- Devin Gackle
18 Things You Need To Know Before Getting Your First Tattoo
If you’ve never gotten a tattoo before, getting one for the first time can seem daunting. Well, fear not fellow adventurers, I just got my first tattoo, and I have no regrets. In fact, I loved it!
Since I had a few questions beforehand, and during the process, I thought it’d be a good idea to share what I learned, just in case someone out there needs some reassurance. To further assure you that it’s not as bad as you think, here are a few tips on what to do before, during, and after getting a tattoo.
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Before you get a tattoo:
1. Know what you want (and where you want it). Or at least have an idea. Do a little research and think about it – it will be inked onto you forever. But it’s also easier for the artist if you know what you want; bring pictures for them to see, explain what you want, and they’ll draw it out for you until it’s the design that you want. Keep in mind this might take a while. Speaking of which…
2. Don’t think you’ll just be in and out. If it’s a small, simple tattoo, true it might not take very long. But depending on how busy the shop is, you may have to wait an hour or so. If your design is more complicated, you may have to schedule an appointment for another day. Some tattoos take multiple sessions depending on the size and detail.
3. Prepare the night before. For instance, don’t drink heavily (preferably not at all) because it can thin your blood. Go to bed at a decent hour so you can get plenty of rest. Depending on where you’re getting your tattoo and how long it takes, you might have to sit or lay in an uncomfortable position for an extended period of time.
4. Eat something before the task and remember to drink lots of water. You want something in your stomach, and you want to stay hydrated. Even if you’ve gotten a tattoo before, it’s still a good idea to do so. Otherwise, you might risk passing out. You also might have to wait a while, so you might even want to bring a snack (I did).
5. If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor about it. You might need a doctor’s note at the shop.
6. Make sure you have the money. Some tattoos can be only $50, but others can be several hundred, so make sure you can afford the tattoo you want.
7. Not every shop requires tips, but have money for a tip anyway. The artists put their time, effort and talent into giving you something you’ll treasure forever; you should tip them.
8. Remember to bring your ID. You must be eighteen to get a tattoo. If you’re not, you need to bring a parent with you.
During the tattooing process:
This is the fun part. There was a lot I didn’t know about getting a tattoo until I got one, and I learned some pretty cool things. I know you’re probably wondering if it really hurts, so don’t worry, I’ll get to that.
1. The spot you are having tattooed might need to be shaved. The artist will do that, so you don’t need to worry about it. My tattoo is on my shoulder, so I did not have to have it shaved, but my artist cleaned the spot before starting, to keep it sterile.
2. There are pauses in the process. I don’t know why, but I assumed once he started, the artist would just keep drawing. But he drew it basically the way he would have drawn it on paper – one line, etc. at a time. The needle probably didn’t touch my skin for more than ten seconds at a time. Sometimes, the artist would pause for a few seconds, sometimes a little longer—sometimes other people in the shop would come look when they were done getting their tattoo, and the other artists at the shop wanted a peek, too.
3. Remember to breathe. Don’t hold your breath. Try to relax, find something to distract you – or just focus on breathing. It may even lessen the pain. I noticed that when I randomly thought about blood, sharp things or pain of any kind, it hurt a little more, but when I let my mind wander, it hurt less. So don’t think about it.
4. You can talk while you’re getting your tattoo. Personally, I talked carefully because I was trying not to move too much, but I had some nice chats with my artist. He asked me about my work and what I like to read, and he told me about his family and his master’s degree in fine arts, and of course, some weird tattoo stories (I asked). Don’t be afraid to talk to your artist! An hour and a half flew by for me with my artist distracting me (and it hurt less, too).
5. Does it hurt? That’s a common question when it comes to tattoos. The simple answer is yes. But it also doesn’t hurt as much as you think it does. In my experience, the worst points of pain feel sort of like something is cutting you; it’s a sharp pain that as mentioned only lasts for seconds at a time. For me, it didn’t hurt when the needle was lifted away. The more tolerable pains felt like little bee stings, or like someone was drawing on me with a pen (which, in a way, is what was happening).
Now, pain is different for everyone, so I guess I’ll just say “Expect it to hurt, and it will probably hurt less than you thought it would.” In my pre-tattoo research, I came across a website called High Priestess that said “Yes it will hurt, but probably not nearly as bad as you think it will. Unless you don’t think it will hurt at all. Then it might hurt really, really bad. Tattoos have been described as feeling somewhat like an “electric cat scratch”; tingly and scratchy at the same time.”
After getting your tattoo:
1. Your tattoo will be bandaged. How long to keep the bandage on may vary. My instructions were to leave it on for 1-2 hours. Another friend told me he had to take his off right away. My suggestion for this is – follow the aftercare instructions your artist gives you.
2. Repeat: Follow the aftercare instructions given to you. Generally, you wash the tattoo with a mild soap after removing the bandage. You may also be instructed to apply a thin layer of ointment or unscented lotion. I was given a packet of A&D ointment to use for a certain period and told to use lotion at a later period.
3. There’s a list of “don’ts.” For instance, don’t go swimming or soak your tattoo in water for two weeks. Showering is fine, but it shouldn’t be submerged in water. Don’t expose it to too much sun. Don’t re-bandage your tattoo. Don’t scratch it – it’s likely to be at least a little itchy, and might even start peeling, so don’t pick at it (this is what ointments and lotions are for). Don’t let it come into contact with dirty things.
4. You might be sore. Personally, my tattoo was not sore, but it was a small one. At the worst, it feels a little bit like a sunburn.
5. If you have any questions, ask your artist about it. Just give your shop a call – they’d be happy to answer your questions.
Overall, getting a tattoo is an exciting experience. Though getting nervous, or even scared, is understandable, it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. I dare say you’ll enjoy it. From my own experience, I’m extremely happy with mine, and already want to get another one. Some may wonder at your desire to sit and get your body covered in ink, but if it’ll mean something to you, don’t let your fears stop you. It’s totally worth it.