Nowadays it seems like everywhere you look there is a tattoo either hidden under a shirt-sleeve or worn proudly on the visible skin. Tattoos are a method of self-expression and have made artwork more accessible than ever. Either way you look at them, tattoos hold a huge appeal for anyone who appreciates art or feels the pull to embellish their body.
Especially with how much tattoos are making their way into mainstream life, the urge to go get a spontaneous tattoo can be overwhelming. However, from the notorious pain to the task of picking an artist, design, and style, knowing where to start can be extremely intimidating.
To clarify, tattoo artists should always be consulted before a random internet search if you have any pervasive questions about getting tattooed.
But for now, I hope this list of basic tips for first-time-tattoo-receivers makes your next appointment go a little bit smoother for both yourself and the artist.
1. Do your research
Although this might go without saying for some, I wouldn't be doing the hopeful tattoo client any justice if I didn't put emphasis on how important it is to do research before deciding on an artist, design or art style.
This has the dual benefit of preparing you for anything that is to come as well as ensuring that you get the art that best matches your vision. Research can prepare you for the process itself as well as the aftercare, and it ensures that you won't run into any unsafe surprises during your appointment.
2. Know the terminology
Researching before your appointment not only prepares you better, but it allows you to hold your own in an appointment where you might be getting a lot of new information in very little time. It is important to know the technical terms that apply, physical phenomena that could arise and common brands of aftercare products that might be recommended.
However, always ask questions if you still don't understand something during your appointment. It's better to be safe than sorry!
3. Instagram it up
While this just fuels the tattoo obsession for me, Instagram has a thriving community of tattoo artists and shops to pull inspiration from and get you familiarized with terms, style types and hot-spots for good artists. Many artists nowadays have a profile on their shop's website as well as on Instagram, so this is a much less intimidating platform to explore before committing to the first shop or artist that you come across.
P.S. Whatever you do, don't be the guy who direct messages an artist asking about prices or availability. Not only is it unprofessional, but it signals to the artist that you aren't serious about the inquiry or respect them as a business person. Nobody likes that guy.
4.Try to ignore the impulses
However hard this may be, the best results from getting tattooed come with time.
Not only is this to consider the permanency of it, but it allows you to be mentally and financially ready when the time is right. Also, many artists book up to many months in advance, so be sure to be wary of that before making the decision to get tattooed.
However, if you just can't shake that feeling of needing new ink ASAP, many shops will have Flash Sales with pre-designed tattoos that are usually discounted in price because of a special event like Friday the 13th or holidays.
5. Reaching out to artists
The key to forging a good relationship with the artist you hope will tattoo you is professionalism. It is important to acknowledge that this is their livelihood and they more than likely have a huge passion for art.
Start by explaining how you found them so that they have a little background knowledge of what platforms may be working better for them than others. Include reference photos, any details that are important to you and show intent to actually make an appointment instead of speaking hypothetically.
However, don't micromanage. If you feel like you're ready to get tattooed by someone, trust their vision, perspective and boundaries. Trust me, it'll make the whole appointment go a lot more smoothly.
Lastly, if you aren't ready to get tattooed the very next day, consider waiting a bit to contact them. It would probably be really annoying to get excited about a project just to have your hopes dashed, right?
6. Pricing of tattoos
This is a tricky thing to consider for many people, cause it seems like the best tattoos are just so darn expensive. That's because you get what you pay for. Some artists will price by the size of the tattoo while others charge a flat rate per hour.
Whatever their method may be, don't try to haggle with them. Artists set prices considering how much time it'll take them, the time spent drawing out the design, the price of the ink and sometimes shop policies. Trying to bring down the price is disrespectful to the artist because it implies that their craft is not worth it, when to the right client, it will be.
7. Paying for a tattoo
Another hugely important reason to plan out getting tattooed is for financial reasons. More often than not tattoo artists will request a deposit to hold an appointment. This is insurance for them if you don't come to get tattooed when the day comes.
It also compensates them for the time they spent sketching out the artwork and wasting a time slot that could've been taken by a paying customer. However, artists will often take the deposit off of the total price of the tattoo that's due after the appointment has ended.
Whatever else you do, don't plan for it to be cheap. In my experience, a good tattoo will usually air on the more expensive side of your expected range. This is okay. Because they are permanent, it's worth it to pay the price and get yourself a nice tattoo that will last instead of the quickest, cheapest option.
Reminder: you get what you pay for.
