How to Get Your First Tattoo

It seems like everyone has a tattoo these days. What used to be the property of sailors, outlaws, and biker gangs is now a popular body decoration for many people. And it's not just anchors, skulls, and battleships anymore — from school emblems to Celtic designs to personalized symbols, people have found many ways to express themselves with their tattoos. Maybe you've thought about getting one. But before you head down to the nearest tattoo shop and roll up your sleeve, you'll have to know what to expect.


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    If you're thinking about getting a tattoo, there is one very important thing you have to keep in mind — getting it done safely. Although it might look a whole lot cooler than a big scab, a new tattoo is also a wound. Like any other slice, scrape, puncture, cut, or penetration to your skin, a tattoo is at risk for infections and disease.
    • Make sure you're up to date with your immunizations (especially hepatitis and tetanus shots) and plan where you'll get medical care if your tattoo becomes infected (signs of infection include excessive redness or tenderness around the tattoo, prolonged bleeding, pus, or changes in your skin color around the tattoo).
    • If you have a medical problem such as heart disease, allergies, diabetes, skin disorders, a condition that affects your immune system, or infections — or if you are pregnant — ask your doctor if there are any special concerns you should have or precautions you should take beforehand. Also, if you're prone to getting keloids (an overgrowth of scar tissue in the area of the wound), it's probably best to avoid getting a tattoo altogether.
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    Think of a design you want to get. Make sure it is something you feel comfortable showing off, and that you want on your body until you die.
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    Make a rough sketch of your design. It doesn't have to be perfect. Tattoo artists are just that: artists. If you can give a good idea of what you want, your artist can really fly with it.
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    Find the location on your body that you want to put it. Make sure it fits. Not too big, and not too small.
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    Touch up your design. Smooth out the lines, add a basic color scheme, and make it fit to your desired location.
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    Find an artist. The recommendation of a friend who has a tattoo you like a lot can help. Look around to find somewhere that really excels in the style you want. Don't be afraid to travel- a few hours in a car or train is worth it to ensure that your art is the best standard it can be.
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    Pick a few and check them out. It's very important to make sure the tattoo studio is clean and safe, and that all equipment used is disposable (in the case of needles, gloves, masks, etc.) and sterilized (everything else). Some states, cities, and communities set up standards for tattoo studios, but others don't. You can call your state, county, or local health department to find out about the laws in your community, ask for recommendations on licensed tattoo shops, or check for any complaints about a particular studio. Professional studios usually take pride in their cleanliness. Here are some things to check for:
    • Make sure the tattoo studio has an autoclave (a device that uses steam, pressure, and heat for sterilization). You may be allowed to watch as equipment is sterilized in the autoclave.
    • Check that the tattoo artist is a licensed practitioner. If so, the tattoo artist should be able to provide you with references.
    • Be sure that the tattoo studio follows the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Universal Precautions. These are regulations that outline procedures to be followed when dealing with bodily fluids (in this case, blood).
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    If the studio looks unclean, if anything looks out of the ordinary, or if you feel in any way uncomfortable, find a better place to get your tattoo.
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    Have a bit of knowledge of the overview. Here's an example of what to expect:
    • The tattoo artist will first wash his or her hands with a germicidal soap.
    • The to-be-tattooed area on your body will be cleaned and disinfected.
    • The tattoo artist will put on clean, fresh gloves (and possibly a surgical mask).
    • The tattoo artist will explain the sterilization procedure to you and open up the single-use, sterilized equipment (such as needles, etc.).
    • Using the tattoo machine (with a sterile, single-use needle attached), the tattoo artist will begin drawing an outline of the tattoo under your skin.
    • The outline will be cleaned with antiseptic soap and water.
    • Sterile, thicker needles will be installed on the tattoo machine, and the tattoo artist will start shading the design. After cleaning the area again, color will be injected. A new bottle of ink should be opened for each individual.
    • Any blood will be removed by a sterile, disposable cloth or towel.
    • When finished, the area, now sporting a finished tattoo, will be cleaned once again and a bandage will be applied.
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    Choose the artist whose work you like best and tell him or her you want a tattoo. Tell your artist everything you know. What it is, where it's going, how big, etc.
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    Negotiate your price. Ask how much it will cost; that way you can get the money the day of the tattoo, or transfer it from account to account, however you want to do it. Once you discuss the tattoo you will usually be asked to leave a deposit ($50 or so) and make an appointment. The deposit goes to the total price of your tattoo, so don't worry. Leave the rough drawing with them so they can improve upon it, and make it unique, just for you.
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    Pay attention to the location where you will be tattooed. The tattoo artist will shave the location where you are getting the tattoo. You do not want to shave the area yourself, because you may end up damaging the skin. Let the professional handle it. .
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    When you get there, go over the new and improved picture, and make sure it's OK. Remember, this is forever inked into your skin. If there's anything - any little thing - about it that isn't what you want, stop right there, and let your artist know. You don't have to have a fit about it, or get panicked. Just say, "Hey, this part right here? I'm not crazy about it. I would like a little more/less...." whatever it is. The artist will probably not get upset or take it personally - after all, he/she is trying to read your mind a little bit, and if it's not exactly the thing, he or she is a pro who knows it can be easily tweaked. If the artist does get defensive, angry, or belligerent about the changes you want, thank him or her and go elsewhere. You are the one who will wear this image for life, and if the artist isn't willing to make it wonderful for you, he/she's not the one for you.
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    Relax. You are going to be nervous, but calm down as much as you can. The tattoo artist will make sure it doesn't hurt a lot. When you get in the chair, sing something to yourself in your head, or talk to the artist. Make sure you do everything he/she says, move this, sit back, etc.
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    Take a final look when it's finished. Make sure they didn't miss anything. They'll be happy to touch it up, if they need to.
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    Take care of your tattoo as instructed. Follow all of the instructions the studio gives you for caring for your tattoo to make sure it heals properly. Also, keep in mind that it's very important to call your doctor right away if you see or feel any signs of infection such as pain, spreading redness, swelling, or drainage of pus. To make sure your tattoo heals properly: (Also read Care for a New Tattoo)
    • Keep a bandage on the area for up to one or two hours.
    • Avoid touching the tattooed area and don't pick at any scabs that may form.
    • Wash the tattoo with an antibacterial soap (don't use alcohol or peroxide — they'll dry out the tattoo). Use a soft towel to dry the tattoo — just pat it dry and be sure not to rub it.
    • If you don't have an allergy to antibiotic ointment, rub some into the tattoo. Don't use petroleum jelly — it may cause the tattoo to fade.
    • Put an ice pack on the tattooed area if you see any redness or swelling.
    • Try not to get the tattoo wet until it fully heals. Stay away from pools, hot tubs, or long, hot baths.
    • Keep your tattoo away from the sun until it's fully healed.
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    Even after it's fully healed, a tattoo is more susceptible to the sun's rays, so it's a good idea to always keep it protected from direct sunlight. If you're outside often or hang out at the beach, it's recommended that you always wear a sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 on the tattoo. This not only protects your skin, but keeps the tattoo from fading.


