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The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Tattoo

This Guide is here to help you every step of the way to getting a great tattoo.

Table of Contents

What is a tattoo

Long story short: A tattoo is a form of body modification which allows people to apply a design to their skin, mostly for aesthetic reasons but also to express personal, religious or political beliefs.

A certain design is made by repeatedly injecting ink into the dermis layer of the skin, usually done with a tattoo machine. By doing so, the tattoo stays in the skin permanently, although it changes slightly with time.

Some tattoos are purely decorative and have no specific meaning, some are symbolic and have a meaning for a certain peer group and especially the wearer. The third category is pictorial, tattoos that are a depiction of a specific person or a subject – a portrait for example.

There are numerous styles in tattooing, and it takes a bit of specific knowledge to tell them apart. From Traditional to Neo-Traditional, Black and Grey to Blackwork, New School, Lettering, Realism… With so many styles in tattooing sometimes it’s difficult to pick a favourite. Our Tattoo Style Guide provides all the basic information on different styles, and our extensive Tattoo Library brings more examples of different styles and subjects.

Should I get a tattoo

Things are changing and it is now more common to see tattooed people in different professions, even those where a few years ago you wouldn’t expect to see’em. Recent studies show that people no longer discriminate against people with visible tattoos. With about 40-50% of young people having tattoos, hiring managers would have a hard time finding good candidates without any ink.

However, some discrimination will still occur in certain situations, so it is important to consider everything before you get inked. If you still worry about what other people might think, it’s best to tattoo the parts of your body that are easily covered with clothes.

The first thing to do that will put your health concerns at ease is to go to a professional tattoo artist. Serious complications can occur if the instruments are poorly sterilised or not used correctly, so make sure all equipment your artist uses is either new or sanitized. Do not take your health likely.

Other things to consider are possible allergies to the ink. If you suffer from allergies or have a known health condition, you should consult with your doctor before getting a tattoo. 

How to Choose a Tattoo

Tattoo inspiration can come from absolutely everywhere. From iconic images to books and poetry, right up to song lyrics. Tattoos can be as interpretive or as direct as you like, meaning there are no limits to what can and can’t be inked.
Art pieces are a popular source of inspiration. Maybe you’ve fallen in love with the imagery of a particular country on your travels, or maybe there’s a famous painting which resonates with you. Family and personal connections are also a great choice, as tattoos allow you to pay a permanent tribute to a loved one. Also, you might be inspired by your tattoo artist’s work and you want them to create something for you.
Think back to the important moments in your life. The experiences which shaped you and the ones you’ll remember forever. Then, find a way to symbolise them through art. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have your perfect tattoo.

Again, a good place to start is out Tattoo Library (click to visit).

The most important part of a tattoo is the subject. Tattoo subjects include classic images like flowers, animals and skulls, right up to more personalised designs like religious symbols. Put simply, the subject is the tattoo, so it’s important to get it right. 

Some tattoos subjects have deep meanings, while other just simply look great. Think about what you’re trying to say with your tattoo, if you are trying to say anything. Are you getting one because you want to jazz up your body, or do you want it to represent something? It’s perfectly fine to get a cool-looking dragon or a sexy pin-up, but if you’re getting a tattoo to symbolise something important to you, dig a little deeper and find something more personal.  Remember, you’ll have this tattoo forever, so think about how you’ll feel when you look down at it in ten years’ time. 

Once you’ve decided on the subject matter, you need to pick which style you want it inked in. Some styles just work well with certain subjects. For example, portraits really pop with elements of realism, while traditional Japanese designs favour a more illustrative style. 

The style is completely up to you, but be sure to pick one which enhances your subject. If your subject is something based in reality, like an animal or portrait, combine it with realistic styles (realism, 3D) to give it extra depth. If your subject is a little more niche, like a symbol or quote, then choose a style which adds some visual flair to it. Remember, if this is your first tattoo, you don’t want to go too crazy just yet, so keep it simple until you’re comfortable with combining different styles and subjects. 

