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Getting Your First Tattoo? Read This!

One of my healed tattoos

One of my healed tattoos

What to Know Before Getting a Tattoo

I got my first tattoo almost 20 years ago. I had been eagerly awaiting my 18th birthday so that I could get one. I had wanted ink for as long as I could remember—back in high school, I would even draw my own tattoos on with ballpoint pens and buy fake tattoos just to test out what I thought of them.

If you’ve finally decided to join the club and become one of the inked, here’s some advice to make sure you do it right from the beginning. This article includes tips about...

  • Preparing for your first tattoo
  • Going to get tattooed
  • Taking care of your tattoo afterward

1. Find an Image

The world is full of images. You may already have an idea of what you want, but make sure that what you are getting matches what you want. Remember, this is permanent! You can look at flash art, tattoo magazines, and books, or at other people with tattoos. You may even choose to look at art books. Obviously, there’s also the internet. Check with Google Image Search, or maybe even join Pinterest to see what’s out there.

Of course, if you have an idea, you can also find an artist to work with and get custom art. Some tattoo artists will freehand designs; others want you to come in with the tattoo or pick it off the walls. If the tattoo artist can’t do the custom art, you can always find a graphic artist to work with.

Setting Up for a Tattoo on My Arm

Setting Up for a Tattoo on My Arm

2. Find a Tattoo Artist and/or Studio

Ask your friends. Ask people with tattoos already. I’ve talked to waitresses at Chili’s to find out where they got their ink. I’ve asked strangers on the street. Most people with ink are happy to tell you what they think of their tattoo studio and artist. Again, the internet comes in handy. Check out Facebook—you might be surprised by how many tattoo artists and studios have their information up there.

There is often a difference between a tattoo artist and a tattoo studio. Not everyone owns their own shop. In some cases, artists may only be in town for a little bit and be working out of a friend’s shop. They may be renting space. One of my tattoos was done down in Galveston by a tattoo artist who normally worked out of a Houston shop but was down for a holiday weekend to try to earn some extra cash.

Once you’ve found the place and person you want to give you your ink, make sure of it. Ask to see their work. They should have a book full of images of tattoos. Does their style fit yours? Are you looking for black tribal work and they do mostly color realism? If so, their style might not be quite what you want. Now, just because they specialize in or do a lot of one particular style doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t do what you want, but it’s good to be able to see samples, especially if you’re getting something that is specialized at all. And look at more than their work. Watch them give someone a tattoo. Are they doing anything that looks dangerous? Do they know how to use their tattoo machine? What’s their “bedside manner” like? Are they friendly? Rude? Awesome? Make sure you feel comfortable with them.

Finally, look at the studio. Is it clean? Well-maintained? Depending on where you are, they may have to have a license or certification. Ask to see it if it’s not displayed. Talk to them about their safety measures. Are they double-dipping with the ink? Reusing needles? Anything not coming out of an autoclave when it should be? Most studios are happy to answer your questions and put your mind at rest.

The first step is often applying a "fake" tattoo for the artist to work from.

The first step is often applying a "fake" tattoo for the artist to work from.

3. Know What Comes Next

Preparing yourself for your tattoo is a good idea. Remember that you will be sore where you get it, and you will need to be able to hold that body part still for what might potentially be a very long time. If it’s large, will you need to break it up over multiple sessions? Learn about the “care and feeding” so that you know you can take proper care of it. And, of course, find out how much it costs. Ask the artist and, if necessary, make an appointment. Don’t be surprised if you need to leave a deposit; a lot of people change their minds, and tattoo artists don’t want to waste their time any more than you would want to. Also, while slight negotiation is okay, don’t haggle. You don’t go into a restaurant and offer to pay $10 for a $20 meal. Don’t do that to your tattoo artist, either.

A Quick Rest Once the Inking Has Started . . .

A Quick Rest Once the Inking Has Started . . .

1. Cash Is King

It’s not a bad idea to make sure you have cash to pay with. Some artists will give you a discount for paying with cash because they don’t have to lose money to the credit card companies. (They often have to pay a flat fee plus a rate that increases or decreases based on how much they earn.) If you need to pay by credit or check card, make sure that the studio takes it.

2. Hold Still

I know it’s hard. The needle is making that buzzing sound and, hey, it hurts! But it won’t hurt that much (depending on where you get it), and the buzzing sound gets to be comforting after a while because you know you’re getting that ink done. If you need to take a break or move, let the artist know so that he/she can stop. Personally, I find that the tattoo doesn’t hurt much, but it does feel hot, which makes sense when you consider that the needle is moving up and down rapidly, creating that heat. Feel free to bring friends to cheer you on, but don’t let them get in the way of the artist.

