How To Pick A Tattoo That’s Right for You

  • Written By Dan Hunter on June 15, 2018
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

Deciding on a new tattoo can be a daunting task. It’s not as simple as choosing a new color to paint your bedroom with. The tattoo is going to stay with you for the rest of your life.

It takes care, patience, and a little bit of research. This article will lead you through the key areas you should concentrate on, and it will hopefully help you choose a design that you will be proud to wear forever.

Decide If You Really Want a Tattoo

In my opinion, this is the most important factor. Deciding on a tattoo starts with the question: “Do I really want one?”

Many people make the decision far too quickly, and then have to live with the consequences infinitely. I don’t like making sweeping statements, but I’m going to break with tradition and make one now:

Never, ever, get a tattoo when drunk or under the influence of narcotics.

In many U.S. states, such as Texas, and in many countries around the world (including the US, UK, Australia and Canada), this is actually illegal. A good tattooist would never agree to it anyhow, regardless of the law.

Have you ever sent a drunk message on social media, before regretting it the following day? That type of regret lasts a day or two; a regretful tattoo will last longer. Much longer.

Here are some points I suggest you consider before getting a tattoo:

  • Do you want a tattoo because it is what you want, or what your friends want?
  • Tattoos are much more socially accepted than they were twenty years ago—but in some work/social environments, they may still carry some stigma.
  • Tattoo removal is a lengthy, painful and expensive process—will you still be happy to wear your tattoo for the next several decades?

Think about the above and then sleep on it. Speak with family and friends. Imagine what it would be like wearing the same tattoo for the rest of your life, looking at it day-after-day.

And then sleep on it some more.

Decide What You Want Your Tattoo to Look Like

Let’s assume you’ve now decided that getting a tattoo is the right thing for you. The next choice to make is to decide what you want it to look like.

What is ideal for one person may not be suitable for another. Here are my recommendations on what to consider.


If it’s your first tattoo, it might be wise to start with a smaller design. You don’t want to be 15 minutes into the tattooing process and decide it’s much too uncomfortable for you to endure. Small tattoos a quicker to get, generally less painful, and will give you a good idea about whether or not you want to go for more.

Larger tattoos can take hours, and potentially many separate visits to the tattooist. Having an incomplete tattoo may be worse than having no tattoo at all.


It’s very tempting to go for a tattoo design that involves many vibrant colors. While initially, this may look impressive, long term it may not be the right choice. Over time, darker colors may “flow” into lighter colors, and every color will fade. Yellows and reds can almost disappear.

These tattoos can be re-touched in the future to restore the coloration, but is that what you want? A simple two-toned tattoo, for example, requires less attention and looks impressive for longer.


As your body is basically a canvas, there is no limit to what your tattoo can represent. The body art should be a reflection of you, your loves, your outlook, your beliefs, or your personality.

Some subjects are timeless. Flowers, skulls, animals, water, fire and religious symbols have all stood the test of time as tattoo designs.

While the subject of your tattoo is a personal decision, I advise you to steer clear from certain areas:

  • Boyfriend/girlfriend names—they may be the love of your life now, but what about in the future?
  • Celebrities—they can fall out of fashion or from grace; Kevin Spacey may have been fine 10 years ago, today less so.
  • Politics—your left-wing or neoconservative views may change in the years to come.
  • Pop culture—despite loving Game of Thrones today, later in life you may wonder what all the fuss was about.

Choose Where You Want Your Tattoo to Be on Your Body

Consider the important four “P’s”—placement, practicality, popularity and pain. Let me explain:


You can help choose the placement of your tattoo by making a mock-up. Cut out an actual size printout of your tattoo and try it on different areas of your body.

With a little double-sided tape, you can check how the tattoo appears in front of a mirror. Alternatively, if you are an artistic type, draw the tattoo onto your arm with a non-permanent marker.


As already mentioned, tattoos are more socially acceptable in the workplace than at any other time in history.

However, some businesses still may not approve of tattoos, or actually even disallow them in their place of work. If that’s the case, a tattoo that can be covered up by clothing may be more suitable.


Some tattoos are particularly popular on specific areas of the body, such as the elongated tribal lower-back tattoo.

Look online for pictures of other people with a similar design to yours and see where they have it located. You may find some to be inspirational, and others a complete turn-off.


Some people have higher pain thresholds than others. I have heard the tattooing experience described as anything from a tickle, to being stabbed with knives.

While you cannot change your own pain barriers, you can alleviate the situation by having a tattoo in an area that is generally less painful.

