Ink Master The season 4 cast of Spike's "Ink Master" Photo: Spike

If you want the title of “Ink Master,” you’re going to have to work for it. Season 4 of Spike’s hit reality tattoo series premiered on Tuesday, Feb. 25, and just like the previous three seasons, the judges – Dave Navarro, Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez -- are not holding back in their critiques of contestants.

In the season premiere, 17 tattoo artists from all over the country (with all levels of experience) arrived to fight for a chance to win not only the “Ink Master” title but also the $100,000 grand prize and an editorial feature in “Inked” magazine. Among the contenders was one that fans of the Spike show might recognize: season 3’s Kyle Dunbar. Hailing from Genesee County, Mich., Dunbar has more than 20 years of experience in the tattoo field and made it into the final four last time before being eliminated. However, he received a second chance when he redeemed himself in the season 4 finale live tattoo challenge.

Thanks to being voted back by America, Kyle Dunbar was safe from this week’s challenges and earned himself a shop on the show. But the series has room for only 16 artists, which means that one person would be eliminated by the end of episode 1.

“Earn your shop or go home” is the name of the game this season, and to kick off the 16 tattoo artists had to tattoo “convention style.” With limited time on the clock, the contestants had to do as many human canvases as they could, with their own designs – but in the end, a high number of complete canvases didn’t mean that you were safe.

Halo, an artist and cancer survivor out of Maryland with nine years of experience, wowed his fellow contestants by completing seven pieces in the allotted time. But the judges were not so impressed. Navarro, Peck and Nunez picked Halo’s pieces apart, criticizing him for not having clean lines.

But Halo’s mistakes were nothing compared to the work that Roland Pacheco produced. “I think I speak for everyone in this room when I look at that cat and say, ‘What the f---,” Peck told the Hawaiian native of one of the tattoos he produced.

(Pacheco later took to Twitter to inform his followers that the canvas who got the “acid cat” tattoo “loved it.”)

After reviewing all the tattoos completed during the first competition, the three judges decided that only five artists proved themselves worthy of a shop – Matti Hixon, Scott Marshall, Ashley Bennett, Walter “Sausage” Frank and Jim Francis.

“None of you proved you deserve a shot,” Navarro warned the 11 remaining contestants. But they had one more chance to “prove their worth” before the judges made their elimination decision.

With Dunbar, Hixon, Marshall, Bennett, Sausage and Francis sitting out, the remaining artists entered the second challenge of the premiere: open canvases. It's an opportunity for the contestants to do anything they want, show the judges their own unique style and specialty and what they are capable of. According to Peck, the tattoo should be the best they’ve ever done. And while a couple of artists redeemed themselves, a few fell short once again.

Halo, “Gentle Jay” Blondel, Bubba Irwin, Melissa Monroe, Keith Diffenderfer, Lydia Bruno, King Ruck and David Bell managed to please the three judges. But Roland Pacheco, Randy Vollink and Damon Butler were on the chopping block.

“Any one of you could justifiably be sent home,” Navarro warned them. The judges continued that it was a “c--- shoot” and that they could have thrown any of their names into a hat to send them home. Ultimately that person eliminated during episode 1 was Damon Butler, a Boston native with only three years of experience in the field.

“What’s coming, you’re not ready for,” Nunez warned him. But Butler proved he didn’t care about the judge’s decision when he told the cameras that “everyone has opinions just like they have a------s.”

"Ink Master" airs on Spike on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. What did you think of the season 4 premiere of “Ink Master”? Let us know your thoughts on who the front-runner is by sending a tweet to @AmandaTVScoop.