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Choosing a Tattoo: The Most Important Step

Updated on March 11, 2020
design taken from client's favorite belt buckle
design taken from client's favorite belt buckle | Source
inked in hononr of the client being Saved.
inked in hononr of the client being Saved. | Source

So you wanna get inked...?

Tattoos. You see them just about every where now-a-days. From the housewife with 3 kids to the biker cruising down the highway and just about everyone in between, tattoos have become almost common place in our society today. Where it was once thought that only sailors and bikers would get tattoos or children trying to rebel against their parents now it's not uncommon to see a group of mom gathered in a clutser at a PTA meeting showing off their newest tiny tattoo to like minded moms. Love them or hate them you can't get away from them. Even if you never see them they're all around you.

Now having said that I can honest say that I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard someone say, "I wish I had thought about this tattoo a little more before I got it done." Or "I should have shopped around for a different artist. That guy was a scratch." And the two most common phrases are "I wish I hadn't gotten this one" and "How hard do you think it will be to cover this up?"

Tattoos are a life long decision (although with today's technology it's somewhat possiable to remove tattoos, it's not a plesant process and any die-hard inker will vote against it). It's important that you take your time picking out your tattoo, the tattoo artist you'll be using, and the placement of the tattoo you want.


Design, Artist, and Location

When choosing a tattoo there are a number of factors to consider. From my experience the 3 most important are: what design you want to get, what artist you'll have doing the work, and where you want the tattoo to be placed. The 3 things will help you set a good base for getting quality tattoo that you'll be happy with for the rest of your life. Remember, tattoos are pretty much permanent.


What sort of tattoo do you want? Your choices are limited only by your imagination, your artist's skill, and you bank account. When considering design, there are a number of different choices to make.

  • Black & White, Grey-wash, or Color? Do you want your tattoo to be colored in, a simple black and white outline, or a black outline and shaded in with grey? Consider your choice carefully. A simple black and white could be filled in at a later time if you're not sure what colors you want. Grey-wash can look amazing but it's important to find an artist that is very very good at it if this is the way you want to go. Color tattoos are the most common it seems and while often pretty to lok at it's important to remember that colors can fade over time. Also, color tattoos can be a little more difficult to cover-up depending on the color to black ink ratio.
  • Symbolism. Do you want your tattoo to have a specific meaning? Symbols and images have different meanings depending on which culture you're representing and where the tattoo is located. For example, a spider web tattoo "generally" indicates that the wearer has done prison time, is a gang member, or has killed a person of a minority.Remember that not all tattoos mean the same thing to everyone. I have a spiderweb tattoo but for me it symbolizes my youngest son since it has his name in it. Also try to keep appropriateness in mind. If you're looking to get a tattoo to represent your love for your grandmother a pin-up girl tattoo probably isn't the best route tog o. (Unless, of course, your grandmother was a pin-up model then that's just awesome.)
  • Do your research. Before you settle on a design I advise you to do your research carefully. Be absolutely certain that you've chosen a design that you'll be happy with for the rest of your life.


Do you already know a tattoo artist or are you shopping around? I personally advise against just picking a random shop off a list or just because you walked past it. Check those places out by all means, but check others as well.

  • Type of Artist. What sort of artist are you comfortable with? Do you prefer an artist that is working in a shop with years of experience under their belt? Personally I think these can be the best choice for the majority of people. However don't ignore the potential of an apprentice or freelance artist if given a very good review from several other artists and clients.
  • Beginners and Scratchers. Yes, there is a difference. A Scratcher is a person who thinks they do good work when they don't, does not practice sterile tattooing procedures, and shows a general lack of concern for anything other than making money. STAY AWAY FROM SCRATCHERS!!! Scratchers are generally recognized by a lack of a portfolio, a lack of good reviews, and the willingness to tattoo anything onto anyone anywhere they want in whatever work conditions are provided at the time. Anyone using a homemade tattoo gun, i.e. parts of a tape recorder, a battery, guitar string, and ink pen, is likely to be a scratcher. Be advised that it is extremely easy these days to purchase tattoo equipment over the Internet and even scratchers can have a professional set up if they care to. A Beginner is not a scratcher. Yes, they may lack the skills and experience of a shop bound or apprentice artist but everyone has to start somewhere. These people are Beginners. I believe they deserve a chance if they meet certain criteria.
  • Beginners Criteria: They must be dedicated to improving their art. They do not accept a set payment for their work, in fact by law they (and scratchers) are not allowed to accept payment for any work. They may, however, accept donations. When working they will follow the established sterile procedures f any shop bound artist, always using new needles and sterilized equipment. They will keep good stock of their own supplies. They will not work while intoxicated in any form nor will they work on someone who is intoxicated in any form. Beginners may be a little over zealous in presenting their portfolios but this is usually due to their excitement and pride in their work. They should be dedicated to furthering the tattooing community at large by practicing proper procedures and producing quality work. Finally, a Beginner committed to improving their work will not try to ink any design they do not think they can do correctly and if they do a poor job or mess up they tend to be quite upset.
  • Apprentices and Freelance Artists. The primary difference between an apprentice and a freelance artist is that one is under the paid tutelage of a professional tattoo artist. An apprentice has paid an artist an apprenticeship fee, usually somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000. This fee is used to cover their equipment, shop fees, supplies, and compensation to the mentoring artist. Freelance artists have not hires a professional mentor. They may be mentored by a retired professional or by another freelancer. Some have never received mentoring and have taken their skills to this level on their own merit and determination without much help along the way. Both fall in between the Beginner and Professional levels of skills.


