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The Ten Commandments of Tattooing Without Regret

I have a lot of tattoos, including full sleeves on both arms, and while I love most of my tattoos, there are one or two that I regret.

You'd never regret this beauty!

You'd never regret this beauty!

Tattoo Without Regret

I have a lot of tattoos—some I absolutely love and one or two that I downright regret.

If I could somehow travel back in time and tell my 26-year-old un-inked self what I know now, I would look a lot different today. Don't get me wrong—I would still have tons of tattoos, I just would have done things differently. More thinking to go with the inking.

So with that in mind, I am sharing the wisdom that can only come from being a tattooed mama to help future tattoo aficionados get one they will never regret.

I think most things can be pared down to a list of 10. (Hey, it worked for the Commandments, so why not tattoos?) Most people can hang onto 10 thoughts in their head, and those who can't usually have a cool smartphone to remember for them.

1. Thou Shalt Not Get Tattooed on a Whim

I'll say it again: Think before you ink. You'd think this would be common sense, but you would be surprised at the number of people who have ridiculous tattoos on their hip or bicep that have absolutely no reason other than, "My friends were getting one and I wanted to get one, too." Ink for the sake of ink is ridiculous. It's not like buying a trendy sweater; it's for life . . . or at least until you can afford to have it lasered off. To tattoo without regret, you have to use your brain a little first.

The sentiment is lovely, but this is not a good tattoo.

The sentiment is lovely, but this is not a good tattoo.

2. Thou Shalt Not Get a Cartoon Character

Seriously, a "Tigger" tattoo is never a good idea; in fact, it's one you're certain to regret. I know these are some harsh words, but I have seen so many bad tattoos I need to make this clear. No matter how much meaning you think a cartoon character has to you now, rest assured you won't feel the same way in ten years.

When you get an image tattooed on your body for life, you need to think timeless and meaningful. And god forbid you choose a tattoo artist who isn't very good at their craft. Imagine trying to explain your poorly drawn Bart Simpson to your future employer.

3. Thou Shalt Not Get a Tattoo Where You Grow a Lot of Hair

I have a super awesome friend who got his one and only tattoo to commemorate the birth of his son. He broke two rules with this one: He got a cartoon character, Jack-Jack from the movie The Incredibles, and he got it on his very hairy chest.

The tattoo itself is quite well done, and a sweet testament of love for his son, but the hair sprouting from it is downright creepy. A cartoon baby sprouting wiry hair is never a good idea.

Getting a tattoo is not like electrolysis: The hair will grow back. So if the artist has to bushwhack their way in to find your skin to ink, then it's probably not an ideal spot.

4. Thou Shalt Not Tattoo Your Boobs or Belly

Women: YOU WILL REGRET IT! Even if you don't plan on having children, your body will change and droop and so will your tattoo. I turn 40 this year and I can testify to gravity and the tricks it plays on your body. It's sad but true, and no amount of touch-ups can fix the serious stretching caused by pregnancy. Some people bounce back, some don't. Do you want to risk it? Not to mention the class factor. Think about it, how many lawyers do you know with boob tattoos?

Nice tatt, but what if Jim gets booted out of the picture?

Nice tatt, but what if Jim gets booted out of the picture?

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5. Thou Shalt Not Get the Name of a Lover or Spouse

Does this ever work out? I don't care how long you have been with someone, getting their name tattooed on you is like asking for something bad to happen. If you are desperate to get something to commemorate your undying love for each other, pick a matching symbol and put it in an inconspicuous spot. That way it can be explained away to your next partner should things not work out with the current love of your life.

6. Thou Shalt Get a Tattoo to Commemorate Your Children

I don't know a single person who regrets a tattoo that honors their child. (Even if it is a hairy cartoon character.) Love springs eternal for our children, so be creative and pick something that will make you think of your little angel and will bring a smile to your face every time you look at it. One of my favorite tattoos is of a child's handprint at birth with their name and birth date scrolled underneath it. A proud papa got this tattoo on his inner forearm and his now 16-year-old daughter is still touched by his loving gesture.

Note: I have also seen a fair number of portraits done of people's children and I am really on the fence about whether this is a good idea. Photorealism is very hard to come by and takes a special tattoo artist. I am a much bigger fan of script or a symbol to commemorate a child. Leave the photorealism for actual photos unless you're lucky enough to get an artist like Kat Von D to do it.

Lovely tribute.

Lovely tribute.

