15 Insider Tips on Getting Your First Tattoo

15 Insider Tips on Getting Your First Tattoo
Credit: Instagram @dawnymidnight

Lisa Szot is shop manager at The Hive Tattoo. Located in Portland, Oregon, she has been managing within the tattoo industry for two years and works with both new tattoo artists and those with over twenty years experience. With resident artists whose style vary from American traditional to blackwork and more, she also assists with welcoming clients to the shop, whether it’s a spontaneous walk-in or the fifth session of a full back piece. Here, Szot outlines everything you need to know before getting your first tattoo.

Some popular artists have wait lists or their books are closed.

As tattoos have become more popular, it’s not uncommon for a tattoo artist to have an overwhelming client list. If this happens, the tattooer has a couple of options: continue booking appointments, thereby filling their schedule for at least a year, or close their books to new clients. Popular tattooers who have closed books will almost always refer you to another tattooer who they respect and whose style matches the tattoo you’ve requested. A referral isn’t a reflection of you or your tattoo idea. They are honoring the clients with whom they have been working with for years and there’s just no way to get to all of the new client requests.

Inquire about price. Some shops price by the hour and some by the piece.

Each shop and artist prices differently. Be honest with yourself and your artist about the budget for your tattoo piece but keep in mind that it isn’t a negotiation. It’s a transaction based on an estimate provided by a professional.

Learn about various styles of tattoos, what the shop you’re looking at specializes in and what you like.

Do you know the difference between neo-traditional vs American traditional tattoos? The list of tattoo styles is long and can be overwhelming. Before contacting a tattooer, do research into tattoo styles and determine what style resonates with you. No one would ask a chef that specializes in Japanese ramen to cook Texas barbeque and neither should anyone ask a tattooer that specializes in blackwork to do a watercolor tattoo.

Bring references. Artists are visual people.

At its heart, tattooing is an art and all tattooers are artists. Artists are visual learners. You could write 10,000 words about your tattoo idea but it will be less meaningful to the artist than if you bring pictures of the style and inspiration.

Have an idea in mind.

Your tattoo artist will collaborate with you but you are the one who brings the initial idea. No one can do this part for you.

Paying a deposit is normal and non-refundable.

Tattooers are not paid for the time they spend drawing your design. Because of this, they typically require a drawing deposit. This is a protection of their time and effort because it ensures that you are committed to this tattoo and won’t change your mind, and you can rest assured that whatever you have paid for a drawing deposit will come off the price of your session.

Plan ahead for your healing time.

I talked someone out of getting a finger tattoo recently when I explained that the healing process would take several weeks and that she should minimize the use of her hands as much as possible in order to help the tattoo heal. “Oh, but I’m in a pottery class three days a week right now. Is that bad for healing?” Well, yes, dirt and water are very bad for healing your tattoo. A fresh tattoo is literally an open wound and in order to keep it healthy, you will need to take care of it, especially during heal time. You’ll want to limit dirt, excess water, and sun immediately after receiving a tattoo so, y’know, don’t get a tattoo right before your trip to Hawaii.

Process your emotions.

What is your motivation for getting a tattoo at this particular moment? If you’re in a vulnerable, emotional headspace, consider if that’s what makes you want this tattoo. Sometimes this can make for a cathartic experience, but sometimes not. You have to determine which it is for you because it might affect how you feel about the tattoo years after you get it.

Don’t get drunk the night before.

Getting a tattoo when you’re hungover is awful for you and your tattoo artist. It also makes us worry about how well you will heal up if you’re dehydrated. A healthy body is the best plan for healing your tattoo so don’t close down the bar the night before.

No, you can’t get a twofer.

I cannot count the number of times that a couple has walked in and asked what the shop minimum is for a tattoo and then asked if they can get a twofer on matching tattoos. No, there is no twofer deal. The tattooer cannot reuse supplies on you after tattooing your girlfriend.

Be nice.

Tattoo shops used to be rough-and-tumble places but the industry has changed. In 2019 most tattoo shops are welcoming places, full of fascinating artwork and storytellers. You don’t need a tough façade. Say hello to the person that takes care of the paperwork and be nice to the tattooers. Each person in the tattoo shop is a part of making your tattoo and your experience special.

Most artists pay out the shop or pay rent.

There is no escaping the fact that a tattoo is a pricey investment but it’s also a permanent piece of artwork on your body – it shouldn’t be cheap! Keep in mind that the vast majority of tattooers are paying rent to the shop owner. The industry standard is for tattooers to pay 40% of the cost of the tattoo to the shop as rent. And remember, you are only charged for the time that you are being actually tattooed. Tattooers do not charge for consultations, drawing time, revising, set up or cleaning time.

State law varies but you will have to sign a release form.

It is the law! Tattoo shops have to follow it or risk being closed so don’t be weird about it.

Bring tip money for your artist in cash.

Tip 15-20% on the cost of your tattoo and do it in cash so the tattooer doesn’t have to pay for credit card processing fees on the tip.

Don’t make sexist assumptions about who is a tattooer.

The shop that I work in is co-owned by a woman with more than twenty years of tattoo experience. She once told me a story about another shop that she worked in where she was the only woman. Clients would routinely assume that she was not a tattooer and even today we have clients who react with surprise when they hear she is a co-owner. This should be self-explanatory, but don’t bring your sexism into a tattoo shop.

Related: 6 Women Share Their First Tattoo Experiences

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1 Comment

  1. This is great advice! I think its important for us as customers to remember that some artists are super busy and that we have to beeee patient.

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