What You Need To Know Before You Get Your First Tattoo

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and get your very first tattoo. Now, what?

For many of us, tattoos are considered to be a permanent form of self-expression. And, while expressing yourself is a beautiful thing, it is this permanent nature of the tat that deems it necessary for you to learn as much as you can before making a commitment.

This year marks my 25th Anniversary as an artist and I'm proud of what the industry has achieved.

Beauty is Pain

Getting a tattoo is a painful process but, the level of pain varies based on the size of the tattoo and where you get it. The places that inspire the most complaints are the ribs, fingers, feet, knuckles, knees, elbows, and other areas that are close to the bone. The knee and elbow pits are also sensitive.
Generally, fine lines feel like a cat scratching you slowly with a single claw. Shading feels like an eraser being rubbed against the skin over and over again. But, the good news is, when the tat is over, so is the pain. And, you’ll have a great new piece to show off for your trouble.
Do Your Research

We don’t want to put a damper on your desire to get a tattoo but, these personal pieces of art shouldn’t be an impulse buy. It’s recommended that you take your time and do some research before the needle ever pierces your skin.

Tattoo design: Your tattoo will probably be with you until the end of your days, so a timeless design is best. A Bugs Bunny tattoo may look great on a 20-year-old body, but it probably won’t do a 40-year-old any justice.

To find the perfect tat, check out tattoo magazines or do an online search to get some design inspiration. If you want something that fits your personality, consider getting a custom tat. You can also ask the artist to add custom elements to a popular design to make it uniquely yours.

The shop: When researching the tattoo studios in your area, word of mouth is an invaluable resource. But, if you don’t know anyone who’s sporting the quality of ink you want, head online and check out reviews of your favorite studios. Are they clean? Well organized? If the answer is no, you may want to choose another studio to do your tat.

The artist: One of the first things you must consider when choosing an artist is his or her specialization. Most tattooists have a preference and are skilled in one area more than others. For instance, some tattoos are masters at creating realistic designs while others are able to make even a simple flower look like a masterpiece.

Furthermore, the artist you pick should be licensed and trained, with the proper certifications. Also, he should have a portfolio for you to look through that showcases his best work. Like any other type of art, your chosen artist’s work should speak to you. If it doesn’t, keep looking until you find an artist you truly respect, admire, and whose work you will be happy to show off on your body.

If you want your ink done by a real pro, chances are you will be put on a waiting list. Take this time to do the needed research to ensure that you are genuinely ready to take the next step.

Err on the Side of Caution

Although beautiful, a new tattoo is essentially a fresh wound. And, like any other scrape or cut, it’s at risk for disease and infection. To minimize your risk of anything untoward, follow these tips BEFORE you head into the tattoo parlor:

  • Make sure that you’re up to date on your immunizations, especially your tetanus and hepatitis shots
  • If you have a medical issue (like allergies, heart disease, diabetes, immune-related disorders, etc.) ask your doctor about any special concerns or precautions you should take
  • If you are prone to keloids (an overgrowth of scar tissue), you should probably avoid getting tattoos altogether

Picking the Right Spot

If this is your first tattoo, don’t be surprised if the artist refuses to tat your hand or your neck. There’s a good reason for this. We are often judged by first impressions and those who have tattoos on prominent parts of their body are generally perceived in a negative light.

This may not matter in most cases, but it may affect your employment since visible tattoos are considered to be unprofessional. You don’t want to mess with your money and picking the wrong spot for your first tattoo may lead to unintended consequences. In other words, if you want to get your knuckles tatted, consider the repercussions first.

It’s ok if you are still wondering about the location of your tat when you arrive for your session. Your tattoo artist will be able to give you advice about the optimal size and placement of your ink for longevity and quality. He or she may also inform you about technical factors that probably never crossed your mind i.e. how the curvature of your muscles will affect the tattoo or how the ink will stick to your skin’s pigment.

