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Choosing a Tattoo Artist

Updated on February 14, 2014

Perhaps the most intimidating thing about getting a first tattoo is choosing an artist do to the work. After all in doing so you are trusting someone to permanently mark your body, and there are a lot of bad tattooists out there.

Having a clear idea about what you want to get and the minimum standards that an artist should meet before you consider using them however can make the whole process a lot easier.

Previous work

Before getting any work done by a particular artist, it is always important to see some of their previous work to verify that their standards of work are acceptable. Most will have a portfolio of their work available in studio and many these days display their best work online as well.

Recommendations can also be helpful in that you can see an artists work firsthand instead of merely photographs of what they might have done years ago or that a different artist at the same studio might have done.

Even if an artist comes highly recommended, seeing how their previous work in order to assess what style of artist they are is always important. It may be for example that for simple tattoos they are fine, but that they struggle with more detailed pieces. It could also be that they specialize in one style and aren't as well versed in others.

It could also be the case that what your friends consider to be great work, you wouldn't be seen dead with, and vice-versa when making recommendations yourself.

The Wrong Tattoo Artists

Specialization

While some artists can span the various different styles of tattoos with relative ease, most tend to have a certain style that they specialize in. This isn't always to say that they can't make a decent attempt at other styles. For example an artist very good at Japanese style work might not necessarily be as good at American classic style tattoos. Similarly some artists excel at producing portraits, while others refuse to even attempt them.

Depending on what it is you intend to get, choosing an artist with either a well rounded portfolio or who specializes in the type of tattoo you want is generally a good rule of thumb.

Health and Safety

One of the most obvious primary concerns that anyone should have when choosing a tattoo artist is that they operate a clean and safe studio.

For the most part with bigger and more established studios this is a given but the telltale signs should always be looked out for. Whether fresh needles are being used for each customer, that good personal hygiene is being observed by the artists, and that the shop itself is clean and tidy for example should all be checked.

A more pressing concern with health and safety is when the artist isn't working out of a proper studio. At this point the question of why they aren't working out of a studio and whether they have actually worked in one before should be addressed.

These days there are all too many people who have simply bought a tattoo machine online and begun tattooing people with no previous experience, knowledge of how to sterilize equipment or any real skill. These individuals of course should be avoided at all costs.

Pricing

Although pricing shouldn't be a major concern, it can sometimes play a factor when choosing an artist.

Generally speaking you tend to get what you pay for in terms of tattoos. If someone is charging $25 per hour rather than $100 and still appears to have little business there is probably a good reason for it.

Therefore never be afraid to pay more for a better standard of artist or be tempted to go with a cheaper option merely to save money at the time. Tattoos last a long time after all and bad work is more expensive to remove down the line than paying for a better artist at the time.

Similarly location can alter what prices you should expect to pay as well. A studio in a highly trafficked area that might get a lot of passing trade from tourists for example will tend to charge more than a shop in a small town, even assuming that their standards are the same.

Also well known studios or famous artists will also often charge more than less well established studios or artists who are just starting out. Apprentices will sometimes tattoo essentially for free, often charging only for the cost of materials. This of course comes with the understanding that they are more likely to make mistakes and aren't always going to produce the same quality of work as a more experiences tattooist.

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    • Bob Go profile image

      Harry Baldwin 

      4 years ago from New England (various locations)

      I have friends who have decided on price instead of reputation and portfolio, and it hasn't always been great!

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 

      6 years ago

      I could never imagine having one done, though all my children have. But I do know that they have stayed with the same tattooist and if I am honest the girls ones are tastefully done, not too big and can be hidden by clothing if the occasion called for it.

    working

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