A Tattoo Artist's Tips for Getting a Successful Tattoo
I am a tattoo artist and I give my clients advice every day. If you are seriously thinking about getting a tattoo and want to avoid some common mistakes, I invite you to read on.
A big part of my work is covering up tattoos. Unfortunately, some tattoos cannot be fixed and all I can recommend is laser tattoo removal. This procedure takes time and is very painful and expensive. The laser will fade the tattoo so that it can be covered, but the skin will never be spotless again.
Make sure you know how to get a tattoo that you will be happy with. It is very important that you get it right the first time around. After all, it is an expression of your uniqueness. Make it a good one!
Step One: Avoid These Common Mistakes
- Getting a tattoo too early in life. Getting a tattoo before the age of 18 is almost a guarantee for regret. If you are young and want a cartoon character tattoo, think about how your dad would look with Yoshi tattoo. It is worth it to wait. There is no rush.
- Shopping for the best price. It's the art that you want, not a bargain.
- Wrong tattoo artist. If you don't do your research, you may end up with an artist who does poor work.
- Tattoo of a person's name (not your child).
- Leaving a tattoo unfinished. Save up and make sure you can pay for the full tattoo at the outset. It is not cool to walk around with an unfinished tattoo.
- Getting a tattoo by an unknown tattooist. Even if you're on vacation and the tattooist is on the beach. Not a good idea.
- Getting tattoo aftercare advice from friends. Get your advice from a reputable tattooist.
- Getting a tattoo from a friend. Letting someone practice on your body is very kind of you, but it's not going to be great.
- Getting a tattoo when intoxicated. It's unprofessional, but some tattooists will do the work, as long as you pay. Don't blame them if you aren't happy later.
- Telling the tattooist to do whatever they want. You are the one who will wear it, so think for yourself. If you see something you don't like while they're working, don't wait to say something. The mess will only get bigger and more difficult to fix.
Step Two: Know What You Want!
- If this is your first tattoo, the best advice is: Take your time deciding what you want.
- It is most important that you choose something that you love. It doesn't really matter how much it costs or how much it hurts or how soon it can be done. A tattoo lasts for life.
- If you want your tattoo to stand out, do not go for the easiest and or most obvious choices, like your own name or initials or those of your boyfriend or girlfriend. Fashions come and go. Tattoos stay.
- If you have a tattoo already have a close look at them. Are you completely and totally happy with all of them? Could you benefit from reworking or covering something that is looking old and tired or maybe done not so well? Before starting on a new tattoo, fix the one that can be improved and you will feel ten times better. At the same time, you will get rid of something that you are not so happy about.
- To begin brainstorming ideas for a first tattoo, sit down with a pencil and paper and think of what you want. Sketch the idea or write it down. Nobody can do that for you. You have to do this task yourself using your own brain power. Do not ask for tattoo advice of your friends unless you want to have something they like.
A good place to start is to ask yourself why you want a tattoo. Other questions that might help are:
- Do I want it fast or do I want it good?
- Do I want a unique tattoo?
- Do I want to design it myself? (I recommend this only for those who are very good at drawing and design.)
- Do I want my selected artist to design something special for me?
- Does it matter that somebody else has the same image already?
- Does it have to mean anything and if yes, then what?
- Where is the best place for me to have it?
- Do I want it visible or easy to hide?
- What is the size that I imagine it to be?
- Do I want the best for myself or I do not mind that my tattoo is not successful?
Hand-Drawing a Tattoo Design
Step Three: Research Possible Images and Designs
Once you have an idea, the next step is research. Google Images and Deviantart are good places to start.
- Let's say it is a dragon that you want. Type "dragon tattoo" into a search engine. This is only to see what other people have already done. If you do not want to copy someone else's tattoo, then do not type in word "tattoo." By just entering "dragon," you will see dragon artwork, statues, figurines, jewelry, and fantasy art. This is great material to help you design a unique tattoo.
