Getting a tattoo is a major life choice—especially if it’s your first one. But tattoos can also be beautiful, playful, life-affirming, and fun. If you’ve been thinking about getting one, here are a few things you need to know, from current trends to aftercare tips.
Think Before You Ink
A tattoo isn’t something to get on a whim. Choosing a design, deciding on the placement, and finding the perfect tattoo artist—it all takes time. One way to make sure you’re going to be happy with your future art is to try a temporary tat first. You can buy inkjet tattoo paper to try out your design. Live with it for a few days and see how you feel. Your reaction might surprise you!
Your ink doesn’t necessarily need to have a deep personal backstory; it’s okay to get something you think is pretty or interesting. However, it’s worthwhile to imagine how you’ll feel about it in ten, twenty, or fifty years. I would advise anyone who is tempted to get a tattoo based on a meme or joke to seriously reconsider it. But hey—it’s your body, and you can do what you want with it.
Tattoo Trends 2022
There’s plenty of gorgeous tattoo inspiration online. If you’re looking for the latest trends to add to your tattoo vision board, check these out:
- Microrealism – One of the biggest tattoo trends of the last few years is microrealism. This style uses extremely fine needles to ink small, realistic tattoos. These can be color or black and white.
- Fine Line Styles – If you want a dainty, delicate tattoo, then find an artist who can do fine line work. This style has been popular for a while, and it shows no sign of stopping.
- 90s Nostalgia – Because everything old is new again, nostalgic 90s tattoos are coming back in style. On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got Lisa Frank-inspired butterflies, dolphins, and celestial motifs. On the other, you’ve got tribal tats and barbed wire.
- Abstract Art – One of the most exciting tattoo trends to emerge recently is the rise of abstract designs. While some tattoos feature reproductions of Picasso and other artists, there’s a growing demand for original abstract pieces.
- Metallic or Holographic – If you want a tattoo with one of these challenging—yet trendy—textures, you’ll need to find a talented artist. The results can be breathtaking.
Research and Ask for Recommendations
To find an artist that can pull off the design you want, you’ll need to ask around. One great way to get started is to strike up a conversation with someone whose tattoo you admire. Ask them where they got the work done; if they’re local, add that shop to your list.
It’s also a good idea to follow artists you like on Instagram. You’ll get a sense of the kind of work that they like to do and whether their style matches your aesthetic. Many tattoo artists see their work as a collaboration between their talents and your vision. Keep looking until you find the artist that’s the right fit for you.
Make an appointment—don’t just walk in. That’s especially important for artists who do custom work or who are in demand. Their books might even be closed to new clients, so call before you get your heart set on a tattoo from them.
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Flash or Custom?
My very first tattoo was something I picked “off the wall” at a local shop. I’ll probably get it covered up one of these days, simply because it doesn’t have much meaning to me. But there’s nothing wrong with choosing a flash tattoo from the shop’s selection of designs. You’ll often find more traditional, old-school designs as well as trendy minimalist tattoos.
If you want to get a custom piece, it’s a good idea to make an appointment for a consultation first. Your artist can talk to you about what’s possible, where to place the tattoo, and how many sessions it might take. They should also be able to ballpark the price. Custom tattoos will, understandably, be more expensive than flash.
Beware Cheap Tattoos
Even tiny, minimalist tattoos still cost money. Most tattoo parlors charge a minimum fee—anywhere from $50-$100—even if the design takes five minutes to ink. That fee covers not only the artist’s time, but also needles, ink, and sterilization costs. Haggling over the price is not encouraged, as it is considered to be an insult to the artist.
If you feel entitled to a less expensive tattoo, then I’ve got some bad news for you. Cheap tattoos are not a smart way to save money. You could end up with a permanent mistake on your skin—or worse, you could get sick from improperly sterilized equipment. It’s not worth the risk.
Budget for at least a 20% tip as well (at least if you’re getting inked in America). Although you might feel like the tattoo is overpriced, remember that you’re not just paying for labor. Tattoo costs include booth fees from the shop, sterilization of equipment, and single-use needles and ink. If you want to get another tattoo from this artist in the future, tip generously.
Ask About Safety Precautions
Tattoo shops should always be up to date on local licenses. Just like at a hair salon, those licenses ought to be publicly displayed. The shop itself should be clean and brightly lit. The artists should be wearing disposable rubber gloves and use single-use needles and ink pots to ensure your safety. Look for stainless steel trays, similar to those used in a hospital, and surfaces that are disinfected and non-porous.
The Most Painful Places to Get Tattooed
Will a tattoo hurt? Yes… but maybe not in the way that you think. Tattoo needles move very quickly but don’t pierce too deeply. The result is more of a burning or buzzing sensation than the pain you might associate with getting a shot at the doctor’s office.
Some areas of the body are more sensitive than others. If you’re worried about the pain, consider getting a tattoo on your bicep, shoulder, forearm, or lower back instead. Calves, thighs, and shoulder blades aren’t too bad, either. The most painful places are the hands and feet, armpits, knees, head, and ribcage.
Talk to your artist during the tattooing process if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. You can take a break, drink some water, or stretch before getting back to it. Deep breathing can help.
Proofread Any Text Twelve Times
Planning to get words tattooed on your body? Proofread. Proofread so many times that you’re sick of looking at the words, then ask your friends to proofread it too. Bring a trusted grammar nerd with you to the parlor to ensure that the artist doesn’t accidentally mix up the letters or skip the punctuation.
I’m not saying that a tattoo with a typo is the worst thing in the world, but it would certainly be embarrassing.
Stock Up on Aftercare Supplies Now
Your artist will likely cover the fresh tattoo with plastic wrap or a clear bandage. Plastic wrap should be taken off after a couple of hours. Bandages, however, can stay on for 1-3 days, during which time your tattoo will likely ooze. This is normal (if not pleasant).
Many shops provide you with a printed sheet of aftercare instructions along with verbally going over what you need to do. Since you’ll likely be flying high on endorphins, make sure to hang onto that paper. Follow the instructions exactly to ensure that your tattoo heals correctly.
Don’t wait until after you’ve gotten a tattoo to get supplies to care for your new ink, either. You’ll need a mild antibacterial soap to keep your skin clean and prevent infection. You should also use a healing ointment, such as Aquaphor, for a few days before switching to an unscented body lotion.
It’s important to keep your tattoo moisturized as it heals. The skin may flake or peel—and trust me, you don’t want to pick at it. One of my tattoos has a small white spot in it from where a scab healed badly.
Shield your tattoo from the sun to prevent early fading. Once your tattoo is healed, make a habit of applying sunscreen to any tattoos that aren’t covered by clothing.
Prepare for Touchups
While tattoos last a lifetime, they will fade, blur, or even warp over time. Even if you are diligent about applying sunscreen, it’s still going to happen. Changes to your body can also impact your tattoos—especially pregnancy.
There’s no set schedule for tattoo touchups. If your lines are looking less crisp or your colors less vibrant, make an appointment to get it touched up. Ideally, you should work with the original artist. If that’s not possible, talk to a reputable local shop.
Cover Up or Removal
What if you decide you no longer like your tattoo? You could just ignore it. That’s surprisingly easy to do when the tattoo is someplace you don’t see all the time. Otherwise, your options are covering it up or removing it.
A skilled tattoo artist can create a coverup that makes it seem like the original ink never existed. If you’re really determined to get the tattoo removed, your best bet might be a dermatologist. Laser treatments can be done with a local anesthetic, meaning that it won’t hurt. However, they can be pricey and require multiple sessions, depending on the size and age of the piece, as well as the color composition.