Everything You Need to Know About Getting Your First Tattoo

getting your first tattoo

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So you’re done toying with the idea of getting a tattoo and have finally decided it’s going to happen. You are getting inked, so help you Kat Von D. What next? Run to the nearest parlor with a magazine tear of Rihanna’s latest body art and hop into the next free chair? Not so fast. First, you do some research.

Let’s do this. Image: GIPHY

The Shop

Your first step is to research the tattoo shops in your local area or wherever you intend to get tattooed. Word of mouth is invaluable in this step. Don’t know anyone with enviable tats to give you some pointers? Not a problem. The Internet is a wealth of knowledge these days. You can easily google online reviews, as any reputable shop will have an online presence. What do you need to know about potential shops?

“Tattoo artists need to be licensed, they need bloodborne pathogens certificates, they need to be trained. You need to go to a tattoo shop that is well organized and the people care about the cleanliness,” says Megan Massacre, tattoo artist and co-founder of Grit N Glory Tattoo Studio in New York City.

After selecting a handful of potential shops, visit them and see how the place looks and how the staff treats you and their clients. You want sterile, clean, professional — no risky business. Ask yourself, “Self, would I be comfortable with this person injecting me thousands of times over with a needle? Would I trust them with my life?” (Yes, HIV is a life and death matter.) Tattoos are serious business and any decent tattoo artist will reiterate this to you.

Pick an artist whose work excites you and who engenders your trust. Image: GIPHY

The Artist

After you’ve narrowed down your shops, you’ll want to survey the artists working there. Every experienced tattoo artist should have a portfolio with a nice selection of work to look over. Don’t settle for the first portfolio that tickles your fancy. Like any form of art, your tattoo artist’s work should speak to you. Keep looking around until you find an artist you truly admire and respect and whose work you would be thrilled to sport on your body for the rest of your life. Also, keep in mind that tattoo artists do different styles of tattooing. If you want a portrait tattoo, don’t go to a traditional artist. Lastly, if you have no idea what you’re looking for in a tattoo, Massacre advises to just pick an artist whose style you love, “then you know that no matter what you pick, you’ll love it.”

Tattoo artists can educate you on how tattoos will interact with your skin. Image: GIPHY

The Tattoo

Alright, now the fun part: Picking a killer piece of ink to flaunt on that fabulous blank canvas of yours. This part isn’t all fun and games, though, since there’s no turning back once you get inked. Lasers can fade any tattoo you may regret, but your skin will never be spotless again. Many people end up covering old tattoos with new ones because of this (Angelina Jolie’s Billy Bob shoulder tattoo, anyone?). Who better to get advice from than someone who removes tattoos for a living?

“Getting a tattoo before the age of 18 is almost a guarantee for regret,” says Ilona Ciunaite, tattoo and cover-up artist. Just picture your grandparents with tattoos of cartoons on their bodies and see how you feel about that sort of commitment. What other sorts of clients frequent Ciunaite’s shop? People who tattoo a person’s name other than their child, people who pick unknown or inexperienced artists for their tattoos and people who tell the tattoo artist to do what they want without speaking up during the process. Also, taking into account visibility and size is important depending on your line of work.

41 Cool Wrist Tattoos to Inspire Your Next Ink Session ]

Now that we’ve got the obvious mistakes out of the way, go pick up some magazines and inspire yourself with the most creative published work you can find and set up an appointment with your artist to discuss. Your artist should be able to fill you in on the best placement and size of your tattoo for the best quality and longevity. There are all sorts of technical aspects they will touch on as well that you would have never thought of, like how the curves of your muscles will affect the flow of your tattoo and how colored ink will stick to the pigment of your skin.

Beautiful regret-free tattoos come to those who wait. Image: GIPHY

The Timing

This one may not sit well with those of you looking to get your first tattoo marked off your bucket list as soon as possible, but the best possible advice most artists will give you, including Ciunaite, is to take your time. Take your time both researching and deciding what you want. The longer you take to make your decision, the better you will feel about it when that needle rams itself in and out of your tender flesh over and over again. Chances are, if you pick a decent artist you’ll be waiting months to get an appointment anyway.

Waiting will also give you time to save up because, when it comes to tattoos, you get what you pay for. If an artist is cheaper, it is because they are cutting corners elsewhere. This is not the time to hunt for a deal or look for cost savings. Your tattoo is for life and a good tattoo from a talented and respected artist will cost a lot of money. Do you want a knockoff or a real Birkin, ladies? If six months down the line you still want that Pride and Prejudice quote on your wrist and have comfortably saved up, you will take solace in knowing that your tattoo is not only symbolic of your creativity but also of your impressive decision-making skills. #adulting

Caring for your tattoo is important. Image: GIPHY

The Aftercare

Alright, you showed up sober and suffered for your art and now you’ve got your tattoo, but it isn’t quite over yet. Maybe you can disregard your esthetician when she tells you to apply lotion after your wax without consequence, but tattoo aftercare is not optional. Not unless you want to end up right back in that same chair in the near future to fix up faded ink or infected skin.

Whether it’s leaving on your bandages, avoiding tight clothing, washing your skin or applying ointment to your tattoo, your artist will fill you in on what’s required to make sure your tattoo heals properly and stays beautiful for years to come. Whatever you do, don’t pick at your tattoo or any scabbing. “Why pay all this money just to pick your tattoo off? Don’t pick it off!” says Bri Bird of Bri Bird Artistry. Your tattoo will not only require short-term immediate aftercare, but it will need attention for years to come, such as applying SPF before going in the sun and regularly moisturizing. Hey, did we not mention this was a lifetime commitment?

Image: GIPHY