Getting a Tattoo: Crucial Tips for Tattoo Beginners

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 25, 2018
    Last Updated: March 14, 2022

Preparing for your first tattoo can be a daunting task. Even if it isn’t your first time inked, there are still many things to remember to ensure the whole experience goes as smoothly as it possibly can.

Take a read through our enormous and exhaustive list of everything you should and shouldn’t do as you prepare yourself for your journey towards that special piece of body art you’ve always wanted.

Make Sure You Know What You Want

Ensure you 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. This ensures the final outcome is exactly how you wanted it to be.

If you haven’t already, give your tattoo artist everything they need 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

Preparing for your Appointment

Don’t Get Sunburn

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

Skin that is sunburnt is already very damaged. Inflicting even more injury 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. Excess blood can cause issues with ink dilution and visibility problems for the tattoo artist.

Plus, when the sunburnt skin sheds it can take pieces of tattoo ink with it, causing areas of pigment to drop out and the need for a touch-up.

Ensure There Are No Significant Markings on the Skin

Deep cuts, scratches, burns, bruises and scars can all create uneven patches of skin which can make it difficult for tattoo artists to work with. Spots and acne can also present a problem if the area is particularly inflamed.

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 help to make the skin more supple and easier to work with.

Don’t Drink Alcohol the Night Before

Not only will you feel rubbish getting your first tattoo on a hangover but alcohol levels in your blood could still be elevated from the night before. Excess blood alcohol levels can thin the blood, meaning excessive bleeding during your session.

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

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water leading up to your appointment will keep your skin healthy and hydrated and will likely make you feel much more alert and energetic throughout the day of your tattoo.

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 aim to get at least 7/8 hours of rest the night before.

Walking into the tattoo shop unrested can cause grouchiness and fidgeting throughout the session which could have a detrimental effect on your tattoo.  Plus, being tired lowers your pain threshold and nobody wants that!

Additional Info: Sleeping With A New Tattoo

Make Sure You Have Enough Money

It’s important to know roughly how much your tattoo will cost to ensure you have enough cash available on the day. Find out beforehand whether your tattoo will be a fixed-cost piece or charged per hour. If it’s the latter you should take a little more money with you in case the session runs slightly over time.

Also, don’t forget other small costs you might incur on the day such as car parking, food, drink, tattoo aftercare products, and tips for your tattoo artist.

Additional Info: How Much Do Tattoos Cost?

Double-Check Your Appointment Time

The worst thing you can do is forget or 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.

Double-check your appointment details and make sure to write everything in your calendar if you use one. A simple email to your tattoo artist to go over scheduling can prevent a potentially costly and embarrassing mistake.

Get a Doctors Note

Every professional tattoo studio will require you to sign a waiver before your tattooing session begins. Most waivers ask you to disclose all medical conditions that could affect you during your time in the shop. 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 could make you unfit for getting inked then they may ask you to obtain a doctor’s note. The note 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 delays before they arise.

And don’t lie. These questions are asked for a very important reason. 

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 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 identification 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?

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 end up spreading your illness around the studio very easily.

Do the right thing and make sure to phone your artist as early as possible if you’re feeling unwell to rearrange your appointment for another day.  The same holds true if you have something as simple as a cold sore as the virus that causes them can jump into broken skin and have a disastrous effect on your artwork.

Likewise, don’t even think about getting tattooed while under the influence of alcohol. It will not end well.

Additional Info: Can You Get A Tattoo While Sick?

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 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 pain.

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.

Taking a sugary snack with you can help if 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 can cause nausea and fainting. Sugar can help to restore blood sugar levels and ‘perk you up.’

Additional Info: What To Eat Before Getting A Tattoo

Shower/Bathe Beforehand

The last thing a tattoo artist wants to do is be rubbing up against 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 aftershave or perfume either.

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.

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. Don’t risk cutting your skin or getting razor burn before arriving at the studio.

