How to Get Tattooed

Me Getting Tattooed in December 2007

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I have a few tattoos.

Getting tattooed is one of my passions, but it’s a topic I haven’t yet covered in my blog. Since I receive a lot of questions about how to get tattooed, I’ve decided to write a series of posts about it. This particular article will cover how to get tattooed as well as frequently asked questions about the tattooing process; I’ll discuss the meaning of my tattoos in a future post.

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How to Get Tattooed – Step One:
THINK LONG AND HARD About It

The first step to getting tattooed is to take time to think long and hard about whether a tattoo is something you really want. Tattoo ink is permanent; it will be with you for life unless you decide to have it removed. Laser tattoo removal is expensive and even more painful than getting the tattoo itself.

Never get tattooed on a whim; chances are it’s something you’ll regret later. My advice is to take a few MONTHS to decide whether or not you really want to get tattooed.

How to Get Tattooed – Step Two:
Decide on Design & Placement

Once you’re sure you really want a tattoo, it’s time to start thinking of a design. Since a tattoo is permanent, think of a design that is EXTREMELY MEANINGFUL to you. You will never regret a tattoo that represents something significant in your life.

Once you have a rough idea in your mind, begin collecting images. You will show these images to your tattoo artist during your initial consultation.

Buy a few tattoo magazines and cut out photos of tattoos that you like. Scour the Internet for pictures that convey the image you have in your mind. If your tattoo will have lettering, collect pictures of fonts that appeal to you. The more images you have to show to your tattoo artist, the better. Pinterest is an amazing website that I use to collect pictures that inspire me.

When deciding on a tattoo, you always have the choice to pick a pre-drawn design, also known as “flash”. But most people shy away from flash; after all, why would you want a tattoo that somebody else has?? Collect pictures for inspiration, but make sure you ask your tattoo artist to draw something that is 100% original and has been customized for you and your body.

At this time you’re also going to want to decide where on your body you want to get tattooed. First consider whether or not you want your tattoo to be exposed to everyone you know. Even though tattoos have become mainstream, you might not want to get tattooed on your neck or on your knuckles if you’re a business professional. If you don’t want everyone to see your tattoo, pick a discrete area of your body.

Also when deciding on tattoo placement, consider the pain factor. Certain areas of the body hurt more than others. Generally the most painful areas to get tattooed are bony areas: the ribs, elbows, spine, feet and ankles. The least painful areas are the “fleshy” areas: the arms, buttocks, and thighs.

Since your tattoo will be a work of art, pick an area of your body that suits the design of the tattoo. Artistically consider the “lines” of your body when you are deciding where to get tattooed. For example if the design is long and slender, you may want to get it tattooed on your arm or leg. A wider design is more suitable for the back or abdomen.

How to Get Tattooed

Getting Tattooed by John Austin

How to Get Tattooed – Step Three:
Save Your Money

Tattoos are expensive. Great tattoos are very expensive. Decide on a budget and start putting away money for your tattoo.

Tattoos are usually priced by the hour, unless the piece is very small. A good tattoo usually starts at approximately $100 – $125 / hour.

I suggest that you have 75% – 100% of the money saved for your tattoo before you even book a consultation. The tattoo artist will require a deposit upon booking, and if your tattoo requires more than one sitting, you will already have saved the money saved to finish it. It would suck to run out of money before your tattoo has been completed.

How to Get Tattooed – Step Four:
Find a Reputable Artist

This is probably the most important step of getting tattooed. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to get tattooed, take as much time as you need to find an AMAZING TATTOO ARTIST.

The best way to find an awesome tattoo artist is to ask people who already have tattoos that you like, where they got them done. It’s very important to see the work of a tattoo artist before you book an appointment with them.

Once you have a few potential tattoo artists in mind, do your research. Visit their website and check out their online portfolio. Also find out how long they’ve been tattooing – the more experience they have, the better.

Call a few tattoo studios and get a feel for their vibe. Ask them how long it takes to get an appointment – a long waiting list is always a great sign. I consider it a blessing that it takes 6 – 12 months to get an appointment with my tattoo artists, Mike and John Austin – it reflects that they are talented and in high demand.

How to Get Tattooed – Step Five:
Book a Consultation

Once you find a reputable tattoo artist, it’s time to book the initial consultation. This is a meeting between you and your tattoo artist where you’ll discuss your design and receive a price quote.

The most important thing about the consultation is that you be EXTREMELY CLEAR about your design. Know what you want ahead of time; don’t expect the tattoo artist to decide for you. Of course they can give you their expert opinion, but it’s up to you to communicate effectively.

