Your dream tattoo

You know how the old saying goes — if you can dream it, you can do it. The same holds true for your dream tattoo. Want to cover up a scar or get a meaningful symbol to celebrate overcoming personal battles? With artists specializing in everything from crisp linework and elegant script to multicolored masterpieces, tattoo aesthetics have come a long way and the possibilities are endless.

But there are a few things you need to know before getting inked. Not all tattoos age well, some hurt more than others (after all, needles are creating and filling in your design), and some designs could become ink regret, especially if you don’t let the art heal right. The aftermath of all this comes down to your artist, the placement, and the design. Here’s what to consider when picking the perfect piece, sitting through your appointment, and how to take care of your new ink.

What to consider before getting inked

tattoo guide

Although there’s no “right” or “wrong” place to get a tattoo, the placement can have a lot of influence on how you’re perceived in the workplace.

1. What’s the best spot for a tattoo?

If you work in a formal office setting, you may want to think twice before getting ink on openly visible areas such as your face, neck, hands, fingers, or wrists. Instead, consider locations that are easy to cover with clothing or accessories, including your:

  • upper or lower back
  • upper arms
  • calf or thighs
  • top or sides of your feet

If your workplace is a little more lenient, you may be able to rock a new tattoo behind your ear, on your shoulders, or on your wrists.

2. How much will the tattoo hurt?

You’ll also want to take your pain tolerance into consideration. It’s no secret that getting a tattoo hurts. But how much it hurts depends on where you want it to be. They tend to hurt more in areas that have a lot of nerves and less flesh.

This includes the:

  • forehead
  • neck
  • spine
  • ribs
  • hands or fingers
  • ankles
  • top of your feet

The bigger the tattoo, the longer you’ll be under the needle — and the harder it’ll be to keep tucked away.

3. Will you like your design forever?

Oftentimes, having a clear idea of what script or imagery you want will help you decide on the location.

But before you commit to that trendy underboob chandelier or watercolor-style feather, take a step back and really mull it over. What’s trending right now won’t always be en vogue — so make sure you want it because it looks awesome and not because it’s the hot new thing.

4. How will it look like five years from now?

Although all tattoos will fade over time, some designs are more prone to fading than others. For example, lighter colors — like watercolors and pastels — typically fade faster than black and gray inks.

Some styles also fade faster than others. Geometric designs that are heavy on dots and clean lines are usually more susceptible to general wear and tear, especially if they’re in a location that’s constantly rubbing against your clothes or shoes.

What to expect at your appointment

tattoo guide

Once you’ve settled on a design and chosen your artist, you’re almost ready for the main event. If you’re getting anything other than script, you’ll need to set up a consultation with your artist. You’ll both use this time to:

  • solidify your design and discuss the placement
  • determine how many sessions will be needed to complete the piece
  • confirm the hourly rate and anticipated overall cost
  • take care of any paperwork
  • schedule your tattoo appointment

Day before your appointment:

  • Avoid aspirin (Bayer) and ibuprofen (Advil), which can thin your blood, so they’re both off limits for 24 hours leading up to your appointment. You may be able to take acetaminophen (Tylenol), but confirm this with your artist first.
  • Plan to wear something that will leave the area to be tattooed exposed. If this isn’t possible, plan to wear something loose that you can easily slip in and out of.
  • Plan to arrive at your appointment 10 minutes early.
  • Get cash to tip your artist.

Here’s what typically happens during an appointment:

  1. When you first arrive, you’ll finish filling out any paperwork and if needed, finalize any details of your design.
  2. Your artist will take you to their station. You’ll need to roll up or remove any clothing that could get in the way of your tattoo placement.
  3. Your artist will disinfect the area and use a disposable razor to remove any hair.
  4. Once the area is dry, your artist will place the tattoo stencil onto your skin. You can move this around as much as you’d like, so make sure you’re happy with the placement!
  5. After you confirm the placement, your artist will tattoo the outline of your design. Then they’ll fill in any colors or gradients.
  6. When your artist is finished, they’ll clean the tattooed area, wrap it up, and tell you how to take care of it.
  7. You can tip your artist at their station, or leave the tip when you pay at the front desk. It’s standard to tip at least 20 percent, but if you had a great experience and are able to tip more, go ahead!

How to keep your tattoo in tip-top shape

Unless you’re heading home to settle in to a Netflix binge, you should keep the dressing on for the next several hours. When it’s time for removal, you’ll clean the tattoo for the first time.

You should follow this cleansing process for the first three to six weeks:

  1. Always wash your hands first! Be sure to use antibacterial soap and warm water.
  2. Wash the tattoo with your artist’s recommended cleanser or a gentle, unscented soap. Avoid using any soap with irritants like fragrance or alcohol.
  3. After you wash, gently pat the area dry with a clean towel. Whatever you do, don’t rub or pick at the skin, even if it flakes! This can ruin the tattoo.
  4. Wear sunscreen or SPF clothing while it heals as sunlight can fade the colors.

You’ll also want to keep your ink fresh and hydrated. If you’re dealing with itchiness or the skin feels dry, apply a thin layer of your artist’s recommended ointment. You can also use a gentle, unscented lotion.

Most tattoos heal at the surface layer within the first couple of weeks, but it may be months before it’s healed completely. Don’t worry if your tattoo starts to flake or peel — this is normal (although an infection is not). Peeling usually only lasts for the first week or so.

What if you change your mind?If you decide that you don’t like a small part of the artwork or that you hate the whole dang thing, you may be able to add to it, cover it up, or even remove it entirely. Your artist can talk you through your options and advise you on next steps.

All in all, getting the tattoo is the easy part. Your new ink will be a part of you, as a statement or a secret. Knowing that it’s there, a decision you made and love for life, can be surprisingly reassuring — especially when it’s lovely to look at.

When Tess Catlett was 13, she wanted nothing more than to dye her hair blue and get a Tinkerbell tattoo on her shoulder blade. Now an editor at , she’s only checked one of those things off her bucket list — and thank goodness it wasn’t that tattoo. Sound familiar? Share your would-be tattoo horror stories with her on .