If you’re thinking of getting your first tattoo, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about getting a tattoo, and be sure to check out photos of the tattoo process.
Does It Hurt?
This is number one in our Frequently Asked Questions simply because it is surprisingly just that. The simple answer is, yes it does. However, not as much as some people might like you to believe, as after a short period of time your body’s natural pain-killers (endorphins), kick in and make things much more manageable. How long these endorphins last usually defines your natural ‘limit’ as to how long a tattoo session you can handle (usually between 2-3 hours), after this time you will tend to become very uncomfortable.
The pain of a tattoo is often likened to a mild burning sensation or a cat scratch. However, the real factor as to how much a tattoo hurts is really down to where you intend to get it. Any area directly over bone will be particularly sensitive; this includes 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 fore-arm, upper-arm, shoulder, calf and 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 averagely complex 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 tens of hours, and will require several sittings to complete. Usually appointments are made in multiples of hours, but some smaller pieces may only require a thirty minute appointment. A full sleeve (done by any decent artist), could take anything from ten to fifty hours work to complete depending on complexity.
How much does it cost?
When it comes to tattooing, you get what you pay for. Do not expect a good artist to come cheap, and if that’s the way you go, you could end up spending a great deal more further down the line, when you have to pay for a large cover-up or laser tattoo removal. Save your money until you can afford what you really want! Don’t settle, just because you are impatient to get some ink, this decision will be with you for a long time.
At Timebomb we are happy to do a payment plan with you where you can pay for the tattoo you really want gradually.
Can I use numbing cream or pain killers?
This is a less frequently asked question than you might expect. You can use numbing cream, but very few tattoo studios will recommend it for several reasons. Firstly, it needs to be applied at least an hour before you sit for your tattoo and sometimes can only last for around one hour. Tattooing being an art-form and therefore not an exact science, means that sometimes there could be a period of waiting past your appointment time, while the tattooist finishes off a piece of work that took longer than expected. This makes it very difficult to time the application of the cream. Secondly, even if you manage to time its application correctly, the potential short working period of the cream makes it a very limiting to anything but the simplest and smallest of tattoos. Lastly, if your tattoo is not finished before the cream wears off, then the pain will come back with a vengeance! Your body has been fooled and will not be producing those handy pain-killing endorphins, so will be hit with the force of the returning pain with no protection.
From the tattooist’s perspective, the creams can cause the skin to become a little puffy in some customers. This means that the tattooist needs to work harder to get the ink into the skin, which can cause additional trauma. This will obviously have some repercussions during the healing process and can create an undesirable amount of scabbing during that time.
Some tablet pain killers can also 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. Paracetamol will have little effect (positive or negative), other than a placebo. Ibuprofen based painkillers can give minor pain relief during the process, by reducing localised swelling, and will not hinder the tattoo in any way.
Can tattoos be removed?
They can, completely and without scaring. There are several options available to you if you have ink that you want rid of. The first, and by far most common way is the cover-up. This involves working with your tattoo artist to come up with a design that will go over and ‘cover-up’ the old one. There are a few misconceptions regarding cover-ups, it is not as easy as just doing another tattoo over the top. The new tattoo will sit in the same layer of skin (the dermis), as the old one, so the cover-up needs to be darker than the existing tattoo in order to over-power it. This makes very old or faded tattoos easier to cover up than new bright ones. The black panther was a big cover-up favourite with the ‘Old School’ tattooists, for obvious reasons. This also means that the new tattoo generally has to be a great deal bigger than the one to be covered up, so that the old design can be lost in the new one. Obviously this very much depends on the tattoo to be covered and the skill of your artist.
The second option available to you is laser removal. This can be very effective, again depending on age and colour of the tattoo, but can also be very time consuming.
The third option available is a combination of both of the above. The laser removal can be used to reduce the density of the offending tattoo, so that a much more desirable (and often smaller), tattoo can be used to cover up the old design. This takes much less laser treatment than removal, and gives much better cover-up results on the new tattoo.
How do I decide on a design?
Traditionally, you would have chosen your tattoo design from the designs on the wall of your tattoo studio, or from their stock books of pre-drawn designs. These designs are referred to as ‘Flash Art’. This work was rarely designed by the tattooist, but instead bought in from ‘Flash Art’ suppliers. Thankfully today things are different. While there are still tattooists who rely heavily on Flash (often because they have limited artistic ability of their own), there is an increasing number of tattooists who will design custom work to your specifications. This obviously requires a higher degree of artistic skill, so you should expect to pay slightly more for bespoke work than for Flash, but you will be guaranteed an original piece… not the same tattoo that five other people are walking round town with!
In addition to this, your artist will be able to work with you to generate a tattoo that is personal, has more meaning and is less likely to go out of favour with you in a few years. This all adds up to better value in the long run.
