It’s hard to scroll past pics on the ‘gram of inspiring art-covered bodies and not wonder if tattoos could be for you too. Society’s wider acceptance of permanent ink, combined with its exposure on Insta has made tattoos more mainstream than ever. Nowadays one in three Americans report having permanent ink, and half of millennials say the same, as reported by IBISWorld in 2017. Millennials often don’t stop at only one either, a third of them have multiple pieces. But you need to learn the important things to know before getting a tattoo.
Even though they’re increasingly popular, committing to permanence is still a big deal. Sure, tattoo cover-ups and laser removal procedures exist, but they add up to mo’ money which equals mo’ problems. If you can try to get your tattoo right the first time, why wouldn’t you? We round up what you need to know before getting a tattoo so that your experience can truly be about expressing yourself and the art, not to be overshadowed by a creeping fear of f***ing up. Here’s everything you need to know before you sit in the chair and get inked.
1. Start your artist search by scrolling through social media
While there are a ton of tips to know before getting a tattoo, finding an artist that’s right for you is up there as most important. This decision shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it should be given more thought than what’s given to your Tinder matches. A tattoo is something that you’ll (probably) have with you forever, and aside from yourself, your artist has the most control over its result.
There’s no doubt that social media has changed the way we find tattoo artists. Brittany Randell, a tattoo artist based in Toronto, says that finding community groups through either Instagram or Facebook is a great way to discover artists. Artists can promote themselves and give followers a clear representation of their style, using their Insta accounts as portfolios of past work and flash pieces. :Flash tattoos are design concepts that the artist creates ahead of time,” explains Randell. She says there are a few different ways that clients can choose from flash designs: claiming pieces online, walk-ins, or flash sales hosted by an artist or shop.
If you don’t hear back and get left on read, see if they have their own website with contact info. Even if you’re not in the market for a new tattoo just yet, it’s a good idea to start following some artists. Through Instagram, artists like Randell announce available appointment slots, cities they plan to tattoo in, what shops they guest spot at, and post new flash. Here are some artists we think should be on your radar.
2. Seek out the right studio
When researching studios, always check the shop’s bio to gauge whether or not the shop might be a safe and welcoming space for you, particularly if you happen to be part of a marginalized community. Randell says that asking your artist the right questions will help ensure that the shop is somewhere you’ll feel at ease. Maybe you’ll want to know whether it’s a private or public studio, if they’re comfortable working on specific skin tones, or whether they have other marginalized tattoo artists that work there.
3. Get IRL recommendations
If you have that one friend that’s already covered in ink, ask them about their own experiences. While we’re all so tuned into our phones and what we see online, good ol’ fashioned word of mouth is a powerful tool. Assume pals (hopefully!) have got your best interest at heart and will give you their honest opinions and recommendations.
4. Work together to create the perfect piece
Once you’ve found your artist, it’s time for the fun part! Check their bio or FAQ if they have a website to see how they prefer to communicate, as some artists prefer direct messages on Instagram over email or vice versa. Keeping an open line of conversation through email or Instagram are the most common channels for artist-client communication, says Xiara Visaya from Anbu Tattoo Studio in Toronto.
5. Send as many photos as possible of examples or inspiration
They can be ideas from Pinterest, your own drawings, Google or the ‘gram — but keep an open mind to their artistic interpretation and changes. Some artists will respond with their renderings of the design, and at this point don’t be afraid if you feel it’s not what you had in mind or that they’ve taken too many liberties.
Remember, all art is created by someone. It’s ok to draw inspiration from others, it’s not OK to just straight up rip people’s work off. “Try to find the [tattoo] artist that did the original work, but if that’s not possible, get permission from the original artist to use it as a reference with another artist who’s more accessible to you,” suggests Randell.
It’s okay to not know for sure where you want your tattoo, but definitely give the artist an idea of possible placements, including location and size.
Be prepared to e-transfer a deposit at this time. An artist is taking time to work on a piece for you and a deposit gives them the security that their efforts don’t go to waste. Every shop and artist is different, some may charge $50 for a deposit while others charge $150 or more.
Don’t expect an immediate response. Artists usually set certain days to go through their emails, so it might take them a bit to get back to you. If you’re waiting for more than two weeks, feel free to send a follow-up email.
