It’s normal to expect some pain, but there are quite a few curve balls you should know about when it comes to getting a tattoo. From tip etiquette to drawing up the perfect piece, I’ll teach all you all the dos and don’ts.
Let’s face it, your first tattoo is a brave decision on your part. Like any commitment, it often comes with worry attached to it. However, getting over the hurdle of going through with the idea of getting inked is actually far less stressful than first imagined.
Today, I’m going to show you all the ropes from start to finish so you know exactly what to expect. When you’re dealing with permanent artwork on your body, the last thing you need to do is stress out over all the small things that don’t matter.
If you curious or perhaps even a bit intimidated too, don’t worry, this guide will answer every single question you have. Here’s how to ensure your new tattoo is enjoyable for both you and your tattoo artist!
Don’t be inconsiderate
That means brush your teeth before heading out to the shop so your breath doesn’t reek. Avoid chewing gum, texting or being glued to your phone the entire time. However, it’s still acceptable to bring along your phone if you plan on listening to music while in the chair.
Don’t talk about anything depressing: Nor should you go in when you’re feeling down. The truth is, your mood does affect the mood of others. If you have a negative story or gossip to share, it’s best to avoid talking about it. There have been numerous scientific studies about how the emotions of others can affect work performance.
In reverse, do talk about positive things in any conversation. If you believe you tattoo artist is doing an excellent job, let them know! You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference giving someone small positive-reinforcement feedback can make. It will show in the quality and attention to detail in your tattoo. Use it to your advantage when justified.
Know how and when to tip
Not too long ago I put together a really solid guide on how much to tip your tattoo artist. If you’re looking for a quick answer, 20-30% is excellent. However, remember people often tip differently; some will just tip $100 regardless of size or time involved every single time.
The important thing to understand is when to tip and when not to tip. If you do tip, it’s either going to happen per each session or at the end in one lump sum.
Go in healthy
There’s a good reason hospitals have dietitians on hand when it comes to helping patients heal and recover properly. The food you eat matters! Before heading into the tattoo shop, skip the fast food diet and junk food. Eat a good meal the night before and a good breakfast the day of.
The last thing you want to do is to go under the gun with an empty stomach. Not only do you risk your chances of getting extremely light headed, but you can also pass out too. Plus, having a full stomach can also lower the amount of pain and irritation too.
Also, consider your sleeping habits too; get a goods nights rest, don’t show up hungover. Drink plenty of water before and after getting your new tattoo; staying hydrated is critical! It goes without mentioning in too much detail, please avoid gassy foods too.
Now, I know this sound super simple but it’s extremely easy to forget. The last thing you want to do is to arrive and mention your haven’t eaten or flat out pass out in the chair. Your artist isn’t going to be pleased at all.
Plan your schedule
If you’re planning to go on vacation a week after getting a new tattoo, it’s going to suck. During your healing process, you simply cannot do normal, everyday things. For instance, no tanning, sun soaking at the beach, swimming, hot tubs, or overly strenuous activities.
You really can’t cheat either, as sunblock still won’t help your super sensitive skin! Remember, during the healing stages is a time that should be dedicated to relaxation. Your body has this giant flesh wound, it needs time to recover.
With that said, plan your schedule before walking into the tattoo shop first! It’s true a considerable amount of tattoo shops will gladly accommodate walk-ins, however, it’s best to always think ahead. Don’t rush your tattoo if you’re not ready to deal with the aftercare that comes with it.
Know what you want
There is nothing more irritating to tattoo artists than clients who ask them what they should get. For instance, a client might say they want a rose flower, so the artist spends time drawing it up. Once it’s presented to the client, it’s not at all what they wanted or were thinking of.
In reality, there are a million different ways to draw out a simple rose flower. First there’s color, the number of leaves, the branch, the angle it’s seen from, is someone holding it or is it floating by itself, etc. I go could on and on…
It’s a lot like graphic designers who block some client’s phone calls because they are just too much of a hassle to even work with. Countless revisions and they still don’t know what they want! Don’t be that person.
It’s understandable to request a drawing or artwork to be created, however, you must set clear expectations. Don’t be broad or overly general, be specific about exactly what you want. Remember, tattoo artists are not mind readers!
It’s perfectly okay to be demanding
You’re going to live with this piece of artwork on your body for life. Make sure it’s exactly what you want be speaking up and being heard. If the style does not suit your taste, or a small detail seems off, then say something about it.
