Scratcher Awareness

Scratchers – like a fly in your soup, they defile the professional tattoo industry by spreading infection and disease. But, what exactly is a scratcher and how can you spot one? Learn how to protect yourself from these insidious pests.

So, today I’d like to talk to you about scratchers. No, I’m not talking about the four-legged kind that likes to tear up furniture. I’m talking about something much more insidious. I’m talking about people who destroy the credibility of the tattoo industry on a daily basis by spreading infection and disease while they dole out hideous tattoos. They have no concern for your safety or the law, but they make you think they do by putting on a façade of cleanliness that may appear, on the surface, to look legitimate. They tattoo your children illegally and without your permission. These people don’t care about artistry or professionalism; they care about making a few quick bucks and egotistically calling themselves “tattoo artists.”

But the rest of us call them what they truly are – scratchers.

Scratcher Tattoo Artist
Scratcher Tattoo / Source

Where did the name come from?

I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to be generally accepted that the reference to “scratching” is used to describe the poorly executed lines that resemble the writer’s term, “chicken scratch,” to describe sloppy, illegible handwriting. It kind of has a double meaning for me, though, because the very word sends images of fingernails scratching down a chalkboard. If you have never heard that sound, consider yourself lucky. It is one of the most horrendous sounds known to modern man and has the ability to induce visceral reactions. That is how strongly offensive I find scratchers.

How Can You Spot a Scratcher?

Bad Tattoo Design
Bad Tattoo Design

They Don’t Work In a Shop

Unless the person lives in a country where tattooing is completely outlawed, there is no reason for them not to be working in a legitimate tattoo shop. Some will offer the excuse that no shops will hire them. Well, that tells me two things: one, they may not be very good and two, they may have a record that prevents them from being hired. Truly talented, clean, and sane tattoo artists get work.

They Work Out of Their Home

Let me first be clear that tattooing out of a legitimate home-based tattoo shop is completely different from tattooing out of one’s home. Some states allow home-based tattoo businesses, and if someone has a studio set-up at their home that follows the local health department requirements, that is perfectly acceptable. I’m talking about people who sit you down at their kitchen table, on a basement sofa, or on a table out in their garage to tattoo you – they have no proper equipment and no licensing to run a legit business.

They Travel to Others’ Homes

Tattooing someone in their own home isn’t any safer than being tattooed in the scratcher’s home. The only thing that might be slightly better about being tattooed in your own home might be that at least the furniture won’t be splattered with the blood, bodily fluids and germs from previous clients. That’s not to say the tools and the artist him/herself won’t still be contaminated. Scratchers love tattoo parties; they can tattoo a whole bunch of people in one night, collect a wad of cash, and disappear where no one can find them again if anything goes wrong.

They Call Their Tattoo Machine a “Gun”

This is a sure-fire way to spot a scratcher because no self-respecting professional tattoo artist will EVER refer to the tool of their trade with this crude and offensive term.

They do Tattoos “Real Cheap”

Know why professional tattoos aren’t cheap? Because they have to pay for the certifications, licensing, insurance, and sterilization that keeps YOU safe. Unless they’re running a customer appreciation special (which should only be a few times a year at most) NO tattoo should cost less than $70. That’s the absolute base minimum it costs most tattoo artists just to set up with all the proper equipment, and that will get you a very small, simple and basic tattoo.

They Display Their Lousy Tattoos With Pride

Everyone has to start somewhere, so if someone is just starting to learn how to tattoo, they can’t be expected to create masterpieces. But a tattoo apprentice who is working under the supervision of a skilled professional will not refer to themselves as a tattoo artist and they will be upfront with potential clients that they are in the learning stages. They will not pepper their social networking pages with photos of their “artwork” like it’s the shit. With artistry and professionalism also comes humility.

They Don’t Follow Safe Practices

Every professional tattoo artist has been thoroughly, exhaustively trained in the “sterile chain of events” that must be followed for a clean and disease-free tattoo. Special equipment is used for the multi-step process, and extreme care is taken from beginning to end on every single tattoo. Just wearing gloves and taking a new needle out of a sterile package does not ensure a safe tattoo. There are so many ways in which a tattoo can be contaminated, and scratchers do not know or care to know how to prevent it.

They Tattoo “On the Side”

If this is something they just do for extra cash when they’re not flipping burgers or bagging groceries, it’s probably a good sign that they’re scratching out of their home.

Especially if they use phrases like, “I’ll hook you up” and “You can pay me in bud.”


Don’t get taken in by a scratcher; always look for a clean, professional shop with talented artists who are happy to show you their licensing and sterilization area. And don’t be swayed by a deal that sounds too good to be true, because it probably is.

(You don’t want to wake up feeling like this guy one day, do you?)

In the words of the immortal Sailor Jerry Collins, “Good work ain’t cheap. Cheap work ain’t good.”

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