7. Thou Shalt Not Get "Bargain" Tattoos

This is not the time to be a bargain hunter. If someone is charging bargain basement prices, they're probably not very good. Sometimes in life, it is important to pay top dollar for things, and this would be one of those times. Think of it as an artistic investment. Do your homework, research the best artist in your area, and don't flip out and look for someone cheaper when you hear the price. A good tattoo artist is worth the money. I have a cheap tattoo and man, do I regret it.

8. Thou Shalt Plan on Building on to Your Tattoo

One of the mistakes I made as a newbie going in was not planning for the future. At 26, I thought I was going to be a one-and-done kind of person. Boy, was I wrong. Tattoos are addictive but in a good, don't-need-to-go-to-rehab, kind of way.

I have been somewhat lucky in that the designs I have chosen could be built on. If I had planned things even better, I would look way cooler now and not quite so higgledy-piggledy, patch-worky. A little forethought about themes and placement would have helped a lot.

This tattoo will age well. Shame the person will rarely see it.

This tattoo will age well. Shame the person will rarely see it.

9. Thou Shalt Choose a Spot That's Easily Hidden

I didn't heed my own advice here. In fact, all of my tattoos are in super visible places. I got my first one on the outside of my right wrist and it's not small. Do I regret it? Nope, but I have the luxury of being an artsy-fartsy nut who enjoys walking to the beat of my own drum. Most people don't choose a life path that makes being a total nutjob okay, and most aren't prepared to deal with the consequences.

Full disclosure: I will admit to hiding my tattoos from my grandmother until the day she died at the request of my mother. And yes, when I was wearing sweaters in the sweltering heat, I did kind of regret my decision. I wish that there was decent cover-up makeup I could have used instead.

The point is that if you're hell-bent on getting a tattoo, consider being discrete with the placement. I also encourage you to pick a spot that you can see so you can enjoy it. To this day, I have no back tattoos because I wouldn't be able to see them.

But think about your future employment, the image you want to project, and for goodness sake, what will Grandma think?

10. Thou Shalt Keep Your Design Simple

This maybe the single most important piece of advice I can give. Simple designs always work out the best. Tattoos age with your skin—lines bleed and blur and colors fade. The more ornate and complicated your tattoo is, the more likely it will look like a jumbled mess.

I speak from experience. I got a gorgeous tree of life tattooed on my left forearm and then felt compelled to fill in the space around it. The result is an overly complicated design that is hard to make out. So keep your designs clean and simple with bold lines and a simple color scheme (if you use color at all). And don't be afraid to leave lots of space.

Don't worry, be inky.

Don't worry, be inky.

Happy Tattooing!

My final word is not to overthink things. Part of getting a tattoo without regret is just going for it. I know I have asked you to "think before you ink," but not to the extent that it prevents you from seizing the day and getting what you want. Tattoos are a way of celebrating and enjoying life. So make a plan, find something that you'll be proud to have on your body for life, and get inked!

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 Catherine Taylor


Kristine on June 11, 2019:

Very well written, and funny. Thank you for the insight. Both of my tattoos (one at 18, and one at 40) were on a whim. I am determined that my next one will be spectacular and glorious and the prettiest thing I've got. I'm trying to find the perfect idea and doing lots of reading now.

Teresa H from USA, FL on May 06, 2019:


Gasson on November 12, 2018:

thanks for the tips.

Kas Winter on February 24, 2018:

Awesome post. Love the humour. Love the thoughts that went into this piece. And excellent information.

Inked God on April 29, 2017:

Good post! If I may add on to the topic of spouse's names.... That's a very serious thing to get. If you're not sure about getting it-- don't. There can be some wonderful benefits from tattoos. I would suggest looking deeply into the subject, before getting one. The best to you!

Dr. Wilson on March 20, 2017:

Number 1 is pretty bad advice, I had hoped I'd have the chance to get a tattoo on my trip to Ireland. While there I stumbled upon a tattoo parlor. So I got an Clover Tattoo. I'm Scot-Irish so no guilt. Turns out, not only did I meet the coolest artist, but also ended up going to one of the highest ranking tattoo artists in all of Ireland! WOW!

Number 4 is subjective.

Never? Kiss of Death? pish!

Can something go wrong? Sure.

Why bank on failure to be shocked at failure?

I got my now wife's name while dating.

Logic behind it is fairly simple.

If we break up whatever doesn't change the impact she's made in my life.

EnsoHeals on February 13, 2017:

For Buddhists and probably other religions, tattoos below the waist are a no-no.

Mez Love on October 19, 2016:

I know this is an old article, but I'm the artist that did the tattoo of the heart with the name "Jim" in the banner. Notice the paw print? Jim is her dog.

