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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

If you didn’t know, I LOVE tattoos. In fact, I think everyone should get one. I talk to my friends, family, and co-workers about them, often converting skeptics into aficionados. Having sat in that chair seven times, I think I’ve seen it all. 

But if you’re new to getting a tattoo, don’t know what to expect or are simply unsure, I have compiled a list of things I have learned the past four years. 

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am not a tattoo artist. Always do your own research and make sure to ask your artist if you have any questions. 

Before getting a tattoo

Research. Your. Artist. 

If there is anything that I want you to take away from this article, this is it. 

Make sure you research your artist before getting a tattoo. Look at their Instagram page and Yelp reviews. Make sure their bedside manner is something you vibe with, especially if this is your first tattoo. I’ve never had an unpleasant experience with an artist but that does not mean there aren’t unpleasant artists out there. Communication during the session is vital and it’s a huge turn-off if you feel that you can’t talk to your artist. 

Look at their work to make sure that you vibe with their art and this is the type of tattoo you are looking for. Don’t come in wanting a fine line piece from an American traditionalist. 

I say this in the nicest way possible, in the age of social media, you have NO excuse for getting tatted by a shitty tattoo artist. Tattoos are permanent (unless you opt to get it laser-removed) so make sure it’s something you are absolutely sure of. 

I stalk my artists on Instagram, looking at their work and checking to see how well their work heals. You can also check out their website to get a more comprehensive grasp of their portfolio and know what kind of work to expect from them. 

DO NOT DM YOUR ARTIST ON INSTAGRAM (unless it’s explicitly stated to DM them).

Either go to their website and fill out a booking form or send them an email. Make sure to include the area you want to be tattooed, the size, whether it’s black and grey or in color, and any references you have. 

Be patient after emailing them. There is a huge tattoo demand right now because of the pandemic, so expect a couple of weeks to pass before you get a reply. If three or four weeks have gone by without an answer, you can send a follow-up email. 

Pricing

The most asked yet most open-ended question. The only answer I can give you is that it depends on the piece, artist, and location. A good tattoo is not cheap and a cheap tattoo is not good. 

A typical tattoo in San Francisco can range anywhere from $150 to $250 an hour. For detailed fine line or color tattoos, expect anywhere upwards of $300 an hour. And for Instagram-viral artists, expect a range of $500 to $750. Artists don’t keep the full cost of the session; some of that money goes to the shop to pay for the space the artist rents. These artists need to buy their equipment and ink and they have trained for years and years to perfect their craft. You aren’t just paying for a piece of art but also the years of experience. 

This means budgeting for a tattoo is crucial. I always overestimate the amount of time it takes to finish a tattoo and that extra budget covers their tip. 

I always tip my artist because they are performing a service. Tipping shows your appreciation of their art, skill, and time. A 10-20% tip is typical, depending on the session price and the quality of their work. The only time you don’t need to tip is when the tattoo comes out completely different from what you wanted or if the artist’s bedside manner was off-putting. 

YOur tattoo

Contrary to popular belief, a smaller tattoo takes longer because of all of those tiny details. Color tattoos may take several sessions to finish to prevent mudding. Again, your artist will communicate with you so that you know what to expect. 

I am a person of color but am lighter than many of my fellow POC. I also only have black linework tattoos, so I am not the best person to talk about colored tattoos. 

Yes, you can get a color tattoo as a person of color and, yes some artists are better than others. Some artists offer free color testing to people of color to ensure that variations of ink shade heal on their skin tones. 

Pain

Everyone wants to know about the pain. I can tell you it comes down to two factors: your pain tolerance and the location. 

I have a pretty high pain tolerance, so take my advice with a grain of salt. For me, it felt like a cat scratch, with a little bit of burning afterward. The bonier an area you want a tattoo on, the more it will hurt. 

I have a tattoo on my upper rib cage and it didn’t hurt initially but, as he added detail and shading, it started to burn. My ankle tattoo hurt the worst because it was right on the bone. I didn’t feel my forearm tattoo at all. Contrary to popular belief, underboob tattoos don’t actually hurt that much. But with that being said, everyone’s pain tolerance is different.

If you are worried about pain, take a couple of Advil an hour before your appointment. A good artist will ask if it’s your first tattoo, so be honest. You can also ice it if it burns after, just double check with the artist. 

The morning of

Don’t get tattooed on an empty stomach. Your blood sugar will be low and you may pass out. 

