Getting a tattoo for the first time is no less than ticking an exciting adventure off your bucket list. For some people, getting a tattoo can be quite daunting and overwhelming, as they are not sure of what to expect. One of the main concerns that play on every beginner’s mind before getting their first tattoo is the pain they will experience. Any tattoo you go for will come with a considerable amount of pain, depending on a few other factors. However, this is not the only thing that pops up when thinking about getting a tattoo.
You have to consider so many other factors, like the placement, design, size, the place you’re getting it done from, and if you’re mentally and physically okay to get one in the first place. One thing you should focus on is to make your first tattooing experience an exciting one because it’s something you will never forget.
To get the right tattoo and one that you will admire forever, you need to know and be aware of what to expect pre and post tattooing process. If you read further down, you will learn everything you need to know when getting your tattoo for the first time. You will also get to know some tips on how to go about your first tattoo, making your experience easy and fun.
Choosing Your Tattoo Design
The first and most important thing you should know when getting a tattoo for the first time is your tattoo design. Once you’ve made up your mind on what tattoo you want, the rest of the process gets much more straightforward. There are a few things you need to know when choosing the right tattoo design.
Type of Tattoo
You will come across hundreds of tattoo designs on the internet. It is always best to research your tattoo design if you’re unable to create one in your mind. There are various types of tattoos like word tattoos, animal tattoos, name tattoos, tribal tattoos, floral tattoos, portrait tattoos, and a hundred more. Go through all the designs properly and choose the one that best matches your likes.
Many people choose a tattoo according to the meaning it holds, and if that tattoo matches their personality and characteristics. Your tattoo doesn’t need to have any meaning; you can get it because of its unique design. If it’s your first time getting a tattoo, it is best to go for simpler designs that don’t involve too many elements or details. This way, you will be able to tell if you would want to go for more tattoos and if they suit you.
Once you’ve selected your design, you can always adjust the size even if the tattoo is big, and you would like to get a smaller version of it. Since it’s your first time, you should opt for a tattoo that is small in size. This way, it will hurt less, and if you don’t like the design, it won’t look that prominent, and you can hide it as well.
The size also depends on the place you’re getting your tattoo. For example, if you want to get a tattoo on your finger or wrist, you will have to opt for a smaller tattoo compared to if you want one on your arm or thigh.
Color or Black & White Tattoo
Next, you have to choose if you want to include colored ink in your tattoo. Many tattoo designs include colors like watercolor tattoos, cartoon tattoos, and many more. But if you don’t wish to get a colored tattoo, that’s not a problem as you can get the same design inked in plain black ink. Most of the tattoo designs consist of black ink, or some are usually just outlined in black. If it’s your first time getting a tattoo, its best to get a simple black inked tattoo, and maybe later you could get a colored one.
Consult Your Tattoo Artist
If you’re still struggling with choosing the right tattoo design for your first body tag, you can consult your tattoo artist, and they will guide you on what tattoo design you could try. Tattoos artists are quite experienced; hence, they can tell you which design is the right one for you or will look more promising, considering the placement you plan to get your tattoo inked.
One thing to keep in mind though – Don’t expect your tattoo artist to make the decision for you! Too many times, I’ve seen people come into the shop with no idea what they want. Then after we’ve narrowed down the list of options, they expect the artist to practically make the decision for them! Don’t do that. The ink that you get should mean something to YOU. It’s something you will see for the rest of your life.
Choosing the Right Placement
Choosing the right placement for your tattoo is as important as choosing the design. Once you’ve chosen your tattoo design, you can easily select the placement according to the size of the tattoo. If you’re going for a small tattoo, the best place for that would be on your wrist, finger, neck, or arm. If you’re opting for something extravagant and more prominent, your back, chest, thigh, and sleeve are the best places. There are a few factors that you must consider while choosing the placement for your tattoo.
If you’re working at a place with a strict, professional environment, you should consider getting your tattoo in an area that’s not visible; for example, your stomach, back, or thigh. Tattoos on the face, finger, hand, and neck are quite prominent and sometimes leave a bad impression of you in your workplace. Not to mention, there is still a stigma attached around tattoos on how they look unprofessional.
