1. Do Not Rush Into Anything
When getting a tattoo, it can be incredibly tempting to jump on the first opportunity you see to get started.
This is a huge mistake.
Waiting around and finding an artist who’s art you like as opposed to who has the first opening can save you a ton of money in touch ups in the long run and make you much happier.
2. Choose A Shop
Online reviews and forums are your friend.
Read a lot of reviews on every shop and artist you are considering before you ever set the date for your initial visit.
Your own comfort is the most important thing here, so choose your shop wisely and go into your appointments informed and ready to ask any questions needed to put your mind at ease.
3. Ask Questions
If you have any questions at all regarding billing, being tattooed, the shop’s policies, or any other topic pertaining to your tattoo, ask it at your initial consultation.
They likely can answer anything you need and will put your mind at ease.
If your artist dodges questions about safety or certifications, perhaps consider using a different artist, as they should be proud to speak of how clean and qualified they are.
4. Be Honest
If you decide to have the artist draw a custom work for your tattoo, be honest and open about any changes you want made.
You are paying them to draw something that will be on your body forever. If you hate bees and there’s a massive bee in the middle of your floral piece, definitely point it out.
Anything you dislike should be noted by the artist and changed before the day the piece is put on.
Almost every artist will take criticism well and work with you to make an amazing work that suits your body and tastes perfectly.
5. Consider Your Subject Matter
When you come into the shop for a custom piece, it helps to have a few sample images of art styles and subject matter you like.
If you want a tattoo inspired by a work of art, bring in a print out of that work.
The same goes for any image, phrase, or color scheme you find appealing.
All of these things will help your artist create a piece that revolves entirely around what appeals to you.
6. Portraits of Portraits
Portrait tattoos are becoming ever more common in modern time as the level of skill in artists achieves a higher and higher caliber of quality.
When you come in for a portrait, bring in a printed off copy of the subject, preferably in an 8 inch by 10 inch size of good quality.
The larger photo size allows the artists to get every nook and cranny of the inspiration’s features absolutely perfect on the stencil.
If you do not have a large, clear photo, your artist still can likely work with you. Do not be discouraged, just ask if they can use the photo and let them work their magic.
7. Placement Matters
A lot of careful consideration (and at least a little bit of fretting) goes into figuring out exactly where you want your tattoo.
It is totally normal to feel anxious or concerned the night before your session. It is a lifelong commitment, after all!
Before you go under the needle, please take time to think about
Is the placement going to cause issues with your field of employment?
Elementary teachers are often discouraged from having knuckle tattoos and doctors cannot have visible swear words. Think about how this will affect your workplace status and potential future advancements.
Can you handle the pain associated with getting tattooed in that area?
Getting your skull tattooed as your first piece is highly recommended against. Why? Because people have actually had seizures from the procedure due to vibrations so close to the brain.
Great places for first tattoos are the shoulder, forearm, and thigh. All of these areas have a cushy pad of muscle, avoiding the uncomfortable burning sensation of more fleshy areas like the stomach and buttocks and the grating feeling of boney areas such as fingers, feet, and ribs.
Is this tattoo too big for my first work?
It is common to want to go big on your first tattoo. Experts advise going smaller at first before tackling a big piece to see what your body can handle. No one wants to be walking around with a half finished tattoo for months until they can work up the never to finish it. Learn your pain tolerance before making bigger commitments.
8. Be Prepared to Spend
It can be so tempting to hop on the cheapest deal you can find.
A Facebook ad for fifty dollar full color tattoos in any size sounds too good to be true because it honestly is.
If a shop is offering prices far below the local average regularly and not as a temporary promotion, stay far away. The work may be solid but more often than not cheaper tattoos are not going to be as nice as you would hope they would be.
Spend the extra money on a reputable shop with an artist who has a full portfolio of pieces you love.
This is a permanent decision, make it wisely and do your research. This is not a time to decide to be thrifty, choose a shop that is clean, well received, and full of talented people, not the one that is offering you price slashes to keep it’s doors open.
9. Take Care of Yourself Beforehand
When an artist advises you eat a full meal before going in for work, they are not saying it for their own benefit to save time on client-called time outs.
Instead, they are trying to prevent you from passing out.
Tattooing can take a toll on your body so eat well, stay hydrated, and notify your artist of any disorders like Diabetes which can be affected by the process.
Also, do not come to a shop drunk or high.
