Tattoo Shop Etiquette – Everything You Need To Know
Getting tattooed for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Tattoo studios often seem to possess a culture that is unique in the world of body modification and style; walking into one isn’t quite the same as strolling into a barber shop, nail salon, or spa. We at Inkvivo have gathered some ground rules to help you navigate the social etiquette of your first tattooing experience with ease. You’ll also get some invaluable inside info from tattoo artists themselves.
Tattoo Preparation; Tips Before Getting A Tattoo
First, a consult with your tattoo artist of choice is usually required. Why? A consultation will give you time to hammer out the details of exactly what you want, what your budget is, whether you need one session or more, etc. Plus, meeting with your artist will also give you an idea if you like them, if there is a sense of compatibility there. Bear in mind that artists are not mind-readers; they will do their best to create what you want, but obviously the more detail you can give them, the better. Bringing in pictures or reference material for your design will be greatly appreciated.
How To Set Up Your Consultation
Most shops now have a website where you can go online to see their policies for booking your consultation and tattoo appointments. Often they may accept emails about your tattoo request, but a good old-fashioned phone call to set up your in-shop consultation is preferred. Expect that very popular tattoo shops might also have longer waits for appointment times.
Know Your Artist
Remember that artists specialize in certain styles of art, so knowing what look you’re going for (Japanese traditional, Old School, New School, Blackwork, Tribal, the list goes on) will be hugely helpful. Most quality tattoo artists can create fairly decent work in a variety of styles, but finding someone who is an expert in the specific style you want will make your ink that much more impressive. Take some time to research your potential artist's portfolio online beforehand. If you find that the tattoo studio you are considering doesn't specialize in the style you are looking for, it's not a bad idea to broaden your search. Meeting your tattoo artist will help you see if are on the same wavelength with them. Since tattoos can often be incredibly meaningful or deeply personal, you can get a feel if they are the one to help you achieve your ultimate goals for your tattoo.
"Get to know you artist! Consultation is so important. Make sure you are on the same page as them.. selecting your artist is important as you wanna try to keep within their style, look at portfolios! Also, don’t expect a drawing ahead of time, a piece will take time to get fleshed out; From ideas and concept, to composition and line drawings, to shading and color."
Tattoo Artist - Chroma Tattoo, West Bloomfield MI
Budgeting for Your New Tattoo
During your consultation you will also be given a quote for your desired tattoo. Most shops will not give price quotes over the phone. One of the worst things you can do, however, is to try and haggle with the artist. Getting inked is not like finding a deal at a garage sale; artists will have a set rate, either hourly or by design. Honor it. This is how your artist makes his or her living, and tattooing takes a massive amount of intense concentration, effort, and training. Trying to talk your artist down from their price is seen as disrespectful. If you can’t afford the design you want, either save up for a bit longer, or re-think the piece. Most shops usually have a minimum price, which includes even those super-tiny micro-tattoos that have been littering Pinterest and Facebook. An artist’s rate from there will depend upon the demand for their time and their experience.
Another good tip from artist Barb Jones at Chroma Tattoo: "Understand that usually tattoos are priced by the hour, and certain tattoos take longer, like color for example takes longer, so those will be more expensive. So make sure to get an idea of the cost before taking it on.”
Your Tattoo Appointment
Be On Time, and Give It Time
On the day of your tattoo appointment, make certain you arrive on time. Often however, just like when you visit a doctor’s office, sometimes appointments run over their planned time. Because of this, it’s best to choose a day off from work or school when you won’t feel pressured to be done by a certain time. Be patient; tattooing is an artistic process, and it is better to have an artist who goes over a bit to ensure their work is top quality, than to have one who rushes a design just to meet a time limit.
Fill Your Tank and Hydrate!
Be sure to eat beforehand and drink lots of water, as low blood sugar and dehydration can swiftly turn into a bigger problem when your body is put under the stress of getting inked. Tattoo artist Barb Jones of Chroma Tattoo weighed in, "Make sure to eat a good meal! When we see people pass out, it’s not usually due to pain, it’s often because their blood sugar was low ‘cuz they forgot to eat!"
Avoid consuming any drugs or drinking alcohol before your tattoo appointment; most artists will refuse to work on you if you’re under the influence, for your safety as much as theirs (and in some places sobriety is a legal requirement).
Keep It Clean
And lastly, for the love of humanity, take care of your hygiene before entering the studio. Your artist is going to be up close and personal with your body for (potentially) several hours; the least you can do is be freshly showered and groomed.