The choice of style will also guide you to the choice of artist. Most artist will specialise in one or two styles – that is what they do best, and if you are getting inked, you want the artist to know what they are doing. If you want a Japanese traditional koi fish, go to the artist that specializes in Japanese traditional. Even though there are artists that are excellent all-rounders, specialisation give an added layer of confidence and security.

Again, turn to our Style Guide and Tattoo Library for help and guidance on your choice. If you are really stuck, reach out to us via our contact page or on Facebook, and we’ll do our best help you.

Size and placement are both super important parts of the process. For example, certain “fluid” styles like tribal and brushstroke favour more curvy parts of the body, like the shoulder or the forearm. Because these styles flow quite freely, they shine more when the body shape compliments them. On the other hand, tattoos which need to be seen in full (like portraits) look better on a flat area of the body like the thigh.

Would your tattoo design still look good if you could only see half of it? Does it need to be seen head-on to make sense, or can it run a little more fluidly? Consider these questions before deciding on a location and consult with your artist.

When it comes to size, intricate designs with lots of detail will need to be quite sizable so they don’t just become a smudge over time. Minimalist designs, like outline or negative space tattoos, should be inked on a smaller scale. 

Flash tattoos are the common designs you’ll see displayed on tattoo walls or in binders around the shop. They’re usually straightforward tattoos with heavy traditional elements like bold colour and thick outlines. Flash tattoos can be a great choice if you’re looking to bust your tattoo virginity, and because of their simplicity, you can rest assured that you’ll be getting exactly what you see on the paper in front of you. 

Custom designs are what most artist prefer to do. If you like an artist’s style and you love their custom pieces, you might just want to let then come up with their own idea for the design. You will definitely need to opt for a custom design if you have a unique idea you want to get on your skin. In both cases, you’ll need to work with the artist as not every idea that you have can be transcribed in to a successful tattoo. A good tattoo artist will be able to take your idea and turn into something unique, but it might involve a little more work and a little more money. It will definitely require for you to be a bit flexible and collaborative. 

Flash tattoos are the common designs you’ll see displayed on tattoo walls or in binders around the shop. They’re usually straightforward tattoos with heavy traditional elements like bold colour and thick outlines. Flash tattoos can be a great choice if you’re looking to bust your tattoo virginity, and because of their simplicity, you can rest assured that you’ll be getting exactly what you see on the paper in front of you. 

Custom designs are what most artist prefer to do. If you like an artist’s style and you love their custom pieces, you might just want to let then come up with their own idea for the design. You will definitely need to opt for a custom design if you have a unique idea you want to get on your skin. In both cases, you’ll need to work with the artist as not every idea that you have can be transcribed in to a successful tattoo. A good tattoo artist will be able to take your idea and turn into something unique, but it might involve a little more work and a little more money. It will definitely require for you to be a bit flexible and collaborative. 

How to Find the Right Artist

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to choose the right artist for your tattoo. This is the person that will leave a long-lasting mark on you – literally! This is also a person you’ll be working with to make your tattoo idea a reality, so make sure it’s someone you can trust. Be patient, as good tattoo artist have a busy schedule and sometimes you’ll have to wait for a few months to get your ink, but hey, you shouldn’t hurry a tattoo anyway.

Inkably helps you find the best artist for your tattoo. We work with some of the best tattoo artists in London, and other locations in the UK to make sure you’ll have a great tattoo experience with our artists. If your’re not sure where to go, or would just like to have more options, get a Free Tattoo Consultation on Inkably.

Maybe you already identified an artist whose work you follow, you like their style and artistry and you just want their work on your skin. Your choice is made, and you can skip this part of the guide. If you are not yet set on the artist, read on.

Be Patient

A lot of sought after artists will have a very busy schedule. Their price range will also be higher than average. Sometimes they will be booked in advance for several months. Sometimes, to get a tattoo from your favourite artist will require you to travel. To get the artist you want, sometimes it will require a bit more effort and time. Price is always a factor, but don’t go for the cheap option, chances are you’ll regret it!

What Is The Artist's Style

The first thing you should be looking at is the style. Most artist will specialise in one or two styles, and generally will not do other styles. It’s never a good idea to go against the artist’s style and get them to do something they are not comfortable with.
When you decide on the style you want to get, look at artist who are versed in that specific style, that will significantly reduce the risk of an undesired outcome.

