a (relatively) thorough guide to getting a tattoo


we get socially awkward too!

A long list of things that will help you get through your tattoo session, and have great work to wear afterward:

The night before:

  • Don’t drink heavily. If it will make you hungover, it will thin your blood the next day.
  • Get to bed on time. It may feel like christmas eve and be hard to sleep, but the rest will make you less fidgety the following day.
  • Check your funds. Make sure you have enough to cover the cost and a tip. Make sure you’ll have enough left over to eat something or buy bottled water or any incidental snack you might want while you get tattooed.
  • if you have an appointment, call the shop and verify the time. Artists are human and can make mistakes, so make sure you know exactly when you are supposed to be there and how much it will cost.
  • For a spontaneous tattoo, all these are true. Don’t decide to get tattooed after a night drinking; if you’ve been up all night; if you are using drugs; or if you aren’t sure you have enough money. Call the shop the night before and ask if anyone can take walk-ins the following day. They may even make room for you.
  • Make sure you have any art reference or doctor’s notes you will need. Also, check your ID or driver’s license and make sure it’s not expired! If so, some studios allow you to use your passport, but it’s better to know ahead of time!

will bodnar, cicada tattoo, anji marth, high priestess tattoo, at tattoo convention

we like to talk to people.

The day of:

  • Pack a small bag with; bottled water, walkman or ipod, book to read, video game (if you want to play one), snacks that are high in carbohydrates/protein/glucose (such as granola bars, peanuts, sun chips, crackers, or fresh fruit), pillows or a small (clean) blanket. Make sure that you have a ride home if you need one, and that you didn’t forget any artwork or reference or your wallet or ID.
  • Shower or bathe. Unless you are getting an underarm tattoo, please wear deodorant. If you are getting a tattoo below your knee, wash your feet and wear clean socks. If you smell terrible some artists will send you home and charge a fee for the equipment they wasted setting up for you. Wear clean clothes that ink stains can get on. Even in summer, bring a sweatshirt or something warm to wear. Getting tattooed can make you feel colder than usual.
  • Eat a full meal before you head for the studio. Eat heavy and filling foods. This will make your body less likely to flinch, and will keep you calm.
  • Don’t drink or take any pills. Reputable tattoo artists WILL NOT tattoo anyone that’s under the influence. Don’t even have one beer, or smoke one hit, because even the smell can get you turned away. Some artists will charge you for wasting their time if you have an appointment and are intoxicated when you arrive. If you feel you must take something, ask your artist well ahead of time, since some will allow small doses of ibuprofen or midol.
  • If you are on any regular medications, ask ahead of time. You may need a doctor’s note if you have some conditions, since tattooing can stimulate endorphins and adrenalin and cause bad reactions in those who are on some medications or who have chronic health conditions. Consent forms that you’ll have to sign will list some of these and you may be turned away if you need a doctor’s permission and don’t have it.
  • Show up on time and be aware that many artists run late, because the person ahead of you wasn’t fully prepared or was late, or passed out or wiggled! Use the extra time to get comfortable with the atmosphere in the shop, find the restroom and smoking area, fill out paperwork, and introduce yourself to the person behind the counter. This is always a good idea so that you can ask them for any assistance you need while you are getting tattooed. Receptionists at good tattoo studios are willing to help you if you need it, that is their job.
  • Plan to rest after getting tattooed. Taking time afterward to relax and clean up your new artwork can help a lot with the healing. Preparing dinner earlier in the day is sometimes helpful. Getting a tattoo can make you hungry and tired.
three person tattoo

we love our clients, so don’t be afraid! (unless you have three of us working on you at once)

During the session;

