What To Do If Someone Wants Your Art as a Tattoo

Raven charcoal drawing by Sara A. Noe


A few weeks ago, I found myself in this situation for the first time. Although I’ve discussed doing a commissioned tattoo in the past, this was the first time having someone seek an existing piece of artwork.

First, let me say that it’s an incredibly flattering feeling to know that someone loves my art enough to want it permanently inked on their body. It’s a great honor!

Second, I appreciate the client reaching out to me rather than simply taking my image off the internet. Not only is that the best way to respect and support an artist, but it’s also the correct step needed to legally tattoo someone else’s art on your body.

But for me, this request was brand-new territory. I had to do some online digging and explore how other artists responded to this situation.

The experience gave me some valuable insights into copyright, mutual respect between tattoo artists and visual artists, tattoo passes, and price ranges. In this article, I’ll share what I learned and how I applied my discoveries to my own art.

Commissions & Exclusivity

With commissioned art, the client and the artist should be on the same page upfront as far as copyright and usage go. Whether or not the artist forfeits their claim to copyright needs to be in the contract so both parties are aware of who will own the copyright before they proceed. That will determine if the artist can sell prints of the artwork after creating it for the client.

If someone is requesting to have an existing art piece inked as a tattoo, chances are they aren’t seeking exclusivity. Which is good, because the piece requested happened to be my most popular drawing, “The Raven.”

I sell matted prints, canvas prints, notecards, postcards, keychains, and now glass cutting boards of this charcoal drawing, not to mention it’s still on display in the Uptown Arts District of Michigan City, IN. This piece isn’t one in which I’m willing to relinquish my copyright.

Artist Sara A. Noe with "The Raven" on display in Michigan City, Indiana

Can I Use Someone’s Art as a Tattoo?

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is there are several factors to consider.

You can NOT use someone’s art without their explicit permission, even if you found the image online and are unable to locate the original artist. Tattooing someone else’s art without their permission is copyright infringement. If you can’t find the artist, it’s better to be safe than sorry and seek out a different piece of art for your next tattoo.

Many tattoo artists are wary of the potential for copyright issues. This concern adds another shade of gray when answering this question, because while you can technically tattoo art with the artist’s permission, the final say will come from your tattoo artist.

Some tattoo artists will use only their own original work. They have a strict policy against using artwork from other artists because it could open the door to a copyright infringement lawsuit if the client failed to get permission first (or lied about getting it).

If you want to use an artist’s work for your tattoo, the first step is to contact the artist. If they grant permission or direct you to purchase a tattoo pass to buy the rights to their work, your next step is to contact your tattoo artist to check their policy on outside artwork. Both artists must give the green light.

museum quality photo on canas at low price

I’m an Artist. Is My Artwork Copyrighted?

Yes, it is. Your art is copyrighted as long as it is your own original work, regardless of artistic skill. Note that an idea for artwork cannot be copyrighted—the art must be in a tangible form in order to qualify for copyright.

According to LegalZoom, “You have a copyright in your artwork as soon as it has been created and fixed in a tangible object. It does not need to be registered with the copyright office or have a copyright notice attached to receive copyright protection. A copyright lasts for the life of the artist, plus 70 years after the artist’s death.”

Although your artwork is technically copyrighted after its creation, you might want to consider making it official through the U.S. Copyright Office to establish a legal record. If you intend to sue someone for copyright infringement, you must register before you can go through the legal process. Registering for copyright prior to an infringement can also entitle you to statutory damages and covered legal fees in the event of a lawsuit.

In my case, I rarely part with my originals. I sell prints instead, partially because my primary focus is on my books series and I can’t produce art at a high enough volume to keep many originals in stock, and partially because it’s an extra layer of protection for me. If there’s ever an issue of authenticating who owns the rights to my work, I have the original on hand to prove my case.

Ghost Realm candle by Old Soul Artisan

What Is a Tattoo Pass?

