Two BuzzFeed editors got tattooed at Sacred Tattoo in New York City, and talked with Inked magazine staff and tattoo artists Jon Mesa and Rods Jimenez about all the important stuff you'll need to know before (and after) getting inked.
So — you're thinking about getting a tattoo... Hooray!
1. First off, have an idea of what you want and a general style. Hyper-realistic? Traditional? Cartoony? Watercolor?
2. Find your perfect artist.
This tattoo is going to be a collaboration between you and the artist, so do some research and find someone whose work you respect and admire. "Figure out which style you like and then go through tattoo artists’ portfolios. Like fine artists, great tattooers excel at one particular genre," says Rocky Rakovic, editor-in-chief of Inked.
3. Visit the shop.
Now that you've found an artist whose work you love, it's time to check out where they work. Ask to take a walk around. "One of the best reasons to see the shop is to make sure it is clean. A tattoo shop should be as pristine as a doctor’s office," says Rakovic. Look for a biohazard box for waste, an autoclave, and individually wrapped sterilized needles. Don't worry if the front room looks like a rock venue or DIY art space — it's the work stations you'll want to make sure are hygienic.
4. Be prepared to shell out some cash.
5. Book your appointment.
There's a good chance your artist may have a busy schedule, so don't be surprised if you find yourself booking months in advance. A good tattoo is worth the wait! You'll likely be asked to leave a deposit (your artist's time is money, and it's important to respect that relationship), and maybe schedule a consultation and/or bring in reference materials prior to getting tattooed.
6. Be prepared the day of.
7. Communicate with your artist.
Be ready to discuss the tattoo. “The ideal situation is somebody coming with an idea — not a specific image, necessarily," says tattoo artist Jon Mesa. "That’s what’s important, for people to not get stuck on an image, and let their artist use their artistry and give them something that’s unique and personal to them." Remember: This is a collaboration, and your artist is the professional. That said, also be sure that the final design is one that makes you utterly, entirely happy.
8. No, seriously. Communicate.
"Articulate what you want, and more importantly what you don’t want in terms of size and color," says Rakovic. "If the tattooer politely suggests some edits, listen to him or her, as they are the professional and will know how the tattoo will sit and age."
9. The artist will sketch your tattoo on tracing paper.
This could take up to an hour or more, if it hasn't been done ahead of time, so be patient.
10. Most times, bigger is better.
11. No need to shave ahead of time.
12. The artist will apply the tattoo stencil on your skin.
And if the placement is slightly different than what you initially had in mind, consider your artist's recommendations. "In person, the tattoo artist can measure the area in which you want to be tattooed and also look at your other pieces and skin to see how the new piece will fit in," says Rakovic.
13. Check it out.
THIS IS IT! Don't be shy if you think the placement or the sizing is off — say something. Right now the artist can easily wash off the outline; not so much once the tattoo starts.
14. Make sure the station is neat.
Sure you did your walk-through when you first visited, but check that your artist's station is tidy and hygienic. You should feel comfortable, and their professionalism should put you at ease.
15. IMPORTANT: Make sure the needles your artist is using are new.
The needles should be removed from fresh packages right in front of you.
16. Be meditative or bring distractions.
Feel free to bring some entertainment. "Some [artists] will chat you up when you are getting tattooed since you are sharing a space and an intimate, permanent moment — and others would rather stay quiet and focused on your piece. If you are rolling solo, bring your phone and a charger," says Rakovic. And, he adds, if you're listening to music or watching a show, "keep one earbud out so that the tattooer can communicate with you."
17. Manage the pain as best you can.
Getting a tattoo hurts — needles are literally penetrating your skin. Communicate with your artist if you feel like the pain is becoming unbearable, and don’t be scared to ask for a break, take a minute to eat a snack, drink a Mountain Dew, etc. Pain is part of the process, but don't try to play too tough. If you need a break, take a break.
18. Do you love it?
Let 'em know!
19. More important: TIP!!!
Show your appreciation by leaving a healthy tip: at least 20% of the cost of the tattoo. Also, "just because your tattoo session lasted three hours, don’t forget that your artist also researched and drew your tattoo before applying it to your skin," says Rakovic.
20. Take good care of your new ink.
Different artists have different approaches — even those who work out of the same studio — and your tattooer will know the best way to take care of the specific piece you've gotten. So, say it all together now: LISTEN TO YOUR ARTIST. They know best.
21. Don't be freaked out by lots of dried blood once you take the bandage off.
It's totally normal. Blood means you are human. Hooray for not being a cyborg!
Also, take it easy in the immediate aftermath of your tattoo: Don't go to the gym the day of, and, if it's a bigger tattoo, maybe the next day too. "You're basically taking an open wound into one of the dirtiest places and allowing bacteria near it. Once it's past the oozing stage you'll be fine,” Mesa says.
Inked's creative director, Sami Hajar, adds, while it's healing, "don't scratch your tattoo, keep out of the sun, and don't go swimming in salt water or a pool."
22. Until it's healed, wash your new tattoo with antibacterial soap.
Your tattoo will start peeling in a few days. Allow it to peel naturally. It shouldn't take more than about two weeks or so for your skin to fully heal.
23. Some artists recommend using a bit of ointment, like Aquaphor or bacitracin.
And if at any point over the first few days you don't have a bandage on your new tattoo, protect any clothing (wearing black is a good idea), bedding, and furniture you care about from ink and blood stains.
24. Touch-ups may be necessary once you've healed.
Don't feel bad about asking. Different parts of your body may heal differently — color may look patchy or uneven in a few weeks — and most artists are happy to touch up your tattoo (usually free of charge). They likely want their artwork to look just as awesome as you do.
25. Be super pumped about your new tattoo!
And if you loved your artist, give them a shout-out on social media and recommend them to your friends.
Special thanks to Sacred Tattoo and tattoo artists Rods Jimenez and Jon Mesa, who provided their services free of charge to BuzzFeed. You can follow Rods Jimenez on Instagram here and Jon Mesa here, and check out artists' portfolios on Sacred Tattoo's website. Big thanks also to Rocky Rakovic and Sami Hajar at Inked magazine.