In reality, your tattoo artist will be okay with that. They know this is permanent ink! Any artist who gets frustrated or insulted over having to redraw artwork a time or two is more than often not even mad at you. Chances are they are just having an off day.
Don’t get offended
Some people walk in with artwork ready to go and their artist will ask them, “Do you want it drawn up nicer or perhaps changed?” This is a courtesy, this is not meant to say your artwork sucks. They are simply trying to make sure you are one hundred percent happy with your tattoo; that’s it!
Others might come in with a children’s drawing. To the artist it might look rough, however, there could be considerable meaning behind it, such as the child passing away. When you consider again that tattoo artists are not mind readers, you can be sure they’ll feel somewhat awful about asking.
The courtesy doesn’t always work in their favor, so be respectful and show some appreciation when asked. Remember, explain your artwork during the consultation! Be upfront about it so you can avoid this sort of awkward situation before being asked if you would like it cleaned up.
Know what you can and cannot afford
When it comes to negation and tattoo prices read this guide. The last thing you want to do is to insult your tattoo artist over their rates.
Remember, tattoos are expensive, not to mention, a luxury in life. If you can’t afford them, don’t get them. It’s never the artist’s problem with it comes to your financial situation, it’s entirely your own!
Don’t drink before getting a tattoo
Yes, in your mind you’re thinking it will help elevate the pain. That’s true, but it can also make you enter in a situation your regret later on. Or at least, turn you into a client that is incredibly annoying to work with. The same goes with any other drugs, please don’t show up high for any reason.
If you are seriously worried about the pain from a new tattoo, there are other methods you can use safety. For instance, numbing cream works wonders for most people. It’s literally magical the way it works. At the end of the day, there is really no excuse for showing up drunk, other than being foolish.
You can’t always get what you want
Understand that tattoo artists can refuse any work, for any reason they personally see fit. For some this means declining any artwork is that hate-related, overly graphic or just downright offensive in taste. However, there’s more to it than just the artwork itself. For instance, some artists may have a personal rule of avoiding any tattoos upon the hands or above your collar.
These areas can have a lot of negative stigmas attached when it comes to society’s acceptance. Yet, aside from carrying the hardship of rejection, they are super visible at all times. Unlike a leg tattoo, you can’t cover them up; the world will always see them. There’s no doubt at it, you will get stares, questions and might even struggle with job prospects too.
In reality, it’s a big decision and something you have to live with for life. Many artists who do tattoos these areas might even refuse if it’s your first or second tattoo. Some even require you to be heavily inked for giving you the green light to get work done.
Now, if you’re allergic to metals or work in a field where safety is a must there are exceptions. Even if your artists doesn’t tattoo hands, they still might be willing to tattoo a wedding band for instance or your partner’s initials. Another exception might be if you work in the tattoo industry too.
Don’t be afraid to walk away
It can be intimidating to get a new tattoo, and even more intimidating if your artist views your tattoo as foolish or a waste of their time. If you don’t feel respected, comfortable of confident then walk away.
Remember, if your artist isn’t proud to have the opportunity to tattoo your new ink, chances are you won’t be proud of wearing it on your body either. It doesn’t mean they have to love it, however, they still should respect your decision all said and done.
Keep in mind some tattoo designs can be over the top or totally bizarre; it’s hard to take them seriously. However, sometimes waiting for a few months and coming back later can be a good sign you’re absolutely ready and committed.
The tattoo transfer
Make sure this is absolutely perfect before your artists even begins to ink! Look in the mirror; check the spelling with a dictionary once more if you must. Remember, this is permanent you can’t make corrections later on if something is totally off or out of place.
When I got my first tattoo, we had to re-apply to transfer four or five times over my rib cage to get it right. Even super simple designs can get put on wrong; pay close attention! There’s a huge difference between what looks good on paper and what looks good on your actual body.
In other words, placement is important, so is the artwork piece too. If you are asked, “are you ready to start”, say no until you are one-hundred percent certain you indeed are.
Be upfront about health issues
If you have any sort of dermatological and hematological tell your artists upfront so they can get an idea of how your body will heal. Often times, you may need to adjust your healing and aftercare routine to accommodate any conditions.
The same goes for your doctor. If you are unsure about anything consult them first to get the green light first. Consider your allergies too just to make sure you have all the bases covered.