Eat a small meal an hour before your appointment: a slice of toast, banana or some eggs and rice. Try to avoid eating anything heavy like a large bowl of pasta because you don’t want it to be sitting in your stomach during the appointment. You won’t be allowed to eat during the session, but you can bring some granola or a banana to snack on during a break. 

Dress comfy and appropriate to the tattoo placement. Loose clothing is always a must and layers will be your best friend. Shorts are great for leg tattoos and tank tops are perfect for upper body tattoos. 

Don’t wear skinny jeans for a thigh tattoo and don’t wear a turtleneck for a shoulder tattoo. Bring a blanket if you are getting a torso tattoo so you don’t get cold. 

Make sure you are sober!!!!!

Again, I say this in the nicest way possible, getting a tattoo at 2 am when you’re stumbling home from the bar with your besties is not the greatest idea. No artist worth their weight in ink will tattoo someone who isn’t sober. Drunk decisions are not the best. 

During the appointment

Don’t get tattooed on an empty stomach. Your blood sugar will be low and you may pass out. 

Eat a small meal an hour before your appointment: a slice of toast, banana or some eggs and rice. Try to avoid eating anything heavy like a large bowl of pasta because you don’t want it to be sitting in your stomach during the appointment. You won’t be allowed to eat during the session, but you can bring some granola or a banana to snack on during a break. 

Dress comfy and appropriate to the tattoo placement. Loose clothing is always a must and layers will be your best friend. Shorts are great for leg tattoos and tank tops are perfect for upper body tattoos. 

Don’t wear skinny jeans for a thigh tattoo and don’t wear a turtleneck for a shoulder tattoo. Bring a blanket if you are getting a torso tattoo so you don’t get cold. 

Make sure you are sober!!!!!

Again, I say this in the nicest way possible, getting a tattoo at 2 am when you’re stumbling home from the bar with your besties is not the greatest idea. No artist worth their weight in ink will tattoo someone who isn’t sober. Drunk decisions are not the best. 

Aftercare

This is largely dependent on your artist. Every artist tattoos slightly differently so their aftercare will be slightly different. After the session, they will go over aftercare and provide you with detailed instructions to take home.

Here’s what I can tell you to expect:

  1. No sun, swim, or sea for two weeks

This is really important. Your tattoo is essentially an open wound as it heals, so treat it accordingly. UV light from the sun will cause the ink to fade. Pool water and seawater have all sorts of bacteria floating in it, which can potentially lead to an infection. 

  1. Wash your tattoo with antibacterial/antimicrobial soap 

Again, your tattoo is an open wound so make sure to keep it clean. I wash my tattoos twice a day for about a week and then taper it down to once a day for the last week. Let the tattoo air dry, especially after the first few days because that area will be sensitive. 

  1. Moisturize your tattoo

This is a huge part of aftercare and is dependent on the artist. I apply a THIN layer of Aquaphor to dry skin after I wash it and whenever the area dries out. I reapply Aquaphor about 5 times a day, including after I wash the tattoo. You want to keep the area moisturized but not greasy. 

  1. It itches

After the burning subsides (1-3 days) the itching begins. This will last for about a week as your tattoo heals. Some places on your body (forearm and ribs) will be itchier than others (ankles). I am so sorry. Resist the urge to scratch because again, your tattoo is an open wound and your nails are GROSS. Slapping is your friend. A lot of the time, your tattoo is itchy because it is dry so go ahead and rub some Aquaphor on it.

Maintaining your tattoo

No, aftercare is not just the two weeks following your session. Tattoos are a lifetime commitment and your tattoo will only look as good as the skin it is on.

Make sure to moisturize after you shower (you should be doing this anyway, we don’t want ashy skin in 2022). Not only does it keep your skin soft and supple, but lotion helps to intensify the linework and color, making your tattoo stand out more. 

SPF is also your best friend. Again, you should be applying sunscreen anyways because we don’t want to get melanoma. I put extra SPF on my tattoos to keep them from fading in the sun. Your tattoo is the most saturated immediately after you get it, so don’t stress if the ink is not as intense five, ten years from now. 

I hope these tips helped alleviate some anxiety and answered some questions about getting a tattoo. As always, make sure to do your own independent research as what worked for me may not apply to you. Your artist is an EXCELLENT resource don’t hesitate to ask them questions.

Now go forth and get inked!

I am a senior at the University of San Francisco, majoring in Biology and minoring in Biochemistry. I am from Monterey, California where you can find me kayaking, surfing, or baking!
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