The Beginner’s Guide to Tattoos: Dos, Don’ts, and Everything In Between

Let me preface this by saying I, myself, am a relative beginner to the world of tattoos. Up until November of this year, the only body modifications I had were piercings (single lobe piercings, an industrial, and a nose stud). I have always wanted tattoos, and after some research, planning, and a heaping dose of impulse, I began my tattoo journey in November. Now, I will be entering 2018 with one complete and healed tattoo, and one that is still in progress. Again, I AM NOT A TATTOO EXPERT. PLEASE TAKE ALL OF MY ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. 

Q: Does it hurt?
They say there are no dumb questions, but this happens to be one. You are allowing someone to stab you rapidly with a needle for a minimum of an hour. A tattoo is a glorified wound when you’re getting it done. Yes, it hurts. How much will it hurt? That depends on your pain tolerance and the placement you’ve chosen.

The general consensus online is that getting tattooed in areas where this is less skin above the bone such as the ribs, your foot, or ankle are the least pleasant. Truth is, there some fatty areas that can be quite painful as well. For instance, I almost fainted when I was getting tattooed on my inner thigh. Other parts of my thigh felt similar to a sustained cat scratch.

My best advice is to not psych yourself out too much. Being nervous isn’t going to make it hurt any less.

Q: Okay, so where/what should I get tattooed?
 There are (almost) no rules about what and where your tattoo should be! I would advise against any gang or hate-group related imagery, but most shops will refuse that sort of work entirely. I’d like to think none of my readers would want that sort of tattoo anyways. So outside of that, it’s really up to you!

There’s two schools of thought on tattoos.  Some folks will only get tattoos that they deem meaningful. That’s a pretty wide umbrella of possibilities, in my opinion. Meaningful could be anything from a memorial tattoo for a lost loved one or friend, to imagery or lyrics that remind you of an important life event.  Other folks just love getting tattoos and don’t feel like it needs to be something particularly deep or significant. For example, a  friend of mine from high school has a slice of pizza tattooed on his ass. I say that either end of the spectrum is a good way to go.

Now when it comes to placement, this goes right back to my previous point. Some spots are more painful and others, so it’s a good thing to consider when choosing where you want to get tattooed. My preference would be to not get a large, detailed piece on my ribcage based on my pain tolerance, but if pain isn’t a part of the equation for you, go for it!

Another thing to consider when talking about placement is visibility. I love the look of tattoos, and am lucky to work in an office where you can openly show off the work you’ve had done, but other employers are not so accepting. Upper arms and thighs are great if you’re looking for something that’s easier to hide.  This is also something to keep in mind if you have family members who aren’t supportive of your choices. I know I put a lot of thought into where my first piece would go, and it ended up being more visible than planned. There was a lot of yelling. Avoid this if at all possible.

Q: How much does it cost?
The short answer? Call up the shop or artist you want to work with and ask for their rates. There is no one-size-fits-all tattoo cost.

Depending on the volume of clients an artist is taking on and their level of experience, they may charge  $200+ per hour. If you want something elaborate with color and shading, it’s going to take bare minimum 6 hours to get done, and likely multiple sessions. Get ready to drop some serious money on this.

Other times, you’ll go in for a walk-in or a 1 hour session for something small and only need to pay the shop minimum (from what I’ve seen $100-$150 is average, but don’t quote me on it).

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum in terms of cost. Point blank, tattoos are an investment. You will get what you pay for. Don’t haggle on cost, and tip your artist.

Q: Wait, I should tip my artist?
You are certainly not obligated to tip your artist, but it is always appreciated. A good rule of thumb is 15-20% of the cost of your tattoo. Yes, tattoos can be a bit pricey, but show your respect for both the time and artistry you are being provided!

This is particularly good form if you plan to work with this artist on multiple pieces or sit for multiple sessions.

Q: What about aftercare?
Many studios provide you aftercare sheets instructing you on how to best care for your fresh ink. These guidelines are thoughtfully delivered to you by the artist, who has tried and true experience in tattooing.  Don’t go searching online for aftercare tips. One of the best things about the internet is the anonymity it can provide. Ergo, you have no clue who is posting these “tattoo aftercare tips” and if they’re valid.


That being said, there are some tried and true tattoo healing tips:

  • Don’t touch it with dirty hands. It is an open, fresh wound. Use antibacterial soap before touching your tattoo to prevent infection!
  • MOISTURIZE. You want to make sure you’re keeping your fresh tattoo slathered in the moisturizing ointment your tattoo artist suggests. I use Aquaphor, and spread it in a thin layer.
  • Don’t scratch. After the first couple of days, your tattoo will begin to scab over, and it is going to be itchy as hell. Do not scratch it or pick at it. When you do this, you’re scraping off scabs prematurely and those scabs can take some of the ink with them. Then you’ll wind up needing a touch up, which will scab and itch all over again.  Save yourself the trouble and the extra expense.
  • Avoid tight fitting clothes and abrasive fabrics. This one may seem like a given, but I will throw it out there anyways. I wouldn’t recommend wearing tight tube socks over a fresh ankle tattoo. Tight clothes and abrasive fabrics are going to cause friction, which will only delay healing.

And that’s all I have for you so far as tips to a beginner from a relative beginner. If you have any additional questions, leave them in the comments section below!

All my love,

Katherine Wheel

Author: Katherine Wheel

Katherine is a twenty-something year old writer from Greater Boston who is just trying to navigate adulthood. When she isn't writing, she enjoys going to concerts, painting, and spending time with her loved ones.

2 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Tattoos: Dos, Don’ts, and Everything In Between”

  1. What was the inspiration and/or the reason for getting a tattoo and do you think it is necessary to be inspired or have a reason?


    1. I’ve always been a big fan of tattoos! I think it’s an art form and a great way to express yourself. Ultimately, I think it’s up to you why to get a tattoo. It can have as much or as little meaning as you want. Just keep in mind it is a permanent decision.


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