If you’re not ready to experience too much pain and are low tolerant towards pain, then you should get it done in less painful places. Body areas with more fat and fewer bones will not cause much pain; for instance, stomach, arm, and thigh are the least painful spots to get your first tattoo. You will often experience more pain when getting a tattoo on the neck, ankle, elbow, feet, ribs, and wrist.
Something else you should consider when deciding on the placement of your tattoo is how it will age over time. Some parts of your body will change over time and may lose their tightness. The biggest example of this is on the stomach and hips of women. If you have children later, your pregnancy could significantly impact your tattoo by stretching it. It may never look the same again, and repairing it could be difficult.
How to Find a Good Tattoo Artist
As a beginner, you need to know the best tattoo artists near you. Make sure to go to a professional tattoo artist to get your first tattoo. There are a few factors that you must consider when you’re choosing your tattoo artist, as you will come across many tattoo parlors around you.
Research is the key to finding the right tattoo artist. Go through the websites of different tattoo artists and check their portfolio online. Check the types of tattoo they specialize in and go through the reviews on their site. This will tell you if other people have had a good experience with that tattoo artist. You can also talk to your friends who are tattoo fanatics and take their recommendations.
Visit Their Shop
It is best if you personally go and take a look at the tattoo parlor. This way, you will be able to study the environment and the cleanliness of that place. Hygiene is very important when you’re getting your tattoo done. Also, identify the tools the tattoo artist uses and visualize if you will feel comfortable around them. If you get a chance, talk to the person in charge there or directly talk to the tattoo artist as they may guide you on what tattoo to get and where.
Being able to tell the artist what you want your tattoo to look like is critical. Check out my article here, where I provide tips to ensure you communicate your expectations correctly.
Check the Cost
Different tattoo parlors charge different rates. Some tattoo parlors may charge more than usual, and some charge on an hourly basis, which might be more expensive for you. Compare the prices with other tattoo parlors and see which one is more reasonable. Make sure not to go for too low a price as this may identify as poor work. Experienced and popular tattoo artists are likely to charge more; hence, if you want high-quality work and an excellent presentation of your tattoo, paying a bit higher won’t hurt in the long run.
Take references from your closest friends and family who you know are tattoo enthusiasts. From their experience, they will guide you on which tattoo artist to choose and which ones to avoid. Taking these references will give you a much better idea of what to expect from your tattoo artist.
Key Things to Find in a Tattoo Artist’s Portfolio
There are certain traits and skills a tattoo artist should have, and you can get a hint of their work ethics and professionalism in their portfolio. Mentioned below are the key things you must find in a portfolio of professional tattoo artists:
Quality of the tattoo
You will come across the tattoos designs the tattoo artist has previously carved on other clients. These designs should have an excellent presentation and usage of good ink. Notice if the colors are of high-quality and look bright. They should also have a crisp display with correct and proper shading and contouring.
The tattoo artist should have experience of different tattooing techniques like monochrome, abstract, watercolor tattoos, and more. The more variety you find, the more experienced the tattoo artist is.
The personality of the Tattoo Artist
The tattoo artist must have a good personality, and you feel comfortable around him/her. If you want a smooth and enjoyable tattoo process, make sure that you’re able to click with the tattoo artist and that if they understand what you want instead of just vomiting out different ideas.
There are a few things that you need to be aware of prior to arriving for your appointment so that you aren’t caught off guard.
Once you have decided upon a tattoo shop and artist, you’ll want to book at appointment. This will ensure the artist blocks off their schedule and you won’t have to wait upon arrival. Be prepared for the shop or artist to ask for a monetary deposit when you make the appointment. Since the artist is blocking off a portion of their schedule, a deposit protects them from no shows or last minute cancellations. Typically, deposits are non-refundable.
When you give the shop your deposit, it is important that you about the deadline for an appointment reschedule. This will vary from shop to shop. Calling and rescheduling at the last minute costs the shop and the artist money because they’ve blocked off a specific block of time for you. It’s likely they will not be able to fill this time frame if they aren’t given proper advance notification.
