Getting tattooed is perhaps the most exciting change you can make to your physical appearance. It compounds the adrenaline of a radical new haircut or an all-new wardrobe by a thousand. Plus, it’s a change that says something bold about your will power, commitment, and mental fortitude.
To ensure your tattoo experience is life-changing in the best of ways, here’s our handy guide for finding the ideal shop and artist for you.
1. Do your research.
Don’t worry — this kind of research is fun!
First, ask your friends who have enjoyed a successful and positive tattoo experience. Where did they go? Which artist did they see? What tattoo did they get? This last question is particularly important. For example, if you’re looking to get an American Traditional piece, it’ll be beneficial to consult with friends who sport American Traditional work, rather than, say, hyperrealism. It’ll be doubly beneficial to consult a friend who has multiple tattoos in styles that pique your interest. Friends with plenty of tattoos can network you to new art, new people, and new experiences — they’re essentially walking, talking ads for tattoo shops.
Second, as it has been for years now, the internet is your friend. Conduct a Google search to find local tattoo shops or studios. Look up those shops on Yelp and Facebook to see what other folks have to say about them. Former clients will often rate tattoo shops and offer recommendations for which artists you should consult.
Looking to book a tattoo appointment while vacationing or enjoying a faraway trip? Conduct the same kind of research you would for a local shop or studio and make sure you read several reviews. However, since you likely won’t be able to visit the shop prior to your appointment, make sure you call the studio with any questions you may have and let them know about your travel plans.
Note: Instagram has become a vibrant and extensive portfolio for most tattoo artists. Go to a tattoo studio’s website, find an artist’s handle, and browse their Instagram page to see what they can do! You can also take a look at our pro-team artist profiles for artists who may pique your interest.
2. Visit the shop.
We always recommend paying the shop or studio a visit prior to your appointment.
Visiting a shop is the only way you can be sure the place looks safe and sanitary. Pictures only reveal so much, and the last thing you want is to be catfished by a studio that’s about to leave an indelible mark on your body.
This part is fairly simple: while visiting the shop, look around. Do the floors look clean? Do you see professional tattoo beds and chairs? Do you see clean countertops and organized studio equipment? Are there shelves with bottles of green soap and antiseptics and boxes of latex or nitrile gloves?
The answer should be yes to all of the above. Clutter, dirty floors, dirty counters, and general disarray are not welcome in a tattoo studio. Remember: tattoos are an invasive procedure. A part of you should think about stepping into a tattoo shop the same way you think about stepping into a doctor’s examination room.
That being said, this should also be a fun experience. Cleanliness is top-priority, but the environment speaks volumes as well. Does the wall art speak to you? Are your eyes drawn to the merch? A fun and positive environment that mirrors your interests can make your tattooing experience all the more positive and memorable!
Note: Some studios require an appointment for you to visit. If a shop is appointment-only, this is often an indication that the studio wants to ensure all their work is carefully planned, done, and executed beautifully for each client.
3. Ask your artist about their set-up.
Professional tattoo artists have undergone thorough training, not only to better their work, but to ensure they are meeting sanitary, legal, and hygienic standards. These standards are paramount to a positive tattoo experience.
Don’t be afraid to ask your artist about their set-up procedures and what to expect during the tattoo process. Their procedure should include the following critical steps:
- Washing their hands
- Wiping down and sterilizing counters and furniture
- Providing padded, comfortable seating
- Bagging their machines and covering their clip cords
- Wearing latex or nitrile gloves, removing and replacing them when touching anything other than you or the equipment
- Prepping your skin by shaving body hair with a disposable razor, if necessary
- Prepping the skin with Green Soap or another antibacterial soap
- Using lubricant or ointment throughout the tattooing process, such as INK-EEZE Glide
- Ensuring your comfort, asking regularly how you’re doing through the procedure
- Wiping away blood and other exudate with cleanser or soap
- Bandaging your tattoo
- Disposing of needles and infectious waste in biohazard bags and sharps containers
- Providing detailed aftercare instructions
Note: You can also ask to see your tattoo artist set up their station for a procedure and show you their equipment. All tattoo needles and cartridges should be unused. They should come in individual, unopened packaging with indicators to show that they are sterilized and not expired. Learn more about a tattoo artist’s sterile procedures and proper equipment in our Infocenter article Tattooing Safely: A Guide for Tattoo Artists.