  • Many people worry about the pain of a tattoo, especially if it's your first. Getting a tattoo can hurt, but the level of pain can vary. Because getting a tattoo involves being stuck multiple times with a needle, it can feel like getting a bunch of shots or being stung by a hornet multiple times. Some people describe the tattoo sensation as "tingling." It all depends on your pain threshold, how good the person wielding the tattoo machine is, and where exactly on your body you're getting the tattoo. Also, keep in mind that you'll probably bleed a little.
  • It's okay to be nervous! It's perfectly normal and natural to feel a few butterflies before you get a tattoo, If you're worried about how nervous your going to get then bring a good friend along.
  • Shower. Being clean is the best way to prepare for the big day, and care for your tattoo. Cleanliness is your best defense against infection.
  • It will really help you to bring a friend who's had tattoos done before. They'll help ensure the best experience possible and you'll feel a lot better.
  • Make sure the tattoo is something you want to decorate your body permanently. If you aren't sure, consider putting a picture of the potential design somewhere where you will see it every day. For example, you can tape it to a notebook you carry around often, a laptop computer, or the dash of your car. After a few weeks, the image may not appeal to you as much, and you may choose to reconsider. Or, you may love it as much as ever, and you can get your tattoo more confidently. Leave it up for as long as it takes for you to be sure.
  • Don't take pain killers before, as they thin your blood and can cause you to bleed more than what is usual.
  • Don't drink alcohol before getting a tattoo. The most important reason is because alcohol thins your blood and can cause unnecessary bleeding.
  • Save! You don't want to come up short on cash when you go for the tattoo. Bring more than they tell you.
  • Tell your tattoo artist some of your concerns.
  • Make sure to check out the tattoo parlor and artist thoroughly, in advance.
  • Go temporary before going for the permanent. When you have selected a design and a place (on your body) to do the tattoo, get a temporary tattoo for some time and see if you are comfortable with the tattoo. If you feel odd, select another design and a place. This will give maximum satisfaction (and zero worries) when you get it permanent.


  • Remember - don't drink alcohol or take drugs before your appointment! Don't even take painkillers, as some are also blood thinners!
  • Remember this is permanent. You can't just wipe it off. It is there for good, unless you get a cover-up or get it removed by expensive laser surgery.
  • Skipping out on your appointment will lose your deposit, and most likely the artist won't want to tattoo you. If you can't make it, call ahead and tell them so you can make a new appointment on a better day.

Things You'll Need

  • A design. You can make your own, take one from online, or use one from in-store. The tattoo parlor will usually have designs all over the walls. Remember though, it is considered very rude to copy others custom tattoos.
  • Money. You can't get a free tattoo, unless of course, it's free tattoo day at the parlor.

Article Info

Categories: Tattoos and Piercing