Another thing that may come as a surprise to someone who has never gotten a tattoo before, is that many shops only accept cash payments. This requirement can vary significantly between shops. Large shops usually have more payment options, such as credit cards available. The primary reason that shops don’t take credit cards are the high transaction fees that are associated with them. Margins are tight in most tattoo parlors and accepting cash only payments helps save money for everyone.
If you are interested in learning more on why shops only accept cash, check out this article I wrote.
How Long Is A Tattoo Session?
The amount of time your sessions lasts will depend on a number of factors. These factors can include:
- Speed at which the artist works
- The number of color changes needed for your piece
- How much you move around or how many breaks you need
- Complexity of your piece
- Location of the tattoo
At the very least, a small basic tattoo will likely take at least a couple hours. That includes getting everything setup and finishing up the details.
The Tattooing Process
Have you ever wondered how tattoo artists can recreate the exact design you want on your skin? Of course, it’s the skills and talent, but it’s also the magic of the needle tattoo artist’s use. You may not find the experience to be magical, as it feels more like an insect sting. Tattooing is an art that involves precision, skills, details, and hard work.
So How Does the Ink Get Into Your Skin?
Once it’s finally your turn, your tattoo artist will use a needle that includes a syringe filled with ink. The artist pierces the needle through your skin; the blood cells in your skin, known as the macrophages, absorb the ink particles by rushing to that specific area. This is also known as capillary action. This is why you experience pain during your tattooing process as the needle stings your veins.
The macrophages in your skin consume the ink and store it; this is how the ink appears on your skin. Thus, your tattoo can remain permanently on your skin and fade away gradually. This process may sound quite scary; however, it is not that complicated, especially if your tattoo artist is pro at it.
Tattooing Process Steps
These are the general steps that every tattoo artist follow while executing your tattoo design:
- First, the tattoo artist will shave off the hair from the specific area where you’re getting your tattoo on with a sterile disposable razor. They will disinfect and clean the area thoroughly.
- Next, he/she will begin to outline the tattoo designs on your skin using the electrically powdered tattooing machine. Some tattoo artists use a stencil to outline your tattoo before using the needle. While outlining, the needle goes into your skin by just a millimeter or two. The ink gets injected into the middle layer of your skin, also known as the dermis.
- Once the outline is complete, the artist will clean that area with antiseptic before they get on with adding color and shading.
- To start with shading and coloring, some artists may change the needle by adding a thicker one; however, some use the same needle they were using for outlining.
- Once your tattoo design is finally complete, the tattoo artist will again clean it with some antiseptic and wrap it with plastic wrap. From here on, it will be your responsibility to take extensive care of your tattoo.
Tattoo Preparation Dos’s and Don’ts
You have to take care of a few things before the big day, the day you will finally get your first tattoo. You may feel a bit of nervousness, which is quite normal. However, you have to be vigilant to ensure you go through a smooth tattooing process. Mentioned below are the do’s and don’ts that will make your tattooing experience less painful.
Things to do:
Rethink Your Decision
You must 100 percent sure about getting a tattoo, so take some time to think about it and list down the pros and cons of getting a tattoo. This might make your decision easier. Rethink about the design you’re going for as well. Maybe you might find something better and want to change it. Once you get a tattoo, it’s not easy to get rid of it. Some people may not want to waste any time thinking as they just want to get done with it, which is fine. Look at your tattoo as a ‘you only live once’ decision.
Get Proper Sleep
You should get proper sleep (8 hours) so that the next day when it’s time for your tattoo appointment, you won’t feel sleepy or unsettled. Your energy levels should be at the max, and you must be vigilant at all times. Getting proper sleep will also help calm down the nervousness that you may feel before getting your body tatted.
Make Sure You’re Going to the Right Tattoo Parlor
You should run a background check of your tattoo parlor and artist, ensuring they have the specific skills and talent to carry out the tattooing process smoothly. If you feel like they do not reach a certain level of expertise compared to other tattoo parlors, you must get your tattoo done from somewhere else. This prevents you from getting a low-quality tattoo.
Visit Your Skin Doctor
If you have sensitive skin and are prone to skin allergies, consult with your skin doctor before getting a tattoo. They will advise you best on whether or not your skin will be able to absorb the ink without any reaction. This way, you will prevent any bad skin allergies.