At Timebomb Tattoo, we don’t carry ‘Flash’ art. All our tattoos are generated bespoke for the customer to ensure you only get the best in custom designs, unique to you. Because of this, we 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, but tattoo ink spreads and thins under the skin over time, so your dainty tattoo might look great on the 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.
Once you have had the initial conversation with your tattoo artist, you will usually then want to book in for some time at the studio. Your tattoo artist will usually have a good idea at this point as to how long your tattoo is going to take, and will be able to advise you on cost. Booking your appointment requires a deposit, which is to discourage time wasters and to offset against the artwork the tattoo artist will produce for you, should you not turn up. When you do turn up however, your design work will be free and your deposit will be then offset against the price of your tattoo. If you need any changes made to your tattoo we will be able to redraw on the day of the appointment.
How do I decide on a studio?
Visit studios, talk to the tattoo artist, 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. How is their customer service? Many tattooists will treat customers with contempt, as if it’s a burden to them to work with you, especially if it is your first tattoo… just walk away, there are plenty of tattooists who will treat you with respect. If you get an unhelpful response, or are told to ‘pick something from the Flash’, when you ask for help, again maybe the best course of action is to find another studio.
Is the studio clean and well presented? If a tattoo artist can’t keep their house in order, what other corners might they be cutting? You could potentially be putting your own health and well being at risk. 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. The regulations in the tattooing industry are minimal at best, so it is very much up to the individual studio to police themselves past the very basic health and safety requirements. Because of this the cleanliness of the studio, will very much reflect their attitude towards their customer and their customer’s well being.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Get a Tattoo?
Although you can get a tattoo any time of the year, your skin gets a lot more abuse during the summer with swimming, tanning, and just being exposed to the elements more. Winter time is really the best season to get a tattoo.
Is It OK to Get a Tattoo if I’m Sick?
Getting a tattoo when your immune system isn’t at 100% isn’t a good idea. You’re going to need your strength and your white blood cells to heal your tattoo, something your body won’t be able to do if it’s already doing battle against virus and bacteria. Not to mention the fact that it’s very inconsiderate to bring your illness into the tattoo studio and risk passing the germs onto others, particularly your artist. If you have an appointment, call and reschedule for when you’re feeling well again.
Should I have a drink before my tattoo to steady my nerves?
No. 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 you have. 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 to eat and drink about an hour or two 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 boiled sweets or a lolly 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 tattoo ink will generally not stain clothes, and 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 is favourable. Tattoo ink is very concentrated, and will go a very long way, so it’s always best to bear this in mind when choosing the day’s wardrobe. If you do need to remove tattoo ink from your clothing, you will need to do so on a very hot wash.
Other things you may want to consider bringing might include an MP3 player, or other distraction like a book or smart phone etc. Some people like to chat to the tattooist, others like stony silence, others prefer a distraction like the things mentioned above.
Are tattoos safe?
As long as you go to a reputable artist and studio that is following all recommended safety precautions, getting a tattoo is perfectly safe. Make sure you’re fully honest about any medical conditions.
Can I catch anything from getting a tattoo?
Yes you can, but it is very unlikely. If you have followed the advice above and chosen your tattoo studio wisely, then the chances of catching anything are similar to a visit to the dentist. Everything will be either sterilised 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. Again, if you choose your studio wisely, this won’t even be a consideration.
The other thing you might hear people say is;
“I got my tattoo/piercing form Joe Blogs Tattoo, and it got infected, I must have got the infection from there!”
This is absolute rubbish! Apart from blood-borne infection (viral), as mentioned above, you won’t catch an infection like they are discussing from a studio, as what they are talking about is an infection caused by bacteria. You don’t catch bacteria, it builds up over time. That only means one thing, poor aftercare.
That applies for both tattooing and piercing, 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 or piercing, check out the relevant sections on our website.
Should I Tip My Tattoo Artist?
Tipping is a really nice gesture. But, there are no real solid ground rules for tipping. The artists appreciate tips for sure – If you want to tip your artist the recommended is between 10-20% of the cost of the tattoo.
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, Ink has been tried and tested over generations without ill effects. Nowadays, the manufacture of inks is regulated to meet certain health and safety standards, but only in some countries (EU and USA). 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.
I Just Got a New Tattoo on My Leg – Can I Shave?
It will take some time for your skin to heal enough for you to shave again and it can vary from person to person. In general we recommend at least 2-3 weeks before shaving as the tattoo will still be going through the healing process.
My Friend Just Bought a Tattoo Kit and Wants to Practice on Me
Do not let them do it. Your friend could be putting both of your lives in danger by foolishly trying to learn this at home. Tell them they need to get a proper apprenticeship, and they can start practicing on you when their mentor feels they are ready. Also PLEASE only get a tattoo in a studio that is registered by the local council and not in somebody’s kitchen (yes this happens!).