- Let's say you want flowers. Be specific. Search for images of particular flowers in specific colors.
- Print the images that you like and cut them out. Get creative. Mix them up. If it is writing that you like, print the words in different fonts and sizes. Place them where you want the tattoo. See how it feel and if it's all good, you are getting closer! If you like the design as it is, do not just print the thumbnail and ask your tattooist to work from that. Most of the time, the quality of the picture is too blurry and the detail will be lost.
- Take your research seriously, as the more thought and time you put in it, the more special your tattoo will feel to you. Do not think about what you should have, but rather what you want. No matter how old you are, you are getting the tattoo for yourself, not for your parents or friends.
- Another place to look for inspiration is tattoo magazines. You will find them in shops and also online. These magazines include up-to-date tattoos and artist directories.
- Style is important, as we tattooists each have our own. Often, tattoo artists prefer one style to another. If you choose a tattoo artist based upon their style, then the best thing is to let them do what they like the most. You will still need to know what you want and give guidelines to your artist.
- Another way to go is to find an image and ask the artist if he is happy to do it. You can also look for a design in the tattoo shop; it could be something from the artist's portfolio, flash designs, tattoo magazines, or online.
- Online tattoo design websites are very good for ideas and there is a chance that you may find your dream tattoo there. They often give their own tattoo advice as well, so you may read that too. You may find something that you like to use as a base for your unique tattoo. Either way, seeing a lot of different tattoo ideas will open your eyes to more possibilities.
How Laser Tattoo Removal Works
Primary Tattoo Drawing Styles
Black and Grey/Shaded
Step Four: Find the Right Artist
This is the most important step. Take your time with this one, and remember: The artist is not the same as the shop. An artist is a person. If somebody recommends a particular shop, ask them for the name of the artist like. Sometimes people go to a recommended place and get tattooed by an apprentice or guest artist that has very little experience. Avoid being disappointed with your tattoo!
- Look through photos of tattoos the artist has already done. see if their style is exactly what you are looking for. Somebody who loves doing tribal may not be perfect for a portrait job, for example.
- I believe that the best place to look for an artist is on the Internet. A professional artist will definitely have his work on a website. Beware of imposters. If you see in an artist's bio that he finished at an art academy, but he can't draw, then he won't be able to give you a piece of art. The easiest way to recognise a great artist is by the "wow" factor. If work is not impressive, then don't expect miracles. Also, note that the photos you see on the artist's online portfolio are the best ones he has done.
- Look for photos of healed tattoos in the artist's portfolio. If all photos are of fresh tattoos and none of healed, it may be because they did not heal as intended and only look good while fresh.
- Set a goal of finding the very best person to do your tattoo for you. Demand the best for yourself. If you need to travel, then do so. "I want a tattoo now" is not the right mindset when getting something for life.
- Do not always automatically take your friend's tattoo advice. See for yourself. Please do not trust your friend with a tattoo machine to practice on you. Sometimes tattoos done by friends are beyond repair and that can end a friendship.
- When you meet an artist, the first thing to become aware of is how you feel. Are you comfortable? If not, leave! Do yourself a favor: Do not go against your gut feeling. Intuition knows the best. If you feel that you are in the right place, make an appointment for a consultation.
Step Five: Share Your Ideas With the Artist
Avoid asking questions like:
- "I have my own design at home. How much will it cost?"
- "How much is a 4x8 angel?"
- "How much does it hurt?" No one can tell you how much is going to hurt You. Be brave and get ready. It is not that bad.
- "I want a tattoo. Can you tell me what to have?" Sit down, take your time and use your own imagination.
Before talking to the artist you should have a more or less clear idea of what you want. You will need to have some examples of images with you so you can demonstrate what you like and what you don't.
- Be warned: There is a good chance that you've got everything wrong. Listen to your tattoo artist's advice as he/she knows the best.