Where do you want your tattoo to be placed? Most people tend to find that the bicep, calf, and shoulders tend to be the least painful but it really all depends on the person and the artist. A good general rule to follow is that anything right on the bone or over a cluster of nerves (the spine, ankles, lower back) will be more painful than somewhere padded with fat and muscle. Also anywhere the skin is more tender and sensitive (inner thigh, under side of the upper arm, throat) is likely to be a good deal more painful than other places. Keep in mind that some, like tattoos on the hands, neck, and face can hamper some opportunities in the future.

Other things to keep in mind

Once you've decided on your design, your artist, and where you want your tattoo there are still a few things left to consider.

  • Cost. How much is the tattoo going to cost. If you've chosen a very large piece and it's going to take multiple sessions to finish it is your artist going to have a session fee after your initial visit?
  • Aftercare. What sort of aftercare is going to be involved? Typically a tattoo you can see yourself is going t be easier to care for than one you can't. The bigger the tattoo the longer it will take to heal and that will obviously cost more in aftercare products and time.
  • Future Impact. Are you willing to have that half naked demon chick on your forearm at your future PTA meetings? Not everyone likes tattoos and some workplaces even ban their workers form having them at all. If you're thinking that one day you might (or have) joined the military then an anarchy symbol might not be a good choice for you. Everything we do has far reaching consequences and tattoos are no exception.

Finally I have a list of general Do's and Don'ts of choosing a tattoo.


  • Insist on a sterile needled every time. Never, under any circumstances, share a tattoo needle with another person.
  • Insist on fresh ink caps, gloves, and furniture covering every time.
  • Shop around for shops and artists. Take your time. A tattoo is a commitment.
  • Tip your artist. Even after you pay for your tattoo it's nice to give your artist a tip for a job well done. It goes without saying that if your artist does a shoddy job then no tip is needed.
  • Trust your gut. If at any time you change your mind (before needle has touched flesh that is) speak up. If your gut tells you that you're in a bad shop or you don't fully trust your artist then don't get the tattoo. Wait a few days, shop around some more and then if you want to, return to the original shop and ask for a different artist.
  • Get to know your artist. Don't be afraid to try to strike up a conversation and get to know them. After all, they'll be getting under your skin. Literally.
  • Think your tattoo decision through thoroughly.
  • Wash your new tattoo with anti-bacterial soap frequently and gently.
  • Use sunscreen if your tattoo will be exposed to the sun for any length of time. Tattoo ink will fade over time and fresh ink seems to fade faster when exposed to direct sunlight wihtout protection.


  • Never allow anyone to work on you while you or they are intoxicated in any for.
  • Never allow someone to tattoo you in an unsanitary environment
  • Don't forget to tip your artist.
  • Settle for anything you're not sure you'll be happy with.
  • Never scrub your new tattoo with a bath poof, loofah, or washcloth. This will do some serious damage to your tattoo not to mention cause you pain as well.
  • NEVER pick at your tattoo! Picking will destroy it!
  • Don't pick a tattoo strictly for "show value"

it is also generally avoided to avoid the following for tattooing: logos, brand names, lover's names, slogans, fad-sayings, hate messages, bragging tattoos.


Parting Words

Some people will say that tattoos have no special meaning. For them that may be so but for the vast majority of tattoo bearers we are proud to belong to the Fellowship of Ink and to us each tattoo has a special meaning and a personal story lying behind it. Some of us might even tell you about it if you ask.

The bottom line: Use your head and think things through before you get inked. Tattoos are painful, expensive, time consuming, and occasionally shunned. There are ways to remove tattoos but they are far worse than having the tattoo done in the first place.


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