You can also check to see if the equipment is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. We offer plenty of biodegradable Precision machine bags; durable, sterilized studio wipes as an alternative to paper towels; and vegan-friendly inks on our site.
Tattoo inks should be non-toxic, pre-dispersed, and devoid of harmful ingredients like carcinogens or hazardous chemicals. You can trust any of the brands we offer on our site, such as Eternal, Fusion, and World Famous Tattoo Inks. To learn more about safe tattoo inks, check out our Infocenter article Buying Safe Tattoo Ink.
4. Nervous about your first tattoo? Make two appointments.
There are some folks who stroll into their favorite shop or studio, pick a flash design, and have it tattooed that very same day. Impulsive flash tattoos can be exciting, and we certainly don’t discourage them, so long as you trust the shop or studio in question.
However, if you have any apprehensions about your first tattoo experience, we recommend making two appointments. After you’ve selected your studio and artist, you can make an appointment for (1) a consultation and (2) the tattoo. During the consultation, you’ll have the opportunity to sit down with your artist and talk at length about your custom piece. A consultation prevents any miscommunication, confusion, or misunderstandings from happening the day of the tattoo, which is sure to ease your anxiety — you’ll know just what to expect the day of your tattoo.
Note: A professional artist will make suggestions that are in your best interest. If they recommend making your tattoo larger, changing the placement, removing a detail you requested, or even if they suggest you try another artist, they are only trying to ensure you receive the custom piece you are looking to get. If they are friendly and professional, trust their expert opinion and maintain and open mind during the consultation process.
5. Be open and communicative.
During your consultation, whether that be in-person, over DM, or over the phone, convey exactly what you want. An artist won’t know exactly what you’re desiring unless you communicate it.
Likewise, you’ll want to seek an artist who is just as open, honest, and communicative. As we touched on above, you’ll want to make sure both of you are listening to each other with open ears and an open mind. That way, you’ll both be on the same page when it comes down to creating the stencil — and, of course, when it comes to tattooing the piece.
6. Choose a shop that treats you right.
This dovetails with your pre-appointment visitation. Is the front desk staff friendly and open to answering all of your questions? During your consultation, is your artist communicative, open-minded, and happy to work with you? Being a tattoo artist, shop manager, or receptionist are all interpersonal jobs that are centered around satisfying clientele. Tattooing has come a long way from being exclusive to fringe shops and underground culture. Now that it’s entered the mainstream and tattooing is a more common trade in general, professionalism has taken precedent as with any other public service.
7. Trust your gut.
If for any reason you feel uncomfortable, seek another tattoo shop. You want your tattoo experience to be positive, enjoyable, and comfortable. Unfriendly staff, artists who patronize or demean you, or generally feeling unwelcome in a studio are all indications that the place is not for you.
Additionally, if a tattoo studio is willing to take walk-in clients who are clearly intoxicated, underage, or aggressive and disruptive to the studio environment, we recommend promptly leaving — even if you’re just there for a flash piece. For the sake of professional integrity and your own personal safety, a studio that isn’t abiding legal practices may also let other crucial practices fall by the wayside (sanitary procedures, open communication, aftercare instructions, and more). You can check out tattoo laws by state here.
Nonetheless, don’t fret if your first visitation or consultation is a negative experience. This doesn’t mean getting a tattoo isn’t for you. It just means you haven’t found the shop or artist who’s right for you just yet. In that case, follow our tips all over again until you find a shop and an artist you trust.
Remember: taking your time and trusting your instincts will lead to the best result — that is, a tattoo you love.