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Things To Know Before Your First Tattoo

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CNU chapter.

When I was in high school, I always thought about how sentimental and special my first tattoo was going to be once I was legally able to get one. In reality my first tattoo was a mini flash tattoo of a deck of cards that I got on impulse with a friend on Friday the 13th. Since then, I’ve gotten more, some sentimental and some just for giggles. I’m by no means an expert, but these are some tips I’d like to share for when I’m going in for my next tattoo (I actually have an appointment this April)!

Picking an Artist.

Spend time doing some research! Going through various artists’ accounts helps you to get an idea of what art-style you’d like to get done (many tattoo artists have certain specializations). I’m a big fan of minis, anime, and geometric styles, so I’ll look for artists who explicitly state these are their specializations. It’s best to go through their portfolios, especially checking out their pictures of any healed work, as tattoos on fresh skin versus healed skin look different. It’s also a good idea to follow the artists on their social media pages to gain a sense of who they are as a person. If you really like your artists, you’ll end up loving the artwork even more.

Note: Keep in mind that colors often fade as they heal!

Choosing Your Design.

Now that you’ve decided on an artist(s), it’s time to think of WHAT you want your tattoo to be. Whether it’s going to be big or small, sentimental or funny, or even just a single-color ink or super colorful, this tattoo is for YOU. Many people will give an opinion, but at the end of the day this tattoo is meant for you. To start off, consider the sizing, location, and details of your tattoo. Take some inspiration from Pinterest or even your artists page, and keep some reference photos on hand, as your artists may ask to help them get a sense of what you want.

Picking A Location.

Now that you’ve found your artist and gotten a sense of what you want, it’s time to think of WHERE you want this tattoo to go. Healthline and Zensa contain pain charts guides for men and women, ranking pain levels based on locations. Most of my tattoos are my arm, which is listed as the least painful area to get tattooed. For me, this was true, as I was usually just chatting with my artist or scrolling on my phone (Pain: 1/10). At least, until it came to adding the colored highlights, which ended up feeling like someone was just scratching too hard on my skin (Pain: 2.5/10).

Note: If you’re really worried about the pain, consider trying out numbing cream! But please make sure to discuss this with your artists beforehand, as the cream or gel can alter your skin texture.

Making That Appointment.

Now it’s time to contact your artist! Some artists take appointments solely through DMs or emails, so make sure to call and check with the shop first (unless they’re a traveling artist, then contact them directly), especially if they work in a shop with a variety of other artists.

Preparing For Your Tattoo.

Some artists may want you to come to their studio for an in-person consultation before your appointment and help fine tune some details of your tattoo. This is the time to bring your reference photos and questions! While your artist then takes the time to work on finalizing your tattoo, this means your appointment to get tattooed is coming up! Many tattoo artists compare preparations for the actual tattoo appointment to that of a medical procedure. Hence make sure to get a good night’s sleep, don’t drink the night before, stay hydrated, and eat a good meal before arriving at the tattoo studio. Doing these steps helps your body stay nourished.

Note: Also make sure to have your photo ID, tip, water bottle and snacks ready before heading off to your appointment!

When You Arrive & Finalizations.

Usually when you first arrive to the tattoo studio, you’ll be filling out some consent forms. After your consent forms are completed, your tattoo artist will show you the design that they created for you. This is the best time to make any final adjustments before it is permanently etched on your body. It’s perfectly normal and OK to want changes made, just ensure that the feedback is respectful. Now it’s time to get tattooed!

Other Things To Consider.

  • Don’t be thrifty. Tattoo artists go through an apprenticeship and work on getting licensed, so their prices are justified (tattoos can be pricey!). That being said, I won’t lie when saying I have partaken in artists specials like their Friday 13th deals (I got a $30 tattoo from a halloween flash sheet).
  • Time. Don’t rush! Take your time doing research on your artist and what you like before proceeding, especially if it’s a sentimental or special piece.
  • Respect. Tattoo etiquette involves understanding that you are in the space of a professional, so treat this experience the same you’d do when obtaining services from any other highly specialized expert. That being said, if at any time an artist is making you uncomfortable, ABORT!
  • Red Flags. Not all artists are good people. Be wary of those who dismiss your ideas, pressure you into a design, the shop’s cleanliness is questionable, there is no aftercare, and most importantly, if your gut screams NO.
  • Communication is key. Do not be afraid to ask questions, speak up if you need a break, or simply to make casual conversation with your artists! They love what they do, and enjoying the time you spend with your artists makes the whole experience so much better.
  • Tipping. It’s customary to tip tattoo artists for their time and skill, with the general guideline to tip between 15-20% of the total cost of your tattoo. Again, this is best to discuss with your artist, as some may take other forms of tips (materialistic goods such as gifts or food).
Tiffany's a senior studying psychology with a double minor. On campus, she's a part of Student Honor Council and the Student Sustainability Commission. In her free time, she's usually trying new food places with friends, cooking, or hitting the gym! You can check her out on Instagram @tiffy_ni