The decision to get your first tattoo should not be taken lightly. It’s a big step. Getting your first tattoo is memorable. As the owner of a tattoo shop, I can’t tell you how many times each day I hear about the clients’ first tattoo experience. It’s something everyone likes to recant and it’s something that sticks with you, even if you opt to cover it or remove it later.
But, how does the process work? Are there recommendations for how to go about getting your first tattoo?
While there isn’t a mandatory procedure for getting your first tattoo, there are many suggestions which can make the experience a bit more memorable and not so scary. We’ve compiled a list of tips for the tattoo newbie to help you ease into the process of getting your first tattoo!
Six Months to a Year Before
As with any big decision, you should always do your research. Look at the types of tattoos available. There is a multitude of styles available and you can find samples of them all over the internet. Pinterest is a great tool for locating tattoo samples that may peak your interest. Start by researching styles and then narrow it down by what you’re looking to get. If you’re looking to get an anchor tattoo and you seem to favor the traditional style, enter the search parameters of traditional anchor tattoo for [enter gender here] and peruse those. While nobody wants to have a duplicate of someone else’s tattoo (unless it’s a matching piece), reviewing images online will give you a good idea of what you like and what you don’t like—which is vital information to provide your artist during your consultation appointment.
Once you’ve decided on a style and a concept, you’ll need to know you’re not going to wear out on it. This is why it is suggested to have the idea in mind for several months prior to heading to the shop. If you know you want an anchor tattoo and you don’t waiver in that decision for a few months, you’re less likely to regret the image later down the road.
Don’t forget to research the tattoo artist, too. Giving yourself time between deciding you want the tattoo and actually getting it will give you time to look into the shops and artists in your area. Check licenses and insurances. Verify portfolios. Look at all of your options. If you prefer traditional and there is an artist in town that specializes in that form, it’s best to choose him rather than go to an artist that only does new school.
One to Four Months Before
Once you’ve decided on the artist you want to go with, call and set up a consultation appointment. Depending on the size and detail required for your piece, you may need to have this appointment well in advance in order to give your artist time to create your custom drawing. You may also need to go back and forth several times before you reach a final decision on what you go with.
Some shops are also booked up several weeks in advance, particularly if you’re seeking an appointment with an artist who is specialized in a particular field—for example, portrait or photo-realism. It’s always good to check with the shop and see how far in advance you need to book your appointment. Keep in mind, some shops charge a consultation fee while others don’t. Either way, bank on having to put down an appointment deposit and/or a custom drawing fee to secure your place on the schedule.
If you have any medical conditions or take any medication, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get the all-clear for tattooing. Some shops may require a doctor’s note prior to the start of your tattoo if you present with any medical conditions.
One to Two Weeks Before
Stay out of the sun! If you’re going to be getting a tattoo within the next two weeks, keep that body part out of direct sunlight. Many tattoo artists will refuse to tattoo you if you show up with a sunburn. Even if they agree, getting tattooed on sunburnt skin is exceptionally painful and often can lead to holidays in the coloring or shading.
Also, avoid anything that might cause injury to the skin in that area. If you’re getting tattooed on your thigh, don’t go hiking through the woods in short shorts and get scratches all over the area. If you plan on getting a tattoo on your forearm, avoid holding your friend’s pet iguana or feisty cat in the weeks leading up to your tattoo appointment.
The Night Before
The night before your tattoo appointment (all the way up until your appointment) avoid drinking. Most states have a regulation against tattooing anyone who is under the influence. Not to mention, getting tattooed while hungover is an experience you’re likely going to want to avoid.
If you are particularly hairy, go ahead and knock the area down beforehand with a pair of clippers. The artist will shave the area, as well, but they’ll be using (generally) disposable, single-blade razors and shaving an area that is particularly hairy could take several of those. Do them a favor and save some time and knock it down beforehand — however, do not shave it all the way down with a razor as this can open your skin and allow external contaminants into the skin.
The Day Of
If you’re not an avid coffee drinker (meaning, you won’t have withdrawals if you don’t get a cup in the am), skip coffee drinks prior to your tattoo. Caffeine can thin the blood (as can alcohol), so it’s best to avoid it. If you’re not a routine coffee drinker, it can make you antsy and fidgety which is bad news for a tattoo artist. Of course, if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, it’s better to get your fix so that you’re not experiencing caffeine headaches or anything while in the chair. Just try to tone it down a notch, don’t overdo it.
This should go without saying, but unfortunately, needs to be said. Take a shower. You and your tattoo artist are about to get into very close quarters together. It’s important that you both observe the rules of personal hygiene. Not to mention, in addition to being up close and personal with someone else, practicing good hygiene prior to getting inked can be beneficial as you will be having open wounds on your skin. While keeping the area clean after the tattoo is vital, having it cleaned before is helpful. Even though the artist will sanitize the area before starting, it’s always good to be extra careful.
Eating prior to the appointment is extremely important. Tattooing can take a toll on the body and deprive it of nutrients and sugars beforehand isn’t smart. Bring small candies and drinks with you just in case you need to elevate your blood sugar. Keep hydrated before, during, and after your appointment.
If your tattoo is relatively large or complex, bring a pillow, blanket, and some reading materials with you. Tattoo shops are generally cooler as it helps to maintain body temps for both the artist and client and having a blanket that you can easily throw on and off during the process will help you out as the body temp can alter throughout the procedure. Having reading materials or video games with you will help you to focus on something other than the tattoo, making it easier to distract yourself from any pain.
Make sure to bring your ID, as it is law that the artist has to verify your age prior to tattooing you. Bring the full payment in the manner you know the shop accepts (some are cash only, while others accept cards) and make sure to account for a tip. Tattooing is a service and like other service industries, such as hair styling or nail techs, your artist deserves to be compensated for providing you with this service professionally.
Most of all, get excited! It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let that overshadow the excitement of getting your first tattoo. Not to mention, the more excited you are, the more your artist is going to be into it, and that will go a long way in making it an experience to remember.