6 Common First Tattoo Mistakes—Plus How to Avoid Them

common first tattoo mistakes
Credit: Luis Cruz

When I think back to my first tattoo experience, my strongest memories are of the excitement and anxiety I felt in the lead up to the appointment. The excitement is self-explanatory—I was finally getting a tattoo; something I’d dreamed of for years. But the anxiety was unpleasant and muted my excitement. It largely stemmed from a lack of research—How much would this hurt? How long would it take to heal? How much would it cost?

Not thinking of these specific questions ahead of time was a crucial misstep. And honestly that’s one of several relatively common first tattoo mistakes. But it’s a mistake that anyone else considering a tattoo can easily avoid. 

In a quest help you prevent six common first tattoo mistakes, we turned to tattoo artists for their professional opinions. Here they weigh in on the most common bout those mistakes, how not to make them, and how best to prepare for your first tattoo. 

1. Not doing research in advance

The day of your appointment is not an ideal time to question your artist or realize you don’t know where you want your tattoo to go, what it will cost, or how your upcoming resort vacation will affect its healing. To avoid this, research is necessary. (Check out our 13 Things You Should Know Before You Getting a Tattoo.) “In today’s digital age, it’s so easy to do tattoo research. You can even start by simply searching through hashtags on Instagram,” says Oakland-based artist Lianna DeGuzman. “Plan for your tattoo by thinking of an idea and placement. Look at different styles to see what best fits your vision and then research artists to find someone who specializes in it.”

Echoing this advice, Noelle Currie, resident artist at Brooklyn’s Nice Tattoo Parlor, says that “the most important piece of advice I can give someone thinking of getting their first tattoo is to research your artist—looking at their Instagram or website is a great way to do this.” It also helps ensure that researching your artist—that is, finding one you love and trust—is an enjoyable, leisurely process. Plus, the sooner you find an artist, the sooner they become an amazing resource for any questions you have related to the process our artist (think: cost, healing, pain, and placements) and how to prepare best as well. 

2. Asking to copy another artist’s work

Despite being one of the more common first tattoo mistakes, this point is a huge no-no in the world of tattoo. As the art form continually gains popularity—This is a big no-no when you’re getting tattooed, but it’s also one of the more common first tattoo mistakes. As tattoos continue to gain popularity—almost half of Millennials in the United States have at least one tattoo, and that number is only growing—so does tattoo artistry, as well as their many different unique but defined styles.

“Never ask an artist to copy someone else’s design or to tattoo a style other than their own,” emphasizes DeGuzman. Doing so, she explains, shows you care little about your own artist’s style and disrespects the artist whose design you’re attempting to replicate. If you love a piece you’ve seen elsewhere and would like a rendition of it, feel free to bring it as design inspiration to your appointment—but only as inspiration. Don’t expect a carbon copy, especially if your artist’s style is fundamentally different than your favorite piece of flash.

3. Coming in sick, hungover, or hungry

“Get a good night’s sleep, drink lots of water, and eat a good meal before you get to your appointment,” advises Los Angeles tattoo artist Melissa Contreras. Taking care of your body ahead of getting tattooed makes the appointment easier for both tattooer and client—and perhaps most importantly, can help expedite the healing process. If you’re hungover or sick, you may experience more pain while actually getting tattooed because your body is already allocating so much of its energy to healing.

What’s more, if you were imbibing a bit too much the night before, it’s possible you could still have alcohol in your bloodstream. That can lead both to heavier bleeding while also causing the ink to have a harder time settling into the skin. In contrast, drinking lots of water and eating in advance provides your body with the energy it needs to sit through an appointment as comfortably as possible.

4. Avoiding the budget conversation

Tattoos can be expensive. Because of their sometimes steep price tags, saving may be necessary in order to afford a high quality design from an experienced tattooer. Some tattooers charge by the hour, while others charge by the piece and both typically have minimum prices that leave even the smallest, most simple tattoos costing upwards of $100. (Here’s our guide to figuring out exactly how artists make their hard-earned cash.)

Regardless of whether your design is big or small, simple or complex, understanding your artist’s cost structure and defining your budget is a crucial step in the tattooing process for anyone who may be concerned about money. When you reach out to an artist to book an appointment, inquire about their rates and ask them to provide a rough quote up front. Knowing these numbers will help you budget accordingly.

“A tattoo is on you for the rest of your life, so it’s a big investment,” says DeGuzman. “If the artist gives you a rough estimate, always save a bit more. There’s a popular saying when it comes to tattoos: ‘Good tattoos aren’t cheap, and cheap tattoos aren’t good’.”

One caveat, though: Remember that quotes generally don’t include applicable taxes or tips, which can add up. (And yes, you should always, always, ALWAYS tip your artist generously.)

5. Ignoring the advice of your artist

You want your first tattoo to be perfect; to look exactly as you’ve always imagined. But it’s entirely possible that your original design concept may not translate to a great tattoo—no knock or anything. Therefore, rather than expecting that your artist can design and tattoo a piece exactly as it appears in your imagination, Contreras recommends that you ask for their advice. Neglecting to do this is another one of the more common first tattoo mistakes people make. “Getting a tattoo includes giving over some control, having faith that your artist knows what they’re doing, and being open to their suggestions and advice,” she says.

6. Feeling pressured 

Just because you’re trusting your artist to design your tattoo doesn’t mean you need to get their drawing tattooed exactly as-is. If you see the design and want revisions made, you can and should ask for them. “never feel pressured into getting something you don’t want,” says Contreras. “Be honest. Your artist should be willing to work with you to adjust the design, size, and placement to some extent.” After all, remember this your body we’re talking about.

If you liked our post 6 Common First Tattoo Mistakes—Plus How to Avoid Them, make sure to check out our story 4 Brilliant Ways to Make a Tattoo Heal Faster.

Join the Conversation


  1. My daughter got her 8th tattoo just last week, she put a deposit down for a certain Artist to do it and someone else did it. It’s now so distorted and horrible looking, It’s hot to the touch, She’s going to the ER tonight. What should she do. Concerned parent

    1. Hi Julie,

      It sounds like you made the right move heading to the ER. Good luck and please let us know how everything turns out.

      – Inside Out

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