Preparing for a Tattoo

Getting a tattoo is akin to running a mini-marathon. So, it’s important that you prep yourself beforehand.

One of the first things you must prepare for is the possibility of unwanted bleeding. To avoid excessive bleeding and possible damage to your new tat, stay away from the following blood thinners for 24 hours before going to the studio:

  • Alcohol
  • Coffee
  • Aspirin

You may also want to increase your consumption of foods that contain Vitamin C, like sweet vegetables and citrus fruits. They possess healing properties that will help your tattoo heal faster. In addition:

  • Drink a lot of healthy fluids like herbal tea, juice, soup, and water to help you remain hydrated
  • Eat before your appointment to give your body the fuel and sustenance it needs to last a few hours on the tattoo table

What To Bring and Wear to Your Tattoo Session

Tattoos aren’t usually a one-hour affair, so wear loose clothing to ensure your comfort. Doing so will also give the artist easy access to the body part getting tatted.

A sweater or jacket will come in handy as well. Sometimes, a long tattoo session will make you shiver, which indicates that your body is going into shock. Staying warm will reduce your discomfort.

Other items you will want on hand include:

  • Breath mints
  • Music and headphones
  • Water bottle
  • Change of clothes
  • Snacks
  • Tattoo aftercare cream

Hygiene is Key

During your session, you and the tattoo artist will be in each other’s personal space for hours. Don’t be the stinky customer that plagues your tattooist’s nightmares. So, before leaving home, make sure you:

  • Shower with soap
  • Brush your teeth
  • Put on clean, fresh clothes
  • Don’t overdo colognes or perfumes
  • Put your hair in a ponytail
  • Wear clean socks

Be Open Minded

If your tattoo artist suggests something that may enhance your chosen design, pay attention. He or she is an expert whose job is to provide you with the best experience possible.

If you are unsure about this advice, don’t be afraid to ask questions. This isn’t to say that you should go with his or her recommendation, only that you should keep an open mind.

The Price

With tattoos, you get what you pay for so you cannot expect a masterpiece for dirt cheap prices. Artists that charge low prices tend to cut corners. Do not sacrifice the quality of your tattoo just because you want to save a couple dollars.

Your tattoo will be with you for life and, as such, you will want to make sure it’s of the highest quality. And, there’s no way around it, a good tattoo from a respected and talented artist will cost a pretty penny. But, it’s also important to note that, the actual price will vary depending on the style and size of the tat you want.


Ok, you’ve suffered for your art and we commend you for your determination. But, the process isn’t quite over yet, we still have to discuss tattoo aftercare.

Taking proper care of your tattoo after you’ve left the studio is essential. Neglecting this aspect will surely see you back at the tattoo parlor because of faded ink or the doctor because of infected skin.

Thus, to prevent any unexpected/unpleasant experiences:

  • Keep a bandage on the area for at least one hour after getting your tattoo
  • Don’t touch the tattooed area or pick at any scabs that may have formed
  • Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap, peroxide or alcohol will dry it out. Use a soft towel to pat (not rub) it dry
  • If you are not allergic to antibiotic ointment, use some on your tattoo
  • If you see any swelling or redness, put an ice pack on the tattooed area
  • Avoid getting the area wet until your tattoo is fully healed. This means stay away from hot tubs, pools, or long hot baths
  • Keep your tattoo away from the sun until fully healed. If this is something you can’t avoid, put on sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 before heading out. Doing so will protect your skin and prevent any fading
  • Increase your consumption of onion and garlic. Many naturalists believe that their antimicrobial properties help a great deal
  • Avoid eating dairy products, sugar, and processed foods. These items are believed to slow down the body’s healing process

Also, if you notice any signs of infection, like excessive tenderness or redness around the area, pus, prolonged bleeding, or changes in the skin color around the tattoo, contact your doctor right away.

There you have it – virtually everything you need to know about getting your first tattoo. Good Luck!