Maintain your skin
Take good care of your skin a week before you get your tattoo; make sure to keep moisturizing it. Avoid getting any kind of scratches or bumps as this will interfere with the tattooing process and might worsen your skin conditions. Keep drinking water to keep your skin fresh, clean, and healthy. It is essential to go to the tattoo parlor with the best skin condition.
Eat Proper Meal
Before you head out for your tattoo appointment, make sure you eat a proper and healthy meal. You should never go on an empty stomach as this would make you feel nauseous and interfere with the tattooing process. Have a nutritious lunch or breakfast, keeping your blood sugar levels at a normal range. This way, your blood cells will be able to react appropriately with the ink.
Keep Yourself Clean
Make sure to have a proper bath and fully groom yourself before heading out for your tattoo appointment. This is mainly to maintain hygiene levels, as many tattoo parlors are very strict about personal hygiene and safety. If they feel like the client is not clean or smell bad due to poor hygiene, they may cancel your appointment. This does not affect the results of your tattoo, though.
Things to Avoid:
For the first few days before your tattoo appointment, avoid consuming any alcohol, especially the night before, as alcohol makes your blood thinner. It may cause excessive bleeding during your tattooing process. This may result in a poor tattoo and may also cause you more pain and drowsiness. Some tattoo artists straight away do not go ahead with the tattooing process if they feel like you’re a bit drunk due to specific laws set for them.
Don’t Take Any Aspirin
You should be Aspirin or ibuprofen free at least 24 hours before your tattoo appointment. Consuming Aspirin the night before your tattoo day will cause you to bleed more during your tattooing process as your blood becomes thinner. To avoid any kind of headache, you must relax at home and avoid partying. If you’re experiencing extreme pain, you can take Tylenol; however, you must consult your tattoo artist about this.
Don’t get Sunburn
It isn’t a good idea to get a tattoo if you have sunburn in that specific area. Getting a tattoo while you’re sunburnt will worsen your skin and cause you more pain during the process. Hence, you should avoid going to the beach or areas where you’re more exposed to the sun. What you can do to prevent getting sunburnt is wearing full sleeves or long pants depending on where you’re getting your tattoo.
This will prevent the exposure of UV rays on your skin. If you have sunburn on the spot you want your tattoo to appear, get it only once your skin has fully healed. This is one reason why many people get their tattoos in the winter.
For more information on how soon before or after getting a tattoo you can drink, check out my article here!
How to Handle Pain Caused by the Tattooing Process?
Pain is a common symptom you will experience during your tattoo process, and it’s something that makes everyone nervous. No matter what type of tattoo you get, you will experience a certain amount of pain, depending on the placement you’ve chosen. The pain experienced is worth it once you’ve got the final results. Mentioned below are some ways you can handle or minimize the pain caused during the process:
You must keep yourself hydrated throughout the tattooing process as this allows your skin to take in ink faster, ensuring a speedy process. Make sure to carry a bottle of water with you when you go for your tattoo appointment.
Using Numbing Cream
You can use a numbing cream or anesthetics to give you relief from the pain. The cream isn’t that long-lasting, but it does give you some instant comfort. You can also use pain relief spray during the tattooing process. But consult a dermatologist or your tattoo artist before using this spray. The numbing cream I like best contains 5% lidocaine and does a really good job helping with the pain when getting a tattoo. You can pick it up for under $25 here on Amazon.
Give Yourself a Break
You can take small breaks in between the process if you can’t handle the pain. During these breaks, drink plenty of water and relax a bit. I find it best to take a quick step outside to get some fresh air. However, don’t take too many breaks as this would make the process longer, and your tattoo design may also start to swell up. Taking too many breaks may also result in an adrenaline rush. You also have to be mindful of your tattoo artist’s time. If you take too many breaks and your appointment begins to risk running over into another appointment, you may be asked to come back at another time to finish up the work.
If you don’t want to experience too much pain, make sure you refrain from alcohol on the day of your tattoo appointment as well as a few days before the appointment. Alcohol makes your blood thin, which makes it difficult to absorb the ink.
