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So You’re Thinking About Getting Your First Tattoo: 6 Pieces Of Advice To Ensure You Have The Best Experience

When considering putting a permanent picture on your body forever, you need to think. A lot. While being nervous about your first tattoo is completely normal, the permanency of a tattoo isn’t something that should scare you. If impulsively going into a random tattoo shop is more your speed, by all means, go ahead, have fun and do what makes you happy! But, if you’re a perfectionist planner who wants to lower as much risk as possible of hating and regretting your tattoo in 10 years (like me!), I got you covered with some advice and tips to give you a 99.9% guarantee you’ll love the experience. 

Does A Tattoo Have To Be Meaningful?

Everyone says this all the time, but deciding to get a tattoo that is meaningful to you is a great place to start when avoiding regrettable decisions. This depends on the type of person you are, and it is totally ok to get a tattoo because you think it’s pretty. My thought process in regards to tattoos is that aesthetics and interests go in and out of style because we are everchanging; I could be obsessed with something at one period in my life, then less so later,  so I made it a rule for myself to get a tattoo with a meaning that will never be outdated for me. I opted to get my first tattoo as a tribute to my abuelito who passed away, and I am not only in constant awe of how stunning it is, but appreciate how it warms my heart remembering what it represents. 

Conceptualizing Your Design

Before you inquire with potential artists, you need to think about what you want and where you want it. I already had an idea in mind, so I browsed through Pinterest and Instagram to look for the specific style and sketched out a super rough drawing to be able to illustrate the idea. When you’re gathering your inspiration, take into consideration the line thickness, whether it’s more of a sketch or realistic or another style, if you want to add any color, that sort. One thing you should avoid is getting your heart set on replicating another tattoo exactly; tattoo artists are artists, after all, and can work their magic if you let them. They will also go over a design with you before getting started so you can ask them to make any adjustments to make design a tattoo that is uniquely yours!

Determining Placement

When it comes to placement, the pain is the last thing you should be considering. Just 1 day of pain (or a few, depending on the size and detail) is giving you a tattoo you’re going to have on your body for a lifetime. So if your heart is nearly set on getting a rib tattoo but your only hesitation is how much it will hurt, go for it! You’re not going to regret the single day of pain, but you might regret not getting it where you wanted. Another thing to consider for placement is whether or not you want to see it. The permanency is often intimidating for first-timers, so your impulse might be to put it in a place that is non-visible. Of course, there are extremely valid reasons for putting a tattoo somewhere that’s not visible, but if you’re prepping as best you can to ensure you truly are getting a beautiful piece of art on your body, you might prefer putting it where it can be easily seen and shown off every single day. I personally knew I wanted to see my tattoo everyday to remind myself of my abuelito, so I opted for putting it on my bicep.

Searching For An Artist For Your Needs And Wants

In the days of social media, looking at tattoo artists’ portfolios is extremely accessible and easy! As you are scouring the internet to find the perfect artist to do the job right, there are a few factors to take into consideration besides the cool artwork they are doing. For one, if you are a person of color, veer away from artists who only have pale-skinned clients. It is a total red flag that the person probably does not have much experience on non-white skin, and therefore lacks knowledge on the techniques and colors needed to complement tanned or darker skin tones. As impressive as their portfolio may be, the last thing you want is to end up with a muddy-looking tattoo. Also, if there is a specific spot you want your tattoo in, pay attention to how much work the artist has done with that particular placement, especially when it comes to more difficult spots like a ribcage. 

Make sure you go with an artist who does the style you are looking for! Just as you wouldn’t go to McDonald’s for a salad, don’t go to an artist who works exclusively in black ink and with geometric designs if you want a lettering and colorful gradients. You know you’ll find a potential artist when you love nearly all of the pictures in their portfolio, giving you the trust and confidence in them that they’ll execute the piece you are envisioning. 

Along the lines of looking for an artist, I personally found it a bit challenging to find many womxn artists, which was an important factor for me for comfortability purposes. It took some work, but I started by google searching articles for womxn tattoo artists and began following the instagrams of ones in my area. As I was following the ones from articles, I browsed through and followed suggested accounts that would pop up, digging and digging until I found an artist whose work I fell in love with. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, some dope womxn artists I found on instagram were @happywithasecret (my tattoo artist!), @roxitattoo, and the various ladies at @queensofneedlestattoo.

Money, Money, Money

When it comes to money, think about the fact that this is going to be on your body forever. You shouldn’t be looking for the cheapest deal, but at the same time, it is totally okay to have a budget. From researching typical price-ranges for the type of tattoo I wanted done (placement, style, size, etc), there were places that I did end up ruling out, especially ones in trendier areas of Los Angeles. To an extent, location plays a role in the price, and if everything is overpriced in the area, chances are your tattoo price might be steep too. Everyone has their own perceptions of what is worth it, but I decided that I could get a gorgeous piece of art that I would love just as much for a price within my budget. And don’t forget to consider your tip when budgeting, typically 10-20%. Your artist is putting in time to consult with you and design a piece specially made for you if it is a custom piece, so they deserve a tip!

Keep Doing Your Research!

This article is definitely not intended to be your one stop on your trip of finding out how to get the perfect tattoo. I highlighted tips I found helpful and don’t see circulating much, but there are endless amounts of resources to learn more. Keep sifting through articles with general advice for first timers and more specific ones for topics you’re curious about, watch youtube videos of tattoo artists’ dos-and-don’ts by Inked, and talk to friends who have been tattooed. The key is to have patience and dedicate time to think about your choice. Plus, you will be spending a lifetime with your piece, so the last thing you should do is hastily rush into making a decision that you’re not going to be okay with regretting.

From following these guidelines and more, I found the ideal artist for me (again, the kind and talented Diana aka @happywithasecret on Instagram). I ended up with a masterpiece on my arm that I couldn’t love more. I am ecstatic to wear it on my skin forever and literally will not shut up about it, and I believe that’s how everyone’s first experience should be! The more time you put into researching and deliberating on what you want, the more likely you are to have a beautiful, non-regrettable first tattoo.

Mariah is a second-year English major at UCLA from Palmdale, CA. Besides being a feature writer for HerCampus UCLA, she is the creative director for the Equity and Accessibility team on UCLA's Academic Affairs Commission and a member of UCLA's Latinx Film and Theatre Association. In her spare time, Mariah loves finding hidden gems on Netflix, making earrings out of polymer clay, and writing stories.
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