You will be more likely to flinch or jump, hurting yourself or someone else. If you do not have the courage to get a piece until you are intoxicated, you do not need that piece.
Not to mention, most artists will not work on you if they know you are intoxicated due to liability issues.
Go in sober or do not go at all.
10. Be Prepared
It is going to hurt. Every tattoo hurts, regardless of size, placement, or ink color.
Knowing what happens when you get tattooed can help.
When the artist is tattooing you, they are using a tattoo machine to repeatedly push ink deep under your skin.
You will likely bleed as you are tattooed, like you would with an injection or finger prick. This is completely normal and to be expected. The amount of blood you will lose is very minute and nothing to worry about.
Researching into how tattoo machines work may be a good move too! Plus it's actually super interesting.
11. Dress For Comfort
When you go get a new piece, it can be tempting to dress up so you can post it on social media.
This is a bit silly since you are going to be sitting for an hour or more having a needle poked into your skin.
A good rule of thumb is to dress comfortably in loose clothing that will not irritate your tattoo after it is finished.
It is also a good idea to wear something that gives easy access to the area being worked on, ie a tank top for shoulder tattoos or a crop top for rib ones.
Properly caring for your tattoo after it is finished is the key to having a piece that stands the test of time and stays healthy.
Directly after a tattoo is completed, it must be treated like a wound.
Leave the dressing on however long your artist tells you to, usually two to four hours, then remove it in a clean area with no risk of bacterial contact if you are in public. It is best to remove the wrap at home but is not always possible.
Pick up some aquaphor and use it often to moisturize your tattoo if it becomes itchy. For the first couple of days, only use aquaphor, as it will not irritate the area or pull out ink.
After the initial couple of days are over, you can begin to use unscented lotion. The more natural and gentle the formula, the better. Some people even use unscented baby lotion. Keeping your tattoo from drying out is the key to having a comfortable, successful healing time.
That being said, do not over moisturize your tattoo. Once it starts scabbing, keep it dry as often as you can.
Wipe it gently using only your hands and soap in the shower, as wash cloths, sponges, loofahs, and body brushes all harbor bacteria that can cause nasty infections and inflammation.
You may notice clear ooze or the colors of your ink leaking from your tattoo, this is normal. Simply dab it away with a paper towel (never cloth, bacterial infection risks are serious) and try not to fuss over it. This just means it is healing and sloughing off extra excessive ink.
Your tattoo should not crack, ooze pus, or bleed profusely. If this happens, both call your artist and let them look at it and go to a medical professional. These, along with red streaking near the tattoo and excessive heat or extreme swelling (some is normal) in the area are all signs of infection and should be taken seriously.
13. Consider Your Timing
If you are about to go to the beach, it may not be a good time to get a tattoo.
Sun and water submersion can really do a number on a new tattoo.
Tattooed areas are easily sunburnt, which not only puts you at risk for skin cancer but also can prevent your tattoo from healing properly, leaving it blotchy, patchy, and uneven.
Keeping your tattoo underwater can prevent scabs from forming, thus making it harder for the piece to heal at all.
If you frequent pools, beaches, or other bodies of water or work in the sun often, try waiting until the cooler weather of the spring or winter to get work done.
14. Really Think About It
Getting your significant other’s name tattooed on you as an act of love sounds like an incredibly sweet gesture.
While your partner may love it, time may change things. Relationships do not always stand the test of time and having tattoos of names can be a significant issue in the event of a breakup.
Cover up tattoos are often more difficult and sometimes more painful due to the needle covering scar tissue.
Any large piece should be considered heavily, as well, if it is to be your first tattoo. Not only do larger pieces hurt more, they are also a bigger commitment. A large piece on an arm can derail future plans to for sleeves and one on the lower back can ruin a shoulder blade work.
Really consider your tattoo before getting it, as it is a permanent choice and will be a facet of questions and comments from others for the rest of your life (not that you should even care what they think).
15. Maybe Avoid Face Tattoos For Now
Face tattoos are super trendy right now thanks to rappers and social media figures.
They are edgy yet somehow chic and glam; they transcend gender and age.
It may be tempting to get a facial tattoo as your first piece due to the hype currently surrounding them but perhaps reconsider.
Many traditional jobs will not allow this. It is a sad and frustrating truth, but a truth all the same.
