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All About Your First Tattoo: Everything You Need to Know

I have gotten stopped on the streets by complete strangers who are just curious about my ink.

Tattoo artists use tattoo machines like the one seen in this image.

Tattoo artists use tattoo machines like the one seen in this image.

So, you want to get your first tattoo, huh? I am sure that you are doing your research and getting advice from many different people. I am going to let you in on everything that you really should know before you decide to have your skin tattooed permanently. Keep all this information in mind. I strongly suggest that you continue your research, but this article will give you a really good starting point.

This article covers the following topics:

  1. How to Choose Your Tattoo Design
  2. How to Choose a Tattoo Shop
  3. How to Prepare for Getting a Tattoo
  4. What You Need to Know About the Tattooing Process
  5. What Will Happen After You Get a Tattoo
  6. How to Deal With Other People's Opinions About Your Tattoo
An Interesting Tattoo Design

An Interesting Tattoo Design

1. How to Choose Your Tattoo Design

This is most likely the first thing that you started thinking about when you decided to get a tattoo. You’ve probably searched through the internet, tattoo magazines, design books, etc. Make sure that the design you choose is something that really speaks to you. You are going to be asked over and over again throughout your life why you had that particular tattoo done and what it means. Make sure that you have a better explanation than, “It just looked cool.”

You are going to have to live with this for the rest of your life. You’ve definitely heard this already, but it is incredibly true and usually overlooked. Make sure that the design and placement of your tattoo is something that you really can live with in every situation in your life. You might have dreams of being an artist, a musician, or any other profession that gladly accepts tattoos. But, what happens if you need to work an office job or a customer service job while you are trying to pay bills until you reach that dream? A giant obnoxious face tattoo may not grant you the type of income that you might be seeking.

Consider a Unique, Custom Design

A great way to get a completely unique tattoo is to talk to your tattoo artist about a custom design. You can collect various ideas from the internet, drawings, etc and present these to your artist. Talk over what you are looking for and they can help in coming up with a perfect piece. Tattoo artists love this kind of work. It allows them to use their artistic talents, and you will find that most tattoo artists are very eager for this type of work.

Tattoo Flash Art on the Wall of a Tattoo Shop

Tattoo Flash Art on the Wall of a Tattoo Shop

2. How to Choose a Tattoo Shop

Before you make your appointment, you must research the shop and the artists. Ask around town, look up reviews on the internet, and definitely check the shop out. Your health is at risk if you go to a shop that is not up to par.

Ask the shop questions. Ask lots of questions. Tattoo shops are asked these questions all the time. If you don’t want to get an infection or a crappy design, then make sure you know what you are in for. Ask questions like . . .

  • Do they have an autoclave?
  • Are they currently licensed?
  • How long have they been open?
  • What kind of safety procedures do they use?
  • What certifications do the artists have?

Do not be amazed by the flash designs on the walls. You'll want to see the portfolios of the artists in the shop. This is where you can determine whether the styles and talents of the artists are a good fit for what you want. A good shop will keep these portfolios on hand. All you have to do is ask to look at them.

Make sure that you eat something an hour or two before you get a tattoo.

Make sure that you eat something an hour or two before you get a tattoo.

3. How to Prepare for Getting a Tattoo

  • When you make your appointment, be sure to mention any type of illnesses or diseases that may affect your tattoo, such as diabetes, anemia, HIV, etc. If something were to go wrong or you were to faint, the shop needs to know what could be the cause.
  • Eat something before you get your tattoo. This is important. There is always a chance that you will pass out. Eating something will lower this risk. You don’t have to eat a Thanksgiving meal, just be sure to have a little something to hold you over. Bring something small (like candy) with you to keep your blood sugar up during the process.
  • Do not drink or take aspirin-based medication within 24 hours of your appointment. These thin your blood out and can cause you to bleed a whole lot more. This creates a mess for the tattoo artist and it can impact the quality of work you receive.
  • Wear comfy clothes. You are going to be laying or sitting down this whole time and may have to move or sit in awkward positions to allow the artist to do their thing. You do not want to be restricted by the clothes you are wearing.
A tattoo artist working his magic