How to Dress for Your Tattoo Appointment
This one’s pretty simple. Just wear (clean!) comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, and remember that your artist needs to have easy access to the area that’s being worked on. Use common sense; if you’re getting work done on your foot, wear flip flops instead of sneakers. If you’re getting a calf piece, shorts are a better idea than jeans. You get the idea.
If you’re a woman and you’re having work done anywhere around your chest or back, a good tip is to wear a bikini top under your shirt; untying a string is a lot easier than struggling with a bra, and it you’re more modest it won’t feel quite so much like getting naked (a good artist will always have a privacy screen or single room available for you, by the way).
Soft fabrics are advised; though your new tattoo will be wrapped after it’s finished, you don’t want any rough clothing causing friction. In this case, soft, breathable cotton is your friend.
Don't Forget Your ID
You will also need a photo ID with your birth date; you will not get your tattoo without one. A driver’s license, state ID, or passport are all good options.
Bring Enough Cash
Definitely make sure to bring enough cash to pay for your new artwork when you arrive at your appointment. Many tattoo studios will only accept cash payments, and you don’t want to be wasting your time (or your artist’s time) running around looking for an ATM last minute.
Do You Tip Tattoo Artists?
The answer is YES, absolutely tip your tattoo artist. It is so, so important to remember to work in a tip when you are planning the budget for your tattoo. Not only does tipping create a positive relationship with your artist (vitally important if you ever want them to work with you again), but it shows appreciation for the hard work. And again, this is very likely how your artist makes their living; tips are an important part of their income. They do not make an hourly wage like other professions; instead, they receive a percentage of the money you pay for your ink.
Some Tattoo Tipping Etiquette:
A note on how to tip your tattoo artist; Wait until your artist has taken their gloves off and cleaned up a bit before handing them cash. A good rule of thumb is to wait to tip until you settle up at the front desk.
What Else Should I Know About My Tattoo Appointment?
Don't Bring Your Posse
Don’t bring a lot of people in with you to get inked. The artist will be under enough pressure to make you happy without having to deal with an entire group of friends distracting them. Large crowds will be disruptive to any other artists/clients in the studio as well.
Bringing in a ton of friends is definitely not recommended. We actually set a one-person rule in this shop, so people are only allowed to bring one friend along for their appointment."
Tattoo Artist - Insight Studios, Chicago IL
No Kids Allowed
It is pretty much always a bad idea to bring children into a tattoo parlor. Not only do many parlors post artwork, etc. that is not necessarily kid-friendly, but having little ones running around/getting restless or impatient while you get inked is hugely distracting and inconsiderate to all artists in the studio.
Communication is Key
Communicate with your artist. During the actual process of getting inked, if at any point you feel nauseous, dizzy, faint, or have any other odd reactions, you need to let the artist know. Everyone has a different threshold for the amount of pain and stress their body can take; your artist won’t know this automatically. If you need a break or need to stop altogether, speak up. Trying to “tough it out” might end badly and create a negative experience for both you and your artist.
Inform Your Artist
Along those lines, also be certain to inform your artist about any pre-existing conditions you have that may cause complications during your tattoo. Pregnancy, diabetes, certain types of medication, etc, may prevent you from being cleared to get a tattoo. In any case, it is best to let your artist know so they can advise you accordingly. In some cases you might need approval from your physician before getting tattooed.
No Cell Phones Please
Stay off the cell phone if possible. Constant texting or playing games while your artist is trying to work is distracting, and talking on the phone while you’re getting inked is considered impolite in most shops.
Don’t be offended if your artist isn’t super chatty when they are working on you. Some artists like to talk; others don’t. If your artist is the quiet type, respect that and let them concentrate on their work.
What Do The Experts Say?
Don’t just take our word for it as far as etiquette is concerned. We dove a little deeper and spoke to tattoo artists in a number of shops to get their firsthand input and experience on etiquette in the tattoo shop.
Interview with Three Kings Tattoo:
We talked to some of the artists at Three Kings Tattoo in NY, which was rated one of the top tattoo shops for first-timers by Brooklyn Magazine. With high standards and top-notch craftsmanship, this professional establishment knows what they're talking about.
InkVivo: What would you say is the most important thing for first timers to know about tattoo shop etiquette before coming in for their appointment?
Amanda Rodriguez: I've found that a lot of first timers don't understand the fact that they need to sit still while getting tattooed. I feel like I constantly have to tell people sit still.
Mat Moreno: Have a concept or loose idea of what you want. Do some research to see which tattooer will best represent the style and type of tattoo you're looking for. Be open to their creativity and trust your tattooer to give you something that is original and will last.
