the art won't be put on anyone else. In fact, sometimes you'll only see the linework for the tattoo beforehand, which means there isn't even a fully rendered piece until it's rendered on you! That's seriously one of a kind.
Of course, if you've done your research and found a tattoo artist to work on you and you're fully committed to wearing that artists work, you should be able to rest easy knowing you're in good hands. If you don't have faith in your artist to do something you'll love, then maybe consider that you might not be sitting with the right artist.
Each artist will have a different way of working. Different hands, different minds, different techniques. Some will work faster, some will work slower. This is necessary for them to get the effects in their works that made you fall in love with it in the first place. It's not something that can be rushed or even slowed down too much... because everything that's done depends on an artists speed. Too fast and it can look sloppy (obviously rushing makes things look rushed and not as well thought out). Too slow and the skin can become overworked, which leads to a myriad of other complications. It all boils down to the point that no one ever works the same. An artists art is as individual as a signature. If that artist is exactly what you're looking for and they'll do the job like no one else could and it's as perfect as you could possibly expect a tattoo to ever be... rest assured, they're worth whatever their charging. No, you're not being ripped off. This isn't a mass marketed piece of artwork. This should be your very own masterpiece and a lifelong investment.