Avoid Unnecessary Movement
Keeping yourself still or minimizing body movement may be a big challenge for you during your tattooing process. But, it is vital as constant movement will cause you more pain and may ruin the precision of your tattoo. Try to remain as still as possible to experience lesser pain. This way, the process will also finish sooner.
The best way to keep your pain under control is by distracting yourself. Engage in conversation with the person next to you or anyone in the shop. You can also talk to your tattoo artist, but you wouldn’t want them to get distracted. You could also get your earplugs and listen to some soothing music that would distract you from the pain and will make you enjoy the process more.
Use a Stress Relief Object
Another way to best control the pain is by bringing an object you can squeeze, such as a stress ball or any grip exerciser. This allows you to take out your anxiety on the stress relief object and distract you from the pain if it’s more than you can bear.
Remember to take a few deep breaths once you start to feel the pain more. By taking deep breaths, your blood can trigger more endorphin production as it oxygenates through your breathing. It also reduces the formation of hormones in your body and slows your heart rate. If there’s a moment where you’re experiencing the worst pain possible, just remember to exhale as it will make you feel better.
Aftercare for your tattoo is as essential as the pre tattoo care. This is important if you want your tattoo to heal properly and look beautiful on you. There are many ways you can take care of your tattoo to make it heal faster. Remember that aftercare starts as soon as the tattooing process finishes. Mentioned below are some important aftercare tips for your tattoo that you must carry out effectively.
Once your tattoo is complete, your tattoo artist will apply a plastic bandage on your tattoo. You have to remove the bandage 24 hours after you’ve got your tattoo. This bandage helps to settle the tattoo and prevents any dirt or bacteria from getting into it. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before removing the bandage. Slowly take off the bandage and never rip it off in one go as this may damage your tattoo. Don’t leave the dressing on after 24 hours as this may cause the skin to bleed.
Wash Your Tattoo
Once you’ve slowly removed the bandage, you have to wash your tattoo with lukewarm water. Use an anti-bacterial soap to wash your tattoo and don’t rub the tattoo too hard. Gently massage the cleanser onto your tattoo in strokes as this will remove any leaked ink marks or blood traces. You can wash your tattoo two to three times a day. Remember to be gentle whenever you do it because, at this stage, your tattoo is still fresh, and washing it once a day is more than enough.
Dry Your Tattoo
After you’ve properly washed your tattoo, you need to immediately dry it off with a dry cloth or paper towel. It is best to use a paper towel; in this way, no fabric gets trapped in your tattoo. Make sure to gently damp the paper towel on your tattoo instead of rubbing. Rubbing your tattoo would cause a whole messy situation and come in the way of the healing process.
Moisturize Your Tattoo
Moisturizing is the key step in keeping your tattoo intact and allowing it to heal faster. After you’re through with the steps above, apply a layer of moisturizing cream and gently massage it on your tattoo. This will keep your skin moisturized throughout, ensuring a faster healing process. Using a moisturizer daily will prevent the urge to itch or scratch your tattoo as you may experience the temptation to scratch your tattoo once it starts to scab.
For more information on moisturizing your tattoo, check out my article here “What Happens if I Don’t Moisturize My New Tattoo?“
Limit Exposure to Sunlight
Don’t expose yourself to the sun, especially the tattoo area, as the UV rays might slow down your tattoo’s healing process and increase the chances of getting sunburn.
Wear Loose Clothes
Try to wear clothes that won’t stick to your skin where you’ve got your tattoo. Avoid wearing fitting jeans or long sleeves shirts as they come into contact with your skin and may interfere with the appearance of your tattoo, and will block your skin from receiving oxygen. Oxygen is vital for a faster healing process.
Limit Water Exposure
For the first two weeks, avoid too much contact with water and taking long baths as this would come in the way of your tattoo healing process. It is important to keep your tattoo dry all time without fail.
If you’ve finally got the courage to get your tattoo, there is nothing to worry about, especially after you’ve gone through this article. We hope it has given you a slight hint of what to expect when you’re getting a tattoo and how to maintain it. If you follow all the necessary guidelines above, you will achieve the perfect looking tattoo and will have nothing to worry about. Getting a tattoo for the first time is something you will always remember and something you should enjoy. So get a bit daring and get your first tattoo going!
