Alliance of Professional Tattooists

By Jason Sweet

This article is part two, in a two part series, about the professional organizations in tattooing. I attended the APT Trade Show as part of my research and found myself not only rejoining them after a 10 year hiatus; I found myself being recruited for service to the APT in the future.   As much as I tried to resist, the call of service to my profession was too loud to ignore. Over the weekend, I was struck as to the commitment some had made to attend the APT trade show. I met a woman tattooist from Austria and a man from Australia. One couple I met drove to the trade show from Indiana, because flying from their home was prohibitively expensive. I personally found this type of dedication to tattooing and the APT, inspiring and motivating. I only took 5 days out of my year to attend the trade show; they took two weeks.

I was originally introduced to the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, when I was tattooing about 2 years. I was hired at a tattoo studio that required I become a member of the APT as part of working for them. Joining the APT required filling out an application and providing professional references and a sponsor, as I had been tattooing less than three years. Additionally, I was required to take the Preventing Disease Transmission in Tattooing (PDTT) as part of my membership. The PDTT course was 6 hours long. It covered Blood Born Pathogens and how to prevent their transmission, OSHA standards for tattooing and information on running a studio. The PDTT course was all encompassing; it even included a live and interactive demonstration on hand washing to insure we were properly cleansing our hands to prevent disease transmission. Personally, taking this course set me on a path of safe tattooing that continues to this day, 11 years later. The information was so extensive that when I finally moved to Oregon, a heavily regulated state for tattooing, that it was almost easy to pass the 150 question test required to obtain my tattoo license.

I attended the APT Trade Show in Las Vegas in October. It was quite an event featuring seminars by Shahn Anderson of Electric Dragonland, Fip Buchanan of Avalon II Tattoo, Jack Rudy of Goodtime Charlie’s Tattooland and John Montgomery of Alla Prima Ink. There were many other seminars on safe tattooing, tattooing techniques, industry ethics, self-promotion, etc., taught by many skilled tattooists. However, the seminars were only one part of the Trade Show.

Socialization in a non-judgmental forum with my fellow tattooists was equally as important as the seminars. The trade show is only open to professional tattooists and other professionals related to the tattoo industry. There is no tattooing at the trade show. The beauty of this format, is that it gives the tattooists a chance to socialize with one another without having to posture for the public. Unlike a regular tattoo expo where everyone is rushing to one another’s booths for snippets of conversation; everyone is in seminar together and is not missing out on” the money”. Once the seminars break, the tattooists are free to discuss what they learned without worry of the general public hearing our “trade secrets”, thus enabling the tattooists to delve deeper into the subjects taught. Another benefit of such a format, is that is gives the average tattooist the opportunity to not only meet some of their hero’s in tattooing, but to actually sit down with them and get to know each other on a personal basis. It was a big thrill for me to sit and talk to Goodtime Charlie Cartwright and Crazy Eddie Funk, just to name a couple.

Tattoo Alliance Group Shot

The Alliance of Professional Tattooists is a professional organization dedicated to educating tattooists and the general public about safe tattooing. They further this mission through seminars at tattoo conventions and the APT Trade Show, held annually. Additionally, they exist to tattooists as a resource for information when dealing with local health departments and provide educational materials to government, helping to inform government on ways to best regulate tattooing. In some cases, dispelling myth to local health department officials attempting to close tattoo studios based on false information.

The APT is a tattooist run organization. Everyone who works with the APT is a volunteer. The only person who is paid, is the administrator hired to run the front office. The APT is financially supported by membership fees, the 6 hour Blood Borne Pathogen course they teach, the yearly trade show in Las Vegas, and donations. The trade show offers members up to 30 hours of continuing education credit. All of the tattooists who teach the seminars do it on a volunteer basis. Tattooists don’t have to be members of the APT to attend the trade show, but they must be a professional tattooist. Apprentices are welcome as long as they are accompanied by a tattooist.

