Getting Your First Tattoo - Everything You Need To Know
Planning and preparing for your first tattoo can be a daunting task. Even if it isn’t your first time, there are still many things to do and remember in order to ensure the whole experience goes as smoothly as it possibly can when you're getting a tattoo.
Check out our enormous and exhaustive list of everything you should and shouldn’t do as you prepare yourself for your journey towards that new special piece of body art.
Some of the points below are much more important than others when looking to getting your first tattoo, but the more of them you're able to tick off of your ‘todo’ list, the more likely it is that everything will turn out great.
The Days Leading Up To Getting A Tattoo
Don't Get Sunburn
Walking into a studio and asking to be tattooed over sunburn skin is something you should definitely not be doing.
Skin that is sunburned is already very damaged. Inflicting even more damage over the area will not only be more painful, but all of the extra blood that’s already sitting around the area trying to repair the burnt skin will also potentially cause problems with ink dilution, and visibility problems for the artist (blood pooling over areas the artist is trying to work on).
Ensure There Are No Significant Markings On The Skin
Deeps cuts, scratches, and thick/unhealed scars can all create uneven patches of skin which can make it difficult for an artist to work with.
Therefore, try to make sure your skin is in great condition before going to the studio. Moisturizing for a week or two before your appointment can also help to make the skin more supple and easier to work with.
Don’t Drink Alcohol The Night Before
Not only will you likely feel like rubbish while getting a tattoo on a hangover, but alcohol levels in your blood will probably still be elevated from the night before.
These excess blood alcohol levels can thin your blood, meaning excessive bleeding during your tattooing session (which is never a good thing). Oh, and it’s also illegal for a tattoo artist to ink you if they believe you’re under the influence.
Additional Info: Tattoos & Drinking Alcohol
Drinking plenty of water leading up to your appointment will not only keep your skin healthy and hydrated, but it will probably make you feel much more alert and energetic too.
Get Plenty Of Rest
Can you imagine how awful it must be to sit through 7 hours of tattooing on only a couple of hours sleep? Me neither; therefore you should get at least 7/8 hours of rest the night before.
Walking into the tattoo studio unrested can lead you to become grouchy and fidgety throughout your session, which could have detrimental effects on the final outcome of your tattoo.
Additional Info: Sleeping With A New Tattoo
Make Sure You Have Enough Money
It’s important that you know (at least roughly) how much you will be charged for your tattoo to ensure you have enough money available for it.
Find out beforehand whether your tattoo will be a fixed cost piece or a per-hour piece of work.
If it’s the latter, you should take a bit more money than you intend to spend in order to cover yourself in case the session runs slightly over in time and you need to pay a little more.
Also when getting a tattoo, don’t forget other small costs you might have on the day such as car parking, food, drink, tattoo aftercare products, and probably a tip for your artist.
Additional Info: How Much Do Tattoos Cost?
Double-Check Your Appointment Time
The absolute worst thing you can do is forget/miss your appointment. Not only will you not be able to get the tattoo you’ve wanted for so long, but your artist will also likely be left out of pocket with no customers to work on for the amount of time you were initially booked in for.
Double-check your appointment date and time, and make sure to write everything in your calendar if you use one.
Research, Research, Research
Make sure you really know exactly what it is you want to get tattooed on yourself. Try to think of as many little details as you can about what you want your finished tattoo to look like to ensure the final outcome is exactly how you wanted it to be.
Give Your Artist All Of The Details
If you haven’t already, give your artist everything they need in order to complete your tattoo to the exact specifications that you require. This means you should let them have any reference photos you've found, along with the desired tattoo location on the body, and the rough size you'd like your tattoo to be.
Giving everything to your artist as soon as possible will ensure they have enough time to get everything drawn up and perfect for when you come in.
Get A Doctors Note
Nearly every professional tattoo studio will require you to sign a waiver before your tattooing session begins, and most waivers will ask you to disclose all medical conditions that could affect you during the tattooing process.
If your artist thinks a particular medical condition may potentially make you unfit for getting inked, they may ask that you obtain a doctor's note which will state whether you’re medically suitable for the procedure or not.
By sorting any medical notes you think you may need in advance, you should be able to prevent any possible delays before they arise to ensure there are zero problems before getting your tattoo.
Think About Whether You REALLY Want This Tattoo
Before booking yourself in for your ink, sleep on your decision (and then sleep on it again) to make sure you know deep down that you really do want to get this tattoo. This is to help prevent any on-the-spot decisions that you could likely regret a few years down the line.
Of course, if you don't have any underlying medical conditions then you won't need to perform this step.
The Day Of Getting Your Tattoo
Preparing for your tattoo on the day can be nerve-racking, especially if you’re traveling quite far to the shop as you'll want to ensure you don’t forget anything vital. Use the list below to make sure you’re as prepared as you can possibly be on the big day.
Make Sure You Have ID
If you’re still young, or look young, be sure to have some form of ID on you so the shop can confirm your age when you get there. You may not be allowed to get tattooed without it.
Don't Go If You're Ill
Not only will you feel terrible getting tattooed if you’re not well, but you could also spread your illness around the studio very easily. This could mean you end up infecting others around you.
