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Ultimate Guide to Getting Your First Tattoo

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Getting your first tattoo can be just as daunting as it is exciting, mainly because you don’t know what to expect. Whether you’ve already booked an appointment or have no idea where to start, you’re bound to have plenty of questions. Rather than rushing in head-first, read our guide to getting your first tattoo to help ensure you have the best experience possible. Whether you want to know how to stay calm for your first tattoo or the aftercare, we’ve got you covered.

How painful is a tattoo?

It’s difficult to say just how painful a tattoo is as it depends on the location and size, as well as your pain tolerance. Generally, however, fleshy places on the body tend to be less painful than spots over bone. You may find that the pain feels incredibly sharp at first before dulling down as your body gets used to the feeling and adrenaline increases. It’s a smart idea to start small, tattoo wise to get a feel for the pain before moving onto bigger pieces.

People often compare the feeling of a tattoo to a hot sunburn being scratched by a cat, but this varies per person and their pain tolerance. Others compare it to an epilator that removes hair. You can expect to feel the prodding or vibration of the needle at the very least.

What is the best place for your first tattoo?

Many people try and base their first tattoo’s location on where it will hurt the least but, as everyone has a different experience, this doesn’t always work out as expected. Forget about pain for a moment and think about where you’d most like a tattoo, as this truly is the best place for your first. Of course, you should consider if it will affect your lifestyle and career, but to put it simply, the best place for your first tattoo is the place that you prefer.

As mentioned, certain spots are more painful than others. If you’re really worried about the pain, avoid areas where the skin is thin, such as the elbows, ribs or clavicle, and opt for a more fleshy spot instead.

Male artist with beard working on a tattoo

How to pick your first tattoo

Finding an artist you like is incredibly important, especially if you’re new to the tattoo world. It helps to find someone who specialises in your chosen style, whether that be traditional or dotwork. We’ve written a detailed article on finding the perfect tattoo artist for you, which you can find here.

When asked how to find a tattoo artist, Sneaky-Mitch of Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds said: “Instagram and using hashtags.”

“It’s so easy to find a local tattooist or a style you like by searching hashtags. There are plenty of Instagram pages, like ‘neotraditionaleurope’ – that tag has really good work.”

Sneaky-Mitch, Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds, UK

Don’t rush into picking a design; spend some time searching hashtags and Instagram changes. Think about how you can develop the tattoo further to suit your style, as no decent tattoo artist will copy another person’s design completely. Getting inspiration before contacting a tattoo artist is essential, as you’ll know what is realistic for the size and style you want. As mentioned previously, you may want to choose something relatively small to ensure you can take the pain rather than sitting for hours.

“I’m always looking for healed work and I also try to check the character of the artist.”

Julian ‘Corpsepainter’ Siebert, Corpse Painter Tattoo, Munich, Germany

How to book your first tattoo

Each artist will have a different preferred method of contact and will usually list this on their social media profile. It’s essential that you use this contact method as otherwise your request may be ignored. Typically, they’ll list their email address, website or any other preferred method on their Instagram pages. If they clearly provide their email address, don’t be tempted to try and fast track the process by direct messaging them. This may annoy them or go ignored accidentally.

“Write down your ideas, look for photos and then discuss with tattoo artists who match the style chosen.”

Tito Inkid, L’Atelier Sans Nom, Armentières, France

Don’t try and control every single detail of the tattoo. Find a tattoo artist you love and trust to come up with a great design based on your general description or reference photos. You’re welcome to discuss specific details you require, but asking for an incredible amount of detail in a very small tattoo will show just how much of a newbie you are to the tattoo world.

When asked about this, Lianne Moule of Immortal Ink, Essex, answered: “Make sure you like it but let the tattoo artist design it for you.”

“Make sure you like it but let the tattoo artist design it for you.”

Lianne Moule, Immortal Ink, Essex, UK

Instead, find some reference photos, decide on the size using a ruler and send over these. Your artist should be happy to discuss further, but let them take the lead on the design. You’ll get a chance to see the design before it’s tattooed and will be able to request general changes if you aren’t happy.

When it comes to reference photos, make sure it has a similar style to what you’re after. Lianne Moule said the most frustrating thing a customer can do when enquiring about a tattoo is when “they want it in pastel colours and then show me not pastel references”, so make sure your photos are relevant.

