How to Prepare for a Tattoo

Advice on how to prepare for a tattoo like what to wear, what to bring, should you shower, how to choose the spot for your next tattoo.

Tattoos are to some people more than just ink on skin or hours spent waiting for a randomly drawn symbol. The art of tattoos can be a great way to boost a person’s confidence and can create stronger bonds between people. 

Images or names can evoke strong memories of happy times, especially if the design has a connection to a person, an animal, or a cause. Whatever your decision to have a tattoo, here are some considerations to make when selecting your next one.

These tips should help to make your tattoo appointment go smoothly. Be sure to go over the list of the things you shouldn’t do before getting a tattoo, too!

Should you take a shower before getting a tattoo?

Absolutely. Hygiene is a priority when getting tattooed. You’ll be in close quarters with your artist for up to several hours, so you’ll definitely want to shower before your appointment.

Your artist will have the supplies to shave the area you want to get tattooed, but it’s a good idea to shave yourself beforehand as well. Just lather the area with shaving cream and make sure to shave thoroughly. Your artist will need your skin to be as smooth as possible.

Try not to use too many scented products, as they can be cloying or overpowering during the tattoo process. This also means you should pass on the perfume or cologne, too. But don’t skip the deodorant, because getting a tattoo can sometimes make you sweat.

Choosing a Tattoo Artist

First things first. Have you chosen your design and tattoo artist?

Most people start off with a tattoo design they like and then just pick a random tattoo shop to pop in to or whoever has the first available appointment. While this is usually ok for a real simple tattoo design or lettering, this could be disastrous for something intricate or complicated.

There are millions of practicing tattoo artists today. Each artist has a different skillset and speciality so, it’s best to treat going for a tattoo like choosing a new barber or hairdresser. Save yourself some trouble and do a bit of research.

how to prepare for a tattoo

It can be useful to look at the artist’s portfolio to see if their past tattoos align in style or complexity like the one you’re wanting. Some tattooists specialize in a specific style, for example, old school, traditional, neo-traditional, tribal, line work or even floral.

You want to make sure the tattooist you choose has a good reputation and experience in the style that you want your tattoo to be designed in. Ask for recommendations from your friends who have tattoos and don’t be shy about asking strangers who have tattoo designs you love on them!

Choosing a tattoo design

Oh I’ve been there. I get the itch and I really want to get a tattoo, but I don’t really know what I want to get. I have an ongoing list of travel tattoo ideas I’ve seen and liked over the years, but sometimes I just want something different.

travel tattoo ideas

As for the design, there is so much choice when it comes to a tattoo that you might feel overwhelmed. If you’re stuck on a design, don’t be afraid to ask friends or family members for their opinions, especially if they have tattoos too.

Instagram is one of my favorite places for tattoo inspiration. If you create a photo collection of several tattoos you really like, you could go into the studio with the ideas and let the tattoo artist design something custom for you.

I found Anais Chabane this way. I saw her ornamental and mandala tattoos and quickly became utterly obsessed with her work. I saved several of her previous tattoos on my phone and showed her when I arrived where I would like to place the tattoo.

jeana custom ornamental mandala tattoo los angeles anais chabane
Custom ornamental / mandala tattoo by Anais Chabane in Los Angeles

She spent about an hour drawing something custom for me and then we spent another hour tweaking it to be exactly perfect. The experience was so amazing, I am hoping to go back soon to get some designs for my legs.

So now you’ve chosen a design for your tattoo and an artist whose work you love. You’ve booked that consultation – what now? Here are a few steps you can take before your tattoo appointment to prepare yourself for the experience.

Where is the best spot for a tattoo?

Tattoo placement is purely a matter of personal choice, but planning where to have the design is essential as some tattoos don’t look appealing on specific areas the body. 

One of the top considerations for tattoo placement on your body should be the size and shape of the design. Make sure you consider how the shape of the tattoo aligns with your body contours.

If the design isn’t circular or curved, avoid placing it on areas like the hips or thighs. Instead, opt for a flatter area that fits the design. The last thing you want is your tattoo to appear half missing.

jeana simple travel tattoo palm tree
I get a lot of compliments on this simple palm tree. Tattoo artist was my cousin Dennis in Buffalo, New York (Tattoo Den)

Certain areas can add a deeper meaning to the tattoo. Picking a place close to your heart can, for some people, create a more emotional connection. You also may want to consider your profession. If your job frowns upon showing tattoos, you might be best picking an easily covered area, such as the chest, or back.