Do the right thing and make sure to phone your artist as early as possible if you’re ill in order to rearrange your appointment for another day.
Pack A Small Bag Of Essentials
There are a few things you can take to a tattoo sitting to make things a bit easier for yourself. Make sure you make a bag up which contains a few items such as a snack/lunch, plenty of water, a fully charged cell phone, and maybe some headphones.
Eat Beforehand And Take A Sugary Snack
Make sure you eat something wholesome and carbohydrate-based before leaving for the studio to keep your blood sugar levels elevated for the next few hours. A good sized meal should also help to keep you feeling alert and not too sluggish/drowsy.
Taking a sugary snack with you can help in case you start to feel light-headed or faint. Needles pumping in and out of the skin has been known to cause drops in blood sugar levels, which in-turn can cause nausea and fainting. A sugary snack can help to restore blood sugar levels and ‘perk you up.'
The last thing your artist will want to do is be up-close to a stinking armpit all day if he’s got an upper arm tattoo to do for you.
Ensure you’re well washed and smell as close to neutral as you can; your artist probably won’t appreciate hugely overpowering aftershaves/perfumes either.
Additional Info: Showering With A New Tattoo
Wear Something You Don’t Mind Getting Ruined
Don’t Shave The Area Of Skin That Is About To Be Tattooed
If your skin needs to be shaved, your artist will do it for you (and they will probably do a better job). You don’t want to risk cutting your skin or getting razor burn before arriving at the studio.
Ask Your Artist About Pain Relief
If you’re thinking of applying a skin numbing product before getting to the studio, make sure you have a conversation about it first with your artist.
Some numbing products can cause temporary changes to the outer layers of skin, which can affect how well an artist might be able to do their job, so it’s always best to check with them first.
Additional Info: How Bad Do Tattoos Hurt?
My Favorite Tattoo Numbing Product
One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is a spray called Vasocaine. The feedback left by hundreds of customers for this product is nothing short of sensational.
The fact that you can continue to 'top up' the numbing effect throughout your entire tattooing session without any negative effects to the outcome of the tattoo means that this spray is truly one of the most effective numbing products around today.
The 4oz bottle also ensures that you will have more than enough spray for a tattoo no-matter how big.
Give it a try, and I'm extremely confident that you will not be disappointed.
Read more about Vasocaine Numbing Spray here. Have a quick look at some of the customer reviews and you'll see why it's so popular.
Here's a selection of my other favorite tattoo numbing products.
Don’t Take Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and while a small amount can help you to concentrate and give you a good boost of energy, taking too much of it can make you fidgety and irritable, which is not ideal during a tattoo sitting.
Don’t Be Late
The Artist may have more appointments after you that he will want to be on time for.
Being late may also mean your tattoo doesn’t get finished and you may have to come back at some other time. Instead, try to arrive early so you can get a feel for the atmosphere and make yourself feel comfortable inside the shop.
Get In The Correct State Of Mind
Yes, the tattoo will hurt somewhat; you already know that. However, try to step into the shop with a good, healthy mindset.
If you walk in there thinking you’re going to really struggle with the pain, and that you’re going to have to tap out of the session early, then you probably will.
On the other hand, if you go in with a ‘can do’ attitude, the likelihood is that you will probably get through the process a whole lot better.
During Your Tattooing Session
Some tattoos will require you to sit still for very long lengths of time, and therefore you will feel much more at ease and relaxed if you’re able to get into a position that you feel you can remain in for a while without getting uncomfortable and twitchy.
Communicate With Your Artist
Tattoo artists are generally a very sociable and chatty bunch, and will usually be more than happy to have a laugh and a chat with you.
Also, don’t be afraid to let your artist know if you’re slightly nervous; they will always do their best to make you feel as comfortable as possible.
Finally, be sure to ask them any questions you may have about any part of tattooing process - they should be able to give you a very sufficient answer.
Let Your Artist Work In Peace
Although most artists will be happy to chat, some will prefer to stay quiet and get on with their work.
If you get the feeling that your artist is really trying to concentrate, it may be best not to bother them for a while and let them get on with what they do best.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For A Break
Even the toughest, strongest of people sometimes reach a breaking point where the pain just becomes too much. Getting your first tattoo can also feel overwhelming and stressful, which can heighten the pain.
If you’re really starting to struggle, let your artist know so you can arrange a quick break and get yourself together before going again and getting through the rest of the procedure.
Let your artist know if you’re feeling ill or faint; they may advise you to lay down for a few minutes or step outside for a short amount of time to see if it makes you feel better.
Listen To Instructions
Throughout the tattooing process, your artist will probably ask you to do several things (like sitting still in a particular position or keeping an item of clothing out of the way of the tattooing area).
Make sure you follow your artist's instructions as best as you can to ensure everything flows smoothly.
Try To Stay Still
It’s inevitable that during a long session you’ll likely have to move about a little bit to stop shaking while holding a certain position for example, or to get rid of a bout pins and needles.
If you feel like you need to move, let your artist know beforehand so he can pull the needles away from your skin to prevent any accidents. Likewise, if you need to cough or sneeze, try to let your artist know first.