Also, facial tattoos are notorious for not holding ink well and fading poorly. They are also extremely uncomfortable to have done, especially near the eye or t-zone area (the forehead and bridge of your nose).
Fully inked people who have them have described the procedure as excruciating and claim them to be worse than nipple piercings.
For a later tattoo, once you have chosen a career path that allows it and have a steady lifestyle, sure, but perhaps if you are just starting out your tattooing venture and are young, stick with more discreet pieces for now.
Or don’t. You know yourself and what suits your life.
16. Give Yourself Time
Spontaneous tattoos can be incredibly cute and fun, as can “bro tats” with friends.
If you are considering your first piece, it is best to give it some thought and time, though.
A tattoo is a commitment that is hard, expensive, and painful to undo.
Do not rush out and get the first cute design you see on Pinterest. Sleep on it and really let it sink in that this is permanent.
The tattoo type that is most frequently regretted aside from names are the ones decided upon in the heat of the moment without any forethought.
17. Do Not Back Out
Once you have found a design you adore and have given yourself time to grow with the piece, make an appointment.
Once your date is set, you may begin to feel anxious. This is normal, do not back out!
Backing out can leave some bad blood between you and the artist, they could refuse to work on you again if you work up the nerve to do it later.
Artists only have so many spots they can fill each day, you cancelling means that they lose money due to the fact that the spot you had could have been filled by a paying customer. Instead, it will likely be empty, wasted time or a random flash piece.
When you make an appointment, many shops require you to give a non-refundable deposit due to so many last minute back outs happening. It acts as an insurance policy for the artist so they can recoup any losses if a client ghosts them.
You will not be getting this money back.
If you decide you no longer want the tattoo, cancel within 24 hours of the appointment, preferably even earlier. It is incredibly impolite to just not show up, as the artist will likely wait around for you under the assumption that you are just late.
18. Have Your Aftercare Prepared in Advance
Before the needle ever touches your skin, have an aftercare plan.
Research what medications work to help with pain and which lotions and creams to use.
Typically, artists recommend Aquaphor or Bepanthen+ as your only care for the first few days aside from washing with gentle soaps.
After that, any natural, unscented lotion is fine. A lot of people use Nivea or Aveeno, as they are easily purchased, affordable, and work well.
Whatever you end up using, take care of yourself and listen to your tattoo artist!
19. Do Not Fear the Pain
For the most part, tattoo pain is manageable. If it was not, so many people would not get them done everyday or have multiple pieces.
If you are concerned, there are many products that will act as a numbing buffer agent during the procedure.
Always ask your artist if they allow these types products to be used before applying them, as some do not for personal or hygiene reasons.
Numbing creams, gels, and sprays are all becoming increasingly popular for sensitive areas like the genitals, face, and throat and for those with lower pain thresholds.
Do not feel ashamed to ask about using one of these products. Your artist has likely been asked before and will be polite if opposed. Most will work with you, though, and allow it.
Follow label directions closely and realize that most require you to apply them thirty minutes or more before the procedure and will wear off if the piece is large. You cannot reapply the gels or spray once the tattoo is underway so if your pain threshold is low, perhaps start with small pieces and work your way up.
20. Bring a Friend
If you are feeling antsy, bring a friend with you to your appointment.
Having moral support can make the whole thing feel much more relaxed and they can advocate for you if you need a break but cannot move to inform the artist.
Do not, however, bring a group of people into the shop. Be respectful of the fact that others are also getting tattooed and pierced and a disruption can affect the quality of their pieces, which are also permanent.
Do not be noisy or rowdy, remain calm and polite during your time inside the shop.
If your friend is disruptive, they or the both of you may be asked to leave.
21. Be Prepared to Be Shaved
Tattoo artists need a clean, smooth canvas to work on.
Due to this, they may shave you or ask you to shave the area to be tattooed, even though you are not particularly hairy.
Do not feel embarrassed, this is a super common practice and the artist is not implying anything gross about your body.
Also, tip do not shave your body while the tattoo is healing. Cutting the area can affect how the ink takes and the act of shaving or exfoliating can irritate the area and create micro tears in your epidermis that can make it easier for your tattoo to become infected.
22. Tip Well
So, your tattoo artist has just finished up and the piece looks amazing.
Why not give them a tip?
Tipping is customary in the tattoo industry and usually goes between ten and twenty percent of your tattooing price, though more is definitely accepted.