A great way to “try on” a tattoo size or design is to print the design onto tattoo transfer paper first. This is the easiest way to check to see how the design looks on different parts of the body and how large or small you will be happy with.

I use temporary tattoo paper that you can print from your computer. Once I get the size and placement just right, I bring the printout with me so the tattoo artist doesn’t have to guess.

Even if you don’t already have the exact design you will be getting available, determining the size and placement is a huge decision that you’ll be thankful for not having to make on the spot.

travel tattoo ideas
My travel birds – one for each country I have visited

Keep in mind if you have any bumps or blemishes on the area of skin you are getting tattooed, your artist might not be able to ink that spot. This is because the area could get infected. To avoid this, try to choose a spot on your body that is relatively free from acne.

What to take for tattoo pain

Some people consider taking something for pain, especially for long tattoo sessions. It’s best to not take anything at all, but if you decide to make sure to ask your tattoo artist first. Some medications like aspirin thin the blood.

Topical tattoo numbing creams are available online. Some people swear by these, but be ware that they have been known to cause an intense burning sensation as well. Personally, I found it to be worse than the needle itself.

Also, don’t ever be afraid to ask your tattoo artist for a break if you need one! A few minutes to get up and stretch your legs, or use the restroom can do wonders for a long tattoo session.

What to wear to your tattoo session

Comfy clothing is essential for your tattoo appointment. Expect to be spending several hours sitting in the same position, sweating and in pain. Soft, cozy clothing like sweatpants and t-shirts will keep you comfortable.

Make sure to choose an outfit that will make the area where the tattoo will be placed easily accessible. It’s possible you could get some tattoo ink on your clothing so don’t wear something you care about ruining.

It’s a good idea to plan on wearing similar clothing as your tattoo heals as you’ll need easy access for aftercare.

jeana travel tattoos sak yant and floral
Some of my tattoos

Bring a sweatshirt or light jacket if you get cold easily. Most tattoo parlors are on the cooler side since the artists have to work under bright lights which tend to make them warm. A sweatshirt can also double as a pillow or face cover, if you want to hide.

What to bring to your tattoo appointment

Snacks and hydration are important for long tattoo sessions. Bring snacks and drink plenty of water. Pack a few crackers with cheese, or grab some juice before your appointment. Try to avoid something too sugary like candy bars.

Snacking before and throughout the tattoo will help regulate your blood sugar. This may reduce pain levels, and can prevent feeling an energetic crash following your tattoo.

Entertainment can be helpful to divert your mind away from the pain of a tattoo. A book, a good music playlist, or even scrolling through social media can help your appointment pass quicker. By keeping your mind entertained, you can trick your body into feeling less pain because of the attention it takes to focus whatever else you’re doing.

This beautiful watercolor peony piece took David at Make Luck Tattoo about 7 hours to complete. I brought my headphones and got my Netflix binge on, which really helped pass the time.

I tend to fall asleep during longer tattoos and I wanted to avoid doing this so it was a win, win. On smaller pieces, I like to listen to music.

jeana tattoo asian watercolor peony

On a side note – Asian watercolor tattoos aren’t something David had experience in or was known for, but I was confident he could create the design the way I wanted after looking through his previous work. It was obvious that David’s artistic abilities weren’t confined to just one style.

Things you shouldn’t do before getting a tattoo

  1. Try to avoid aspirin, alcohol and caffeine 48 hours before your tattoo appointment. These are blood thinners and can make your experience messy – which in turn could make it difficult for the tattoo artist to perform their best.
  2. Don’t go in dehydrated. You’ll definitely want to stay hydrated before and after your tattoo session for the best possible results and healing.
  3. Don’t tattoo sunburnt skin. OUCH
  4. Don’t go unshowered. Remember that a fresh tattoo is essentially an open wound. Even though a good tattoo artist will disinfect the area, you want to do all you can to avoid introducing bacteria and general yuck.
  5. Don’t forget to stock up on tattoo aftercare to help with the healing process. You can ask for your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions in advance so you don’t have to worry about running to the store right after your session.

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