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Your First Tattoo: Ideas, Designs, and Pictures

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As a self-proclaimed tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.

Music tattoo on arm

Music tattoo on arm

Getting your first tattoo is not a decision to take lightly. You need to find a design you like now and that won't look silly and immature when you're older. A tattoo is for life, and your life will develop and transform in ways you can never imagine. When you're 45, are you sure you'll want to display pink unicorns jumping over a rainbow of stars or some scantily-clad lady on your forearm? What if you end up a serious business person or the CEO of a reputable company... get my drift?

More often than not, a person's tattoo is a reflection of their lifestyle, interests, and likes. Some say tattoos are the picture books of a person's life, but some say they're just a reflection of what they liked at that particular moment in time.

Whatever design you settle on, your ink is going to be with you till the end of time. A little forethought about the entire process and which direction you intend to take should assist you with getting a beautiful piece of body art that you'll admire for years to come.

What to Consider With Your First Tattoo

  • Placement and positioning: Will it fit in the area of the body you want to use? Do not go big on your first tattoo, even if your artists wants you to.
  • Skin color: What color is your skin compared to the intended colors of your tattoo? Not all colors work well on all skin types, especially darker skin. Ask your artist if you're unsure.
  • Visibility: Do you need to cover it up for work? If so, make sure it can be easily hid under your clothes.
  • Content: What do you want it to depict?
  • Size and detail: A bigger tattoo will have more detail than a smaller one.
  • Artist: Shop around and don't settle for an artist you don't like. This is especially true for more unique, detailed, or complex designs.
  • Time: Consider how long it will take to complete the tattoo. For your first, I don't recommended long sessions (three hours or more) or multiple sittings.
  • Aftercare: Healing takes about a month, depending on your skin and the tattoo itself. Aftercare is imperative, you can ruin a great tattoo if you don't look after it. Don't plan to get inked just before traveling, for example. Swimming and contact sports are also to be avoided.

Where to Find Tattoo Inspiration

For some people, tattoos are like scrapbooks. They acquire many over a long period of time, adding to ones they already have. This also includes embracing the poorly done, crappy tattoos that were "picked up" in less-than-ideal situations, but are kept more for the memory than celebrating the art work.

Having a plan or vision can assist with creating a storybook of tattoos you love and that honestly reflects you. Take a little time for self-exploration when choosing your first design, for example:

  • Life: Nothing will provide more inspiration than your own life. Consider what is important to you in your everyday life. Is there something, someone, or somewhere that has a particular connection to your heart?
  • Likes: What are your favorite colors or styles? A good starting point when designing is to think about your aesthetic.
  • Hobbies and Interests: Where better to look for inspiration than your hobbies and interests. If you love a particular Artist, maybe there is one of their works that you really admire. A certain writer may have a particular quote you live by.
  • Family and friends: Do you have a family member or friend who is a hero to you? Someone who influenced you as a child or cared for you in a way no one else has?
  • Past memories: Is there a special memory you'd like to immortalize on your skin?
  • Events: Think wedding anniversary, personal events in your life, or another day of achievement.

Where to Put Your First Tattoo

Besides choosing a design, think about where to place it. There are always a few details to consider:

  • What is your current job's tattoo policy? Do they allow them?
  • If you're a student, what field are you hoping to go into when you graduate? Although tattoos are now widely accepted, there are still times and places they are not appropriate. Jobs where you deal directly with the public or need to present a certain professional image will request you not to have visible tattoos.
  • Never get a tattoo on your face, top of your hands or your neck for your first tattoo design.
  • Try to avoid getting your first tattoo on the more sensitive parts of the body, like the spine, under the arm, or the stomach.
  • Find an area that is easily covered up so you can cover your tattoo if you wish.

Some of the ideal body parts are:

  • Top of the outer arm
  • Shoulder area
  • Inner forearm
  • Shoulder blade (fleshy area)
  • Bottom of leg
  • Ankle (fleshier area)

What to Avoid

There are a few things to avoid when deciding on your first tattoo:

  • Large tattoo ideas that will take a long time to complete (over 3 or 4 hours) or multiple sittings.
  • Designs in very painful places on the body, such as the spine.
  • Tattoos that contain profanity or x-rated images.
  • Club colors or symbols that could be misinterpreted or offensive.
  • Complex designs that require the artist to repeatedly pass over the same area of skin.

Choosing a Quality Tattoo Artist

One of the main reasons people end up with a crap tattoo is that they didn't do any research on their artist. Some things to consider:

  • The old saying of "You get what you pay for" is never truer than when you're getting a new tattoo. Particularly your first one. This is not the time to scrimp on the money because there are no cheap, talented tattoo artists.
  • Every artist's ability has limits. Tattooing is not a skill that can be learned from the Internet or by being a good pencil and paper artist. If your mate has just purchased a tattoo machine off of eBay, do not offer to be his guinea pig. You will regret it!
  • Just like any other craft, it takes time, talent and a good teacher to develop into an amazing artist.
  • Be realistic about your artist's ability, if they can't do the design you propose, go to someone who can. There's no second chances in getting it right!

Aftercare Procedures

Knowing how to look after your new tattoo is extremely important. Developing an infection can cause permanent damage to your tattoo and be extremely painful. By following a few basic procedures you will have the best chance of healing nicely.

The reality is that tattoos hurt. Anybody who tries to tell you otherwise is telling tall tales. Although it is true that some places on the body are more painful than others.

Your first tattoo is not the time to experience the more intense side of tattooing. Start small, short and comfortable. You can always go back and add more to a tattoo rather than trying to remove what can't be undone. Good luck with choosing your first tattoo design.

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.