6. Respect the artist’s style
Though social media is great to discover artists, this doesn’t mean that you can just slide into an artist’s DM and request any kind of tattoo from them. It’s actually really important to match the artist to the type of tattoo you want. “Style is a big thing to consider,” says Visaya, who describes hers as a mix of anime and neo-traditional. “You want to make sure the artist you choose will fit the style of tattoo that you want, whether it’s linework, color, etcetera,” she says. So, don’t go to someone who specializes in minimal blackwork for a colored realistic floral piece. Remember, the best tattoos are true partnerships between artist and client, so be open to their suggestions and be vocal with your own feedback. You’ll also want to take note of whether the artist is a machine or hand poke artist. Both can be incredible experiences, but you’ll want to know in advance so there are no surprises the day-of.
7. Know the payment game before you get started
Tattoo studios are not flea markets, so bargaining is a no-go. “Not a lot of artists I know will tolerate ‘bargaining’ prices only because it takes a lot of time and effort for some pieces and the prices [are] given are based on that,” says Visaya. “So when someone asks for lower prices, it sort of makes us feel like you want a lower quality of work.”
As a general rule of thumb, artists charge more for custom pieces than their flash. Visaya says this is because artists have to create a whole new concept or redesign for the client, compared to flash that’s already pre-made. Some artists won’t give you a firm number for the price of your future tattoo, but you can definitely ask for an estimate so you can prepare to take cash out or make sure enough is in your bank account.
During the email consultation, check with your artist how they accept payment. Some shops accept debit, credit cards or e-transfers, while some prefer cash. If you’re getting a large piece, feel free to ask the artist whether they’d consider accepting the payment in installments – making it a little easier on your bank account.
8. Make sure you’re accounting for a tip, too
When saving up for your tattoo, make sure to account for the tip. Just like you tip your hairdresser, manicurist, esthetician, cab driver or waitstaff, tipping your tattoo artist once their job is done helps to show your appreciation. Tips can range from 15-30 percent, but a safe bet for a job well done is 20%.
9. Consider a test drive
If you’re still wavering on your exact design choice or placement, consider test driving the tattoo with inkbox. Browse Inkbox’s 2,500+ catalog designs created by artists around the world or use our custom tool to create any fresh design you have in mind. All of Inkbox’s tattoos look like permanent tattoos, but only last for one to two weeks, so they give you a chance to live with your prospective tattoo and placement of choice to see if it’s the right fit for you. Just a heads up, Inside Out is powered by the folks at Inkbox. It’s all part of our shared mission to empower you to tell your unique story, be it for now or forever.
10. Know the risks of getting inked before you get started
Once you have the design finalized, appointment booked and money in the bank, you’re probably feeling ready and prepared to go permanent. However, you should also make yourself aware of the potential risks. While this shouldn’t scare you off, the more educated and informed you are, the more at ease you’ll feel when you know you’ve made the right decision.
11. The tattoo parlor should 100 percent be clean
Before getting your tattoo, make sure the studio and equipment are clean. Everything must be sterilized before starting, and your artist needs to use all new everything. Chat with your artist about their set up process (which they should be doing in front of you) to ensure everything is new for your session. A quick bathroom check can be a good indicator of cleaning practices and attention to hygiene. In general, most shops have come a long way in cleaning and disposing of their tools properly, minimizing the risk for communicative diseases.
12. Complications can happen
Down the road, it’s possible for there to be complications as a result of your tattoo, such as allergic reactions or inflammations. If you’ve come across reactions to cosmetic products or hair dye in the past, consult your doctor whether or not they think it’s safe for you to continue with your tattoo. There can be reactions to tattoo ink depending on the individual and their specific skin sensitivities and allergies, but there are a few things you can do to be as preventative as possible. “It’s always best to reassure your artist of any allergies that you have. Just in case you forget, you sign a waiver form indicating any allergies or skin conditions the artist would need to know,” explains Visaya. She says that for any client’s first tattoo, it’s unclear how their skin might react, so it’s all a matter of carefully monitoring your tattoo while it heals. Randell suggests that clients get an allergy test of certain colors and dyes beforehand if they’re concerned, “You can also request for a tattoo swatch from an artist of colors you want to try.”
13. Be ready for forever
At this point you and your artist have decided on the design, you’ve saved up some dough and educated yourself on any potential risks. While you’re probably incredibly excited and ready to commit, just be mindful of a few things as you prepare for your appointment. Once you get your tattoo, you’ll definitely want to take care of it so it heals as intended.
If you’ve gone through this process thoughtfully, you’ll end up with something you love—you’ve now read and understood the things to know before getting a tattoo. Once your work of art has healed, cherish it, admire it, own it. It’s now a part of all the little things that collectively make you, you.