Getting A Tattoo: 41 Step Checklist

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 25, 2018
    Last Updated: December 4, 2020

Planning and preparing for your tattoo can be a daunting task. Even if it isn’t your first time getting a tattoo, there are still many things to do and remember in order to ensure the whole experience goes as smoothly as it possibly can.

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 and special piece of body art.

The Days Before Your Appointment

1. Don’t Get Sunburn

Walking into a tattoo shop and asking to be inked over sunburnt skin is something you should definitely avoid.

Skin that is sunburnt 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 tattoo artist (blood pooling over areas that the tattoo artist is trying to work on).

Plus, when the sunburnt skin sheds, it will likely take a lot of the tattoo ink with it, requiring areas of pigment drop out and need for a touch-up.

2. Ensure There Are No Significant Markings On The Skin

Deep cuts, scratches, and thick/unhealed scars can all create uneven patches of skin which can make it difficult for tattoo artists to work with.

Therefore, try to make sure your skin is in great condition before getting to the tattoo shop. Moisturizing for a week or two before your appointment can also help to make the skin more supple and easier to work with.

3. Don’t Drink Alcohol The Night Before

Not only will you feel like rubbish while getting a tattoo with 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 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

4. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water leading up to your appointment will not only keep your skin healthy and hydrated, but it will likely make you feel much more alert and energetic too.

5. 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 of sleep? Me neither. Therefore, you should get at least 7/8 hours of rest the night before.

Walking into the tattoo shop unrested can lead you to become grouchy and fidgety throughout your session, which could, in turn, have detrimental effects on the final outcome of your body art.  Plus, being tired lowers your pain threshold and that’s no fun!

Additional Info: Sleeping With A New Tattoo

6. 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 extra.

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 tattoo artist.

Additional Info: How Much Do Tattoos Cost?

7. 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 tattoo 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. A simple email to your tattoo artist can prevent a potentially costly and embarrassing mistake.

8. 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.

9. Give Your Artist All Of The Details

If you haven’t already, give your tattoo artist everything they need in order to complete the tattoo to the exact specifications 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 tattoo artist as soon as possible will ensure they have enough time to get everything drawn up and perfect for when you come in.

Additional Info:  How To Email A Tattoo Artist

10. Get A Doctors Note

Nearly every professional tattoo studio will require you to sign a waiver before your tattooing session begins. Most waivers will ask you to disclose all medical conditions that could affect you during your time in the artist’s chair. These waivers will also usually ask you to declare that you’re of legal age to get a tattoo.

If your tattoo 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. And, don’t lie. These questions are asked for a reason – so that you get a great result. 

11. 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.

On The Day Of Your Appointment

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.

12. 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.

Additional Info: How Old Do You Have To Be To Get A Tattoo?

13. Don’t Go If You’re Ill (Or Drunk)

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 to rearrange your appointment for another day.  The same holds true if you have a cold sore as the virus that causes it can jump into broken skin and have a disastrous effect on your artwork.

Likewise, don’t even think about going in to get a tattoo while under the influence of alcohol. It will not end well.

Additional Info: Can You Get A Tattoo While Sick?

14. Pack A Small Bag Of Essentials

There are a few things you can take to a 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 for listening to music to take your mind away from the tattoo pain.

15. 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 may cause a drop 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.’

Additional Info: What To Eat Before Getting A Tattoo

16. Shower/Bathe Beforehand

The last thing tattoo artists want to do is be up-close to a stinking armpit all day if they’ve got an upper arm session to perform on you.

Ensure you’re well-washed and smell as close to neutral as you can. Your tattoo artist probably won’t appreciate hugely overpowering aftershaves/perfumes either.

17. Wear Something You Don’t Mind Getting Ruined

You’re likely to get small amounts of blood and tattoo ink splattered on whatever you’re wearing on the day, so make sure you don’t leave the house in your favorite outfit.

18. Don’t Shave The Area If You’re Unsure How

If your skin needs to be shaved and you’re uncomfortable with doing it yourself, your artist will do it for you. You don’t want to risk cutting your skin or getting razor burn before arriving at the studio.

Additional Info: Shaving Before A Tattoo

19. Ask Your Artist About Pain Relief

For people wanting a little extra assistance for dealing with the pain, a good tattoo numbing cream can really help to take the edge off.

One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is Zensa Numbing Cream, which contains the highest level of Lidocaine allowed by the FDA for over-the-counter use. The feedback left by thousands of customers for this product is nothing short of exceptional.