Visit The Artist's Shop

Once you’ve found a few artists in your are that specialise in the style of your choice it’s time to pick your favourite. The best way to do that is to visit each one of them, but the next best thing is to look at their online portfolio. Look for the type of tattoo you are looking to get and try to answer these questions, while looking at the artist’s work:

Is this something I’d like to have on my skin, forever?

Are the lines straight and clean (not jagged or shaky)?

Is the shading and colouring smooth and consistent?

Are the tattoos well sized and positioned on the body?

Read the reviews, ask around, look for real images not just the cherry picked stuff the artists put in their portfolios. And, listen to your gut – if it doesn’t feel right, just move on!

Look At The Artist's Portfolio

Artists usually work in shops, some of them even in more than one, sometimes they have a private studio, and they all they regularly travel to other cities, countries and visit conventions. If the artist you chose works in a shop in your area, be sure to visit the shop personally, check out the vibe of the place, but most importantly look at the cleanliness of the place. If there are any concerns regarding hygiene, you should not get inked at that place or with any tattoo artist that works there. 

How Much Does a Tattoo Cost

You need to keep in mind that “cheap work isn’t good; good work isn’t cheap” – it’s a golden rule that applies not only to getting inked. Going for the cheaper option can result to be more expensive in the long run – just think how much will it cost to cover-up or remove a bad tattoo. It is actually a lot less expensive to go to a skilled artist than you probably imagine. There are a number of factors that go in to the cost of a tattoo. The more time it takes to make it, the more it will cost. On the side of the design, obviously, size is a factor, also the complexity of the design plays a role in how much time and effort it will take to complete the tattoo, and the placement can also be a big issue. Sensitive parts of the body will usually take a bit longer to get done. Wrist tattoo: 50 – 100; Palm sized tattoo – 150 – 350; Full sleeve: 1000 – 2000+ Most artists will charge by the hour for large and custom pieces. You can expect to pay anywhere from GBP 80 to 130 per hour with a skilled artist. Established, really sought-after and famous artists will charge more. You can usually get a fixed quote for a tattoo that the artist can complete in one sitting. Also, flash tattoos usually will have a flat rate, depending on size and placement – those can also give you a rough idea on how much your custom tattoo will cost. Bigger tattoos will require multiple sittings and it’s not unusual to take several months to make them. Take your time, and save up some cash. It’s best to discuss the cost with the artist during the consultation. It’s perfectly fine to ask questions such as “what is your hourly rate”, “how long would it take to make this tattoo”, or just straight out ask “how much will my tattoo cost”. We do not recommend asking for a discount, the artist will usually offer it if you are a repeating customer. The absolutely wrong way to go about getting a quote is asking the artist “How much for this one?” in the Instagram comments.

As in all situations, tipping is optional. If you are happy with the work and the way you’ve been treated, please do tip the artist, it will go towards creating a good relationship. 

Depending on the tattoo, we recommend the tips to start at 10% for larger pieces, 20-30% for smaller tattoos. 

The Process of Getting a Tattoo

After you’ve completed your research and reached out to the artist of your choice, you’ll be invited to visit the shop for a consultation.

You will usually not need a it if you’re getting a smaller flash tattoo, but with any custom work, a consultation is a must. An artist will make a exception if you need to travel to get to the shop, and then you’ll do the consult via email. Either way, make sure you know what you want to get, have some reference material printed out and be clear on the style, size and placement you are going for. Consultations are typically free and nonbinding.

During the consultation you’ll discuss the desired tattoo, the artist will advise you on the details, placement, etc… This is a good time to ask any questions you may have. During or after the consultation, you can book your first tattoo session with the artist. You’ll be asked to provide the deposit or proof of payment (if previously paid online).

For your tattoo experience to go as smooth as possible, here’s a list of things you should keep in mind as your first tattoo session is approaching:

Be calm. No matter what your expectations are, getting tattooed is actually a pleasant experience, and you can make it better by being calm and positive.

Rest well. This is important especially if your session will take several hours. Your skin will be pricked for hours, and you will not be comfortable, so a good night’s rest is a must.

