If you're thinking about becoming a professional piercer, congratulations! You've chosen a challenging profession that's sure to be interesting. Choosing piercing as a profession is a serious decision, though. You need to know exactly what you're getting into and think about all the ways it might impact your life before you start the process. For instance, are you a people person? This job will put you in contact with other people constantly, and you have to be able to put those people at ease with a pleasant attitude and talk them through any concerns or questions they may have. Can you juggle a side job and a piercing apprenticeship for a year so you can learn the trade and pay the bills at the same time? An apprenticeship isn't a paying gig; like other forms of education, it's more likely to cost you money (at least for supplies). Once you're trained, licensed and have found somewhere to work, you'll have to figure out if you can pay your bills by piercing full time or if you'll need to maintain a second job. If you have a family, will your spouse and/or kids be okay with you working evenings and weekends? Piercers tend to have to work when other people are off work, which means you may have to sacrifice spending time with your family if you want a career in piercing. These are just a few of the things you need to consider before you jump into the training process with both feet. It's better to be prepared and know what you're going into than to find out halfway through that piercing isn't actually for you.
Once you've carefully evaluated how becoming and being a professional piercer will impact your life, you can make a grounded decision about this career option. If you decide that piercing does seem like the right fit for you, then it's time to start looking for an apprenticeship.
There are many piercing schools around the U.S. today, and there are a lot of good things you can learn through them. Nothing beats hands-on experience, though, which is why apprenticeships are still the recommended way to train to become a professional piercer.
Finding a Piercing Apprenticeship
Finding a Master Piercer to mentor you can be challenging. Start the process by talking to the piercer you trust most. Tell your piercer that you want to do a piercing apprenticeship and ask if s/he would be interested in taking you on as a student. If s/he can't help you directly, then ask for recommendations on other piercers in your area who you should approach. If your piercer doesn't have many leads for you, then it's time to get online and research well-reputed shops in your area.
Make a list of the top shops where you'd like to do an apprenticeship, and then visit them one-by-one. Talk to their piercer(s), see if you have a good rapport with any of them, and speak to those you do get along well with about mentoring you. You may not get a yes on your first visit, but that doesn't mean that your preferred mentor won't work with you later on, if s/he sees how serious you are about becoming an apprentice. You may have to visit a shop a few times, get to know the staff, and even help out around the shop before you get a professional piercer to agree to take you on as a piercing apprentice.
Once you find someone to mentor you, you'll need to stock up on appropriate piercing supplies. To simplify this process, we've created an article for you to reference while you shop, called The New Piercer's Guide to Getting Started. You may not need to buy everything we've listed there initially--the shop where you do your apprenticeship should be able to lend you some tools and will likely provide basics like gloves for you--but the list will help you build your piercing tool kit as you have money for additional supplies. If you stick with piercing, you'll continue to use that tool kit for years to come, so it'll be a worthwhile investment. If you can't buy everything on the list right away, ask your Master what tools you can borrow and what supplies, like piercing needles, you need to buy yourself. S/he should give you a list of needle sizes and styles s/he wants you to have on hand during the training process, as well as any other supplies you'll have to purchase yourself.
Don't expect to pierce an actual person on day 1 of your piercing apprenticeship. In fact, it could be many months before you ever get to work with an actual customer. In the meantime, your Master will have you observe him or her while s/he pierces customers and talk to you about each step of the process along the way. S/he should also be training you in related activities, like sterilization and clean room procedures. To supplement, you may want to take a lab safety class and read over our Shop Safety articles to learn about things like why it's important to wear gloves when modifying and proper piercing tool maintenance.
When the time comes to practice doing an actual piercing, it's best to start by piercing something like our body bits, which won't cry out if you stab them roughly on the first few attempts. Some people are naturals at gently inserting piercing needles, but most people need to practice, practice, practice! Check out our Tattoo Practice Skin section and our selection of body bits to find tons of great options for practicing piercing before you try on a real person.
If you have the stomach for it, you may consider practicing a few piercings on yourself after working with body bits and practice skin for awhile. Your piercer and other employees of the shop where you're doing your apprenticeship may also be willing to let you practice piercings on them. Additionally, you can ask your friends to come into the shop so you can get more practice before you attempt to pierce a paying client.
Getting Certified & Licensed
Towards the end of your piercing apprenticeship, you'll need to start thinking about what certifications are required to become a professional piercer. To meet OSHA regulations, you'll need to get your Bloodborne Pathogens Certification. You can do this through the Red Cross for a small fee or even get your training online through an OSHA-approved organization like Bloodborne Pathogens Online Training & Certification.
You should also get certified in first aid and CPR, which you can do through the Red Cross, too. It's incredibly important to understand first aid and CPR when working in the tattoo and piercing industry, because you're dealing with customers who bring unknown factors into the equation. For instance, you need to know how to revive a client who faints during a piercing because they didn't eat first even though they were told to do so. Getting trained in first aid and CPR will help you know what questions to ask when interviewing prospective clients, so you can turn people away who aren't good candidates because they've been drinking, have a heart condition, etc., and it will prepare you for problems that may arise during the piercing process. Once you're trained, you'll be better equipped to deal with things like a hemophiliac forgetting to tell you that their blood doesn't clot properly or a client who faints at the sight of blood.
