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Proceed With Caution, but Without Fear
In my experience, many people spend a lot of time worrying about the pain of their first tattoo and about the image. These are two important things to consider, but at least you can be fairly sure your tattoo artist will discuss them with you in detail before you begin. If you spend all your time thinking about the image and the pain, you're missing out on a lot of other important considerations that I discuss here. So browse through this article and make sure you've gone over everything important.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the most important thing to consider is the meaning behind your future tattoo. Not the image, so much: the meaning. The pain, the cost, the time, the look, and everything else will literally be meaningless if you don't take the time to consider why you must have it on your skin.
There is no "right" reason to get a tattoo. Whether your tattoo has a small meaning or a large one, your reason is good, as long as the meaning is there.
Having a reason is important, not just because the tattoo will mean more to you, but because it will help your tattoo artist understand your motivation for getting this tattoo. That understanding will help them get the art just right, so that you'll never regret getting that tattoo.
After its meaning, the cost of your tattoo is what you want to consider next. If money is not an issue, move right on to the next step. Though, for the rest of us who are not made of money, it's important to consider the cost of your tattoo. Not doing so can result in a tattoo that has to be scaled back to fit into your budget—and that is one of the most common reasons for a person not being that happy with their tattoo.
Another reason you want to consider cost is that an expensive tattoo may not get finished for a long time. Many people who are low on cash will get their outline started first and then wait until they have enough money to finish up the tattoo. This is fine for the most part, but it's better to get your tattoo finished all at once, so your artist won't lose focus over long periods of time while you are saving up the money to pay him.
If you find yourself in this position, consider asking your artist if they barter. Tattoo artists often charge $50 per hour and more. If they are true artists, they may understand that you have a passionate need to get a tattoo, and they may work out some trade with you. Not all artists are like this, but most will work with you.
The most important thing driving up the tattoo cost is the level of detail. The more detail you want to include in your tattoo, for example in 3D tattoos like the one above, the longer it will take to get it just right. In general, most tattoos bigger than a quarter take at least an hour to finish up. On average, most tattoos take three to five hours per session. If you need more sessions, it will take more time. Ask your trusted artist for a time estimate before getting anything done.
3. Size of Your Tattoo
As you see with this awesome dragon, some tattoos are very large. Other tattoos are very small, sometimes smaller than a dime. Size is important for many reasons.
First, the larger the tattoo, the longer it will take, and the more areas of your skin are going to have a needle traced across them. That means more ink, more time, and more detail.
Second, if you want a lot of detail in your tattoo, you'll want it to be bigger rather than smaller. Many people come in with intricate designs that they want to fit into a very small area, and the artist may turn them away unless they agree to make the tattoo bigger or remove a lot of the detail.
Third, the size of the tattoo affects where it will fit on your body. Large tattoos tend to be done on the back, chest, or stomach, with large wrap-around work ("sleeves") done on the arms and legs. Smaller tattoos can be done just about anywhere, which is part of their appeal to people getting their first or second tattoo.
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4. Location of Your Tattoo
As you can see with the bold man above, location is everything. Now, as we said above, the location you choose may limit the size of your tattoo, but more importantly, the location of your tattoo can make a big difference in the impact it will have on your life.
I know from personal experience that tattoos that are out in the open have a big impact on the way your family, friends, co-workers, and employers look at you. This makes a difference if you work in a profession where it's important to look professional. Having a large eagle on your head might not look so great for a lawyer. Likewise, tattooing your face up like a zombie will work best if you're a mega-rich rockstar and already have a loving spouse.
Obviously, tattoos are permanent. Trust me, the methods they use to remove them are not worth it. If you're thinking, "I can just get this removed later," do not get a tattoo. Having them lasered is worse than having them put on in the first place.
Another reason it's important to consider permanence is that your tattoo becomes a part of your skin. So when that skin grows and stretches, your tattoo will grow and stretch too. This is often why people will get larger tattoos that can be easily touched up later in life. Small tattoos have a way of blurring and becoming obscure blobs of color over time, especially if they are on your thighs, arms, stomach, butt, or breasts.
6. Pain Tolerance
Honestly, the pain of a first tattoo is usually not as bad as you anticipate. YES, it does hurt; there is no doubt about that. Even if you have your skin numbed a little bit, it still hurts. Though it hurts like a cat scratching you, which is easy enough to tune out with a calm mind.
That being said, we all have different pain tolerances. I've had plenty of tattoo work done on my hand, elbow, and ankles, all very sensitive areas, and while they hurt, I was able to tune it out. That surprised my artists, who had dealt with big biker dudes who couldn't handle that same type of pain in the same areas. That I've had two kids and plenty of other pains in my life probably puts things into perspective and increases my pain tolerance.
Now, if you're getting your first tattoo, here are some things to think about regarding pain.