  • Tattoos that are small and simple can take as little as ten minutes or less to apply. Artists will most likely not be patient or understanding if you cannot sit still for five minutes. If you think you aren’t capable of enduring any pain at all without complaining, crying, or moving around, wait until you have mastered this before you decide to get work done. Taking a few yoga breathing classes at the Y can be very helpful. Any form of meditation or calming exercises can help you greatly.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell your artist that you are nervous. They see many nervous and frightened people and can often help your state of mind quite a bit by explaining the process to you. Usually they can tell you stories about many people who were worse!
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you feel queasy, dizzy, or confused. Many people feel faint during the first few minutes of a tattoo (even when it’s not their first time!) so there’s no need to be embarrassed or afraid. Let the artist know if you are feeling anything unusual besides the tattoo itself.
  • Yes, it will hurt. But it won’t hurt very badly. Tattoos feel somewhat like an “electric cat scratch”; tingly and scratchy at the same time. You can ask the artist to see the machinery and needles. Tattoo needles are NOT like the needle in a syringe;they are not hollow and don’t penetrate the skin entirely. They go in a few millimeters at most and look like small metal paintbrushes or rakes. They are not hollow and don’t inject anything into you. Ask your artist before they start if you can see what they are using. This may help you feel less anxious.
  • Sit however the artist asks you to sit. It may seem harder from your perspective to reach an area in some positions, but artists are concerned with stretching out the skin as well as reaching it, so try to stay in the position they choose. If your leg or arm is falling asleep, or you can’t maintain a position, let them know before it becomes a struggle for you to stay still. There are sometimes alternatives, and most artists will try to help you. When you strain to hold a position you may begin to shake or twitch, and this doesn’t help them.
  • If you ask to take many breaks or to get up and look, this makes it take longer. Artists will work as effieicently as is possible and stopping them to check their progress slows them down, not to mention annoys them (“Are we there yet?” syndrome)
  • Some artists prefer not to hold a conversation while they are actually tattooing you. Ask them before they begin if they mind. If you feel you need to chat in order to cope, bring a friend to your session with you to talk to you. Wearing headphones and listening to audiobooks or music that you like is also relaxing. A lot of artists are pretty social and chatty themselves, so don’t be too worried about this.
  • Pay attention to any instructions the artist gives you. If they need you to remove belts, lower your sock, turn your elbow, take a breath, sit up straight, slouch, or whatever request, please pay attention. If you feel uncomfortable let the artist know. If you aren’t sure, ask.
  • During longer sessions, ask to take breaks if you need them. Usually a tattoo artist will allow a break each hour or so of tattooing. More than this can interrupt progress. When you get a break, use the bathroom, smoke a cigarette in a smoking area, or drink water and munch on your snacks. After a break the tattoo may hurt badly again, which is another reason to limit the number of breaks you request.
  • Hold still. If you must cough, readjust your position, stretch your other leg, wiggle, laugh, or flinch, give the artist warning. Don’t assume that just because the needle isn’t in your skin that they don’t need you to remain still.
take care of your tattoo afterward!

take care of your tattoo afterward!

After your tattoo;

  • Wait until the artist is ungloved and has washed their hands to offer them money. They can’t count it with dirty gloves on their hands.
  • Get and follow your aftercare instructions. Pay attention to what your artist tells you about aftercare; even though you are tired it is very important to listen.
  • Tip your artist as well as you can afford. As in other service industries a twenty percent tip is normal, but since tattoos can become very expensive it’s understood that you may not be able to afford this much for bigger work. Give a good tip and your artist will remember you as a good client. This can lead to perks for you later if you become a repeat client.
  • Haggling is strongly discouraged. No reputable artist will change a regularly quoted price for you, and in many shops prices will mysteriously rise as you try to haggle them down.
  • Ask about touchups. Many artists offer a free touchup if it turns out to be necessary, and some have rules about when and how you can obtain these follow-up sessions.
  • If you had a good experience, tell others about it. As said earlier, word-of-mouth is most tattoo artists’ main means of advertising.
  • If you had a bad experience, let the artist know. Email or call and ask to speak to the artist. Most tattoo artists are independent contractors and do NOT have a boss you can complain to. If you call the shop and complain to someone else, your problem may not be related to the artist properly. Artists are human and make mistakes and have bad days sometimes. They are willing to help you if you had a problem with your experience. And most will be glad to hear feedback in order to help them do better in the future.
  • Being a repeat client has advantages. Consider returning to an artist and asking if they have any form of discount or benefits for repeat clients. Many have referral discount cards, VIP coupons, or simply are more willing to work on regulars.



Remember, you are getting permanent artwork applied. Don’t take any shortcuts to preparing for a tattoo, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, get explanations, and interact with your artist. Good tattoo artists will pay attention to your concerns and will be glad to hear about your experience with them. While you may be apprehensive about the pain of getting tattooed, you should know that it is not excruciating. If you have ever had an injury more serious than a broken nail, you have already felt worse pain. Plan your tattoo to suit you for the rest of your life, not to be less painful, and find an artist that helps you feel at ease.