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How to Choose Your First Tattoo

Updated on February 8, 2016

As Mom Says, Do Your Homework!

Spend time looking at pictures of tattoos and talking to your friends. Save images of your favorites. After about a month, I promise that you will have changed your mind on some of those favorites. This will help you to hone in on an idea that you will enjoy for many years to come.

You may have been influenced by your parents or others that you know that have gotten tattooed. No offense to mom and dad, but tattooing has come a long way in the past 20 years. If you go to your artist with a picture that came straight out of the 90s, that is what you will get. Then later, when you do research for your next one, you will realize that you had many more choices available to you. However, it may still be your favorite, because it was your first!

A classic idea for a tattoo with roses and a compass - this one is large enough for beautiful detail.
A classic idea for a tattoo with roses and a compass - this one is large enough for beautiful detail. | Source

What Do You Love?

This may seem like a strange question, but hear me out. Obviously not everybody gets things that they love tattooed on them. Sometimes, people choose their designs simply because they have seen something that they like. There is nothing wrong with this approach, but if you are having doubts about what to get, this is not the best way to choose your first one. You may get lucky and love it forever, but you could just as easily end up with a constant reminder of how impulsive and indecisive you are.

Speaking of regret, it is always a possibility. Something that is important to you is a nostalgic reminder of who you were at a certain point in time. This sometimes coincides with a life changing event, but it doesn’t have to. I suggest taking this approach because you will be less likely to regret it in the future.

Style Matters!

Let’s say you are certain that you want a tattoo of a St. Bernard because that was your first dog and it passed away last year. Well, that is a great start, but you are not done yet. There are several styles and if you learn them, your artist will be able to better understand the outcome you are looking for.

Different styles include (but are not limited to): traditional, new school, realistic, 3D, portraiture, black and grey, tribal, and Japanese. You can easily find samples of these examples on Google image search. Unsurprisingly, a St. Bernard done as a traditional old school will look very different from one done in new school style. Chances are that you know what style you like, you just have to be able to tell the artist.

You can expect exquisite detail in a flower of this size. This tattoo was done in black and grey style.
You can expect exquisite detail in a flower of this size. This tattoo was done in black and grey style. | Source

Go Big or Go Home?

An experienced artist can help you answer the question of what size it should be. After you show your artist what you are looking for, they will be able to tell you how large (or small) they can go. If it is too small for the amount of detail it has, it will degrade too quickly over time. Most artists will tell you if what you are asking for is unrealistic.

As Far as Pain Goes

If plucking your eyebrows is a torture that you are not willing to endure (those suckers are really rooted in there!), it is safe to say that you will have a harder time getting tattooed than somebody who can ignore this type of pain. Don’t freak out, though. Even though it hurts, your body will help you out. After about 10 minutes, your brain excretes neurochemicals to ease the pain. It really helps! But if you have to sit for a couple of hours or more, you will notice that the chemical releases ebb and flow over that time.

If you are not sure if you can handle the pain of that St. Bernard tattoo, be creative and get something smaller, like a bone, a paw print, or their favorite toy. A tiny tattoo will not hurt much, so you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to sit for it. Then you can decide if you want to sit longer for a larger and more detailed one.

If you are uncertain of your pain tolerance level, start out with a small tattoo.
If you are uncertain of your pain tolerance level, start out with a small tattoo. | Source

Where Should You Put It?

Since you are an empty canvas, you can get your first one anywhere! Popular choices include the calf, shoulder, thigh, and upper arm. People choose these areas because they are less painful and can be easily covered with clothing if desired.

One Last Piece of Advice

Don’t ask your artist what you should get. That is not a part of their job! You should approach them with your idea in hand. Read more about designing a tattoo with your artist, which also leads to another relevant post: How to Pick a Tattoo Artist.

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