One of the advantages to joining the APT, is for professional legitimacy. If one day, you as a tattooist, decide you want to open your own tattoo shop, being a member of a professional organization like the APT offers you some credentials to show your health department and even prospective property owners who you may rent a studio space from. Often local government views membership in a professional organization with an air of legitimacy. In order to become a member of the APT, one must provide a variety of proof that you are a professional tattooist. If you are located in a state that requires you to be a registered tattooist with a license, you are required to prove your licensure. You are required to be certified in Blood Borne Pathogen and Disease transmission, or take that training through the APT, you must have a physical tattoo shop address where you work, naming the website and shop owner. All of this is to verify one’s professionalism as a tattooist.

While attending the trade show, I sat down with Mike Martin, President of the APT, to discuss the organization’s history and why tattooists should join.

“The Alliance of Professional Tattooists was started by a group of tattooists in 1992 that were already active in the tattoo community. We realized that a proliferation of tattooists and tattoo shops were popping up all over the country and that as a community, we needed to keep tattoo regulations under tattooists control as much as possible. As a group, we set out to create an organization that would teach safe tattooing techniques, blood borne pathogen and disease prevention awareness, with the teachers being tattooists themselves. We wanted to educate tattooists on what diseases are out there and how they keep them from being transmitted to themselves, their families and their clients. The idea was to educate not only tattooists, but local health departments as well, so the people who would be regulating tattooing could be educated on the tattooist’s needs and what to look for when inspecting tattoo shops.”

Mike continued to elaborate about the APT, “At one time, we mostly dealt with health departments on a personal level and educating tattooists. However, more recently, we have been dealing with legislation, as more states begin to regulate tattooing.   As these states write regulation, they are looking for guidance on how to proceed with regulations that are reasonable and enforceable. Every year, there are four or five states that are writing or re-writing regulations. The APT is not there assisting in the writing of legislation, but we are there advising them, so as not to screw over the tattooists.”

“The state of California began regulating tattooing in 2011 and I was there on an advisory level. The APT went to many counties in California and educated the various health departments on what to look for when inspecting a tattoo studio.   Additionally, I helped with the regulations in Florida, assisted in organizing the Florida Tattoo Guild, and I have been involved with Ohio and it’s regulation of tattooing.”

Pat Sinatra and Shahn Anderson

Pat Sinatra, former president of the APT and a tattooist who has been tattooing since 1976, helped shed some more light of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists and reason that all tattooists should join.

“In 1992, tattooing was facing being shut down as a result of the AIDS epidemic. We came up with the Prevention of Disease Transmission in Tattooing seminar, PDTT, to educate tattooists and keep from getting shut down.   Since then, tattooing has been held up by the courts as a First Amendment right. If it were not for the APT creating a grassroots awareness, who knows where the legislation of tattooing would be today? ”

Pat continued, “The APT is a 501c6 corporation; meaning we are classified with the IRS as a professional business organization. What this classification means is that we can operate as a lobbying organization. We currently don’t operate as a lobbying organization because the membership has not desired to do so.”

“I often see on social networking people talking about “how we ought to do something! Well, if you want to do something; then why don’t you become a member of an organization like the APT! We are an organization that already has the eye of the government and who accepts our word as a professional organization. Why not put the power back in the hands of the tattooists instead of some local legislator that has no idea how or what we do?” Pat remarked.

APT Board member, John Montgomery, assisted in shedding some light onto this issue with his own experiences. “For me personally, one the benefits of membership in the APT is the lost sense of family and comradery between fellow artists. Some of these people I have known for a long time, other I have recently met. There is a real sense of mutual respect for one another as artists here at the trade show. Ego and competition are thrown out the window. We have a focus and a purpose of education and being a positive voice to legislators for our industry. Everyone here has a purpose of being part of the greater good for tattooing. Even if you are here at the trade show or a member for selfish reasons, you are still part of the greater good.”