Prep your home first
After getting your new tattoo, you will have a giant wound that needs a little contamination from the outside world as possible. That means throw your bed sheets, towels, pillows and any clothes you plan on wearing in the washing machine beforehand. You can read more about it in the tattoo aftercare guide.
Wear comfortable clothes
Remember, if you’re getting a lower leg tattoo done, you shouldn’t show up wearing skinny jeans. Instead, walk in wearing loose fitting shorts instead. Sure, that might be a given however consider arm tattoos as well. For instance, it’s easy to make the mistake of wearing a long sleeve shirt instead of a loose fitting t-shirt.
On the other hand, you might want to bring a warm sweater too. When I had my rib cage tattoos done, the air conditioning inside was near freezing. If I had a sweater to put on the other side of my body things would have been incredibly more comfortable!
There’s really nothing wrong with doing that. It’s a great way to get comfortable with the entire process from start to finish without worrying too much about the what-ifs.
Now, the real reason I mention this is because before getting a bigger sized tattoo you will be literally armed with knowledge. After your first, you’ll know the ropes of aftercare, what to expect in the chair and so on. Remember, the last thing you want to do is be sitting in the chair shaking like a nervous wreck. Don’t set yourself up to fail, you’ll just make things more difficult.
Yes, it will hurt
The most sensitive areas are going to be your elbows, ribs, groin, back of knees, armpits, etc. The more boney the area the more pain; the same is true with nerve endings. Regardless of where you choose your first tattoo to be at, one thing is true: Yes, it’s still going to hurt.
However, that shouldn’t stop you from pushing beyond your pain tolerance. Everyone told me the rib cage was one of the worst spots to get a first tattoo. To say I didn’t like needles would be an understatement too, yet I still choose that area for a good reason.
For me, it was about conquering a small fear and knowing what to expect with future tattoos. By knowing how awful the ribs felt, I knew that when I wanted an arm tattoo it would be almost a cake walk in comparison. In the end, the challenge was totally worth it and the experience was all the better!
Don’t be afraid of how much it will hurt. If you truly, and I mean truly want a piece of artwork on your body, you’ll deal with the pain. You might even enjoy it…
On a side note, there is numbing cream such as Ebanel 5% is available, and for some people it’s magic. If you’ve ever applied a toothache gel to your gums or teeth, it works the same way. Your skin goes numb and you feel maybe ten percent of the pain, and only the pressure from the artist’s hands.
If you want to learn about numbing cream and tattoo pain see this guide. It will answer literally every question you could ever have about the process.
Fast forward past the healing stages and you might notice areas where your tattoo isn’t perfect. Lines may be a little wiggly, the color might not be filled around the edges and so one. It’s common for corrections to be needed to cover the incorrect small details.
Don’t worry, don’t panic just set up an appointment for your touch ups and your artist will take care of you. My impression on the subject is that a good artist will do touch ups at no charge. Just remember, you’re going back to the shop, did you remember to tip?
How do you know if you’re getting a good tattoo?
Or if your artists portfolio is any good? It’s simple, look for solid clean lines that are straight. Go over the shading and transitions; does it look really rough, uneven or even scratchy? If it does, that’s not a good sign. More than often the two biggest telltale signs of a bad tattoo are those two things above: Linework and Shading.
Understand that these two things can be totally acceptable even if they appear somewhat off-putting. It really just depends on your artist’s style; if they tattoo loosely it might be something they do for a reason.
Another thing to consider is the amount of black ink; sometimes tattoos can come out looking really flat. This is your answer as to why and it happens more than you think!
Watch out for color
Just because a tattoo looks bold and bright online or even on printed paper does not mean it really is. It’s far too easy to hop on the computer and adjust the saturation or contrast. What a healed tattoo looks like in reality verses an altered image can often be dramatically different.
In terms of complexity, it can be a serious challenge unless you work with an incredibly talented artist. Don’t go over the top, because you might be disappointed with the end result. It’s not always true in every case, but please do your research when it comes to portfolios. They can tell you a lot about what to expect when it comes to more and more detailed artwork.
Don’t overthink it!
You’ve done your research, you’ve read this guide. All that’s left for you to do is to find your artists and pick out your artwork.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be the world’s greatest piece of art ever produced. You certainly don’t have to revive Vincent Van Gogh from the dead and beg him to produce another masterpiece.
Just relax, and understand that even artwork itself gets outdated in a few years’ time. However, if it’s something that means a lot to you, then the message and purpose will never go out of style.
It will be a reminder, which is exactly why you should want to get a tattoo in the first place.