InkVivo: For first-timers, what do you think is the biggest misconception people seem to have about coming in to get a tattoo? Would you say that pop culture might give people unrealistic ideas about getting tattoos?
Amanda: The biggest misconception is that they can get the exact tiny tattoos they see on Pinterest. They don't understand that things can heal imperfectly or have long term changes.
Mat: Magic doesn't always get pulled out of a hat! So... you decided today is the day to get that half sleeve you've been rolling around in your head for 10 years. 90% of the time it's unrealistic to have something that large drawn and tattooed in the same day and most things that have any value on your body need the time and energy to be carefully drawn and constructed. That being said, there are many tattooers that have flash all ready to go and get tattooed or draw fast and can flesh out your ideas. Ask to see their sketch books. You might find something better than your initial idea. Have patience when it comes to things that last as long as you do.
InkVivo: What's the most annoying thing people ask when they come in for their first tattoo?
Amanda: "Can you do it smaller?"
Mat: "Can I show you my Pinterest page for this tattoo I want?" The problem with the internet is that everyone has the internet! So the tattoo you see there and think is so unique, and defines your personality so perfectly, and is placed exactly where you would've wanted, actually has been done 10,000 times over on other uncreative unoriginal kooks just like you. Take 15 minutes to get your own idea! Or if you're having trouble, ask your local tattooer to help make you cooler by letting them decide for you.
Amanda Rodriguez comes from a fine art background, creating exquisite organic pieces. She has been tattooing since 2008, and her floral work rivals some of the top artists out there.
Mat Moreno has been tattooing since 2006, specializing in clean lines and excellent shading. Mat is highly skilled in his craft and aims to please.
Tips from the artists at The Flying Dutchman Tattoo Studio:
The friendly and talented artists at The Flying Dutchman Tattoo studio in Antioch, California also gave us some great insight. Providing high quality tattoos since 2009, this studio is also a great spot for first timers! We asked them a few questions regarding tattoo shop etiquette:
InkVivo: What's your biggest pet peeve when people come in for a tattoo?
Chris Quintanilla: When people come in, and they give you a picture of someone’s else’s tattoo… like a whole sleeve! And then they’re like, ‘How much would this cost? Can you do it today?’ They ignore the whole process. They want to get it done as fast as possible for as cheap as possible. ..That gets kind of tiring.
Jesse Cotton Taylor: People not wanting to let the artist have a little bit of freedom with the piece. The client will more than likely get a better piece than something they found on Google or Pinterest if they let the artist do art.
Evan Naylor: My biggest pet peeve? Showers. Personal hygiene. There’s nothing like doing an ankle band on someone who’s been wearing the same socks for four days. Or, like, walking around a cat house, you know? Nothing worse.
InkVivo: Your best tip for someone getting their first tattoo?
Chris: For anyone coming in for their first tattoo… come in with an open mind, you know? Don’t rush it, and listen to the artist because they have not only your best interest in mind, but they make a living off of this. When people see your tattoo, we want it to look good just as much as you. So we’re not trying to lead you down the wrong path or anything like that. Take it slow and listen. And price isn’t something you’re going to think about ten years down the line. If you have to ask about the price, maybe save up a little bit first. Ask yourself some questions about the tattoo you want. Am I getting it for the right reasons? Or am I getting it just to fit in with my friends?... Also know how much you want to spend.
Jesse: For the first time, I would say be careful what end of the pool you jump in. Sometimes it might be smarter to get a smaller tattoo to see if you’re into getting tattooed… don’t do a sleeve or back piece for your first tattoo. And I would also tell a first time client to avoid tattoos that are exposed… that’s also kind of a pet peeve, when you get a first-timer and they want something [on their neck or in another exposed area].
Chris Quintanilla has been tattooing for over 6 years. Chris is known for his excellent black-and-grey tattoos. His experience covers everything from traditional icons like skulls and roses, to beautifully detailed geometric pieces.
Jesse Cotton Taylor has been a tattoo artist for nearly 14 years. His style translates fantastically into both color and black-and-gray pieces. Jesse also has an excellent talent for portraiture.
Also featured in this article:
Barb Jones - Currently at Chroma Tattoo in West Bloomfield, Michigan. With a background in engineering and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, she has a keen eye for precision when it comes to tattoos. Barb excels in many styles, but really shines with vibrant color, realism and portraiture.
Wendell Frazier is currently one of the artists at Insight Studios in Chicago, which boasts a host of talented artists. Wendell's playful, easygoing personality plus major skill with detailed linework, color and shading will put any first-timer at ease.
For tips on what to do after you get your tattoo, read this guide for Tattoo Aftercare.