John’s sentiment of the “working for the greater good” was shared by everyone I spoke with. Many of the tattooists in attendance like John are very well known in their tattooing careers. They have very successful tattoo studios that are internationally recognized. They make enough money and have enough success that they would never have to set foot outside of their own worlds. However, that is not the case. John owns and runs his own tattoo studio, and his own ink company, yet somehow manages time to be an active board member of the APT in addition to raising a family at home. This is the kind of selflessness that embodies much of the APT membership.

Tattoo Artist Alliance

John continued to explain his reasons for joining the APT. “I had been a member of the National Tattoo Association for 15 years. I knew of the APT, but I was caught up in raising a family of running my business’. I took a few APT classes at the NTA show but I thought I did not have time to be involved. I had a few friends that were on the board of directors at APT and they reached out to me to become involved. For the first couple of years, I sent product and an employee to the trade show and then started to attend myself. I was starting to get tired of many of the other tattoo shows, and I really enjoyed attending this show. Once I started attending, I saw ways I could help out. It is part of my personality to help my community. I started out just doing basic volunteer stuff, moving tables and whatever else they might need in running the show. Eventually, an election came around.”

“Mike Martin called me and told me he was coming to visit my studio. He is a great friend and it was almost as if Dad was coming to visit. I was pretty nervous. We went to lunch and he told me there was an opening on the board and asked if I wanted to run for the position, and I was elected. At 39, I am the “kid” on the board.   One of my challenges is to help keep the APT relevant today. In the next year, you are going to see some big changes happen with this organization.”

Shahn Anderson, one of the original members, told of his experience in the APT. “I have been a member for 22 years, a board member for 10 years and President for 4 years. I am member 107. I was working for Julie Moon at Julie Moon Designs at the time. I became a member because of what the organization is all about. Traditionally there have been many social clubs in tattooing over the years, but this one was different.   The APT is the first one that was trying to actively change tattooing; to actually make it safer. It was a gathering of minds that was actively trying to improve the tattoo industry, not just hang out and talk shop, but to make tattooing safer. When I started tattooing, tattooists were just starting to wear gloves. Some even wore just one glove to save money! There was some health and safety issues in tattooing that we needed to improve on and he APT was at the forefront of that process. We went further to promote the general welfare of tattooing, something we never had before. We were a bunch of individuals, who are easy targets. We are trying to keep ourselves from being regulated out of business. This is probably the most important thing I have done in tattooing; promoting safe and ethical tattooing and working to improve the industry.

“When I started tattooing you did not tell anyone anything about anything unless they were a close friend. I feel this contributed to the stagnation of tattooing. This was before tattoo magazines or television shows existed. We used to tell people to go to Sears and ask for the tattoo catalogue. I think with the exchange of tattoo information that has happened in the last 20 years, both within the APT and outside, has made tattooing far more safe and created a renaissance.   Some of the things going on now in tattooing are way beyond what I will ever understand. I think the APT has made tattooing more accessible.”

The APT is membership run by tattooists. There is a board of directors elected by the members. The membership is allowed to vote at member meetings on changes to the organization. The APT has grown steadily in numbers since its inception. It has become a force to be reckoned with in tattooing. A force for positive change, in and ever changing tattoo world. In the modern world of tattooing, it’s easy to forget that anyone else exists in the world. The internet culture has given rise to the ultimate in “The Me Generation.” Everything on the internet is all about “Me”. Well, maybe it’s time to put “Me” or “I” aside and think about the “We” in tattooing.

Tattoo pigment mixing

After spending four days at the APT trade show and spending hours writing this article, I found no reason that every tattooist should not be a member of the APT. Even if you don’t have time to be involved, your membership money will be put to good use furthering education and safe tattooing.   If you are looking for a social group in tattooing that is there for you as a tattooist and as a person, and that is willing to assist you in any problems you may behaving with local or state legislation; the APT may be for you.

Alliance of Professional Tattooists

215 W. 18th St.

Kansas City, MO 64108


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