Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Know the style you want. Does the tattoo artist specialise in the 'style' you are after? If you want a specific style and you just wonder into a tattoo studio don't be surprised if the artist recommends other artists that could do a better job ... because the particular style you are after might not be what he/she specialises in. They could do it, but not as good as an artist who has a passion for the style you are after. It pays to keep in mind you are choosing an 'artist' first (the art style), then the tattooist second (the skilled expert). You are buying two things: 1). A piece of art, and 2). A professional to put it on your skin.
Be sure your chosen reputable tattoo artist and studio is registered with their licence on display. Does the artist doing your work follow safe hygiene procedures? For example, new gloves (worn at all times) and a new sterilized needle at the start of every session.
The needle should never touch any unsterilised area.
Get Your Design Right
Work on your tattoo design repeatedly until you are completely satisfied with it.
Now you know what you want and it's in your head ... you have to explain exactly what that looks like to your tattoo artist. This can be very difficult so take a few photos, images or sketches of different elements of your future tattoo.
Example: Mermaid tattoo -
Take suggestions from your tattoo artist on board but don't be guided into something you don't want. It's your tattoo, you're wearing it, but if the artist says, "The words are too small and need to be slightly bigger", take the advise into consideration. After all, the artist does this all day long and sees small mistakes that could have made a good tattoo great. At the other end of the spectrum ... don't nit-pick on the exact shade of colour, distance between A and B, or the number of eyelashes. If you've done your research and chosen the right artist and conveyed your idea properly you will be really pleased with the results. Remember, a good tattoo artist is intensely proud of their work and wants you to wear it with pride, too. And it goes without saying, 'you become their advertising billboard', so they want you to have exactly what you want so you recommend them.
Additionally, there is a big different between customers driving an artist mad because they have no idea what they want, or they know exactly what they want in infinite detail and the dream customer. The dream customer has researched the artist, knows their style and caliber. They come into the studio and say to the artist something along the lines of, "I want mermaid sleeping underwater with her head resting on her hands on the sea bed. Her hair and tail gently moving in the current as she rests. And, ... I want it placed here somewhere. I want it to exude a sense of calm". This gives the artist creative licence. After all, they are an artist. They want to express themselves, not just replicate other people's art. The dream customer doesn't come back for add-ons or modifications to bespoke artwork and they are very comfortable and proud wearing a unique piece from a specific artist; like wearing a Monet. Your could think of it like 'commissioning a painting', and you are the canvas.
Flash: The ability to walk in and get an image off the studio wall to be tattooed. There may be an opportunity to use an artist's flash sheet. Go through their portfolio to see their unique art ready to be put on a client who loves it.
Ask how many sessions it may take to complete your new tattoo.
A professional tattoo artist will have a set price to do your artwork. This is not negotiable. Haggling with a professional is disrespectful of their expertise, reputation and professionalism. Always remember great tattoos aren't cheap. If you want a great tattoo and don't have the budget for it yet ... save some more money, it will be worth it.
True, some artists have an hourly rate but again be respectful; you will get exactly what you pay for.
If you are in another country where it is customary to negotiate price then make sure you agree on an hourly rate and the estimated total cost. Don't pay a cheap price and get a cheap job because you will regret it and end up spending more on a 'cover-up' piece.
If you have a strict budget, tell your tattoo artist before you start so together you can manage the outcome.
Tipping: Not expected but greatly appreciated. It's a direct reflection of how you feel about your tattoo. Normally 20-30% in monetary terms or consider a cool gift of the same value you know the artist will be into.
Complete any necessary paperwork.
Check all tattooed word spelling thoroughly before you start and during; because it’s too late at the end of the job to realise something is spelled incorrectly.
Whether a tattoo is small or large ... you're going to feel it. When the pain gets a little too much, tell your artist when you need a break.
Do not consume any ibuprofen or aspirin before your appointment as these can thin your blood and may cause excessive bleeding.
Immediately tell the tattoo artist if you start to feel unwell during the session. Pain is an interest beast and even the strongest of individuals have their body over-ride their metal willpower resulting in passing out. Speak up and let them know.
Things Your Tattoo Artist Needs To Know Before Starting
Discuss any medications you are on with you tattoo artist.
Make an appointment to go in and take to your tattoo artist of choice. There you will get to discuss colour, size, style, location, price and every other aspect of your work.
The night before getting a tattoo
It's important to not have alcohol the night before. Alcohol can cause the body to thin the blood which will cause you to bleed more unnecessarily. Obviously, being drunk on the day is not a good idea and has proven to be the catalyst for poor decision making and regretful tattoos.
Number one thing on the day: Get your personal hygiene in order. Make sure you shower, shave, brush your teeth just before your appointment. Your tattoo artist is going to be up close and personal and they will be very appreciative if you are clean and odour free.
Make sure you have something to eat before you start. Eating whilst being tattooed is unhygienic and causes movement which is not ideal. Additionally, it is illegal to eat while being tattooed in some places so eat before you go to your appointment.
Arrive for your appointment a few minutes early. You're getting tattooed so relax! Don't squeeze the appointment in between your other things. Set a big slice of your day aside; especially if you are a 'walk-in'. Be patient. It takes a while to clear, clean and sterilise a workstation from the last client in preparation for you. Discussing, designing and placing a piece also takes lots of time. Things have to be done right.
In the chair
As long as you are 'still' you can bring a book or movie to watch. You may just want to listen to music. Whatever you do, consider your tattoo artist. Some artists talk a lot, others are very quiet while they concentrate on making you a masterpiece. Don't initiate a conversation first with your artist. If they are quiet and focused, you put some buds in your ears and tune out knowing they are dedicated to making your tattoo something special. Don't be offended, it's just how some artists work best. Another thing to be mindful of is 'staring at the tattoo being done'. There is nothing more off-putting than having someone stare at your work while you're doing it and trying to live up to their expectation at the same time. Don't touch the cleaned and prepped stencil area because it will have to be re-done.
Don't touch the new tattoo because you get blood on your hands and transfer it around the shop. You also risk contaminants getting into your fresh wound.
Preferably, go to your appointment alone. If you need support, take a friend. Don't take a group of people who are going to distract the artist, fill up the studio and be a nuance. Your artist needs to concentrate on the task at hand and for you to be still, not jiggle about laughing with your friends.
If your new tattoo is under clothing, wear only soft loose fitting clothes that can easily be removed, are free of loose fibres and will not rub or have scratchy seams.
Try to avoid having your tattoo session at the same time as your period because the pain will be amplified. Even areas normally moderate in intensity will be magnified and unpleasant.
The tattoo culture may seem 'rough and ready' but the truth is it is full of wonderfully talented specialist artists who love art, love tattooing, love happy customers and intensely proud of their work.