Just follow the instructions supplied with the cream and apply shortly before your tattoo appointment is due to begin so that you can look forward to a less painful and more comfortable tattooing experience. The amount of cream you get in a tube also ensures you have more than enough for a large tattoo.

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?

20. Don’t Be Late

The Artist may have more appointments after you that they will want to be on time for.

Being late might also mean your body art doesn’t get finished and you may have to come back at some other time to get it completed. Instead, try to arrive early so you can get used to the atmosphere and make yourself comfortable inside the shop.

21. Get In The Correct State Of Mind

Yes, tattoos 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 tattoo pain, and that you’re going to have to tap out of the session early, then you probably will. Pain tolerance is highly psychological.

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, even if it does hurt a bit.

Remember many people go back time and time again for new tattoos, so the pain can’t possibly be that bad!

If you tattoo artist allows it, bringing a friend to your appointment can help a lot with distraction.

During Your Tattoo Sitting

22. Get Comfy

Some tattoos will require you to sit still for very long lengths of time, and therefore you will be much more at ease and relaxed if you’re able to get into a position that you can remain in for a while without getting uncomfortable and twitchy.

23. 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 tattoo 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 the tattooing process – they should be able to give you a very sufficient answer.

24. 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.

25. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For A Break

Even the toughest of people sometimes reach a breaking point where the pain just becomes too much. Getting a tattoo can also feel overwhelming and stressful, which can heighten the perception of pain, and can cause the area to hurt quicker than it may normally do.

If you’re really starting to struggle and your pain escalates, let your artist know so you can arrange a quick break and get yourself together before going again and pushing 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 allow the fresh air makes you feel better.

26. Don’t Make any Sudden Movements

It’s inevitable that during a long session you’ll likely have to move about somewhat to stop shaking while holding a certain position, or to get rid of a bout pins and needles, for example.

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. Tattoos can be sent off-track from a big jolt or a shake.

After The Sitting Has Ended

Getting a tattoo is just the start of your journey. In order for everything to 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.

27. Consider Tipping 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).

Additional Info: Tipping Tattoo Artists

28. 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 to make sure everything heals as well as it possibly can.

Additional Info: Tattoo Aftercare – The Ultimate Guide

29. 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 tattoos, so it’s important to 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?

30. Ask About Aftercare Products

Most tattoo shops sell a range of 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.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

Additional Info: What To Put On A New Tattoo?

31. 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 up 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 as well as you should have.

Additional Info: Tattoo Touch Ups

32. Treat Your Body Like A Temple

The healthier you and your body are 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?

33. 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 stress from having needles poking in and out of it thousands of times a minute for several hours).

34. 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 going 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).

35. Get Help If You Need It

To tie in with the point above; your artist should 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. They’ve seen a million healing tattoos before, so they will likely be able to give you a good amount of advice if you’ve been getting aftercare issues.

36. Wash Your Tattoo Often

It’s essential to keep tattoos 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 during the day when 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

37. Don’t Apply Too Much Lotion

While you should apply an appropriate lotion after cleaning and drying your tattoo, you should never put it on too thickly. Doing so could suffocate the tattoo and starve it of the clean air it needs in order to heal quickly and effectively.

Additional Info: How Often To Apply Lotion On A New Tattoo

This is FAR too much lotion and some should be blotted off with a paper towel

38. Keep Your Tattoo Out Of The Sun

There are few things more harmful to tattoos 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 tattoo 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 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.

Additional Info: Tattoos & The Sun / Can I Put Sunscreen On My New Tattoo?

39. Don’t Go Swimming

Bathing with a tattoo, be it in a lake, pool, jacuzzi, river, or bath is a big no-no.

All bodies of water contain 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, tattoo bleaching, and irritation.

Don’t go into any body of water (besides the shower) until your tattoo has completely finished scabbing and peeling (at least 2-3 weeks for most people).

Additional Info: Swimming With A New Tattoo

40. Don’t Shave For A While

Shaving over a tattoo too soon can cause potential damage and even infection.

Ideally, you should wait a minimum of two weeks for your tattoo to heal before shaving. If sensitivity and pain around the area remain after two weeks, wait for as long as necessary.

Additional Info: Shaving A New Tattoo

And most importantly…

41. Enjoy Your New Tattoo!

The most important step of all. Now your tattoo has healed and is looking better than ever, make sure you enjoy it and show it off as much as you possibly can.