A tattoo artist working his magic

4. What You Need to Know About the Tattooing Process

  • Your tattoo artist will put on gloves, open their needles and inks in front of you, cleanse your skin, apply your stencil, put a bit of Vaseline on your skin, and begin the tattoo.
  • If you are nervous, talk to your artist. Let them know that you are a little nervous about it. A good tattoo artist will talk you through everything and reassure you. A great artist will distract you with other conversation so you are not focusing on what is going on.
  • The pain is in your head. Tattoos do hurt, yes. But, they are bearable. Stop thinking about it. Stop focusing on it. You are only going to scare yourself. I have seen little girls who do not have a very good pain tolerance make it through large tattoos without a tear shed. If they can do that, so can you.
  • Tip your artist! This is not a must, but it is incredibly appreciated. If you plan on coming back for future tattoos, leave a tip. They will remember it.
A Flame Tattoo

A Flame Tattoo

5. What Will Happen After You Get a Tattoo

  • You will receive aftercare instructions from the artist. Follow it. The last thing you want to do is develop an infection.
  • Leave the bandage on for at least two hours. This is there for a reason. Your tattoo is a wound. This bandage is to help prevent airborne bacteria from entering your wound. If your tattoo artist used saran wrap or any kind of plastic, this is different. Take it off when you get home. It will help protect the tattoo, but it will suffocate your skin if you leave it on for too long.
  • Washing the tattoo is important. You need to use lukewarm water and mild, liquid antibacterial or antimicrobial soap. Do not submerge the tattoo in water. This means, avoid baths for a little while. Do not rub your tattoo dry, instead gently pat it until it is dry.
  • DO NOT use Neosporin or any other ointment that is meant for cuts and scrapes. This will cause your tattoo to fade and possibly lose color in certain areas completely.
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  • Lotion is important. Scabbing will happen, but keeping the area moist will make these less dangerous for the tattoo. You want to use a lotion that does not have fragrance or color added to it. You are best off buying an actual tattoo ointment for this purpose.
  • Do not pick your scabs. Leave it alone. If it feels dry, apply lotion.
  • Sun protection will be important for the rest of your life. Avoid sun exposure while it is healing. After it heals, you must apply a sun block any time you are going to have direct sun exposure. UV rays will fade and discolor a tattoo.

If you are noticing anything strange or are unsure about anything, call the tattoo shop. They want to make sure that you have a great tattoo and they will answer your questions.

A Well-Done Full Sleeve Tattoo

A Well-Done Full Sleeve Tattoo

6. How to Deal With Other People's Opinions About Your Tattoo

Be prepared for the questions. People will ask you all kinds of strange questions and they are not usually shy about it. I have gotten stopped on the streets by complete strangers who are just curious about my ink.

There are people that still do not approve of tattoos and they will let you know. These people are sometimes very hard to deal with. They can be rude, but sometimes they just don’t understand.

Enjoy Your Ink!

Overall, you need to enjoy your first tattoo! It is a wonderful experience. I strongly suggest that you use this article as a starting point and continue your research. Best of luck with your new tattoo!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


John Larry Elliott Jr on September 03, 2017:

I spend 6 mos out of year in Alaska and 6 mos in Florida,I have probably the Worlds only unique tattoos, a pink flamingo on left shoulder and puffin on right shoulder?

Oiana on November 17, 2016:

Hi, very good article! it helped a lot! i have a question tho, the ink on my new tattoo seems to be expanding beyond the line, like in a lower skin layer, creating a sort of stain, can this be fixed? or is it going to look like this for the rest of my life? Thanks!

Bluewind on December 24, 2014:

Awesome advice hun. I do have a couple questions though. Sorry in advance.

1) What tattoo aftercare product do you recommend?

2) When it come to unique pieces, is it better to have the tattoo artist design it or find a graphic artist do it? If graphic artist is better, how do I track down one and would it be expensive?

3) What do I need to do on my end to make sure I get a nice result with packed, strong color?

4) Is there anything I can take before going in? I know ibuprofen reduces swelling.

5) How can I check to be sure I won't react to the ink before starting? (my dad is worried I will have an allergic reaction)

6) What do I do when it starts to fade? Will touch ups help or will it eventually get blurry regardless?

7) How can I tell if the artist is quoting me a fair price if the piece is unique? I'm willing to pay for a good piece and tip according to their skill and my satisfaction, but I worry about overpaying for a piece from a lower skilled artist or under paying and not getting what I've dreamed of for 16 years (wanted it since I was 13). There is no way I would ever haggle with an artist, but I wanna know how to gage prices.

