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Is a tattoo artist self-employed?

In the UK, if you’re a tattoo artist, you usually rent space in a tattoo studio. Tattoo artists are therefore not often employed by the studios but work for themselves instead. 

If you’re starting out as a tattoo artist, you should consider:

  • Do you have enough income to support you financially?
  • Are you prepared for when you pay tax?
  • Do you know what you can expense and how?
  • Do you understand the tax return process?

Income as a self-employed tattoo artist

Often, tattoo artists’ income is not purely made from doing tattoos. You can make money from any merchandise that you sell (e.g. t-shirts, posters and prints etc.) which will also be included in your tax return. 

What tax do tattoo artists pay?

When it comes to tax, it’s pretty simple, even though it may seem confusing if you’ve not had to do it before.

Here are a few calendar deadlines to remember:

  1. Register for Self Assessment by 5th October (which is basically notifying HMRC that you are self-employed and need to pay tax independently) 
  2. Do your tax return by 31st January
  3. Payment on Account 31st July – your tax bill is split in half. The first half is paid in January, the second half in July. Read more about Payment on Account

In terms of which specific taxes you owe, there are two to be aware of:

  • Income Tax
  • National Insurance

Income Tax

Income Tax is paid by everyone – employed or self-employed – depending on how much you earn each tax year. The rates generally change every April following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Budget.

The rates for the 2020/21 tax year are as follows:

IncomeTax rate
Up to £12,5000%Personal allowance
£12,501 to £50,00020%Basic rate
£50,000 to £150,00040%Higher rate
over £150,00045%Additional rate

National Insurance

Paying National Insurances gives you access to different state-provided benefits. These include the Job Seekers’ Allowance, the Marriage Allowance and the state pension. 

There are multiple types of National Insurance, but if you work as a self-employed tattoo artist, there are just two types that you’ll need to pay in your tax return. 

  1. Class 2 National Insurance – a flat rate calculated at £3.05 per week of the tax year when you earn more that £6,745
  2. Class 4 National Insurance – 9% of your earnings when you earn more than £9,501

Tattooist expenses

As we said earlier, you can claim your business expenses against your income to reduce your tax bill. 

That’s why it’s really important that you keep a record of everything that you spend and earn. Ideally, doing this digitally is much easier to manage, but it’s up to you how to track your business finances. 

In terms of what you’re allowed to expense, it’s at the discretion of HMRC to decide what’s an allowable expense. The guideline to use is whether it’s a genuine and necessary spend on your business. If it is, you should be able to expense it. 

Here are a few examples of what tattoo artists often expense:

  • Equipment (e.g. needles, ink etc.)
  • Studio supplies 
  • Training costs
  • Studio rent
  • Relevant art book and magazine subscriptions
  • Business travel
  • Your work phone bill
  • Merchandise
  • Home office expenses (if you work from home)

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