Be sober. It is a very bad idea to get drunk the night before the tattoo, and it’s an even worst idea to arrive drunk to the shop. You will be denied service and your deposit will go to waste. Plenty of time for a beer after the session, you’ll need it 😉

Be clean. Make sure you shower (obviously) and you can help the artist by shaving the area where the tattoo will be applied.

Bring money. Do not forget cash. Most places will only accept cash, so make sure you bring enough to cover the cost of session, the tip, drinks and snacks. Also, make sure you bring proof of payment for the deposit and an ID.

Bring water & snacks. Bring water as it’s important to stay well hydrated throughout the process. Snacks high in sugar will help keep your blood sugars up in a long session. Dried fruit, nuts, chocolate bars and sandwiches are a good option.

Don’t sunbathe. It’s important for the skin not to be irritated before the tattooing. Absolutely do not sunbathe or go to the solarium the day before you’re getting a tattoo, same goes for epilation.

Don’t wear anything new. Ink might end up on your clothes, so wear stuff you don’t mind getting a few stains.

Don’t go in sick. Should go without saying, if you’re feeling unwell or you’re sick, call in and cancel. Make sure to cancel 48 hours ahead, or you might lose your deposit.

Bring distractions. For longer sessions it’s a good idea to bring something to help pass time. A book will probably be difficult to focus on, but a good playlist will help you through the day. Bot all artists like to chat when they work, so be understanding.

It hurts. Forget about getting a painless tattoo, it’s not happening. It usually doesn’t hurt a lot, depending on the placement, the tattooers’ skill level and your pain treshold. It’s best if your first tattoo is a smaller one, and preferably on a part of your body that’s less sensitive. It will give you an idea on what to expect with bigger pieces in more sensitive areas.

The most painful areas for most people are those where the skin is really thin (inside of arm, back of knee…) or on the bone (elbow, collar bone, ribs…). There are many pain level charts to be found online, but pain level is so subjective there are no strict rules. Having said that, it will hurt to tattoo your rib cage, top of the head, ankles and similar areas, especially if you are getting a detailed, heavily shaded tattoo. The least painful places to get inked are well padded, thick skin areas such as the forearm, calf, shoulders…

The best way to deal with pain and discomfort is to remain calm, breathe slowly and deeply and keep your mind busy with something else. If it’s getting too much to bare, it’s fine to ask for a break, but some pain you will have to endure.

When you arrive at the shop for your session, there might be some paperwork to fill out. Make sure you have your ID with you as you might have to provide proof of age. You’ll be offered to wait until the area is ready for you. The artist, or the assistant, will prepare the chair, make sure it’s clean and all the areas that will come in contact with your skin are covered with cling film. 

The Space

If you are visiting a parlour, you’ll usually be tattooed in an open work area, with other clients getting tattooed in the same space. If you wish to have your session in a private room, make the request in advance.

The Chair

Sometimes it’s a specialized tattoo chair, sometimes a dentist-style chair, or a padded bench. The artist will help you in to a pose that will be as comfortable as possible for you while allowing them to do their work. 

The Preparation

The are of your body that’s being tattooed will be cleaned, usually with rubbing alcohol. Even if you shaved beforehand, the artist will quickly shave the area with a new disposable razor. Hair can get in the way of the process, so it’s important to make the area hair-free. The artist will usually wipe your skin again after the shave.

The Stencil

For some designs, the artist will prepare a stencil. This is especially true for compact tattoos and flash designs. More experienced artists will work freehand, especially if you are getting a cover-up, or a big design that needs to flow with your body shape.

The stencil is a copy of the design printed (or outlined) on a piece of paper that is then transferred on to your skin. The stencil is only an outline of the design with no shading an/or colour on it.

Final Preparation

The artist will now finish preparing the machine and the colours needed for the session. This is where the artist should have their latex gloves on. Needles and tubes will be taken out of their sterile pouches and placed in the tattoo machine. Colours will be placed in small cups called ‘ink caps’, a glass of distilled water will be placed nearby for cleaning needles when switching colours. A bit of ointment will be placed on the same surface.