Enso on May 15, 2014:

3. Men - Never get a tattoo where you grow a lot of hair.

This means never get a tattoo, period :(

Catherine Taylor (author) from Canada on March 17, 2013:

Wow, 14 seems quite young for a tattoo. Frankly I am surprised you can find an artist to do the work for you. Remember that what's important to you at 14 may not have the same significance when you're an adult. Good luck!

AnnaAudacity on March 11, 2013:

In May, for my 14th birthday, I was going to get the heart symbol (the texting one with the inequality sign and the 3) on my leg, but after reading this, I'm going to get it on my forearm. Also, I'm downsizing it from about 5 by 8 to 1¼ by 2.

I'm getting it to match my mom's.

Elizabeth Hanks from Queen Creek on February 25, 2013:

Believe me, I've been tempted! My first tattoo, although it does have a LOT of meaning to me, was done pretty horribly... So, tattoo-er's remorse has kept me pretty grounded... even though I could probably recite at least four that I want to get in the next year! Finding a good tattoo artist is probably the most important piece of advice I'm taking away from your article!

Catherine Taylor (author) from Canada on February 25, 2013:

Thanks so much elle! They are very addictive, but you are very smart to wait until you find a design with meaning before jumping into another one.

Elizabeth Hanks from Queen Creek on February 24, 2013:

Great tips! I only have one tattoo so far, but I've known since the day I got it that I wanted tons more! I couldn't tell you how many times I've had to remind myself that I didn't need a tattoo for the sake of getting a tattoo since... Every time a friend comes by with a new one, I have to remind myself: 'You haven't picked out what you want for your next one yet... be patient, you'll figure it out!'

Now that I'm pregnant, I have to wait a while... but I think the next one I get will be something to commemorate its birth! Maybe a cutesie tootsie footprint or something ^^ we'll see!

Catherine Taylor (author) from Canada on January 17, 2013:

Thanks so much Sharkey, such high praise. It sound like you have an excellent tattoo plan and intuitively know these commandments. Thanks for the share.

Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on January 17, 2013:

Very awesome advice! I love tattoos and have one on each shoulder that are simple, can be easily hidden (even in summer), and are symbols that will carry a lifetime of meaning. (my zodiac, and a commemoration for my lost relatives.) The only reason I don't have more is because I have yet to find the perfect "next" tattoo. I am looking for one that follows all of these commandments! Voting and sharing!

Catherine Taylor (author) from Canada on January 17, 2013:

Thanks so much for reading and commenting Glimmer Twin. If I have stopped just one more person from getting a boob tattoo I will have done a good job.

Claudia Porter on January 17, 2013:

This is a really useful hub. I'll be fifty in a couple of years and have always had a secret desire to get a tiny tattoo. Not sure if I ever will and it definitely won't be on my boobs! Up and useful.

Catherine Taylor (author) from Canada on January 17, 2013:

bb - thanks so much for commenting and for continually being one of the first people to stop by my hubs. You are a fantastic support and I love your idea for going the comedy route. Pondering it for my next hub.

CC - I'm with you, why get a tattoo you can't see? Thanks for popping in and commenting. So looking forward to more of your writing.

europe - glad you have no regrest, oh how my mother wishes i had stopped at one.

kidscrats - thanks for reading, I really appreciate the comments especially you reading - interesting to have a non-tattooed persons input. Thank goodness for lasers!

teaches - another great supporter and I'd like tot think it is good advice, thank you!

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on January 16, 2013:

The good thing is that you can have them removed now...but it's a long process!

Dianna Mendez on January 16, 2013:

Great advice for those who are thinking about getting a tattoo. I have seen some violations of your points and it isn't pretty to look at! Hope this gets across to those who need it.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on January 15, 2013:

I do my best to follow the 10 commandments but I can't even see myself being tattooed for that or anything else. To remind myself to follow the 10 commandments I have to rely on my memory and good behaviour :-)

europewalker on January 15, 2013:

Sensible tips about getting tattoos. I only have one tattoo and my husband has a few of them, no regrets. If you"think before you ink" then your tattoo decision should be fine.

Carole Claude Saint-Clair from Australia on January 14, 2013:

Hah! I'm glad i intuitively followed 8 of these commandments some 10 years ago when i got my first tattoo. I don't have any children and I'm glad the thought to inking my cat's name never entered my mind at the time. Thing is though, instead of placing that first tattoo [2 inches x 6] in a place that could be easily hidden, I had it put right smack on my wrist.

Yay! The way i saw it, What'd be the point of having a tattoo where, not being a contortionist, I'd never see it?

Anyway, as things turned out, I have never regretted that decision :-)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 14, 2013:

I thought this was going to be a silly hub, but it turned out to have some pretty valuable words of advice. Nice job my friend!

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