A tattoo pass is an official agreement that grants permission to reproduce an artist’s work on your body. Some artists choose to offer tattoo passes for free or ask for a donation in return. Most serious artists, however, charge a fee, especially if the art took a long time to create.

Purchasing a tattoo pass (or giving a donation if the tattoo pass is free) is a great way to support your favorite artist(s). Remember that art takes time, practice, training, talent, and skill. Exposure is always great, but artists can’t pay the bills if they give away all of their work for free “for the exposure.”

If you love a piece of art enough to tattoo it on your body, then hopefully you appreciate the artist enough to respect and support them by requesting a tattoo pass instead of stealing their work… which would be copyright infringement.

What Information Should Be Included in a Tattoo Pass?

As I considered how to price my tattoo pass, I realized that in my case, I needed two separate price points because I dabble in different types of art. I created one tattoo pass for my hand-drawn artwork, which is considerably more detailed and time-consuming to create.

Hand-drawn artwork by Sara A. Noe

I then created a second, lower-cost tattoo pass for my digital artwork, which includes emojis, symbols, and graphics from the Chronicles of Avilésor series.

Digital artwork by Sara A. Noe

For both tattoo passes, I included the following information:


After searching online, I found that most artists charge between $25 and $60 for their tattoo passes. You may, like me, decide to offer different price points depending on the types of art that you do.

Consider how much time you spend on each piece, as that should be factored into your pricing table. For example, are you selling the right to use a simple line drawing, or a highly detailed sketch? Also, you may or may not want to charge shipping if you are mailing materials (I opted not to).

Art Print (Optional)

I decided to include a 5×7 print of the artwork as part of my tattoo pass. This way, the client can have a framed copy of the artwork if they want to display it. This is a nice bonus to include along with a digital download of the art.

Certificate of Authenticity

This one is important, because respectable tattoo artists have mutual respect for visual artists and are highly unlikely to consider tattooing someone else’s art without clear, explicit permission. Including a certificate of authenticity, especially if it’s customized for the specific art print, helps to establish that the artwork was legally obtained directly from the artist. Also important to include is…

Signed & Personalized Permission Form

Adding this with the certificate of authenticity further solidifies proof for the tattoo artist so they can feel confident that they aren’t committing copyright infringement. The permission form should be personalized with the client’s name and the name of the art piece.

Optional Information to Include

  • Specify that the tattoo pass is good for only use per person, per artwork.
  • Mention that the artwork should not be manipulated from the original (except, perhaps, altering the color scheme if switching between color and grayscale). If the client wants other changes, you might consider offering commission services as an alternative.
  • Politely request that the client partner with a qualified tattoo artist who has the skills to accurately reproduce your work. You don’t want your name attached to a bad tattoo that barely resembles the original.
  • Ask for credit if the client and/or tattoo artist posts any photos of the finished tattoo on their website(s) or social media. You, not the tattoo artist, should always be credited as the original artist. You can also request a direct tag and provide your social media handles.

I hope that helps! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

 | Website

I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first three novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series have received awards from Literary Titan.

After some time working as a freelance writer, I was shocked by how many website articles are actually written by paid "ghost writers" but published under the byline of a different author. It was a jolt seeing my articles presented as if they were written by a high-profile CEO or an industry expert with decades of experience. I'll be honest; it felt slimy and dishonest. I had none of the credentials readers assumed the author of the article actually had. Ghost writing is a perfectly legal, astonishingly common practice, and now, AI has entered the playing field to further muddy the waters. It's hard to trust who (or what) actually wrote the content you'll read online these days.

That's not the case here at On The Cobblestone Road. I do not and never will pay a ghost writer, then slap my name on their work as if I'd written it. This website is 100% authentic. No outsourcing. No ghost writing. No AI-generated content. It's just me... as it should be.

If you would like to support my work, check out the Support The Creator page for more information. Thank you for finding my website! 🖤