8) The tattoo I want is extremely important to me and full of symbolism (I am disabled and survived child abuse, so you can imagine). Is being overly specific going to get on my artist's nerves and ruin my chances of getting a great tattoo from him/her?

9) If I want to tip my artist but don't have the extra cash to spend at the time (I'm on a tight budget), is it okay to wait a month? Would they be offended if I don't tip them right then? And what is an appropriate tip range? 10-20% average with 0% for mega bad and 25% if they knock it out of the park?

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on May 28, 2013:

Thank y0u! Sorry to hear that. Unfortunately that same situation happens so often. Hope that your next tattoo comes with a better experience!

Carla J Swick from NW PA on May 28, 2013:

I designed my tattoo myself - bad move. I went to an unfamiliar shop to a friend of a friend - bad move. I think I may end up on one of those coverup shows sometime. : ) Your hub is awesome for anyone considering ink.

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on May 28, 2013:

Thank you for the comment!

1.) The most painful areas are those that do not naturally have much body fat and muscle over the bone. This includes areas such as the ribs, hands, wrists and ankles to name a few. The extra sensitive parts of the body, such as armpits, the inside of the elbow and the underside of the upper arm are also uncomfortable. The least painful places are areas that are often exposed to elements. Such as the outside of the arm and the outside of the calves. Tattoos do hurt, but the pain is bearable. Don't stress out too much about it. A good tattoo artist will do the best they can with techniques such as stretching the skin to make it less painful.

2.) Arms are a great place to have tattoos that you wish to show off. Most of the time, this is the only area of skin that people show off. I personally like tattoos on the outside of the arm to show off. With light skin you are actually pretty lucky. Any color will look great and stand out very well. The tattoos that bleed and look like a blob after a few years are the ones that have too much detail in a small area. Tattoos do expand a little as they heal. A well done tattoo will not blend together a whole lot, but a little expansion does happen. Black does eventually fade into a blue or green color, but this is incredibly normal. Black and grey last the longest without fading. Color inks tend to fade a little quicker, but we are still talking years of time before you should need a touch up. Doing things such as avoiding direct sun expose or using a good sun block will help to keep the colors vibrant and long lasting.

3.) The absolute best tattoo cover up is DermaBlend Professional. You have to order it online and a bottle is less than $30. It is definitely worth it. This is the make-up that is often used in movies to cover up tattoos.

Hope this helps! Good luck on your tattoo!

kckatt on May 27, 2013:

Very informative and well written. I want a tat myself but have a few questions as I have never had one.

1. I have heard different areas are more painful and some are less can you expand on which is less or more?

2. I'm the type of person who does not show a lot of skin but I want a tattoo where I can show it sometimes and am thinking of the inside of my arm or outside with a lifelike butterfly and shadow. I have very light skin..can you suggest a good color and size for my tat that will not fade into a black blob?

3. And lastly can you suggest a good cover up makeup that will hide a tat when you need to?

Thank you again for a very informative a hub and I'm looking forward to reading more of your writings!

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on May 22, 2013:

That is very true! They are addicting. on May 22, 2013:

One thing that you failed to mention is how addictive tattoos are

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on May 22, 2013:

Thank you! I know what you mean. It is always good to know what you should be ready for.

Whitney from Castle Rock CO on May 21, 2013:

great info! wish I would have actually read something like this before I got my first!

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on May 18, 2013:

Thank you! I had my first tattoo done years ago and I also had no idea what to expect. I hope this hub helps out others in that same situation!

Georgie Lowery from North Florida on May 18, 2013:

This is a great Hub. I got my first tattoo at 39 - I guess I'm a late bloomer? I just know how I am and I go though phases so what I like today might be a thing of the past tomorrow. I had literally no idea what to expect going into it. I wish I'd read this first!

Good luck with your Rising Star nomination and welcome to the HubPages club!

StitchTheDamned (author) from Clifton Park, NY on April 14, 2013:

Thank you so much! I could use all the advice I can get at the moment. I will definitely keep those tips in mind. Thanks again!

Catherine Taylor from Canada on April 12, 2013:

Really well written and informative hub. I like that you mentioned avoiding aspirin 24 hours before a tattoo, it's something many people don't even think of. A small tip for your future hubs, a few more pictures will get you a better rating and add some interest and it might be beneficial to check out the learning center for help with formatting. You have a great writing style and I have no doubt you will do well here. Don't be afraid to start following other writers to attract them to your work.

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