After The Tattooing Session Has Finished
Getting a tattoo is just the start of your journey. In order for everything turn out as perfectly as possible, you still have a long way to go in making sure your tattoo finishes up looking exactly the way you want it to.
Tip Your Artist
While not customary in some countries, tattooing generally falls under the services industry in the United States, and therefore you should tip your artist roughly the same amount as you would for any other service industry worker (like waiting staff, for example).
Listen To The Aftercare Advice Given
Your artist will likely give you both verbal and written instructions telling you how to look after your new tattoo over the coming weeks.
Make sure you listen/take in all of the information extremely carefully as it's important you take care of your tattoo properly while it moves through the aftercare phase in order to make sure everything heals as well as it possibly can.
Additional Info: Tattoo Aftercare - The Ultimate Guide
Remove The Wrap When Instructed
Straight after your tattoo is finished, your artist will clean the area before proceeding to wrap it in either cloth or plastic (Saran wrap).
Every artist has their own unique methods when it comes to wrapping a tattoo, so it’s important you listen to them carefully and only take the wrap off when instructed to do so.
Additional Info: How Long Should You Keep A Tattoo Wrapped For?
Ask About Aftercare Products
Most tattoo shops sell a range tattoo aftercare lotions and ointments, which are full of ingredients that are designed to help your tattoo heal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Although these specialist products aren’t a requirement, they do generally help improve healing during the important first couple of weeks.
My Favourite Tattoo Healing/Moisturizing Lotion
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching.
Many other users of the product also advise that when using it from the very start of the healing process it appears to decrease healing times and seems to reduce heavy scabbing.
Read more about Hustle Butter here. Have a quick look at some of the customer reviews and you'll see why it's one of the most popular tattoo lotions.
Ask Your Artist About Their Tattoo Touch-Up Policy
Most tattoo artists are more than happy to go over your tattoo again for free if it ends with some slight blemishes or faded patches after healing.
However, make sure you ask your artist about their own specific policies, as some may charge additional fees, especially if the touch-up is required because you neglected the tattoo during the healing process and didn’t care for it well enough.
Treat Your Body Like A Temple
The healthier you and your body is in general, the better your tattoo is going to heal. If you’re eating well, staying hydrated, getting enough rest, and exercising often, then your body will be in prime condition to heal itself in the fastest and most efficient way possible.
Additional Info: How Long Does A Tattoo Take To Heal?
Don’t Get Drunk
At least not for several days after getting your tattoo. Not only will alcohol thin your blood and cause more bleeding, but you’ll also be at a much greater risk of knocking your tattoo about and damaging it further (it will already be under considerable duress from having needles poking in and out of it thousands of times a minute for several hours).
Don’t Worry Too Much
You will likely see many things happen to your new tattoo that you won’t be expecting, which could cause you to worry about whether something is going wrong. The likelihood is that everything is probably completely fine.
However, if you truly believe that something may be wrong with your tattoo, then it may be best to get further advice from either your artist or a doctor (if you suspect your tattoo may have become infected).
Get Help If You Need It
To tie in with the point above; your artist will likely be more than happy to help if you require any assistance or have any questions. Don’t hesitate to give them a ring or pop into the shop to see them if you have something to ask/show them.
Wash Your Tattoo Often
It’s essential to keep your tattoo as clean as possible to promote proper healing and to keep harmful germs and bacteria away from the wound.
Washing your tattoo morning and night, and at any point in the day where you think it may have come into contact with something dirty should be enough to keep the tattoo nice and sterile.
Keep cleaning the area every day until the tattoo has completely finished scabbing and peeling.
Additional Info: How To Clean A New Tattoo
Keep Your Tattoo Out Of The Sun
There are few things more harmful to a tattoo than that big round fireball in the sky.
The UV rays that the skin is exposed to while in direct sunlight (or on sun tanning beds) is extremely hazardous to new tattoos, and can cause blistering, rashes, and faded spots in the ink if you’re not careful.
Also, because most sun tanning lotions contain harsh chemicals and ingredients that can be harmful to your new tattoo, you should try to avoid applying any of these products while the wound is healing, and instead just try to keep the area out of the sun for at least 2-3 weeks.
Don't Go Swimming
Bathing with a tattoo, be it in a lake, pool, jacuzzi, river, or bath is a big no-no.
All kinds of bodies of water harbor many billions of germs and bacteria that can be harmful to your tattoo. Chlorine in a swimming pool can also dry out the area and cause burning and irritation.
Additional Info: Swimming With A New Tattoo
And most importantly...
Enjoy Your New / First Tattoo!
Hopefully, by this point, you now have a beautiful and incredibly impressive piece of body art that you’ll be able to cherish forever. Go out and show it off; you deserve it for managing to achieve everything else on this list!
Also, make sure to familiarise yourself with the popular quote below:
“Failing To Prepare Is Preparing To Fail”
Getting a tattoo is no different. Try to do it as best as you possibly can. If you attempt to tick off each individual point on this list, you can be confident in knowing that everything will probably turn out good in the end. You will never forget the experience of your first tattoo, so make sure it's a good one.