So you've officially caught a case of ink envy. You've eyeballed the women with gorgeous floral half-sleeves or fallen in love a delicate back-of-the-neck tattoo. Maybe you just can't pass on that Harry Potter ink any longer or you want to truly wear your feminist ideals on your sleeve. You've decided that you want to get inked and you know what you'd like to get. Now what?
We've compiled a list of steps to take before taking the plunge for the first time. We recommend you take it all into account, but generally you only need these three pieces of advice: do your research, follow directions, and don't do anything you're uncomfortable with.
1. Decide on a design that you actually want.
Don't get a tattoo just to get one. Wait until you have an idea for ink that's as unique and special as you are! But do keep in mind that not all ideas are created equal. Most artists recommend starting small and avoiding sensitive areas like your ribs, elbows, the backs of your knees, groin areas, and feet. And always avoid getting the name of your significant other. It rarely ends well. If you have particularly fair skin, consider making an appointment in the spring or early fall. You're less likely to burn it in the sun, but can also let it breathe a bit.
2. Research artists and parlors.
Research doesn't sound like it would be a big part of getting your first piece, but it is arguably the most important. Take the time to ask around about high-quality shops in your area. Be suspicious of cheap parlors. In most cases, you get what you pay for. If you have a friend with art that you admire, ask him or her where they got it done and what they thought of the artist. Read reviews, research artists within the shop, and check out their Instagram or online portfolios. Then, and only then, make a decision on where you'd like to get your work done.
3. Sleep on it, but then commit.
Obviously, getting a tattoo is a decision that will have permanent consequences, so don't take it lightly. But once you've decided on an idea and an artist, make an appointment, mark your calendar, and don't back out. If you've done your research and considered your idea carefully, your art is sure to be something you love.
And remember this, even if you fall out of love with your ink at some point down the road, it will still serve as a symbol of who you were when you got it. Look back on it fondly, like that one time you tried blunt bangs in college.
4. Prep your body before your appointment.
You're going to want to make sure you're in good health: get plenty of sleep, hydrate adequately, and eat a full meal before your appointment. People may get drunk and inked in the movies, but actually it's illegal to tattoo an intoxicated person. So definitely skip the pre-appointment buzz, but also avoid drinking the night before. Both will thin out your blood which will cause you to bleed more during the process. Coffee will have a similar affect on your blood, while also making it difficult to sit still throughout the appointment. And please, for the love of your artist, shower.
5. Pack some supplies for the big day.
It's important to keep your blood sugar up throughout the appointment so pack some high-carb snacks like granola bars and a bottle of water to stay hydrated. Bring a sweatshirt along as well, getting cold during the process is common, even in the summer. And, of course, don't forget your wallet, reference material for your tattoo idea, and your fully charged cell phone.
6. Ask questions throughout the procedure.
Tell me about your experience as an artist. What's that tool for? What are you doing now? Your artist won't expect you to know everything, so if you're curious, ask! If you think you'll be a nervous customer, tell your artist! They deal with nervous people all the time and will know how to make you comfortable with the process. And remember, if you're uncomfortable with anything, including the artist, the cleanliness of the shop, or the price, you can always back out.
7. Keep an open mind about your idea.
Chances are, you will have a pretty good idea of what you want your artwork to look like in your head. Find pictures that help illustrate that idea—print them off so you can give them to your artist. But understand that your artist will know better when it comes to executing your idea so that it looks best on the day that you get it and beyond. If they have concerns about placement or style, listen to them.
A lot of first time customers worry about pain. You should know that it will sting, but it will not be unbearable. The feeling is often described as being slowly scratched by a cat or poking at sunburned skin. Breathe, relax, don't stress, and it will all be fine. The pain is part of the process. If you're particularly worried about pain, bring a friend along, especially one who has been tatted before.
9. Tip your artist 15 to 30 percent.
This is important, especially if you liked your artist. Let them know that you appreciated their craft and conversation, and be sure to recommend them to other potential customers. They'll appreciate you right back!
10. Take care of your new ink.
Different shops will tell you different ways to take care of your new piece. Follow their instructions carefully. Note: Healing ink can look pretty crazy. It will usually develop an itchy multi-colored scab that will cause the work to look a little faded, but that's all a part of the process. This is a helpful guide for keeping up with your tattoo's healing process.