The least sensitive areas are usually considered the thighs, calves, and butt. The more painful areas include the feet, chest and behind the ears.

Research Tattoo Artists and Studios Carefully

Remember, you are putting that important body of yours into the hands of other people when you get a tattoo. Taking time to research is essential.


Tattooing is a semi-invasive procedure, which, when done properly, carries little to no risk. However, there are a minority of unscrupulous tattoo artists who only care about the dollar and not about your health. Here are a few ways to check you are going to be completely safe:

Check Cleanliness

If you have a tattoo artist in mind, arrange a time with them to have a look around their tattoo shop. A professional will not mind, and will happily enjoy giving you a tour. Check how clean the studio is. Seeing old needles or bandages lying around is a bad sign.

Check the License

Different states, cities and countries have their own regulations, but most tattoo studios are required to be licensed. Check with the relevant authority that the tattoo shop you are considering has a license.


It’s great discovering that your tattoo artist has high levels of cleanliness, but a nightmare if you find out he or she is an awful artist.

The best way to check their ability is direct from the horse’s mouth. Friends and social media are a great way to see the quality of a tattoo artist’s work.

Put out a post asking who people recommend and then take a look at their work. Instagram is packed full of incredible art. You can also check review sites, such as Yelp, for recommendations in your area.

In addition, be bold. If you are walking down the street and see an amazing tattoo on someone, stop them and ask who the tattoo artist was. Trust me, you will not be looked at strangely. Nearly anyone with tattoos will be proud to know you’re admiring their body art, and will be pleased to share information.

Take Your Time

There is no rush required when picking an idea or choosing a tattoo that you’ll have to spend the rest of your life with. Take your time to check out studios, artists and their work. In the long run, it will be very worth it.

Pick out Some Design Ideas to Show Your Artist

A good tattooist can help you with choosing your design, but they are not mind readers and can’t guess the idea or example you currently have in your head without you presenting a good, detailed explanation.

As discussed earlier, the ink is part of you, not the artist. Expecting a tattooist to choose your design is like getting a complete stranger to select the color scheme for your house.

Always go to your artist with an initial idea. The internet is an invaluable source of images of not just tattoos, but art and inspiration in general. Remember, a good tattoo artist is exactly that; an artist.

Print out tattoos, artwork, logos, color schemes, and images of things that you would like in your design. It doesn’t have to be too specific. Then, present them to your tattooist.

For example, you may have found an amazing design of a flower. You adore the technique and bold colors, but have no interest in flora. Indicate to your tattooist that this is the style you want, but instead of a flower, you want a skull or a clock.

Experienced artists will use their own creativity to draw up a design you will love and that will be well-aligned with your initial idea.

Listen to Your Artist’s Opinion Carefully – They Are the Professionals

An experienced tattooist will have completed hundreds of tattoos, and will know what is best for you. That applies to health, care of the tattoo, and your actual design.

Just because you think a bright yellow image of a Ferrari on the top of your shoulder would look amazing, the tattooist may have a different opinion. Do not be annoyed if the artist suggests alternative locations, colors, or designs for the tattoo. They are not being awkward – they are just thinking about what is most beneficial for your specific circumstance.

For instance, you may want a small tattoo. However, locating it on a large expanse of skin, such as the back, will reduce its impact.

This leaves it looking more like a stain than a piece of art. A tattoo artist may suggest this little tattoo is more suitable for a smaller area, such as the inside of the wrist.

Equally, tattooists understand colors. Not only which ones work well together, but what is best for your skin type. Different color tones appear vastly different on light and dark skin. Your artist will know what is best.

Finally, listen to their aftercare advice – they know how to heal your new ink better than anyone. There are many things you should never do immediately after getting inked, such as swimming, going to the sauna, or sitting in a hot tub. Your tattooist is not being a killjoy, and is actually doing their best to look after you and your expensive ink.

Pick the Final Tattoo Design

Once all the above has been completed, you should now be ready to select the final design and choose your tattoo.

Many tattooists have books of “off-the-shelf” artwork that you can choose from. Alternatively, you may have come up with a design in collaboration with your artist. Either way, once it is selected, look at it. Then look at it again. Imagine carrying that art on your body for the rest of your life.

If there is something you are not completely happy with, tell your artist. They will be more than happy to make small adaptations so that your design is exactly what you want.

Then, sleep on it.


Deciding on a final design is a serious process, but one that can be thoroughly enjoyable if you know how to do it right. Following the steps outlined above will not only mean you get a beautiful piece of body art, but one that will bring you pleasure in the future.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly 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.​

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