If you’re new to tattooing, there’s no shame in starting small. Give yourself a chance to learn the process, how your skin takes ink, and how your body heals.
Know your pain tolerance
Nothing wrong with pushing yourself, but on a first tattoo it’s more than fine to respect your body’s limits. If you’re very sensitive, avoid choosing ribs, backs of knees, elbows, or groin areas for your first tattoo.
Sun exposure and water submersion can damage a new tattoo, so beach bums in particular will want to avoid getting a new tat in the summer. Spring and early autumn are the most practical. You won’t burn, but you can also leave any arm or leg tattoos exposed rather than covering them up with irritating fabric while they heal.
Don’t do it on the cheap
Unless you have several trusted friends who can vouch for a suspiciously cheap tattoo parlour, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You’re altering your body for life. If that’s not worth a decent investment, I don’t know what is.
Research your artist
Look into who you’re trusting your body with. Choose an artist at least a week in advance, and look over their portfolio before committing. Make sure you’re happy with their work and that their style fits yours. Shots of their work should be available in the parlour and online, and reading reviews of parlours and artists on Facebook, Yelp, etc. will help you determine if you’re comfortable.
No matter how madly in love you are right now, putting your S.O.’s name on your body is a risky choice. Be 100% sure that you can stand behind your choice for the rest of your life. As a tattooist of mine once said, “You want it removed? OK, let me get the saw.”
Sleep on it
Give yourself some time to be sure you’re happy with your choices — design, placement, artist. Spontaneity is all well and good, but marking your body for life is a big decision. While it’s more than OK to choose something that isn’t the be all end all of your existence, make sure you are making your decision in the right mind and for the right reasons for yourself.After you’ve slept on it, commit to it. Confirm your appointment, mark your calendar, tell everybody, and don’t back out. Loads of people talk about getting a tattoo for years and never do it. If you want it, you have to make it happen.
Buy Bepanthen (Bepanthol) in advance
Your tattooist may or may not supply you with care cream, so to be safe, pick up a tube of Bepanthen+ at a pharmacy in advance of your appointment. This nappy rash cream is excellent for sensitive and sore skin, and will keep your fresh tattoo from spurting blood at inopportune moments. If your tattoo artist gives you care cream, use that and double check there’s no problem in using an over-the-counter ointment like Bepanthen or Aquaphor. Apply it at least twice a day for several weeks.
During my first tattoo, my tattooist said he’d had a lot of girls cry and hyperventilate during their firsts — before the needle even went in! Panicking will only ruin the experience, which should make a good memory, so take a deep breath, prepare for a little pinch and a little scratch, and know that it’s not worse than that.
It’s your body, so take control and get all the information. If you’re not sure what an instrument is, or if any cream or ointment is being applied to your skin, don’t be afraid to ask what’s happening!
Bring a visual aid
It should go without saying that you should supply a visual example of what you want. Even if you want an artist to customise a design for you, attend your appointment (or pre-meeting) with inspiration. If you want a specific text used, bring your chosen words along in that font. If you’ve seen the exact tattoo you want online, bring it in. Print versions are ideal, as your artist can use it to create a stencil or transfer.
Don’t be afraid to go back for a touch-up
Remember “no tattoo stays just like the first day!”
If a line isn’t clear enough, or a shadow not well filled in, go back and ask for it to be fixed! It’s better for small details to be done too lightly than botched the first time, and so this can happen due to an artist’s caution. If, within the first couple weeks of healing, you want something adjusted, get in touch with your artist and set up a touch-up. If you’ve been a good client and tipped well, this should be an easy arrangement!
Follow your care directions
Your tattoo artist will likely tell you how to move forward caring for your healing tattoo.
Other people will make your tattoo their business
If you’ve got a visable tattoo, people will ask about it. They’ll probably judge it. I got my first tattoo because I wanted it. End of story. It’s not meaningful except for the fact that I have a strong memory of getting the guts to do it, I was proud of myself for following through, and I did it for myself. This is hard to explain to people and they’ll still ask, “But what does it mean?” Get your tattoo for yourself and forget what other people will think of it. (So I guess if you want to tattoo your cat’s face on your face and your ex-boyfriend’s name on your bum, go for it.)
You’re the one who has to live with it the rest of your life. So if you want it for yourself, give it to yourself.