Getting your first (or any) tattoo is exciting, but there’s also a lot to think about! To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of things I realized only through having gotten tattooed; feel free to learn from my mistakes.
1. The pain might not be what you imagine.
Tattoo machines function by stabbing skin with a tiny needle anywhere from 50 to 3,000 times per minute. It is painful, but pain is relative; what’s unbearable for me might be a cakewalk for you. The initial pain often dwindles after a few minutes, but if you’re getting a really big piece, it might be helpful to take a gentle painkiller or muscle relaxer before your appointment. Just not aspirin or anything that thins your blood, because of the whole stabby thing. (Alcohol is bad for the same reason, by the way. And, you know, other reasons.)
2. Hire a licensed professional. Seriously.
If your friend wants to learn to tattoo, offer your support — not your skin! Yes, it’s vastly cheaper than art from a shop (more on that below), and yes, it might make a cool story to tell — but also, the only thing worse than getting a shitty tattoo is getting a shitty tattoo, and then hating your friend for it.
3. You get what you pay for.
This is true in many industries, but particularly so in tattooing. Prices and pricing structures (i.e. flat rate or by the hour) vary across the country and world, but it’s safe to say you can’t expect an entire back piece for $30 — especially for work that’s done skillfully and safely. Regardless of price, don’t let an artist tattoo you unless you’ve confirmed that a) their work is good, and b) that they’re using fresh needles (watch them get unwrapped), gloves, ink, and other supplies. A sterile environment is crucial to your health, and any artist worth their salt/your money should be happy to set up in front of you. Ask politely and respond graciously; as with discussing safe sex, no one needs to make it weird.
4. Do your research.
You might be able to just walk into a shop and get the ink of your dreams, but it’s generally best to pick a specific artist beforehand — and social media makes the search especially easy. If you want a portrait, get on Instagram and search tags to find an artist specializing in portraits; if you want a traditional, Americana-style tattoo, find someone who specializes in that. Talented artists book up quickly, so make your appointment ahead of time.
5. Don’t rush the process!
Just like waiting to find the right artist is worth it, not rushing the next steps to getting inked is equally important. Don’t let anyone pressure you into getting a tattoo you don’t want, or one in a place you don’t want it. If you want a design of a cat with its tongue sticking out to the right, say so; if the artist places the carbon copy on your thigh but you want it two inches higher, let them know (consider your job/future career, among other things).
Cover-ups are painful, and laser removal is worse; both are also more expensive than getting your tattoo right the first time. Research, prepare, and ask for what you need from your artist — then sit (or lay) back, and go with the flow.