Additional Related Topics
What hurts more color or black tattoo?
A common misconception is that the color of the ink can determine how much pain you will experience during your session. This is absolutely false. The color of the ink has zero impact on how much pain you feel. A likely reason that this misconception exists is that black ink is usually applied first because it’s used to outline the overall picture or design. After the outline is complete, the artist will fill in the tattoo with the color. By the time colored ink is applied, your skin has already gone thru a decent amount of trauma from the black ink. Therefore, your skin is likely to be sore by this point. Don’t let this myth influence your final design!
Can you sleep on a tattoo?
It’s highly suggested that you do NOT sleep on your new tattoo. Sleeping on your new tattoo increases the likelihood of you damaging it. I highly suggest that you use a tattoo wrap for your first night of sleep. This will help keep the amount of bleeding and plasma discharge from getting onto your sheets and mattress. If you have an old pair of sheets, I’d also suggest putting those on your bed the first few nights because it is likely you will bleed and get ink onto your bed sheets.
It’s also advised that you don’t let you pets sleep with you during the first few nights after getting a tattoo. They’ll be curious to smell and lick your wound which could lead to infection. They could also accidentally scratch your new ink while will cause damage.
Can I sleep under covers with a new tattoo?
Yes, you can sleep under sheets. However, like we mentioned above, it’s highly suggested that you put an old pair of clean sheets on your bed. You’ll want old sheets because you’ll likely get ink, blood and plasma on them which will lead to staining. You’ll want clean sheets to help reduce the risk of germs which could lead to infection.
Make sure you don’t use too many blankets or sheets that could cause you to get hot and sweaty. This could increase the amount of ink that is lost during the initial healing process.
Do tattoos feel like bee stings?
Some people do describe getting a tattoo much like the feeling of getting stung by bees. However, one thing you should keep in mind is that everyone’s pain tolerance is difference. The location of the tattoo will play a large role in how painful it is. Therefore, you really can’t go by how others describe it unless you are comparing apples to apples.
Does a tattoo feel like a shot?
Yes and no. When you get a tattoo, the ink is being placed under your skin with a needle. However, the size of the needle is much smaller than any shot you would get at the doctor’s office. In addition, the shots you get at the doctor’s office go much deeper into your body. A tattoo gun is only penetrating a couple layers of skin. So, yes, it does feel like a shot, but it’s not anything like shots you get for medical reasons.
Is it OK to ask how much a tattoo will cost?
Yes! In fact, I would not get a tattoo at a place that wasn’t willing to disclose the pricing of your art upfront. Of course, there are right and wrong ways to go about asking about the price of their work. If you go into a shop and immediately start asking about pricing or start haggling over price, this will likely rub the artist wrong that you are talking to.
I do not advise pricing shopping around town to find the cheapest rate. Instead, find an artist that has displayed to you that they can do the work you want. Next, especially if it is a large tattoo, I want to make sure I like the artist’s personality. I do not want to get 30 minutes into an 8 hour tattoo and realize I hate everything about the person giving me the ink.
Be respectful and politely ask what the artist will charge or a piece or what their hourly rate is. It shouldn’t be a problem.
How Can You Determine Your Pain Tolerance For Tattoos?
Areas of the body that have less fat tissue are typically areas that will be most painful for a tattoo. If you are wanting a tattoo in an area that you can see the bone; such as the ribs or collarbone, it’s probably going to be more painful because the needle from the tattoo gun can cause vibrations on the bone. If you are curious to test your pain tolerance level at home before getting a tattoo, there is a method called the “Cold Pressor Test.” It involves filling a bucket with ice cold water and timing how long you are able to keep your hand submerged in the water.
Many argue that this isn’t the most scientific method to testing your pain levels, though studies have been performed on the test. DiscoveryMedicine.com performed the test on 96 participants and found the time for a person to keep their hand submerged was approximately 45 seconds.
It is possible to increase your pain tolerance by doing exercises such as yoga and other stretches.
Additional Tips from Top Artists
Here’s a video I came across a while back that gives a bunch of great tips and advice for someone getting ink for the first time. As you’ll see, there’s a common theme to what each of them have to say. Really great advice here.