It may sound silly to tip on top of a four hundred dollar tattooing bill but please understand that much of that money does not go to the artist.
Artists pay an overhead for their space and equipment and often go through long, unpaid apprenticeships.
So, be awesome and tip well! Your artist will remember when you come in for your next piece!
23. Feel Free to Ask for Touch Ups
If you look at your new tattoo and notice a line that is not perfect or a spot that could be shaded better, point it out.
It is likely that your artist did not notice the imperfection and will appreciate being given the opportunity to fix the work, as his name is forever associated with it.
If there is anything you dislike, tell them immediately and politely.
They will either fix it on the spot or offer to remedy it once the tattoo has healed to see if any other touch ups are necessary.
The artist is working for you and will meet your concerns with understanding. It is their job to do so.
24. People are Going to Give You a Hard Time
A lot of people find tattoos to be a polarizing topic of discussion. Either you love them or you hate them.
A lot of people also find it appropriate to hassle tattooed people for their art. Ignore them, you will not change their opinions by arguing and it is not worth your time.
Take pride in the one of a kind magical piece you have and rock it with gusto.
25. Expect Pricing to Vary
If you call around, you will notice that quotes for tattoos vary widely from shop to shop.
Ignoring the friend of a friend’s cousin doing tattoos in his basement for fifteen dollars, any size, any style, any color, you may find an average size piece ranging anywhere from eighty dollars to several hundred.
This happens for a variety of reasons.
If the shop or artist is famous (think Kat Von D) or uses expensive equipment, expect a higher price. Bigger shops often charge more as well.
Hunt around for a shop that is high quality and within your budget. I guarantee you can find one.
26. Follow The Law
Many places in the United States do not allow tattoos to be done on anyone under the age of eighteen.
Follow your local law.
Seriously, not only can you get yourself in trouble, but shops have been shut down due to not catching fake IDs.
Do not turn to untrained artists, as you can get nasty infections and bloodborne pathogens if they do not follow safety regulations.
It can be frustrating, but please just wait until you are of age. Use the time to research and plan!
27. Expect the Parlor to be Squeaky Clean
Seriously, if you notice an abundance of dust and grime, hightail it out of there.
A shop should be kept incredibly clean due to the procedures done inside.
Dust and other irritants should be especially avoided due to risk of contamination.
So, in short, if the shop is not clean, it is not the one for you.
It is not unreasonable for you to expect the shop to be as clean and fresh as a hospital.
28. Watch Your Artist
Before your artist begins tattooing, they should do a very specific set of actions.
They should open a brand new needle in front of you with freshly washed and gloved hands and retrieve a clean ink cup.
As stated before, dirty needles can make you incredibly sick. Hepatitis C and AIDS are lifelong, life changing illnesses with no known cure.
It is completely okay to request a new needle if you do not see the artist open the one he plans to use. It is your right to be safe. If they refuse, it may be time to leave.
Your safety is more important than a deposit or anyone’s feelings.
29. Check Your Seat
Make sure the area you are sitting on to be tattooed is easily sterilizable.
Plastic or leather are good materials, porous stones, marble, or cushions are not.
Bacteria trapped in unsterilized seats can easily travel to the ink, needle, or your skin, making you sick.
This could also expose you to strangers’ blood and other bodily fluids. Yuck.
30. Your Artist Should Not Be A Creep
If you begin to feel uncomfortable, leave.
Your artist should never touch you inappropriately or handle you roughly.
If you feel like they are treating you badly or being explicit, warn them or just leave.
You do not deserve to be disrespected by someone you are paying to do a service or anyone at all, really.
Inform the owner of any inappropriate interactions and, if necessary, do not be afraid to call the police.
31. Multiple Sessions
Larger pieces, like on the ribs or back, can take multiple visits to the shop.
You should be informed of the need for several trips before the tattoo begins unless you or the artist suddenly need to stop.
In between visits, practice aftercare like you would if the tattoo were complete.
Most are done within 2-3 visits but some pieces like sleeves can take much longer.
Do not expect big pieces to be done overnight. Good quality work takes time and patience. You will not regret giving it the extra hours.
32. You May Have to Compromise
Small, intricate pieces are very popular at the moment.
Unfortunately, they may not work for you.
Tiny fonts and small mandalas can potentially bleed over time, so your artist may recommend slightly upping the size to ensure everything is okay.
It is often best, in situations like this, to work with the artist, as they better know what to anticipate and what will and will not work.