- The more fat and muscle in the area where you're getting tattooed, the less pain you'll feel during the process.
- Any areas over bone will hurt the most.
- Hidden tattoos will hurt more later, as you heal, because they have to be covered up.
- The smaller the tattoo, the less pain you'll experience.
Now, there are some important things you can do to help minimize the pain:
- Take a non-aspirin anti-inflammatory pain reliever about 20 minutes before you get started.
- Get your tattoo in the morning when your body naturally has a higher pain tolerance.
- Have your artists use liquid witch hazel on your skin while working.
And here are some things NOT to do to deal with the pain:
- Do not take any aspirin or painkillers before getting a tattoo. They will make you bleed more, and potentially ruin your tattoo, along with your artist's attitude.
- Do not drink alcohol before getting a tattoo. It makes your blood thinner, and furthermore, no artist wants to tattoo some drunk fool who is likely to mess up the tattoo.
- Do not take any other mind- or body-altering substances before getting tattooed. Most artists will kick you out if they notice that you are high.
7. Your Artist's Experience
Make sure your artist has the experience, training, artistic talent, and attitude that sits well with you. Don't just rush into the nearest artist and get started. You might end up working with someone who doesn't understand you and what you want, or you might get ripped off in price because they don't like to do the kind of work you want done. Likewise, going for cheaper tattoos might mean your artist has less experience than you'd prefer.
Take the time to find and get to know the tattoo artists you want to work with.
8. Your Own Experience
The less experience you have with getting tattoos, the more you'll want to rely on your artist's experience with them, which is another reason it's so important to choose an artist you trust. If this is your first tattoo, ask around about the places that your tattooed friends and family have had a harder time or easier time with. Ask where it hurts most and least, and where it might tickle a little bit (yes, sometimes tattooing tickles!).
Alternatively, if you've already had plenty of work done on your skin canvas, you probably already know what it feels like, and can gauge what your new tatt will feel like wherever you decide to get it.
9. Social Impact
Seriously, it's way too easy to go get a tattoo done in some open space where you think it will look cool, without considering what others might think. And while it's your body, your art, your time, and your money, you can experience some serious social impacts from getting a tattoo, especially if you choose one that cannot be easily covered up.
Having tattoos can affect your ability to get a job in the future. Whether you have a good job now or not, consider what might happen if you need to look for work in the future and you have a huge pot leaf on your neck, or a gruesome ghoul all over your arm.
Tattoos will also change the way your family and friends look at you. Consider what they might think, and decide how much you care about their opinions, before you get your work done.
10. Potential Addiction
Pain and art, like most things in this shared reality, can become addicting very easily. So if you're going in for your first, make sure you consider whether or not there will ever be a second. Usually, by the time you get a second tattoo done, you know you're already hooked.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 PermissionGiver
Giota on August 28, 2018:
This site is very helpful. I found very good articles that helped me with my thoughts about getting a tattoo. I'm saving money for my 1st tattoo now and i think I'm gonna get it this winter..
Benedict BG on July 05, 2018:
I got tattoos all over my body and I still want more .. Dad and mom also have tattoos even my little brother .. You can draw tattoo at my uncles where I drew mine , I promise you will love it
Karisa on March 15, 2017:
I have been on the fence for about a year on whether i should get a tattoo or not. This article has helped with my decision to get a tattoo.
Mandy on May 08, 2016:
I don't think I've met someone with tattoos who doesn't want more. To give you an idea of this people in my chronic pain support group all say that they are totally willing to get a tattoo even if the extra pain makes them bedriden for a few days. Money is what holds most of us back because you always want more.
MH on September 25, 2015:
$50/hr? My guy charges $120/hr and worth every penny. The man is worth his weight in gold; he is a fine tattoo artist and his work is outstanding.
Matt on December 17, 2013:
Meaning is highly overrated. If it looks good and its something you're comfortable with, most of the time it's fine. You only run into a problem when the design you thought LOOKED cool ended up meaning something you didn't know. I'm a work in progress with 8 pieces on my body, and it seems like women are all about "What do they mean?" while guys just say they look cool. No surprise the author is a woman and meaning is #1 to her.
Mackenzie Sage Wright on September 09, 2013:
I'm ready to get another one to commemorate a recent traumatic experience with a happy ending. I have a few ideas but couldn't narrow it down, this is great guide.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on June 02, 2013:
Thank you Ystenob, your feedback is definitely appreciated =)
Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on June 02, 2013:
BizGen, very giving hub of information and all good reflective points. The facial sleeve is a little unnerving to see and I would initially think the person who does that expects to get attention which must be part of the formula involved in having that type of tattoo performed. Most of my friends have them in places that cannot be seen in the workplace. I think you hit the needle on the head when you state to make sure you know the reason why you want to have one, including a specific one, and not just because all your friends are getting one. Thumbs up.