8. To tip or not to tip
The simple answer to this is tip. Always. While this might feel exhaustive since the tattoo itself was already a hefty price, the artist will probably only see a fraction of that, and many artists heavily depend on tips to supplement the lack of a consistent income. The rule here is the same as anywhere: the average is between 15%-20% depending on the experience.
Pro Tip: cash is almost always the preferred method of tipping and some shops may not even give you the option to tip otherwise, so be sure to make a quick trip to the bank before heading to your appointment!
9. Yes, it hurts
I've noticed that in the excitement of getting new ink, I often forget that you will be getting stabbed with a needle dozens of times. While everyone has a different threshold for pain, prepare for it to hurt. I've heard that the most painful places to be tattooed are on the insides of the limbs and directly on the bone (ribs, spine, feet ect.), so be sure to manage your pain expectations.
10. On your mark, get set....
You've picked your tattoo, decided on an artist, and now the day has finally come to stick that sucker on your body forever. To prepare I like to bring a sweater in case I get cold, water, a snack, headphones in case the artist doesn't like to talk while they're working, the cash tip, and your ID.
You must be 18 years of age or older to get tattooed, and yes, they will ask you to fill out some paperwork and get a copy of your ID for liability purposes. If they don't take you through these processes, run. Run far away. Health and safety should be your priority in any situation.
Usually, appointments will start with finalizing last minute details and the artist getting their station set up and sanitized. Once you're finally put on the chair or table, your artist may shave the area before the skin is prepped and the stencil is placed.
If you have any concerns or questions during this part, speak up. One of my biggest regrets is not telling the artist of my first tattoo to straighten it out just a tad. But since you have this guide, that won't happen to you, right?
11. Show time
During the application of the tattoo itself, the most important thing is to be still. I included the information about anticipating pain because there are moments where every nerve in your body might be telling you to skip on out of that shop and never look back, but it is essential to not move so that you don't incur serious damage or mess up the work.
If you need to let out some of that pent-up pain, auditory expressions are preferable to physical ones.
Also, be sure to ask your artist ahead of time about their policy of bringing along a support person if you think you'd benefit from a distraction or a hand to squeeze.
12. You did the thing
If you've followed all of these instructions, you should end the appointment with a gorgeous piece of artwork on your body forever. It is still going to hurt during this time, but your artist will clean and prep the area and give instructions about what type of bandage is being used, when to remove it and the steps to take after you get home. Be sure to ask as many questions as needed during this time.
P.S. This is a good time to get some pictures before the nasty healing process begins!
13. Preparing to heal
Cleanliness is key for about the first two weeks after getting the tattoo. Personally, the tried and true method of using an unscented hand soap to wash, Aquaphore until it starts peeling, then unscented Lubriderm lotion until the peeling stops is preferred, but your artist may have special instructions for you based on what's available to them, their location and their preferences.
All of this should be communicated before you leave the shop, but most artists will encourage you to call if you have any other questions/concerns afterward.
If you do decide to go with these suggestions and you've discussed it with your artist, be sure to pick these up from the drug store before the appointment instead of after while you're also dealing with the pain.
14. Taking it easy and taking precautions
For the next two weeks, there are a few things that everyone can agree are essential to a tattoo healing properly.
A. Keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight. After it is completely healed, use sunblock of at least SPF 50 to keep it looking as nice as possible for as long as possible.
B. No swimming. Both man-made pools and natural swimming spots can expose you to harmful bacteria which could cause an infection.
C. Avoid anything that could expose the tattoo to bacteria. Pets, outside activity and excessive exercise should all be avoided until the tattoo is freshly heeled.
D. Wear loose-fitting clothing. This keeps the tattoo from becoming irritated and enormously expedites the healing process.
Although this list isn't even close to exhaustive, these few never hurt to be repeated.
15. Stay calm and fawn
Remember: everyone's body is different, so everyone is going to react to being tattooed differently. That being said, it is an open wound and should be regarded as such. The most common side effects are pain, swelling and redness, itching, peeling (like a sunburn) and scabbing.
All of these are normal.
While you shouldn't turn to WebMD to see how long you have left to live for every symptom, be aware of the process, take extra precautions and always consult your artist or doctor if you feel that you might be showing signs of infection.
After this tedious and frustrating process is over, you're left with a stunning piece of work that'll last you a lifetime. Now, just sit back, relax and fawn over what was hopefully a great investment and a life-long memory.