Over the course of thousands of years, the art of body modification has been practiced and perfected on a worldwide scale. However, it is still baffling and-honestly, a little scary-to modern-day patrons who are seeking to receive a tattoo for themselves. Throughout my experience in the body art industry, there are several questions that pop up continuously from curious customers. If you’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo, or simply are wondering how the process works, I hope that the answers to these questions will help you out!
Q: How much do tattoos hurt?
A: This is by far the most common question that I’ve received! Of course tattoos are going to hurt a little bit-after all, a grouping of small needles are piercing your skin at over 1,000 times per minute-but you also have to keep in mind that if tattoos were that painful, would so many people continuing receiving them? The actual amount of pain varies from person to person, and also depends on the tattoo’s location on your body. Most tattoos can be described to feel kind of like a bee sting or a cat scratch. Trust me, it’s way easier than getting a cavity filled!
Q: Where is the most painful place to get a tattoo?
A: Generally speaking, areas where the skin is stretched thinner, such as feet, ankles, hands, fingers, the ribcage, and the scalp will be more painful. Also, any skin that is ‘on the inside’ of your body, such as the inner arms and inner thighs will be more sensitive because that skin isn’t as exposed to the elements as often.
Q: What should I keep in mind when designing my tattoo?
A: Sometimes what looks like a great idea on paper doesn’t translate so well as a tattoo. The most common issues when people bring in a design are that they are too small or too detailed for the designs’ size.
Skin is unique as an organ in that its cells migrate over time, which means that the design will spread or shift over the years, no matter how skilled your tattoo artist is. Spaces that are too close together will eventually look like a blur, and you want a tattoo that will stay crisp for a long time! This issue is especially true with lettering and fonts: make sure that the font you choose is simple and/or large enough that you’ll still be able to read it a couple years down the road.
Q: I can’t draw to save my life! Should I still get a tattoo?
A: Of course! If we expected every client to have artistic ability, we certainly would not be able to tattoo for a living. Most competent tattoo artists are able to draw, and are sometimes required to have this talent before even being employed at a shop. If you have reference pictures from the Internet, or even just a descriptive idea of the design that you want, a good tattoo artist can draw it up for you! Keep in mind that if your custom design is larger, then you may have to make an appointment so that the artist can have time to draw up the piece. Unfortunately, we aren’t copy machines, though that would be nice!
Q: How much do tattoos cost?
A: It really depends on the individual tattoo artist; most artists are freelance workers who charge on their own terms. The hourly rate can vary anywhere between $75 and $150 per hour, sometimes more depending on what state you live and the shop (L.A. Ink artists charge up to $600 per hour!). Tattoos are permanent, so the price is not ridiculous when compared to plastic surgery. Just remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for; PLEASE don’t price shop for something that will be on you for the rest of your life, you might end up regretting it!
In addition to checking the reputation of the shop, also browse the artists’ portfolios to see that they have consistently good work, and also to see if their style matches the type of design that you have in mind. Also remember that tattooing is a service industry…you’ll want to tip accordingly when everything’s said and done!
Q: I don’t like my tattoo anymore! What options do I have?
A: So, the butterfly on your shoulder that you got when you were 18 no longer looks good? Is Mark wondering why Tim’s name is on your hip? There are a couple options that you can consider if you no longer like one or more of your tattoos. The first and most obvious choice is laser removal, which involves a laser penetrating the skin and essentially zapping the unwanted pigment from an individual’s skin. However, this option is more painful than the tattoo, and also a good deal more expensive; on the plus side, it is the only practical way to completely remove a tattoo.
Another option is to cover up your tattoo with a different one that you’ll like more. Keep in mind for this that the tattoo will have to be larger than your original one, and will have to be dark enough to cover it as well. Your tattoo artist should be able to help you come up with a design that works for what you have if you consider getting a cover-up, and the charge is typically the same as any other new tattoo.
Q: Can they do glow-in-the-dark and white ink tattoos?
A: There has been a lot of speculation about these. Ink that glows in the dark (blacklight ink) is new, and hasn’t been tested over long periods of time. So far, the results have been that the tattoos fade MUCH quicker than ordinary tattoos. Also, most blacklight inks contains phosphors (think light bulbs and x-rays), which probably isn’t the safest chemical to be injecting into your body. As for white ink…the tattoos can be done, but most artists will recommend that you shy away from using ONLY white. They fade quickly, and often leave scar tissue behind as the tattoo artist makes an effort for the ink to stay. It also yellows over time as it blends with the natural pigment of your own skin, which isn’t as noticeable on darker colors. It’s great for highlights on a nice color tattoo though, just not by itself!
Q: What are some things I should do before I get my tattoo?
A: Good question! A lot of people don’t look at the tattoo as a medical procedure, which it really, in a way, is. After you do your research and are ready to walk into the shop, make sure that you’ve eaten (within 2 hours recommended) before sitting in the chair. This will not only help ease your nerves, but also make your body more comfortable to sit through the procedure for a longer period of time. Stay hydrated, but no alcohol! Alcohol is a blood thinner, which makes it more difficult for the artist to work AND for your tattoo to heal. For this reason, I would also advise against taking an excessive amount of painkillers. Finally, don’t squeeze the tattoo into your schedule! It can be taxing on the body, and also heightens your adrenaline response if you’re worrying about if you’ll make it to work on time.
Q: Will my tattoo get infected?
A: At a reputable shop, the tattoo procedure leaves no room for infection; a tattoo shop holds the same sterilization standards as a dentist office would, which includes one-use needles and ink caps, and autoclaved, sterile reusable equipment. Make sure that the shop you have in mind can answer any health concerns that you have prior! The chance for tattoo infection lies in the customers themselves. Don’t touch your tattoo with dirty hands, don’t pick or scratch at it as the healing process progresses, and definitely don’t submerge your tattoo in hot tubs, pools, or ANY standing water, and shouldn’t have any problem with infection! If something does go awry, make sure you contact a physician at the very first signs.
Q: So…there’s no risk for bloodborne illnesses?
A: There certainly shouldn’t be! Like I said before, any reputable shop will be happy to show you that their needles and ink caps (and sometimes other equipment) is single use and disposed of properly, and that everything else they use is sterile. In most counties in the United States, tattoo shops are required to adhere to these and other strict Health Department regulations in order to stay open. DO NOT get tattooed at any shop that can’t prove these things to you or answer your questions about their operations, no matter how professional they might look!
Hopefully this answers some of the most common and basic questions that you might have in mind next time you’re itching for some new ink. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to call your local tattoo shop and ask! The tattoo industry has become quite professional and proficient in customer service, despite the outward appearance, and they should be happy to help you out. Happy body modifying!