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Idiot's Guide to a First Tattoo
DOES IT HURT?

The answer is here!
Also, a checklist for the day
of your tattoo procedure
that can make it easier
and increase your endurance.
Surviving your first tattoo
involves preparation, confidence,
and a little know-how,
but anyone can do it.

When choosing a design, don’t opt for something smaller or less intricate than you’d like to wear. The pain will only last during the process, but you will be wearing an image that isn’t quite what you wanted for a very, very long time. Choose something that speaks to you. The more you want to wear it, the more stamina you’ll have for the process. Finding something you really want will give you the motivation you need.

When choosing a placement, the same holds true-if you want something done in a more painful place, don’t be afraid of the pain involved. Get it where you would like to look at it, where you want to wear it. The pain is not going to be terrible enough to justify wearing something you don’t like for decades.

Areas that are known to be painful include the ribs, armpits and underarms, sternum, elbows, feet, groin, stomach, wrists, ankles, and knees. Any area that is very bony, or which has very thin skin, will likely hurt more. Areas such as the outer thigh and calf, inside forearm, and bicep tend to hurt less. The skin in these areas sees more wear-and-tear in general and has less dense nerve endings. The scalp is a less painful area also, for the same reason.

Custom work that’s larger takes longer- if you are going to need anything to help you through a long session, the artist can often tell you what to bring along. Any questions you have about medications, acceptable ID, or money are better answered in advance also. Ask questions about the process or how to make yourself more comfortable.

The night before:

1. Don’t drink heavily. If it will make you hungover, it will thin your blood the next day.

2. Get to bed on time. It may feel like Christmas eve and be hard to sleep, but the rest will make you less fidgety the following day.

3. If you have an appointment, Check your appointment card to verify the time of your tattoo and the price.

4. Check your funds. Make sure you have enough to cover the cost and a tip. Make sure you’ll have enough left over to eat something or buy bottled water or any incidental snack you might want while you get tattooed.

5. Make sure you have any art reference you will need and your ID/driver’s license!

The day of:

1. Pack a small bag with; bottled water, walk man or Ipod, book to read, video game (if you want to play one), snacks that are high in carbohydrates/protein/glucose (such as granola bars, peanuts, sun chips, crackers, or fresh fruit), pillows or a small (clean) blanket. Make sure that you have a ride home if you need one, and that you didn’t forget any artwork or reference or your wallet or ID.

2. Shower or bathe. Unless you are getting an underarm tattoo, please wear deodorant. If you are getting a tattoo below your knee, wash your feet and wear clean socks. Wear clean clothes that ink stains can get on. Even in summer, bring a sweatshirt or something warm to wear. Getting tattooed can make you feel colder than usual.

3. Eat a full meal before you head for the studio. Eat heavy and filling foods. This will make your body less likely to flinch, and will keep you calm.

4. Don’t drink or take any pills. Reputable tattoo artists WILL NOT tattoo anyone that’s under the influence. If you feel you must take something, ask your artist, sometimes small doses of ibuprofen or Midol will help. If you are on any regular medications, ask ahead of time. If you have a medical condition, tattooing can stimulate endorphins and adrenalin and cause bad reactions in those who are on some medications or who have chronic health problems.

5. Show up on time and be aware that your artist might run late. This is possibly because the person ahead of you wasn’t fully prepared or was late, or passed out or wiggled! Use the extra time to get comfortable with the atmosphere in the shop, find the restroom and smoking area, fill out paperwork, and introduce yourself to the person behind the counter. Ask them for any assistance you might need while you are getting tattooed.

6. Getting a tattoo can make you hungry and tired, so plan to rest and eat after getting tattooed. Taking time afterward to relax and clean up your new artwork can help a lot with the healing.

During the session:

1. Tattoos that are small and simple can take as little as ten minutes or less to apply. Your artists will most likely not be patient or understanding if you cannot sit still for five minutes. If you think you aren’t capable of enduring any pain at all without complaining, crying, or moving around, wait until you have mastered this before you decide to get work done. Don’t be afraid to tell your artist that you are nervous. They see many nervous and frightened people and can often help by explaining the process to you. Usually they can tell you stories about many people who were worse!

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance if you feel queasy, dizzy, or confused. Some people feel faint during the first few minutes of a tattoo (even when it’s not their first time!), so there’s no need to be embarrassed or afraid. Let the artist know if you are feeling anything unusual besides the tattoo itself.

3. Yes, it will hurt. But it won’t hurt very badly. Tattoos feel somewhat like an "electric cat scratch"; tingly and scratchy at the same time. Tattoo needles are NOT like the needle in a syringe; they are not hollow and don’t penetrate the skin entirely. They go in a few millimeters at most and look like small metal paintbrushes or rakes. Ask your artist before they start if you can see what they are using. This may help you feel less anxious.

4. Sit however the artist asks you to sit. It may seem hard, but artists are concerned with stretching out the skin, so try to stay in the position they choose. If your leg or arm is falling asleep, or you can’t maintain a position, let them know before it becomes a struggle for you to stay still. When you strain to hold a position you may begin to shake or twitch, and this doesn’t help them. Hold still. If you must cough, change your position, stretch your other leg,, laugh, or flinch, give the artist warning.

5. Artists all work as fast as is possible. Stopping them to check their progress slows them down, not to mention, annoys them ("Are we there yet?" syndrome). During longer sessions, usually a tattooist will break each hour or so to use the bathroom or smoke a cigarette.

6. Your artist can hold a conversation while they are tattooing you, but if you feel you need to chat in order to cope, bring a friend to talk to you. Wearing headphones and listening to your music be relaxing.


After your tattoo:

1. Get and follow your aftercare instructions. Pay attention to what your artist tells you about aftercare; even though you are tired it is very important to listen.

2. Tip your artist as well as you can afford. Give a good tip and your artist will remember you as a good client. This can lead to perks for you later if you become a repeat client.

3. Ask about aftercare products the studio has for sale.

4. Your artists offer a free touch up if it turns out to be necessary.

5. If you had a good experience, tell others about it. Word-of-mouth is most tattoo artists’ main means of advertising.


Remember, you are getting permanent artwork applied. Don’t take any shortcuts to preparing for a tattoo, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, get explanations, and interact with your artist. While you may be apprehensive about the pain of getting tattooed, you should know that it is not excruciating. If you have ever had an injury more serious than a broken nail, you have already felt worse pain. Plan your tattoo to suit you for the rest of your life, not to be less painful.

Surviving your first tattoo is easy. Deciding where to put the next one is hard.

(To my fellow tattoo artists....I have this layout in the form of a brochure it you would like to hand these out in your studio...

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