skate park with loads of graffiti

What is graffiti, exactly? Is it illegal? The Mix investigates the best ways to practise your graffiti art without running into the law.

What is graffiti?

Graffiti has existed for thousands of years in one form or another. It can be described as anything from a simple scratch mark to an elaborate wall painting. Nigel Blunt from believes that graffiti can “Enhance and alter its surroundings through a colourful explosion of geometric and serpentine shapes and colours”.

The power of graffiti

Graffiti and street artists like Lady Pink and Keith Haring, for example, have used their work to empower women and raise awareness about safe sex and AIDS. Banksy is probably the most famous name when it comes to street art, with one of his indoor exhibition pieces, “Love is in the Bin,” (a partially shredded print of one of his outdoor stencils, ‘Girl with a balloon’) fetching $25.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018.

However, many people associate graffiti with anti-social behaviour and gang culture, rather than being considered a public art form. Property owners in particular usually don’t take too kindly to their possessions becoming street art (unless it’s a Banksy, of course). So what are the laws around graffiti and where can you do it?

Is graffiti illegal?

The laws on public property are very strict and anyone caught doing graffiti can be arrested and prosecuted under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Offenders can go to prison for up to ten years, or be fined if the damage costs more than £5,000. If the damage caused is less than £5,000, you could face three months imprisonment or a £2,500 fine.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced new powers for local councils to punish offenders and to help prevent illegal graffiti on public or private property. These include:

  • On-the-spot fines of £50 to anyone caught doing graffiti on public property. They can be given out by police officers, community support officers or local authority officials.
  • Giving local authorities the power to give clean-up notices to owners of street furniture, such as phone boxes if they have graffiti on them. If the property is not cleaned in 28 days the authority can remove the graffiti themselves and charge the owner for this service.
  • Making it an offence to sell spray paint to under-16s. If a shopkeeper can’t prove they took reasonable steps to determine the age of the person, they can be fined up to £2,500.

What is tagging?

Tagging is a form of graffiti that is considered anti-social by most communities. This is when an artist stamps a stylised signature on a piece of property to claim it as their own. It’s used by a lot of gangs and is often a sign that the area is gang territory.

Learn more about gangs in this article.

Free walls

Lots of councils in the UK offer spaces for graffiti artists to legally do their art. These are called ‘free walls’. These can be an excellent way of practising your style and meeting other graffiti artists in your area. To find out where your nearest free walls are, contact your local authority.

Starting out as a graffiti artist

Getting involved in graffiti can be difficult if you don’t know who to speak to or where to practise your art. Nigel from has these top tips:

  • Find out what’s going on in your area and get in touch with your local youth club. They tend to know established graffiti artists who arrange workshops for young people and will be able to help you make contacts.
  • Look online. There are lots of good graffiti sites which give advice on how to get started and the free walls you can use.
  • Keep in touch with what’s going on in the graffiti world and get hold of books that will help you develop your own style. There are hundreds of different books you can read to find out about the scene you want to get into. “I used to buy ‘Letraset’ books which showed different fonts and I would use these to practise different styles,” says Nigel.
  • Buy graffiti magazines to find out what events are going on in your area. Hip hop events are usually the best ones to go to.
  • Learn more about graffiti by looking at the papers to see what people are writing about. When you’re struggling, don’t give up.

If you run into legal trouble on your graffiti journey:

Are you interested in learning some simple graffiti tips to get you started? Check out this blog from Graffiti Empire.

Photo of graffiti walls by volunteer photographer Vicki Pipe.

Next Steps


graffiti| law

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 21-Apr-2023