If for any reason you receive bad vibes during the consultation, remember that you have the freedom to go elsewhere. Listen to your intuition and only decide to proceed with your tattoo if you have a good feeling about the artist and studio.

If everything goes well at the consultation, you’ll receive a price quote and a date to come back to check out the design your tattoo artist has drawn for you. In my experience it usually takes an artist 1 – 2 weeks to draw up a design, depending on the size.

The studio manager or receptionist will also book an appointment for your first tattoo session. This could be a few days, weeks, or even months down the road, depending on your artist’s wait list.

How to Get Tattooed – Step Six:
Get Tattooed!

How to Get Tattooed

Me, my sleeves, and davidji in June, 2011

Once you’ve approved your design, it’s time to get tattooed!!

On the day of your appointment, make sure to eat a healthy meal. I like to eat grounding foods such as oatmeal or sweet potatoes before a session. It’s not a good idea to get tattooed on an empty stomach as you may feel faint or dizzy.

If you know your session will be long (3 hours or more), bring snacks that contain healthy sugars. Sometimes my blood sugar drops while getting tattooed and I feel hypoglycemic. Fruit or fruit juice always makes me feel better.

Never use drugs or drink alcohol before getting a tattoo. Alcohol will thin your blood and cause you to bleed more during the session, which results in a tattoo that needs to be touched up. Also, most reputable tattoo artists have no interest in working on someone who is drunk or high.

It’s normal to be nervous before your first tattoo, but do what you can to relax. Take deep breaths, go for a walk, or meditate to calm your system.

Show up a few minutes early for your appointment so you don’t feel stressed. While getting your tattoo, remember to have fun. This moment will never come again, so enjoy it.

After your session, make sure you set aside time to rest and relax. Getting tattooed affects your immune system and you will probably be tired. I like to take a hot Epsom salt bath (as long as the tattooed area doesn’t get wet) after I get tattooed.

How to Get Tattooed – Step Seven:
The Aftermath…

Your tattoo will take approximately 2 weeks to heal. During this time, follow the aftercare instructions given to you by your tattoo artist. The affected area of skin will become dry and flake off, and you may notice small scabs on the surface of your tattoo. DO NOT PICK the scabs or scratch at your skin. Your tattoo will heal beautifully if you leave it alone and let the wisdom of your body take care of it.

While your tattoo is healing, don’t expose it to water. Short showers are fine, but swimming, hot tubs, or baths are off limits (unless you can bathe without submerging the tattoo).

Stay out of the sun during the healing process and as much as you can afterwards. Use SPF 50 on your tattoo if you know you’re going to be outside. I wear lightweight long sleeve shirts over my tattoos during the summer to prevent my sleeves from fading.

Once your tattoo is healed, you may notice a few areas that need touching up. Most tattoo artists offer free touch ups for the first few months after the initial session. Please note that it is not the artist’s responsibility to touch up areas that have not healed well due to your own habits. If your tattoo is scarred because you picked at it, you should pay them to touch it up.

How to Get Tattooed:
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are tattoos safe?

A: Tattoos are safe as long as the tattoo artist follows standard safety procedures. In the city where I live, tattoo studios are licensed and regularly checked by the governmental health unit to ensure that they comply with important health and safety guidelines.

These guidelines include using an autoclave to sterilize equipment, wearing gloves, using new and sterilized needles, disposing used needles in a sharps container, and never re-using ink, water, or ointment on multiple clients.

If the tattoo studios in your area do not require licensing in this manner, do your research on tattoo safety and make sure you ask your tattoo artist what their safety procedures are during your initial consultation. If you get bad vibes, walk away.

Q: Is tattoo ink safe? Does anything toxic stay in your system after getting a tattoo?

A: The safety of tattoo ink is widely debatable. I personally have never experienced any ill effects from tattoo ink and I don’t expect to.

Allergic reactions and negative side effects from tattoo ink are extremely rare, although they have been known happen. Whether or not tattoo ink is safe really depends on your unique body. Is your body extra-sensitive? Do you react to hair dye, makeup, certain foods, laundry detergent, or other cleansers? If so, you might want to do some research on tattoo ink and express your concerns to your tattoo artist.

When I worked as a makeup artist, I noticed that a small percentage of the population were allergic to red pigment. I have also read that red tattoo ink can cause scarring in certain people. If you are sensitive to red pigment you may want to pick a tattoo design that does not contain red or simply choose not to get tattooed.