- The things to discuss generally are idea, size, place, time required, style, price etc. You should ask all the questions that you want to know the answers to before sitting in the chair. Ask the tattooist if he/she feels comfortable doing this tattoo for you. They can always recommend somebody else more suitable for the job.
- Do not ask your tattooist what you should have. It is your own body, so it is your own idea. No one knows you better than yourself. You can ask for professional tattoo advice what would work better if you have to make a choice between a few designs. Also, the size of the tattoo is more or less up to tattooist, as it depends on the detail of the picture and the place of your body. If you want your tattoo to sit well, you would not like it to be too small for the area.
- Once you agree on the details, make an appointment. This gives you another chance to rethink and get ready. If the chosen artist has a waiting list and you're willing to wait, that is a good sign.
- Ask your artist about tattoo aftercare. Every artist has their own instructions, based upon experience with what works. Not every shop sells the healing cream. You may need to get it yourself. If you get it before the tattooing session, you will not need to worry about it after getting the tattoo.
Step Six: Remain Calm During the Tattooing Session!
Stay calm and relaxed. It will hurt, but the intensity of the pain is less if you are relaxed. Getting a good night's sleep and eating a big meal right before the tattoo session will also make it easier.
- There is no point in thinking too much about what it's going to feel like. Worrying too much about pain will leave you drained before it is even started. If you know that you want it, go for it. You will see that it is not as bad as you imagine.
- If you are really scared, try to calm down. It is worth investing in a numbing cream if you know that you have a low pain threshold. I recommend Ametop cream, which you get from a chemist. You will need to apply it 2-3 hours before the tattoo. Dab it on, cover with cling film, and seal it with a tape. It usually works well for about 1-2 hours before wearing off.
- Stay away from alcohol for at least 24 hours before your appointment. If you consume alcohol will bleed a lot. Alcohol thins the blood and it makes it more difficult for the tattooist to put the ink into your skin and the healing may get complicated.
- Bring a bottle of sugary drink, a bar of chocolate or something else sweet to keep your sugar levels up.
- Consider buying some aftercare cream before your tattoo session so you do not need to worry about it later. I recommend Bepanthen, a baby care cream that works magic on tattoos. Ask your tattoo artist what he suggests. In my experience, creams described as "tattoo healing creams" may not be the best option. They may smell nice, but that is not why you should choose a cream.
- Remember, the more relaxed you are, the better it goes. If you are too tense, too tired, or too afraid, there is a good chance that you may pass out!
- A couple of words about skin: The better the canvas, the better the drawing. That means if you have dry, flaky, really spotty skin, the quality of your tattoo will not be the best. Condition your skin for a couple of weeks before your appointment by using moisturizers, lotions, body butter, or whatever works for you. This way your skin will be softer, more elastic, and more likely to heal smooth. Sunburnt skin cannot be tattooed, so make sure you leave enough time after your holiday in the sun to let your skin recover. If you are quite hairy, it's a good idea is to shave the area before you meet your artist.
Step Seven: Follow Aftercare Advice
Listen to your tattooist. She or he knows best what works for his or her customers. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Your tattoo will be covered with cling film and secured with micropore tape. The morning after the session, remove the cover and wash your tattoo with warm, soapy water. Shower gel is fine. Be gentle, do not rub. Pat dry with the towel and wait for a few minutes until it dries completely.
- Apply a very thin layer of Bepanthen cream. Make sure to remove any excess with a tissue. It should not be white once the cream is applied.
- Put another layer of cling film on, fix with the tape, and keep on until the next morning.
- If it's comfortable to do so, repeat these steps again one more day. If it gets too irritating or hot, do not recover it for the third time.
- Wash your tattoo daily and apply the cream twice for the rest of the weak (morning and evening). If it feels dry, apply a thin layer in the afternoon. Do not use the Bepanthen cream for more than seven days total. You may apply some normal moisturiser or lotion after the first week, but that is not necessary. The skin will heal by itself.
- The tattoo will peel like sunburned skin. Just let it heal. Do not pick or scratch.
