Getting a tattoo can be overwhelming—especially if it’s your first. (My first time was, well, interesting.) But no matter how much or little ink you already have, there are questions to ask your tattoo artist before your appointment, or frankly, before booking one. We actually recommend asking these questions to multiple artists before making your final decision–and definitely don’t let something like an artist’s celeb reputation or cost per piece dictate which shop or artist you choose.
Ask about the pricing and payment
But no doubt one of the best questions to ask your tattoo artist before your appointment is the cost per piece, as this can influence the design you choose. Keep in mind most artists calculate fees based on the size, detail, color and location of the tattoo, all of which influence how long it will take, in both hours and, sometimes, number of sessions. What’s more, some artists charge an hourly rate while others have a minimum and, once the design and location is confirmed, charge per piece. Bottom line: Cost is a factor to everyone, no matter how deep your pockets, so you’ll need to have a basic idea of the design, its size and location, figured out before nabbing a quote.
Another one of the important questions to ask your tattoo artist before your appointment is to ask what type of payment they accept. These types of regulations vary state and countrywide, as do a shop’s own policies, so it’s best to know if you need to hit the ATM beforehand and, if gratuity is suggested, if it can be added to a card. You’ll also want to confirm whether you need to give a deposit or credit card number to secure your appointment and what the shop’s cancellation policy is, in case you get cold feet.
Ask about their designs
While pictures of designs you like or are considering will help an artist determine the cost, it’ll also help you understand how the artist goes about creating a design as well as coming upon the recommended size of the piece specific to you. For instance, you may want a two-inch tattoo and, while some artists may oblige, others will let you know that it would look better at three or four inches.
What you don’t want to see, though, according to Jes Valentine, a tattoo artist in Brooklyn, New York, is someone tracing or copying another artist’s work. In her book, that’s stealing. Instead, she’ll use it as inspiration to rework and customize the piece if you’re set on that particular style. If you don’t have a picture, ask your artist what they’ll need from you to come up with a design, as you may be asked in return more nuanced questions regarding color, shading, thickness of lines, or whether you want something realistic or abstract, etc. If you’re not sure where to even start with this line of questioning, look through the Instagram feed of the artist you’re considering as well as others so you have a frame of reference.
Ask for their social media feeds
On the topic of Instagram, most artists and shops use the platform to showcase their work and explain the style they’re best at or most comfortable with. Let this guide you in selecting artists and shops to call about an appointment. It will save everyone time and, perhaps, frustration if you don’t call an artist about an abstract seascape who only big, bold, Sailor Jerry-esque tattoos. Another great thing about Instagram is that the answers to your questions may already be on their feed or in their Saved Stories. Is there a Q&A at the top? Click through before calling the artist–and never DM unless their profile says they’re cool with it, as most aren’t.
Ask about their artistic process
You may also want to know exactly how they tattoo. If you’re new to the scene, artists will usually make a stencil of your design and, using washable ink, transfer that stencil onto your skin. However, some artists, like Valentine, prefer to use stencils only for the main part of a design while freehand-designing the background and finer details. But again, this varies by artist and depends entirely on your selected artwork.
If you’re looking for a tattoo cover-up, make sure you’re upfront about it and send pictures before your appointment, unless the artist or shop requests an in-person consult. Cover-ups take longer and will always be bigger than the original. It will likely be much bolder and, possibly, more colorful than the original. Ask what your options are.
Ask about hygiene and aftercare
You’ll also want to have a few questions to ask your tattoo artist before booking your appointment related to hygiene, potential allergies, and aftercare. While online reviews aren’t always the most reliable, do a quick internet search to see if any major red flags pop-up about the artist or the shop you’re looking to visit. You can also confirm with your city or state’s licensing board that the shop is credentialed and, from there, see any health violations that have been assessed.
Remember, someone will be poking a needle into your skin many times over. Cleanliness is your biggest concern. Don’t be afraid to ask how the shop sterilizes their instruments and, once you’re in the chair, make sure you see the artist remove a new needle from its packaging and put on fresh gloves. Most artists will actually explain their set up as they’re doing it to ease your mind. You may also want to ask about the ingredients in their inks, especially if you have any allergies. Unfortunately, these answers may be muddled, as tattoo ink isn’t regulated.
Other things you may never think to ask: what to wear (loose clothing with easy access to the spot for your tattoo), should you eat (yes, have a meal and come hydrated–not hungover), do you need an ID (yes; don’t leave home without it), can you bring someone with you (one is usually OK, but no more out of respect for other clients), can you bring your child (get a babysitter and have some you-time), what if you have your period (try to book an appointment when you don’t; it will be less painful and your blood won’t be as thin).
After you get your tattoo and are healing, should anything look suspect, reach out to the shop or artist to address any concerns. If something like an infection arises, you’ll want to consult both your artist and your doctor.