3. Tip Your Artist

The tattoo artist is just that—an artist. You tip so many people out there who do services for you, and the same should hold true for the tattoo artist. They don’t live off tips, but for those of us who get our nails done, we know that tips definitely make a difference. The general rule is 10 to 20%, but I know I tend to go for at least 20% if I really like the tattoo. If you’ve asked for anything that required special skill, definitely tip that artist well!

The Fresh Tattoo

The Fresh Tattoo

1. What to Do

Keep it covered at first. You’ll want to make sure it has a good cover of an anti-bacterial ointment and a bandage. Keep it covered that way for up to 24 hours to let it start healing. After that, keep it moist with more anti-bacterial ointment. Depending on the size and placement, you will want to put more ointment on two to four times a day. If it’s possible, cover it during showering with plastic wrap or a bandage

The Tattoo Peeling During the Healing Process

The Tattoo Peeling During the Healing Process

2. What to Avoid Doing

  • Don’t get it wet too soon. That means showering, taking a bath, or even washing your hands. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but you don’t want it overly wet with water.
  • Don’t scratch at it. It will itch as it heals, and that’s normal. It is going to scab over. Let it, and just keep it moist.
  • Don’t touch it all the time. It might be tempting if it’s your first ink. You’ll want to prove it’s there. But avoid the temptation and let it heal!
  • Don’t expose it to sunlight until you can put suntan lotion on it. This may mean avoiding the pool for up to two weeks. Once it does heal up, make sure to apply extra lotion to it; the sun will fade it out if you don’t take good care of it!

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.


Katherine Sanger (author) from Texas on July 08, 2015:

Shiann - I don't find that rude at all. In fact, I find it extremely polite that you asked first. It never hurts to ask permission to use someone else's artwork. If you want the actual piece of artwork to use, I can also put you in touch with the artist who made it for me. :) Good luck with your tattoo!

Shiann on July 06, 2015:

Would it be rude to take in a drawing of mine and ask if my artist could base my tattoo of that?

Bluewind on December 22, 2014:

I hope so. It means a lot to me. :)

My dad is actually happy that it hasn't happened yet. He isn't opposed to tattoos. He just worries that I will end up being allergic to the dye, have a reaction, and loose my leg. Typical huh?

My body is actually pretty weird about piercings though. Took me several tries and months of having studs in my ear lobes to be able to keep them pierced. It was part because them would close up crazy fast and part because my ear kept eating through the posts! White gold and stainless steal were always my best options, but even they could only last so long. The middle would just keep getting thinner and thinner. People thought I was kidding until I would show them my posts. Never could figure out why or how I did it. I gave up after a while.

Katherine Sanger (author) from Texas on December 22, 2014:

Bluewind - don't give up! It took me a while to get from one tattoo to another. Sometimes it's just fate. :)

Bluewind on December 19, 2014:

Reading articles like this makes me long for my first piece. I've wanted the exact same one since I was 13, but now I'm close to 30 and still a tattoo virgin! I'm a child abuse survivor with a lifelong physical disability, so the reasons I want this runs deep. Every time I save up the money, something happens. The one time I did have the money the following happened...

I found a tattoo artist who liked my idea several years back and said he required a deposit to do the sketch. If I went for it, the money would go towards my piece. If not, it was for his time. I agreed and gave him the deposit plus extra. I called a few weeks later to see if he had a rough sketch. He said he didn't and he wouldn't do it until I was ready to get the tattoo! I wasn't gonna bring him the cash for my piece without even seeing it first, so I asked him for my deposit back... and he kept it. Sometimes I just pretend like he never got my message or emails because that's a more positive way to think about it all. I guess it was for the best because 2 months later I got really sick and had to go to the ER and live at the doctor's office again for a while, but still.

On top of shelling out the $250-300 the ankle piece will most likely cost, I still don't have so much as a sketch of my design from an artist of any kind or any real pool of artist to choose from as I live in a small town that's 40 minutes from the nearest medium sized town. Sometimes I wonder at what point I should give up on this ever happening. Do you think the universe is telling me that I'm not meant to have it or should I keep trying?

PS: Am I the only person that thinks that tattoo reality shows choose maybe 2 decent artists for each season with a bunch of terrible ones added in with random personalities to make the once with an ounce of talent look better?

Katherine Sanger (author) from Texas on July 31, 2013:

my_girl_sara - Henna is definitely popular, but I prefer my ink to stick around, as do a number of us. :)

Cynthia Lyerly from Georgia on July 31, 2013:

You want to know what's trending? Tattoo removal. Get a henna tattoo instead:)