- Do not soak in water. No baths, no steam rooms, and no swimming until it heals. Quick showers are fine, and daily tattoo cleanings.
- Do not expose new tattoo to UV rays for as long as 4–6 weeks. Sun would make it fade. Later, if you go on the strong sun, apply sunblock cream over the tattoo.
- One of the biggest mistakes people make is putting too much cream on their new tattoos for too long. This makes healing take longer.
- Follow your tattooist's advice thoroughly.
Any questions? Do not hesitate to ask!
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Readers Share Their Opinions
On Whether They Would Use Numbing Cream While Getting Their Tattoos or Not
Yes, I would
No, I wouldn't
I say hellz yes I'd use numbing cream!!! I recently got my first tattoo on my back and hurt way bad, so bad I'm nervous about getting it finished. Some people have a high tolerance for pain and I'm not one of them. - Anonymous
No way, it's part of the experience. I just got my first tattoo on my foot (which everyone says is very painful) and I wouldn't trade it for anything. It didn't hurt, just slightly uncomfortable... also if the tattoo isn't worth the pain to you than whatever it is you think you want permantantly on your body may not be as important to you as you think. - Anonymous
I had to have a second sitting with a large tattoo down my side and and the tattooist advised numbing he even got me it and i didt feel a thing. IM having my back covered in a few weeks and will be using ametop for the first time. - Anonymous
Personally no, getting through the pain is part of the tattoo process and it feels like I've earned the design. - Anonymous
Yes, I am a wimp with pain but I know I want the tattoo!!! - Anonymous
No, numbing cream only affects the top of your skin while the tattoo goes deeper than that so no—because it's pointless. - Anonymous
If it has no negative effects, why not? - Anonymous
No—experience the needle through your skin. See it as a ritual the pain in your body is the price you have to pay to your new tat. You are making aside a little bit of skin to put on some color and artwork. You really dig! - Anonymous
Yes every person is different and why have the pain when it can be easily avoided? But one thing i at difference is whether or not the cream affects the tattoo or not, ex: fading not as bright ect... - Anonymous
No, if you can't handle the pain, don't get tattooed. The pain is part of the experience, and you will be much prouder of your ink if you sit through the pain instead of wussing out. - Anonymous
I have four tattoos that i have received 100% sober and numbing cream FREE. However, i am considering purchasing it for my next one. It really depends on WHERE you get your tattoo, some places are just much more painful than others. I used to think it was cheating, but we don't get tattoos for the pain, we get them for the art. - Anonymous
I would not not not use a numbing cream! A tattoo is an experience. The pain is part of it & why take away from the whole? For a few minutes of pain, you get a lifetime of beautiful art! - DeniseDurham2011
I'm planning multiple tattoos, as a set. Some, for example, the first two should be medium sized, on fleshy areas (upper arms/shoulders). However the tattoo for my back, with spine & shoulder blades, is probably worth the numbing cream, depending on what my first two experiences were like. Sometimes I LIKE pain ... wouldn't want to miss out if THAT gets triggered. ;) - Anonymous
Tattoos are not that painful. Right now I am in the process of learning how to be a tattoo artist ( yes I am doing it the right way by putting in my time and working for free to learn the trade and doing all the shop work before I ever touch a tattoo machine) and we have people come in all the time asking to be numbed. We do not offer numbing cream where I am at. The discomfort of it is a price you pay to have a piece of art on your body. I feel if you are going t cheat and get numbed then either you do not need to get the tattoo or you should have to pay extra for it. Tattoos if done right are beautiful and sometimes it hurts to be beautiful! - Anonymous
I have used Emla and it works for line work I didn't feel a thing but the shading I felt in some spots but I recommend it I got 40 tattoos and I just recently used emla - Anonymous
Sure, why not? Especially the area is especially sensitive.and it helps keep you in control of the pain so the tattoo artist can do their job. - ferbscosmetics
Are you happy with all of your tattoos?
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.
© 2008 Ilona Ciunaite