Also note that many tattoo artists use latex gloves. If you are allergic to latex, tell your tattoo artist ahead of time so they can pick up some nitrile gloves instead.

Most tattoo ink ingredients are considered safe and non-toxic, however the truth is that tattoo ink is unregulated. And as far as I know, no studies have been performed on their long-term safety.

Intuitively I am confident that getting tattooed is safe for me, but if you have any doubts or worries I encourage you NOT to get to tattooed. Hopefully you know by now that your thoughts create your reality, right??

Q: Is vegan tattoo ink better or safer than regular ink?

A: Vegan tattoo ink is not “better” than regular tattoo ink, however it is made with vegetable-based glycerine instead of animal-based glycerine. If you have made the lifestyle choice to be vegan, find a tattoo studio that uses vegan ink. This article on BME is a good resource for vegan body modification products.

Vegan ink is equally as safe as regular ink. Chances are if your body is going to react to an ingredient, it will react to the pigment, not the carrier (the carrier is what determines whether the ink is vegan; made from either animal-based or vegetable-based glycerine).

Q: Does getting tattooed hurt?

A: Yes.

Q: Can I use alcohol, drugs, or some kind of cream to numb the pain?

A: Never do drugs or drink alcohol before getting tattooed. As I said before, alcohol will thin your blood and cause you to bleed more during the session, which results in a tattoo that needs to be touched up. And drugs are for sissies.

There are creams on the market such as Emla that numb the pain of tattooing, but most artists don’t recommend them. Creams usually take 30 minutes or more to take effect and the numbing only last 30 – 45 minutes. Since the average tattoo session is at least 2 hours, these creams are a waste of time.

Take your pain like a woman!!

Q: How long to tattoos take to heal?

A: Your tattoo will take approximately 2 weeks to heal. During this time, follow the aftercare instructions given to you by your tattoo artist. The affected area of skin will become dry and flake off, and you may notice small scabs on the surface of your tattoo. DO NOT PICK the scabs or scratch at your skin. Your tattoo will heal beautifully if you leave it alone and let the wisdom of your body take care of it.

Q: How much does getting tattooed cost?

A: Tattoos are usually priced by the hour, unless the piece is very small. A good tattoo usually starts at approximately $100 – $125 / hour. NEVER cheap out on a tattoo.

Q: Should I tip my tattoo artist? How much?

A: It is up to you whether or not you want to tip your tattoo artist but I think tipping is a nice gesture of gratitude. A tip shows your tattoo artist that you appreciate their work. Your tip should be based on what you can afford and what you feel their work was worth.

Generally I tip my tattoo artist 10%. Considering the cost of a tattoo, this is usually a substantial amount that fits within my budget.

If you can’t afford to tip your artist with money, make sure you tip them with your appreciation and by bringing them business. Refer as many people as you can to your tattoo artist if you feel they did a great job.

Q: How do I decide on a tattoo design?

A: The most important factor in a tattoo design is its significance to you. Make sure to pick a tattoo that has meaning.

People tend to regret those tazmanian devil, tweety bird, or barbed wire tattoos that mean absolutely nothing. But as long as your tattoo has meaning, you won’t regret it.

Q: Where can I find tattoo designs?

A: You can find inspiration for tattoos online and in tattoo magazines. Keep a digital folder of tattoo designs that you like (I use Pinterest).

Use these pictures for inspiration, but never ask a tattoo artist to replicate a design. Your tattoo should be completely unique.

Q: How you plan out a full sleeve or large tattoo?

A: If you think you may want a large tattoo in the future, keep that in mind when choosing a design. Don’t waste precious arm real estate on small tattoos if you know you eventually want sleeves. You may want to get your entire upper arm tattooed as one piece, and then your forearm (that’s what I did). It’s better to save money for a sleeve than to waste time and money on tiny tattoos that your artist will have to find a way to “connect” later on.

Q: What is the best season to get tattooed?

A: The best time of year to get tattooed is a time when your skin will be covered and protected from the elements while healing. Fall and winter work best for me.

Q: Can my tattoos be exposed to the sun?

A: Tattoos fade with prolonged sun exposure, so keep them out of the sun. Use SPF 50 on your tattoo if you know you’re going to be outside. I wear lightweight long sleeve shirts over my tattoos during the summer to prevent my sleeves from fading.

Q: Can I shave the area that is tattooed?

A: You can shave any tattooed area after it has fully healed. Don’t shave it during the healing process.

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I hope you enjoyed this post on how to get tattooed. If you have any other tattoo-related questions, send ‘em my way at kb@intuitivekb.com. :)

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