A Guide to Your First Tattoo

One of the hallmarks of college is total independence! You can do whatever you want, whenever you want (within reason of course). For many, this independence brings the opportunity to finally get a tattoo. And with tattooing on the rise (36% of adults age 18-25 have them!), there are a lot of questions floating around.

How do I do it? When should I do it? Where do I go? Will it hurt?

Fear not! All your worries are about to be put to ease. Here is your comprehensive guide for getting your first tattoo.

1. Where should I get my tattoo done?

Start off by looking up tattoo shops near you, they’ll often have reviews attached to them. Try to find a shop that many people have given good reviews to and make sure to check them out on social media! Instagram is a great place to see the array of art different shops have, try to make sure wherever you are going is able to do the art style you want. For example if you want a portrait style tattoo make sure you find a shop that has an artist who can do portrait style, or if you really dig minimalism tattoos find an artist that specializes in that! Remember, this is going to be on your body forever, so make sure to give yourself the best experience possible.

2. How much will it actually cost?

Depends! Usually at a minimum your tattoo is probably gonna be around $100 (and that’s not including tip)! Good tattoos aren’t cheap, don’t try and barter your cost down, that’s insulting to the artist. This is something you are going to have the rest of your life, think of it as an investment. You are investing in a piece of art, don’t you want it to be good?

3. What should my tattoo be of?

Whatever you want it to be! Your design can be either really meaningful to you or just something you think looks cool. Every tattoo is unique to whomever has it. Try to find something you know you will love the rest of your life. For example, my first tattoo was of a black cat, and I know someone who got an atom. It can really be whatever you want. Also, just a word of caution about tattoo stealing… tattoo stealing is when you copy someone’s unique, individual tattoo detail for detail. This is stealing ideas from the original artist and also is just really lame. Part of the experience is working with your artist to create your own unique vision!

4. Will it hurt?

It’s not going to be painless, but depending on where you put it on your body some places will hurt more than others. Places that are closer to bone (ankles, ribs, spine, etc.) are always going to be more painful, versus places that are more fleshy (thigh, upper forearm, shoulder, etc.) are more likely to hurt a little less. Honestly, it’s an intense buzzing feeling, that’s the best way I can think to explain it. It’s also somewhat similar to several cat scratches, of course this changes for everyone (I got mine on my thigh in case you were curious).

5. How the heck do I even get a tattoo?

Most likely you will have to book an appointment with the artist of your choice. They should have instructions on how to do this on their website. Some places will offer walk-ins, but make sure to check it out before just randomly showing up. Shops may also have an array of flash tattoos, these are smaller designs the artist has already made and can usually be done fairly quickly.

6. What should I do before my tattoo?

The night before you go to get a tattoo make sure to get a lot of sleep. Getting a tattoo zaps up more energy than you’d think! Also, if you are getting your tattoo on a place that’s pretty hairy (like your legs) feel free to shave the night before to help the tattoo artist out. Also please, for the sake of your artist, make sure you shower before. They do not want any funky scents messing up their work flow. About an hour before your tattoo make sure to eat a light meal in order to keep your blood sugar up, also feel free to pop an ibuprofen before! Make sure you go in with some type of idea of what you want your design to be, your artist of course will collaborate with you to make you something perfect, but it always helps to have a base idea.

7. Am I allowed to bring friends?

One, maybe two friends is usually fine to bring. But don’t bring any more than that! Your tattoo is really about you, bringing a friend or two to help you calm down a bit is totally acceptable, but you don’t need your whole posse with you. You may decide to just go by yourself and that’s totally okay too!

8. How do I know if I’m ready?

Honestly, you’ll just know! I debated mine for a couple of months after randomly announcing I wanted to do it. Some people decide in a day, others need years. Take all the time you need to decide that this is something you really want to do.

9. Any last tips?

  • Make sure you tip your artist at minimum 15 percent. If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford a tattoo.

  • Bring a soda or a snack with you if your tattoo is going to take longer. You want to make sure you keep your energy up.

  • LISTEN TO YOUR TATTOO ARTIST’S INSTRUCTIONS FOR AFTER CARE. They are the experts, not you, not your third cousin with a tattoo; listen to them. And whatever they tell you to do, please do it.

  • Make sure to carve out at least an hour and a half to get it done.

  • Make sure to try and stay as still as humanly possible during the process, they need to be able to do their best work.

  • If you don’t like something, or it doesn’t look right, make sure to speak up before. You’re going to have a pretty lengthy design period and placement of a temporary tattoo to see what it looks like. If at any point you don’t like something speak up, this is something you will have forever, make it perfect!