Lots of people get their first tattoo when they move to university. They get a sense of freedom, and their parents aren’t actually there to stop them (no matter how disapproving the messages they send on Facebook might be) and they’ve suddenly got their own money – so why not? Well, tattoos are great, and they’re a good way to express yourself. However, there are some things you should know and consider before you head down to the local tattoo parlour. Here are 10 things to know before getting a tattoo for the first time.
1. Tattoos do hurt
It sounds obvious, but a lot of people will tell you after getting a tattoo that “it wasn’t that bad”, and this often leads people to believe their tattoo won’t hurt. It will hurt. It is a needle puncturing your skin. However, our bodies are designed to deal with pain in a way that lets us continue. As you get your tattoo, a hormone called adrenaline will spike within your body, and this will make dealing with the pain much easier.
Typically, it is not helpful to ask other people how much their tattoos hurt. Each person’s pain tolerance and perception are vastly different. That being said, you can guarantee that if your tattoo has thick lines, is on bone, or has a lot of shading, it will likely be sorer than a fine line one colour tattoo on your bicep!
2. How to tell if a tattoo parlour is legit
Where you get your tattoo is very important, not only for the matter of the artist (which we will discuss in a moment) but also the parlour itself needs to be of a high standard. Since you’re getting a needle pushed into your skin, there are risks of things like sepsis and other infection if your artist doesn’t correctly care for their station and equipment. Therefore, before you go to get your first tattoo it is important to be able to spot the red flags in a tattoo shop. They are:
- Visible dirt or dust
- Gross smells
- A lack of portfolios
- Extremely cheap tattoos
- Lots of ‘freehanding’
- A lack of certificates
3. How to pick a tattoo artist
As well as the shop, the tattoo artist you choose is also important. Whilst most tattoo artists are reasonably versatile, they will have styles that they are best at and likely also styles that they tend to avoid. If you have an idea in mind for a design, it is worth researching on Instagram and popping into local shops to find an artist that fits your style. Otherwise, you might end up getting a lower-quality tattoo because you didn’t take the time to do the necessary research.
You wouldn’t ask a baker to cook you a 3-course steak dinner, so don’t ask a cartoonist tattoo artist to work on your realism tattoo!
4. What to wear and take with you
It is definitely important to know what to wear before you head off to get your first tattoo. Wearing the wrong stuff can result in you having to take off your clothes and that’s sometimes awkward, uncomfortable, and cold! Often, you can ask your tattoo artist if they have any recommendations of what to wear (especially for tattoos in odd places), but generally, just make sure the area you’re getting tattooed is easily accessible. If you’re getting a leg tattoo, a skirt or shorts is best. Arm tattoos tend to be best with vests or short sleeve tops, and if you’re getting a back tattoo, take a zip-up hoodie with you and where it backward during your appointment. Your arms and front will be covered, but your back can be fully exposed to the artist.
You should also think about what you need to take with you. If you’re going for a long session, then you might need some lunch, you’ll definitely need some water, and you might also want to take a book or something. If you’re nervous, take a friend or a comfort item, and let your artist know that you’re a little bit anxious beforehand.
5. Aftercare is essential
Too many people think that tattoo aftercare is an optional thing. It is not. If you want your tattoo to heal well, not get infected, and not fall out instantly, then you must do the correct aftercare. Now, specific aftercare instructions do vary from artist to artist. However, typically, they follow these rough guidelines:
- Keep the clingfilm or second skin on until you get home
- Rinse gently with warm water
- Pat dry
- Regularly moisturise with a non-scented, natural moisturiser like Palmer’s Coconut Butter
- Avoid baths and swimming until fully healed, and do not pick the scabs
6. Touch-ups exist for a reason
this is particularly relevant if you get a black-out design or colour. When you get a tattoo, the ink has to penetrate multiple layers of skin. Sometimes, when healing, the ink will fall out in places through no fault of yours or the artist. If this does happen, do not get angry at your artist and don’t freak out – this is why touch-ups exist. Simply message your artist and ask if you can come in for a touch-up at some point. Many artists will offer one touch-up for free, so long as it is close enough to your original appointment.
7. Don’t copy another design
It is completely fine to take inspiration for your tattoo from other peoples’ tattoos, be that someone you know, a Pinterest post or even a TikTok. However, it is not okay to copy that design outright. In fact, a respectable artist will refuse to copy another artist’s work. They should and will usually be happy to alter and make the design their own in a way that still fits the ideas that you have, but if they are happy to just copy a tattoo that you bring into the shop on your phone or printed out – you should consider whether or not they’re the best artist for you.
8. Price doesn’t always equal quality
Pricing with tattoos is a little confusing. You usually have apprentices who will charge substantially less for their work as they are still training (they will have been okayed to tattoo by their teacher, and there will be other professionals on site when they tattoo you), and then there are artists who will charge more than apprentices.
Usually, a tattoo shop will have a shop minimum. This will cover the costs of the ink, electricity, and the artist’s time. For tiny tattoos, you will often just get charged this or slightly above. Bigger tattoos will often be charged by the hour, and your artist will give you an estimate prior to tattooing you (when you have the consultation, or when you talk online). You should always check if this is a rough estimate, or if this is a confirmed price.
In terms of price equalling quality, many people often quote that ‘a cheap tattoo is a bad tattoo’. Whilst this is often true, there are very talented apprentices out there who will offer discounted rates, and some artists do flash days that will be substantially cheaper. It is more accurate to say that a cheap tattoo without explanation is a bad tattoo. It is also worth noting that some artists will charge much more than other artists in the same city simply due to their status. This does not always mean they are much better, but it will mean that they might have more clients, are busier, and subsequently feel that they can charge more for the same. These are often the artists who have large Instagram followings and who do guest spots around the country (or the world!).
9. Make sure you eat beforehand
If you’ve ever donated blood, you’ll know that you should always eat before donating blood. Tattooing is the same. You do lose a bit of blood when tattooing, and the shock that goes through the system can sometimes wreak havoc on your blood sugars and so eating before getting your tattoo will help to keep you from feeling faint.
10. Take some water with you
You’re likely to sweat and lose blood whilst getting your tattoo, and so staying hydrated is very important. It will help the artist to tattoo you, as hydrated skin is plumper, and it will also help you to feel much more stable whilst getting your tattoo! This is especially crucial in the hotter summer months.
So know you know everything you need to know before getting a tattoo for the first time. For more advice, read our guide on how to make sure that you never regret your tattoo.