Does It Hurt?
The simple answer is, yes, yes it does.
After a short period of time your body’s natural painkillers (endorphins) kick in and make things much more tolerable. Your natural ‘limit’ as to how long you can handle a tattoo session is determined by how long this endorphin rush lasts for you personally (usually between 2-4 hours). After this amount of time most people tend to become very uncomfortable and "tap out" or ask to end the session whether the design is complete or not..
The pain of a tattoo is often described as a mild burning sensation or a cat scratching a sunburn. However, any area that is situated directly over bone will be particularly sensitive; this includes the ribs, feet, hands, head, and pelvis to name a few. Add to this the number of nerve endings in an area and this defines the most painful places. If you are looking for a less painful spot, then you should consider a less sensitive area protected by a large muscle; such as the forearm, upper arm, shoulder, calf or thigh. That being said, everyone’s pain threshold varies, so there are no hard and fast answers to this question.
How long does a tattoo take?
Tattooing is not a quick process, nor should it be rushed as you will be living with the results permanently. An average piece of work about the size of the back of your hand, usually takes about two hours to complete. Larger or more complex pieces can take many hours, and will require several sittings to complete. Please be considerate of this when scheduling your appointment, so your artist has enough time to do their best work for you.
How much does it cost?
When it comes to tattooing, you get what you pay for. Save your money until you can afford what you really want. Don’t settle, just because you are impatient to get some ink right now. Pricing depends on a number of factors; size/placement, complexity of design, whether the design is going to be done in black and grey or color, etc.
Can I use numbing cream or pain killers?
Absolutely! Contrary to popular opinion, tattoos don't have to hurt. Talk to your artist about options for pain relief during your session.
Please be aware that some painkillers can cause a problem. Aspirin is the biggest problem as it thins the blood and reduces clotting, this will cause excessive bleeding during your tattoo, which will affect the quality of the finished tattoo. Aspirin will also extend the healing time that your tattoo needs so it is best avoided. Ibuprofen based painkillers can give minor pain relief during the process, by reducing localized swelling, and will not hinder the tattoo in any way.
How do I decide on a design?
I suggest that you begin with an initial free consultation with your artist to discuss your design. If you can bring your tattoo artist any reference material that you think is relevant, it will help both of you understand each other much easier. You don’t have to have exact images, even if your examples simply have the same ‘feel’ as what you are trying to convey it will help your tattoo artist understand your needs.
Your tattoo artist should also give you lots of good advice regarding the limitations of the art (don’t forget, we are talking needles, ink and skin here, not pen and paper). They should advise you as to placement, and how the tattoo is likely to be viewed, for example; a small piece that would work well on the wrist, might not work as well placed on the thigh. They should also discuss how well your tattoo will stand the test of time. You can generate some amazingly complex and delicate tattoos, however, tattoo ink spreads and thins out beneath the skin over time, so your dainty tattoo might look great on application day, but may look fuzzy and unrecognisable after just a couple of years. A slightly bolder design could look great for ten years or more. The choice is always the customer’s, but it should always be an informed choice.
How do I decide on a studio?
Visit studios, talk to the artist(s), get a general feel for them. Getting a tattoo is a very personal experience, you should have a rapport with your tattooist, and feel comfortable in their studio. Is the studio clean and well presented? Ask yourself; if this was a dental surgery and not a tattoo studio, would I let them touch my teeth? Potentially there are a great deal of similarities between the two regarding the possibility of cross contamination of instruments and equipment, and the transmitting of blood-borne pathogens.
Should I have a drink before my tattoo to steady my nerves?
Please don't. This is not advisable for several very real reasons. Other than the obvious difficulties of tattooing a drunk person, and the fact that any good tattooist will refuse to tattoo you if are intoxicated. The main reason is that alcohol thins your blood considerably. In turn this causes excessive bleeding while you are having the tattoo, which not only makes it difficult for the tattoo artist, but will have the effect of ‘washing out’ ink as it is being put in. This makes the process much longer, and can produce poor results. Alcohol can have an effect for several days, so it is also not a good idea to have a tattoo after a night drinking, even if you have not consumed anything on the day.
What should I do on the day of my tattoo?
There are several things you can do to make your experience easier and more enjoyable.
Firstly, try and make sure you have had something healthy and substantial to eat and drink about an hour before your tattoo. During the tattoo, your body behaves in a way very similar to going into shock, as it generates endorphins to deal with the attack on the skin. This can cause a drop in blood sugar, resulting in light-headedness, and sometimes nausea or fainting. Having a meal and consuming natural sugars, such as orange juice can help to prevent this.
If you feel faint during your tattoo, let your artist know immediately, and they will help you through it. Don’t be ashamed of telling them, if you have chosen your studio wisely, they will be totally sympathetic to your needs and help you through the experience with dignity. Often a tattoo studio will offer you hard candy or orange juice/soda to help keep your sugar up during the tattoo.
Secondly, think about what you are going to wear. You know where you are likely to get your tattoo, so make sure you dress so that you can expose this general area while at the same time maintaining your dignity. Usually the studio area can be covered (door closed or a screen put in place), if you are feeling particularly vulnerable. Have these conversations with your studio and they should be able to tell you what they can put in place to make you feel comfortable.
Don’t wear your Sunday best. While your artist will do everything they can to keep your clothing clean, there is always the possibility of getting ink on your clothes so dark clothing (that you don't care about) is favourable.
Other things you may want to consider bringing might include an MP3 player, or other distraction like a book or smartphone etc. Some people like to chat to the tattooist, others like stony silence, others prefer a distraction like the things mentioned above. All of this should get discussed during the initial consultation.
Can I catch anything from getting a tattoo?
Yes you can, but it is highly unlikely. If you have followed the advice above and chosen your tattoo studio & artist wisely, then the chances of catching anything are similar to a visit to the dentist. Everything will be either sterilized to medical standards or be disposable single use. Again, a reputable tattooist will be certified in infection control and have no issues discussing their procedures with you. If they do, don’t think twice, just walk away.
If correct infection control procedures are not followed, there is the potential of transmitting blood-borne pathogens from one customer to the next, or from the tattooist to the customer. This could potentially include HIV or Hepatitis. However, before you become unduly worried, the vast majority of tattooists work safely, and the chances of you contracting anything like this from having your tattoo are extremely slight.
The only way bacteria will infect you is if you’re not keeping the wound (yes it is a wound), clean. For further information on how to look after your new tattoo, please see the Aftercare section.
How safe is Tattoo Ink?
It depends where it comes from. There are many inks on the market today that are readily available. High quality tattoo ink has been tried, tested and verified as safe. Nowadays, the manufacturers of inks are regulated to meet certain health and safety standards, but only in some countries (EU and USA). The sale of tattoo inks on eBay, has unfortunately opened the market up to cheap Chinese inks, and counterfeit copies of well known and respected brands. These Chinese inks can be dangerous. A report was recently released in which some of these inks had been analysed and shown to contain both banned and toxic substances. With this in mind, it is no longer good enough that your tattoo artist uses trusted brands, they must also source their inks directly from the manufacturer, or manufacturer’s approved outlet, to ensure the integrity of their product.
If you have any other questions that I haven’t answered here, please feel free to contact me via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org