Preparing For A Tattoo: 15 Steps Not To Forget

  • Written By Dan Hunter on May 26, 2019
    Last Updated: November 26, 2020

If you check out almost any tattoo blog or the websites of tattoo artists, chances are you’ll find a whole lot of information about what to do after you get your tattoo. Just about every online space concerned with tattoos will have resources that walk you through detailed aftercare instructions.

Of course, that’s great, but what about before you get a tattoo? Is there any important information you should know when preparing for your new ink?

There is. While it might not always be as crucial as the care you take after getting your tattoo, smart pre-tattoo preparation can still make a huge difference.

We’ve put together the most important steps you should take, and the top things to consider before even stepping foot into the tattoo shop.

How To Prepare For A Tattoo

1. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water isn’t just a way to make sure your body functions well; it’s also critical for keeping your skin healthy. By keeping your skin in top condition, your body will heal and recover more swiftly once the tattoo is complete. Don’t neglect your water intake in the buildup process, and don’t load up on caffeinated drinks, as this could negatively affect your sitting.

2. Shave the Area You’re Getting Tattooed

Remember, you’re getting your skin tattooed, not your body hair. Shave away any long or thick hair that could obstruct the tattoo needle and cause complications for the tattooing process. While tattoo artists will generally have razors and shaving cream on hand to do this for their clients when needed, it’s not a bad idea to save time and make your session more efficient by doing it yourself.

Be cautious when shaving, however, since any cuts or nicks will have to heal completely before you get your tattoo. If you’re not confident in shaving the area correctly, leave it to your tattoo artist.

3. Keep Your Skin Clean

Using the tattoo machine to apply the ink to your skin is a delicate procedure, and any obstacles in front of a clean and simple application can result in a tattoo with imperfections. Make sure you keep your skin clean and exfoliate, especially on the morning of your tattoo. Getting rid of any dirt and dry skin will make it much easier for the tattoo artist.

4. Ease Up on the Skin Care Products

Your morning routine might involve all sorts of lotions or skin creams, but you should consider skipping any that aren’t necessary on the day you’re getting tattooed, especially makeup and fake tan on the areas that are going to be worked on.

Skin is a different medium for a tattoo artist to work with, so the best thing to do is to make sure it’s clean and free of any products to make it easier for your tattoo artist to apply the ink directly to your skin.

5. Avoid Sunburn

Be diligent about applying sunscreen on the weeks leading up to your tattoo. A sunburn is something you definitely do not want when the day of your tattoo comes. Not only would it make getting the tattoo even more painful, but it could also prevent it from healing properly, leading to imperfect ink distribution. Some artists may even refuse to tattoo over a sunburn. It’s a good idea to keep out of strong sunlight for at least a few days before your sitting.

6. Get a Full Night’s Sleep

You want to be comfortable when you’re in the tattoo artist’s chair, but you won’t be if you’re exhausted. Go to bed early the night before and give yourself plenty of time to fall asleep, especially if being nervous about getting tattooed might keep you up a bit later than usual.

Being tired will also make the session feel like it’s taking longer, so make sure you’re not spending the entire time in your tattoo artist’s chair yawning and feeling the urge to stretch and fidget. Sleep is also an important factor for your body when it comes to the healing process afterwards, too; so get those z’s!

7. Don’t Show Up Hungry

Again, you’ll be sitting through the tattoo session for an extended period of time, so don’t show up on an empty stomach. Make sure you eat and drink enough before coming; not so much that you’ll feel bloated or uncomfortable, but enough that your stomach won’t growl and you won’t feel parched.

If you’re going to be sitting for a particularly long session, you might want to bring a small snack and something to drink. Bring something light that’s also easy to eat, so you can have it when there’s a moment of downtime. Of course, smaller tattoos may only take an hour or two, so snacks in these cases may not be required.

Also, don’t bring any messy foods in. Tattoo artists like to keep a clean studio, so avoid anything that will easily spill or leave crumbs.

8. Wear a Comfortable Outfit

The reason for this is two-fold.

Firstly, you will be spending a long time under the tattoo machine, so you don’t want to be wearing something that feels itchy, too tight, or something you feel needs to be constantly readjusted.

Secondly, you want to make the area you’re getting tattooed on is easily accessible. If you’re getting your calf tattooed, for example, show up in shorts or a skirt instead of skin-tight jeans.

