So you’ve filled a folder on Instagram with bookmarks of tattoo inspiration and determined you’re finally ready to get your first tattoo. Not sure what happens next? We’ve got you.
To prepare you for permanently adding art to your skin, we compiled a comprehensive guide to getting your first tattoo. Allure asked tattoo artists, like Brit Abad, aka @blaabad, and Doreen Garner, aka @flesh_and_fluid, to share their insight on every step of the process. You’ll know exactly what to expect when making and preparing for your appointment, arriving at the tattoo studio, and finalizing your design. They’ll also break down what to do while you’re getting tattooed and after your inaugural ink is done. We can’t say these tips will make the tattoo less painful, but the process is sure to be not as intimidating and more memorable. Picking an Artist
In case you haven’t selected the exact tattoo artist to do the honors of giving you your first tattoo just yet, Portland-based tattoo artist Brit Abad recommends picking one you trust and see yourself having fun with during the process. “Follow them online and gather a sense of who they are as a person,” she explains. “Having a great experience actually getting the tattoo often has a huge effect on how a person feels about the tattoo on their body. Love your artist and you’ll love the artwork even more.”
Tattoo numbing cream does not cause any form of inflammation or swelling and provides good aftercare for irritated skin around the tattoo area.
While doing your research, New York City-based tattoo artist Ariel Wei advises checking out pictures of healed work, too. (She posts examples in the highlights on her Instagram.) “Tattoos fresh versus healed are different,” she says. Colors often fade as the tattoo heals and lines become less distinct, so this type of research will help you get a full understanding of how your desired tattoo artist’s work ages over time.
Making an Appointment
Depending on which tattoo artist you go with, their preferred way of making an appointment will differ. Some have links on their Instagram or website to an online form for you to fill out with the exact information they need for booking. Others may ask you to send them an email. If that’s the case, here’s what you should include:
Your desired design: Be as specific as possible about what you want, including whether you want color or not. Attaching reference images will be incredibly helpful for your artist to understand your vision, too. Just make sure you’re not expecting your final design to look exactly like work from another artist. “I do not copy designs unless it was commissioned and you have proof of permission to get the design as a tattoo,” Wei says.
Size and placement: Instead of stating whether you want your tattoo to be small, medium, or large, Wei likes for her clients to put the dimensions in inches. Don’t worry about being exact, though. The size as well as the placement can be an estimate. “[Both] can be changed later on,” adds New York City-based tattoo artist Hannah Kang.
Availability: Another thing to be specific about is the dates and times that work best for you, so you won’t have a lot of back and forth with the tattoo artist or their shop, Wei says.
Skin tone: Although some forms may ask you what your skin tone is, Toronto-based tattoo artist Thomarya “Tee” Fergus stresses tattoo artists should be able to make a design work for you no matter what color your complexion may be. If you encounter an artist who tells you they don’t work with deeper skin tones or give you a list of things and colors they can’t do on you because of your skin tone, find someone else who is more accommodating and inclusive. “It should never be like, ‘You automatically can’t get this thing without even trying to see what works,'” they explain. “I’d be like, ‘OK, cool. You’re here. Let’s see what works.'” Fergus also mentions they have a few color pieces on their body, so they can show clients what certain hues of tattoo ink looks like on deeper skin tones. Some artists offer color tests, too. During a consultation, they will tattoo small lines or dots of different hues you’re interested in getting tattooed to see how they heal on your skin before making final decisions. The artist’s form or email is a good place to request one. Preparing For Your Appointment
Depending on the design you have in mind, New York City-based tattoo artist Doreen Garner says you may need to go to the studio for a quick, in-person consultation before your appointment. “If they weren’t able to describe their tattoo clear enough for me to generate an image from their words, then it’s about just elaborating on their idea,” she mentions as a reason why you’d need one. Some of her clients also come in for a consultation so she can get a general idea of what type of shapes they are drawn to and what part of the body they work on, so “the tattoo can complement that part the best,” Garner adds.
Most of the tattoo artists we talked to compared preparations for the actual tattoo appointment to that of a medical procedure. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep, don’t drink the night before, stay hydrated, and eat something before arriving at the tattoo studio. (You can also bring snacks to have while getting tattooed.) “I definitely try to make sure my clients have a meal at least 30 minutes before the tattoo,” Garner says.
If you happen to have any skin conditions like eczema that affect the area where you’re hoping to get tattooed, Garner says to let your tattoo artist know ahead of time. If you’re having a flare-up, you may have to delay your appointment. Try to avoid getting any cuts or tans on the area you’re hoping to get tattooed, too, Wei adds.When You Arrive
When you first arrive at the tattoo studio, you’ll start off by washing your hands before filling out consent forms. Be sure to have your photo ID handy, and “come at your scheduled time in order to give the artist time to prepare, clean up, and avoid overlap with other clients — especially to comply with COVID safety guidelines,” Kang says.Finalizing Your Design and Placement
After your consent forms are filled out, your tattoo artist will show you the design they mocked up for you. If you want to make any adjustments to it, all the tattoo artists we talked to agree you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, as the art is about to be on your body for the rest of your life. However, make sure your feedback is respectful. “Remember you contacted this artist because you trust their vision,” Abad says. “That said, it’s perfectly normal and OK to want changes made to your drawing, but communicating that politely, without insulting and showing mistrust is important.”
Also, keep in mind that not all tattoos can be as tiny as you want them to be. Some lettering may need to be enlarged so they can be legible over time. And if you’re hoping for it to be on the smaller side because you think it’ll be easy to start with, “that’s totally fine, but the tattoo is not going to hurt any less,” Garner says. “The size of the tattoo isn’t going to decrease the pain. I think that’s a mistake people often make in the beginning.”
From there, a stencil will be made and placed onto your body where you want the tattoo to be. Again, the placement can definitely be changed — just let your artist know. Fergus mentions they’ve redone a stencil placement up to five times for a client because they’d been thinking about their first tattoo for years. It’s fair to be indecisive about the placement because you’ve been imagining it on your body for so long.
A major thing to consider for placement is how the image could be distorted when you move the part of the body that it’s on. “Skin is not like paper,” Wei explains. “If you are not getting it in a flatter surface area, the tattoo may stretch and look not straight when you move, but this is completely normal.”
Abad adds she usually recommends having her clients walk around in front of the mirror to “see how their tattoo will move with their body in normal life.”Sitting for the Tattoo
When it’s time for your actual tattooing to commence, you may notice your artist taking time to set up their supplies. Fergus says they do this for their clients to see everything is clean, sterile, and coming out of new packages. While they do that, your artist will probably tell you where to sit or lay, so make yourself comfortable in that position.