Additional Info: Shaving Before A Tattoo

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?

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

During Your Tattoo Sitting

Get Comfy

Some tattoos will require you to sit still for very long periods of time. You will be much more relaxed if you’re able to get into a position that 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.

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.

Be sure to ask your artist any questions you may have about any part of the tattooing process. They should be able to give you a very sufficient answer.

Let Your Artist Work In Peace

Don’t feel like you’ve done something wrong if your tattoo artist goes silent for a while. Although most artists will be happy to chat, some will prefer to stay quiet and get on with their work. They’re usually not being rude, they’re just trying to concentrate.

If you get the feeling that your artist is really trying to focus, 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 of people sometimes reach a breaking point where the pain just becomes too much. Getting a tattoo can feel overwhelming and stressful which can heighten the perception of pain.

If you’re really starting to struggle and your pain escalates, let your artist know so you can arrange a quick break and pull yourself together before going again and pushing through the rest of the day.

Let your tattoo 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 break.

Don’t Make any Sudden Movements

It’s inevitable that during a long session you’ll likely have to move about somewhat. This is usually so you can 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 they can pull the needle 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.

Wrapping Everthing Up

Getting a tattoo is just the start of your journey. You still have a long way to go in making sure your tattoo finishes up looking exactly the way you want it to.

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

Listen to the Aftercare Advice Given

Your tattoo artist will usually give you verbal and written instructions telling you how to look after your new tattoo over the coming weeks.

Make sure you take in all of the information carefully. It’s incredibly important to take care of your tattoo as it moves through the aftercare phase.

Additional Info: Tattoo Aftercare – The Ultimate Guide

Remove the Wrap When Instructed

Once the tattoo is complete, 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?

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 to improve healing during the important first few 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. Click here to buy from Amazon.

Additional Info: What To Put On A New Tattoo?

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 specific touch up policies. Some may charge additional fees, especially if the touch up is required because you neglected the tattoo during the healing process.

Additional Info: Tattoo Touch Ups

Tattoo Aftercare and Maintenance

Treat Your Body Like a Temple

The healthier you 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?

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 and damaging it.

Don’t Worry Too Much

You will see many things happen to your new tattoo that you won’t be expecting. The likelihood is that everything is going to be completely fine.

However, if you truly believe that something may be wrong with your tattoo, it may be best to get advice from 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 should be more than happy to help if you require 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 or show them. They’ve seen a million healing tattoos before and will be able to give you good advice for any arising issues.

Wash Your Tattoo Often

It’s essential to keep tattoos as clean as possible to promote healing and keep harmful germs and bacteria away. Wash your tattoo morning and night, and at any point during the day when you think it may have come into contact with something dirty. This should be enough to keep the tattoo sterile.

Clean the tattoo every day until it has completely finished scabbing and peeling.

Additional Info: How To Clean A New Tattoo

Don’t Apply Too Much Lotion

You should apply an appropriate lotion after cleaning and drying your tattoo. However, you should never put it on too thickly. Doing so could suffocate the tattoo and starve it of the oxygen it needs 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

Keep Your Tattoo Out of the Sun

There are few things more harmful to tattoos than the sun.

The UV rays that the skin is exposed to while in direct sunlight or on a tanning bed are extremely hazardous to new tattoos. UV exposure can cause blistering, rashes and faded ink if you’re not careful.

You should avoid applying sun tanning lotions while the wound is healing as they can contain harsh and harmful ingredients to your tattoo. 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?

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. This is 2-3 weeks for most people.

Additional Info: Swimming With A New Tattoo

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 is lingering after two weeks, wait a bit longer before shaving.

Additional Info: Shaving A New Tattoo

And most importantly…

Enjoy Your New Tattoo!

Congratulations are in order for getting your first tattoo and nurturing it throughout its most critical life stages. Now your ink has healed and is looking better than ever, make sure you enjoy it and show it off as much as you possibly can.