Be aware that when you show up dressed in a way that doesn’t give easy access to the skin you want tattooed, you will likely have to remove some of your clothes. Tattoo artists are used to seeing just about every part of their clients’ bodies, but you might not feel completely comfortable if you have to take off more clothes than you would otherwise need to. If you wear something that is comfortable and that doesn’t get in the way of the body area getting inked, your tattoo experience will be much better.

9. Mute Your Phone

You might feel more relaxed when you have your phone in hand, but this is not the right time to keep actively using it. For one thing, the constant buzzing of notifications will be distracting to your tattoo artist. Continuously checking your notifications might also be a problem, since it means you’ll likely be fidgeting when you should be holding still.

If it helps you put up with the pain or the length of the session, you might want to use your phone to listen to music. That’s usually fine, but ask the tattoo artist how they feel about it before you do, and wear earbuds so the music doesn’t distract them.

10. Don’t Show Up Intoxicated

We get it, a lot of people are scared of needles, worried about the pain, or just plain nervous about the whole experience. Nevertheless, resist the urge to use drugs or alcohol to steel your nerves before getting tattooed.

Alcohol thins the blood, so showing up drunk might compromise your tattoo, or put you at a higher risk of a problem. Your tattoo aftercare will also be impaired while alcohol consumption continues.

You might also have to make some on-the-spot decisions about your tattoo, and you’ll want to have a clear head when you do. Nobody wants to live with permanent choices they made while they were under the influence.

And then there’s the fact that being drunk or high might make you a lot less pleasant to be around (no matter how charming you feel). A tattoo is a professional exchange and you want to bring your best self to the session.

Finally, being anything but sober might make it harder for you to sit still and remain calm.

Note that all good artists will turn you away instantly if they feel you may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

11. Ask Questions

You want to be comfortable and confident about what you’re doing, so don’t hesitate to ask your tattoo artist, or any of the other staff any questions you might have.

If you want to know what kind of procedures they have in place to make sure their equipment and facilities are kept safe and clean, ask them to give you a quick run-through of them. Not only might it ease your nerves, but it’s a good way to make sure you’re getting tattooed with properly sterilized equipment.

You should also raise any concerns you have about the tattoo itself. If, for example, you’re not sure whether a certain color will come out looking great with your skin type, bring it up to your tattoo artist; don’t just cross your fingers and pray it comes out right.

Some tattoo artists will offer free touch-ups (if you follow the aftercare routine they recommend), but don’t assume they will. If you’re wondering whether touch-ups will be covered, now is the time to ask.

12. It’s Customary to Tip

Although, strictly speaking, it is entirely optional, it is customary to tip your tattoo artist (at least in the United States).

Factor the tip into the overall cost of your tattoo and make sure you have enough cash on hand (or money in your bank account, if you’re paying with a debit card) to cover it.

There’s no set or predetermined tip amount. Unlike tipping waitstaff, we haven’t collectively come up with a fixed custom for tipping tattoo artists. Still, it’s best to avoid tipping too little or too much, and a good rule of thumb is to tip around 15 to 20 percent.

13. Don’t Turn the Session into a Party

You might want to bring someone along with you, especially if you’re nervous and want some moral support. Whether you should or not depends on a few different factors.

If the tattoo studio is on the smaller side, there might not be any room for additional guests without them getting in the way of the tattoo artist. In addition, you should never bring more than one person, since that is bound to make things crowded and interfere with the tattooist’s work.

If you do wish to bring somebody for moral support, always ask ahead of time to see if it’s alright, and always respect your tattoo artist’s wishes.

Also, you should never bring a child with you while you’re getting tattooed. It is difficult for children to sit through long tattoo sessions patiently. While you’re getting tattooed, you also won’t be in a position to stop them from touching the equipment or digging through drawers and cupboards, and the additional stresses aren’t fair on your tattoo artist.

14. Postpone Your Session if Needed

You’re excited to get your tattoo done and you might have had to wait a long time for your tattoo artist to have an opening. Maybe you even had to ask for time off work and line up a babysitter in order to prepare sufficiently.

Still, you shouldn’t hesitate to postpone your tattoo appointment if you need to. If you get a sunburn, wake up with a pounding headache on the morning of your session, or have come down with a contagious illness, call your tattoo studio and let them know – it won’t be a good experience for yourself or the artist if you’re not fully ready for your ink.

However, while the shop should have no problems with rescheduling your appointment, you should be aware that if you leave the cancellation notice until very short notice, there may be a charge if the tattoo artist doesn’t think they’ll have enough time to book another customer into the canceled slot.

15. Don’t Forget About the Aftercare

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.