Once you’ve decided you want a tattoo, there are few things more exciting than dreaming up designs and placements for your very first piece of body art. At this point you’re a blank canvas and the possibilities are endless. But it’s important to take some practical considerations into account. After all, a tattoo is permanent and potentially expensive, so you should ask yourself not only what tattoo you want, but what tattoo you should get. To help clarify the choices, we’ve compiled a list of important questions to consider before you get your first tattoo.
What Size Tattoo Do I Want?
If you’re interested in a larger design, you’ll need a place with plenty of surface area, such as your chest, torso, or back. For a small tattoo, you can choose pretty much anywhere on your body, while arms and legs are common first tattoo locations because they easily accommodate designs of various sizes.
The level of detail you want in your design will also affect the size. For a design with few lines or colors, a small size is no problem. But the more detail, shading, and texture you want, the larger the design will likely need to be.
How Much Time and Money Am I Willing To Spend?
You might be dreaming of a full sleeve or back tattoo, but are you willing to spend dozens of hours in the studio over weeks or months to complete it? You’ll also be paying your artist for those hours, so the cost of such projects can be significant. Additionally, larger designs require significantly more time, energy, and money for aftercare during the healing process. If any of that seems like a dealbreaker to you, you probably want to steer towards a smaller design. If the idea of a multi-session tattoo project is exciting to you, then dream big.
If you want a larger design but time and money are significant limiting factors, discuss the possibilities with your tattoo artist. They’ll be able to give you a sense of what designs are realistic given the time and investment you’re able to make. It’s also possible to develop a single design incrementally to alleviate the time and money commitment. For more information on how to plan a project like that, check out our article on designing tattoo sleeves.
How Visible Do I Want My Tattoo To Be?
If you’re interested in seeing and admiring your first tattoo, you might want to consider an accessible location like your lower arms. A tattoo can also serve as a creative way to draw attention to a particularly flattering part of your body or draw attention away from somewhere else. If you admire your shoulders and want others to have even more reason to admire them, too, maybe a shoulder tattoo is for you.
Of course, there are even more visible tattoo placement options, such as the neck, hands, or face. But if you’re considering any of those locations, it’s important to ask yourself whether you want others to be able to see your tattoo so easily. Regardless of how you feel about it, it may have a real impact on your employment prospects if you’re in a more traditional career. You should ask your employer or people who work in your desired profession whether such a visible tattoo might be detrimental to your work prospects.
Conversely, if you aren’t concerned with being able to see your tattoo all the time or actually want it to be concealed, the torso, upper arms, back, or thighs are all good, discreet options.
How Much Pain Am I Willing to Endure?
A good general rule is that the least painful places to get a tattoo are those with the most flesh and tissue between the skin and bone. Although hands, wrists, ankles, or feet are attractive spots for small tattoos, the relatively thin flesh in those locations makes them some of the more painful areas to tattoo. The ribs, neck, and shoulders can be painful for the same reasons. Some of the least painful places to get a tattoo are the arms or thighs, which have more tissue between the skin and bone.
The amount of time a design requires can also contribute to the pain factor – even though it might be less painful to tattoo your arm, a design that covers most of it will still mean a lot of time spent under the needle and more skin trauma to heal afterward.
For more first tattoo ideas or information about tattooing, tattoo artists, and tattoo products, check out our PainfulPleasures blog.