Your piece will likely still look amazing, just a bit more flashy than intended!
33. Do Not Scratch
Like any wound, tattoos will itch while they heal.
It is very, very important that you do not scratch or pick at your work.
Doing this can pull out ink, damaging the entire tattoo and making it appear patchy and incomplete.
Instead, apply lotion to the area and pat dry.
This can be frustrating but it is a small price to pay for a long lasting, beautiful piece.
34. Check For Signs of Ink Allergies
The basic worst case scenario in getting tattooed is that you end up being allergic to the ink.
Ink allergies are fairly rare but can be nasty.
The reaction is typically an inflamed rash with swelling and discomfort.
Though unsightly, you can still be tattooed. Anaphylaxis and other serious reactions almost never happen from ink contact so there is no real reason to be afraid.
Your doctor will simply treat you with steroids and make the inflammation go away.
Once an allergy is detected, further tattooing is not recommended, as it can result in scarring and long term skin issues.
35. Tattoos Do Not Have to Have Meanings
After you get inked, one of the most common questions you will receive will be “what does it mean?”.
To be honest, tattoos do not have to mean anything. If you like the piece, that is enough of a reason to have it.
Explaining this to others can be difficult and you will likely receive many speeches on how you will one day grow to regret getting the work done.
Just smile and continue to wear your tattoo with pride. Your opinion is the only one that matters.
So get a cute little pineapple or classic eagle or whatever else you want. It is your body and you are only alive for a short time anyways. It is better to regret something and have a story than to never do anything risky at all.
36. Promote Your Artist
If your artist knocked it out of the park and delivered a stellar tattoo, tell everyone!
Post photos everywhere and do not forget to tag them!
Tattoo shops often get customers through recommendations and word of mouth, so spread the word.
Your artist will appreciate it and will remember the kind gesture with any future pieces they do for you.
37. Along the Same Kind Vein
Does your artist love coffee? Bring them a cup.
Bring them a snack, a thank you card, anything.
Being a tattoo artist can be a demanding job, so little rewards can really make their day.
You can still tip, of course, but small acts of kindness never go unnoticed in high stress jobs like these.
38. Cut Out a Fair Portion of Time for Your Tattoo
Getting tattooed is not something you can pop in and do on your lunch break.
Give yourself enough time to get to the studio, have the tattoo done, then go home and clean it.
If possible plan your entire day around the procedure.
Delays happen and sometimes it takes longer than planned to get inked. Be prepared and do not have any pressing deadlines that may put strain on your artist or further stress you out.
39. Carefully Choose Your Pain Management
Anti-inflammatory medicines can really help take the edge off of getting tattooed and tone down the discomfort of the healing process.
You may decide to pop a couple pain relievers before you go in. Choose your medicine carefully.
Drugs like Aspirin are not recommended due to their blood thinning properties, which not only causes you to bleed more while being inked, but also can interfere with the healing process.
Instead, opt for something like Tylenol or Advil, which will have the same effects but without added side effects.
40. Research How Ink Colors Fade
Red ink is known to fade the fastest of all colors. It is the most easily broken down by the body and therefore requires the most touch ups, making it a bit high maintenance.
White ink can also pose problems, as it is prone to yellowing with time.
Another thing fact to know before getting tattooed is that watercolor tattoos often bleed and become less pristine much more quickly than a tattoo with crisp, clean lines.
Knowing these things and researching into color scheme specifics can help you nail down a palette that will work with the level of care you feel comfortable pursuing, be it no touch ups or frequent ones.
41. If You Wish To Tattoo Over A Scar
Make sure your scar is entirely healed. Typically, most artists want the scar to be a few years old to help ensure that it will not reopen or become inflamed.
Scar tissue will be quite uncomfortable to have tattooed over but is not as painful as several other areas and is entirely doable!
You will likely have to come back for touch ups with this type of tattoo, as scar tissue will often refuse the ink. After a few sessions, though, your piece should be opaque and everything you want it to be.
42. Take it Easy at The Gym
If you work out frequently, plan on taking some softer days while healing.
Over exerting a tattooed area can cause irritation and sweat can cause infections.
Consider skipping the gym all together for the first few days then taking it slowly until you are fully healed.
Not only will this protect your tattoo, but it will also be much more comfortable for you, as you will not be tugging and pulling on such a sensitive area.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.