One thing to be aware of is that if you’re getting a custom piece, you may not get the design until the night before your appointment. Don’t panic – this is a common occurrence in the industry and is nothing to be worried about. If this is a concern of yours, then this particular artist may not be right for you, or you may want to browse their flash work. Flash pieces are pre-drawn tattoos that typically come with a set price, although you may not be able to customise them. You can ask your artist when you can expect to receive the drawing and they’ll be able to give you more information.

Tips and tricks

Having someone there to support you while you get your first tattoo is a great idea, but never bring more than one person. There’s often not a lot of space for a gang of people in a tattoo studio, so always check if you’re allowed to bring a friend before doing so. Most tattoo artists won’t mind one person but again, it’s wise to ask rather than assume. Bring along someone you feel comfortable with as you may find it helpful to squeeze their hand. If you’d rather go alone, bring a stress ball.

Don’t get tattooed on an empty stomach; otherwise, you increase your chances of fainting during your session. Eat a carb-based meal, such as pasta or rice, before your session, as well as sipping on a sugary drink or chewing sweets during it. This will keep your blood sugar levels at a good volume, give you a distraction and stop you from feeling dizzy.

Don’t drink alcohol on the day of or day before you get a tattoo. You may think this will help numb the pain, but it actually thins your blood, so you’re likely to bleed a lot more than usual. Not only that, but most reputable artists will refuse to tattoo you if you’re drunk. You should also avoid caffeine as it can increase anxiety and jitters, making it harder to sit still during the session.

Not many people know this, but a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect their pain tolerance. Avoid getting a tattoo during your time of the month if possible, as you may find that it’s even more painful during this time.

Tattoo aftercare

A Tattoo Goo tattoo aftercare kit

If you think you’ll get a tattoo and never have to deal with it after, think again. Aftercare is vital, particularly in the weeks following your appointment. Ask your tattoo artist what routine they recommend, including what products to use, how long to keep it wrapped and generally how to care for it. Tattoo artists typically recommend specialist unscented lotion or creams, which can be bought from our online shop. Don’t lather this on or rub the tattoo too much, as this can disturb the healing process. Instead, ask your tattoo artist how often they recommend cleaning your tattoo correctly, as this can vary per size and style.

If you have a holiday coming up, wait until you’ve returned before you get your tattoo. This is because it needs to be kept out of the sun for around a month after it’s done, or until it’s finished healing. You also shouldn’t immerse it in baths, swimming pools or the sea, as this can damage your tattoo and cause a dangerous infection. This rings particularly true when swimming in pools or natural water, as there is a lot of bacteria in them. Your tattoo is an open wound and should be treated as such.

A day or so after you get your tattoo, you’ll notice some leakage of ink, particularly if you’ve kept it wrapped. This is an entirely normal part of the healing process, as long as it’s clear or ink-coloured. The liquid is plasma mixed with ink and blood cells, which is being pushed out of the open wound that is your tattoo in order to help it heal. You can dab this away with a clean paper towel, making sure you don’t rub the area. If you notice pus oozing from the wound, you should contact the tattoo artist to ensure it isn’t infected. They’ll be able to recommend how to care for it, or if you should see a doctor.

Within a couple of days to a week, you’ll notice your tattoo is starting to scab and peel. This is often the most annoying part of the healing process, as it’ll become extremely itchy. Whatever you do, don’t scratch, pick or mess around with your tattoo as you’ll cause permanent damage or even get an infection. Instead, dab – not rub – your aftercare product onto the area per your tattoo artist’s instructions. Again, if you notice pus, red lesions and have a fever, consult your artist.

Now that you know what to expect when you get your first tattoo, it’s time to start looking for artists. We’re certain it will go smoothly now that you know all of our insider tips and tricks.

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Meet Our Experts

Chris Harrison Tattoo Artist

Chris Harrison

Bridgend Tattoo Studio

Bridgend, South Wales, UK

Sneaky-Mitch, tattooist at Gold Room Tattoo, Leeds, UK


Gold Room Tattoo

Leeds, UK

Tito Inkid

L’Atelier Sans Nom

Armentières, France

Lianne Moule

Immortal Ink
Chelmsford, UK

Julian ‘Corpsepainter’ Siebert

Corpse Painter Tattoo
Munich, Germany

Alex Rattray

Empire Ink
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

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