In addition to basic training for bloodborne pathogens, first aid and CPR, you may also be required to get a license before piercing in your state. To learn your state's licensing rules as well as rules regarding piercing minors, visit the National Conference of State Legislators' website. For supplemental information about rules regarding piercing minors, read our Piercing Minors article.
Starting Your Pro Piercing Career
Once you've completed your apprenticeship and gotten all certifications and/or licenses that your state requires professional piercers to have, it's time to start looking for a job. The ideal situation would involve you doing your apprenticeship in a high-volume shop that could use another piercer, so that you might be considered to fill that role when the time comes. More often than not, though, new piercers have to branch out beyond where they interned to find a permanent job. Resurrect your list of top shops in your area that you pulled together before finding an apprenticeship, and work through it again. Go shop to shop with your portfolio, certifications, license(s) (where applicable), your resume (which should detail your apprenticeship in the Education section, above Jobs), and a letter of recommendation from your Master. Talk to the shop owners this time around, and see if any of the shops on your list have an opening. If someone turns you away, ask if you can at least fill out a job application and have them get back to you if something opens up later. Leave a copy of your resume and letter of recommendation with any applications you submit.
If you'd rather strike out on your own, that's always an option, too. You can rent a space somewhere, possibly even within an established piercing shop that rents rooms/work spaces to independent artists. If you aren't working within an existing tattoo and piercing shop, make sure you setup your business somewhere that gets plenty of foot traffic, like in a strip mall or an artists' village.
Before you go to work in someone else's shop, if you go that route, negotiate hard. Keep the average price of piercings in your area in mind. You may pay out up to half of each piercing to the shop in which you work, plus you'll have supply costs on top of that, which can really limit your income. Think about how much money you need to be making and what you can realistically expect to make in a day with the amount of traffic the shop you're considering receives, and then talk to the shop owner about their terms. We offer tips for negotiating the ideal price for a work space cost in the "Talk Money" section of our blog post, Pursing Piercing as a Profession, if you'd like suggestions on ways to negotiate.
Building Your Piercing Toolkit
Whether you get a job at an established shop or start your own piercing shop, you'll most likely need to purchase all your own supplies. You should have acquired some tools during your internship, but you'll need even more, as well as a range of piercing needles, body jewelry, sterilization supplies, and so on when you get started as a professional piercer. Before you start purchasing piercing supplies to supplement what you already have, be sure to read through the recommendations in our Essential Supplies for Starting a Piercing Shop and The New Piercer's Guide to Getting Started articles. We provide a full list of all basic supplies necessary to start a shop in the first article and a stripped-down list of essential supplies for piercers working out of someone else's shop in the second article.
It can be tempting to buy just what you need immediately when you have so many supplies to buy, but try to keep in mind that you can save by purchasing in bulk. We offer special wholesale prices to professional piercers in our Wholesale Store (for orders of $100-$499) and our absolute lowest prices in our Distributor Store (for orders over $500). Many of our products are offered for even less within these two stores and our Retail Store (for orders under $100) if you buy them in bulk. Sometimes you only have to buy 2 of the same item to get a price break, but you'll save even more if you purchase larger quantities and buy cases where they're available (for things like Recovery Piercing Aftercare Spray, disinfectants, etc.). While you're shopping, look in the "Add to Cart" area of any product page on our site to see how many of the same item you need to purchase to save money.
Promoting Your Piercing Business
The process of building your client base will involve a mix of advertising and working with walk-ins so they get to know and like you, begin referring you to others, and come back themselves for more piercings. Generating referral business is a huge part of becoming a well-reputed piercer who makes decent money, so it's important to nurture every client relationship, be kind to your clients, educate them, and answer all of their questions as thoroughly as possible. If you communicate well with clients, add value to the relationship with educational tips (aftercare instructions, etc.), and you're a good piercer, your referral business will grow naturally. Be sure to send every client away with a couple business cards so they can share them with friends.
You should also build an online portfolio, in addition to maintaining a print copy in your shop. If you and/or your shop don't have a website--or even if you do--you can utilize our gallery to build your online portfolio for free. For tips on how to create a gallery account and start posting your photos (preferably with descriptions of each piercing), read our How to Use the Gallery article.
You should also build out a Facebook page for your business, if you don't already have one, and consider making an Instagram and/or Twitter account, too. You can use these social media sites to share photos of your work, lead people to your full online portfolio, provide helpful piercing tips that people are likely to share, and much more. Make sure you point people to the top places you maintain an online presence on your business cards and any other materials you share with your clients, too.
We offer a wealth of information in our Help Center so that you can learn about everything piercing, body jewelry and safety-related that you need to know about as you work towards becoming a professional piercer. Check out some of the helpful links below, or visit our Information Center to access our full library of piercing, body jewelry and shop safety information.
- Pursuing Piercing as a Profession
- The New Piercer's Guide to Getting Started
- Essential Supplies for Starting a Piercing Shop
- Proper Post-Modification Clean-up Procedures
- Proper Tattoo & Piercing Tool Maintenance
- Sample Body Piercing Release Form
- Tattoo & Piercing Sterilization Techniques
- Piercing Minors
- Piercing Safely
- More Shop Safety Articles
- More Piercing Information Articles
You can also use our forum to learn about other piercers' and piercee's experiences and post questions for our knowledgeable moderators and community members to answer. Please do not use the forum to promote your business. It's strictly an educational resource and tool to bring our online community members together. To learn how you can take full advantage of our forum, read our How to Use the Forum article.