First Tattoo? Let Me Offer You Some Free Advice

To start with a disclaimer, I am in no way a professional or expert in the field of tattoo art in any way. I am simply a casual fan, here to spread my personal experiences. I have four tattoos that I have acquired over the past three years. I’ve been to different shops and used different artists, and I’ve learned something each time. I went in on my 18th birthday to a tattoo shop really having no idea what I was doing or what was going on, and while it turned out fine, that is often not the case for people who did not do thorough research. So, if you’re still reading, here is what I have to say to those considering a tattoo.

Picking a design:

Despite what people say, your tattoo does not have to have some deep meaning or long backstory to accompany it (although that’s great if it does). That being said, they really are permanent, so I don’t recommend getting that random abstract design you saw on Instagram last week spontaneously inked on you either. As with every step of this process, you must do research. Start with words, images and concepts you are passionate about or you have liked for a long time. Avoid trends that everyone is getting at this very moment- they’ll pass. Good places to start are on Instagram, Google images and my personal favorite: Pinterest. These are all great places to search an idea just starting to bloom in your head and see if other people have had the same idea, if it looks good in tattoo form, where on your body it would look good and what fonts and art styles you like. After you have a solid idea, I highly recommend waiting around a year to get it. I know this seems like forever, but the tattoo is staying on your body forever. Once you become more comfortable with the process of tattooing and what you like, you may be able to shorten this waiting period, but getting your first tattoo is a huge commitment, and if you’re still passionate about your idea a year later, you’re more likely to be passionate about it your entire life.

Courtesy: Annie Spratt

Picking a body part:

Picking where you want your tattoo really goes hand-in-hand with picking the tattoo itself. You may have a great, intricate idea in your head and then realize it just doesn’t look right where you wanted it, or it has to be bigger than you want for it to work. You also need to decide if you’re okay with it showing on a daily basis or not. I’ve had people want a tattoo to be very small and private, but their artist told them that if the design is made too small the ink will bleed and the design won’t look good after just a few years. I know people that have had trouble getting jobs when their tattoos show or they constantly wear long sleeves or long pants to hide their tattoos at work for fear of judgment. If you don’t know what type of work environment you’ll be in yet, like I don’t, I would perhaps consider getting a tattoo where it isn’t as visible. If that’s not a problem for you- great! Enjoy your artistic freedom. While many workplaces are getting much more lenient on this front, you never know. Another thing my mom actually brought up to me is to consider if I want my tattoos to show during important events in my life, such as my wedding. Something I’d never thought of before since that seems very far away to me, but hey, my tattoos will still be there, so it’s something to consider. Another good way to choose where your tattoo will look good is again, the internet. Look where other people got similar designs to see what you like and what you don’t. One final tip is to follow the natural lines of your body (like getting linear designs in linear places or larger rounder designs on bigger blank surfaces). For example, I have a tattoo following the lines of my ribcage, and a flower following the line of my hip-bone- it just looks more natural to me and I like that, but obviously, it’s your preference.

Courtesy: Giulia Bertelli

Picking a shop:

Honestly, when picking a tattoo shop, the most valuable recommendations you’ll get are from past customers. Ask your friends, look up reviews, ask that random person with the sick ink at the coffee shop. The most important things when choosing a shop are your comfort, the cleanliness of the shop and your price range. Different shops do have different base rates, and you could end up paying $80 for a one-word tattoo (like 18-year-old me did). On the other hand, you don’t want to walk into a shop with a $20 shop minimum that makes you feel uncomfortable or doesn’t disinfect their equipment. Use other people’s experiences to your advantage to choose the right shop for your needs.

Courtesy: Hobi industri

Picking an artist:

More important than the shop is choosing the artist. For my first tattoo, I went to a shop many people I knew loved and trusted, but I was given a random artist and I had no idea what his art style was. All I got was one word that he printed out a decal of, so it didn’t matter there, but when I decided to get an actual image, I needed to choose someone whose art style I liked. I personally enjoy much more minimalist, black and white, line-work type tattoos, so that’s what I looked for in an artist. A friend of mine tagged her tattoo artist in an Instagram post, and I decided that her style was what I was looking for. Honestly, the shop she worked in wasn’t as nice as the one I first went to, but she was super professional, worked to customize my tattoos and charged much fairer prices. It ended up being just as good of an experience, if not better. Your artist is ultimately the person that can give you something to be proud of or something to hide away for the rest of your life, so choose carefully.

Courtesy: Lucas Lenzi

Taking care of your brand-new ink:

I'm sure this has been debated for as long as tattoos have existed. Some artists will try and sell you fancy, expensive cleaners, some will tell you to use wound cleaner and some will tell you to use simple soap and warm water. I’ve tried multiple things, and the method I now swear by is soap, water and lotion. Two or three times a day (three the first few weeks and slowly reducing until it’s completely healed), I wash the tattoo with Gold Dial antibacterial soap. It is scentless and will prevent any irritation or infection, and it won’t dry out your skin like some other cleaners. I then moisturized the tattoo with Palmer’s cocoa butter lotion two or three times a day. This prevents excess skin and ink from flaking off and keeps your tattoo looking vibrant, your skin healthy and reduces irritation. A fresh tattoo is like a fresh wound, and you must take diligent care of it to avoid your body rejecting the ink or causing an infection. Obviously, everybody’s skin is different, and you know what will work best for you, but I have very sensitive skin and this method has always worked for me.

I hope I’ve given you some insight or helpful advice in your tattooing research journey. Learn from my experiences, and from others, it’s the most sure-fire way to avoid any regrets!

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