Starting with the tattoo

This is when the machine will start buzzing. You don’t want to be a noob and call it a “tattoo gun”, it’s called a “tattoo machine”.

The artist will apply a bit of the ointment on your skin, to make the needle slide along the skin smoothly and to prevent removing the stencil. The artist will let you know that they are going to start with the tattooing. The best thing to to is to take a deep, natural breath and relax. You’ll probably be surprised how little pain you are feeling – this will even subsite as the skin get used to the pricking and some adrenaline kicks in. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, you are getting your tattoo!

What is happening?

You hear the buzzing, you can feel the needles pricking your skin, but, what is actually happening? 

In order for the tattoo to remain permanently in your skin, the needles in the machine are piercing the epidermis, outer layer of the skin, so that the ink can get in to the dermis, the second layer of the skin. The needles are piercing the skin at a rate of up to 3,000 times per minute, pulling the ink in to the tiny hole in the dermis. The ink then deposits there for years and years to come. 

First, it’s the Lines

The first part of the design the artist will be working on are the lines. It’s important that this part be done without interruption so that the design will remain consistent. The linework is done with fewer needles, the number depending on the thickness of the line. Make sure to remain calm and do not move! If you need to move for whatever reason, make sure you tell the artist.

Shading and Colouring

Once the linework is done and the design is now transferred to your skin, you are probably going to take a nice break. Next step, for most designs, is the shading and colouring. This is where the artist will probably switch needles or even use a different machine. 

Shading and colouring will move along at a much quicker pace, and depending on the size and complexity of your design, pretty soon you’ll have a finished tattoo. The artist will wipe and clean your tattoo, probably take a picture of it for their portfolio. Now you’ll be able to walk to the mirror and check out your fresh ink in all its glory! 

Dressing the tattoo

You are not done yet! This moment is when the aftercare begins. The artist will apply a protective layer of ointment to prevent bacterial infection. Next, cling film will be applied and bandaged. You are supposed to keep the bandage on for a few hours, but rely on the artist to provide instruction. Please take aftercare seriously as poor care could affect the way your tattoo looks or worse, it might get infected and you’ll have only yourself to blame.

Tattoo Healing and Aftercare

Your tattoo journey is only half ways over once the artist has taped the bandage around your inked skin. So yes, aftercare is pretty much one of the most important things of the tattooing process. It protects you against infections and a tattoo that has been well taken care of afterwards, looks even better when it’s healed. Your artist should give you written or at least oral aftercare instructions. 


Wash your tattoo several times a day with a unscented soap; 

Afterwards pat it dry with a clean towel; 

Put a thin layer of ointment over it. Which ones to use are in this guide below;

Let it breath, so make sure you don’t wear to tight clothes over it; 


Leave it wrapped for a couple of hours after getting tattooed. Don’t wrap it again afterwards. The wrap is a nice milieu for bacteria; 

Avoid taking baths (shower is OK) or going to the swimming pool until it is completely healed; 

Don’t go sunbathing or into the sea until after it is completely healed. You should avoid both anyways in order to keep the colours vivid;

It will itch (like hell) when it starts to heal. No matter what, don’t ever scratch. You might ruin the outcome;

Most tattoos heal at the surface layer within the first couple of weeks, but it may be months before it’s healed completely. Not taking good care of your ink can delay the healing process and also affect how your tattoo looks in the long term. At first, it will look a little bit burnt, since a tattoo is one big scar that is healing. You should definitely go and see a doctor, if you experience one of the following: 

– Warm skin which is tender to the touch

– It burns 

– If it is still swollen after a couple of days or it keeps swelling even more 

– When it has a foul smell to it 

– Pus in any  colour

Most tattoo shops sell a range tattoo aftercare lotions and ointments, which are full of ingredients that are designed to help your tattoo heal as quickly and efficiently as possible. Nevertheless, these special treatments are not necessary. 

Many use a simple A +D ointment or Aquaphor. It is important that it is unscented because perfumes would only cause irritations. Things to avoid are Vaseline and petroleum jelly. 

After about six months your skin in the tattoo area has fully recovered and you will be looking at your tattoo through a layer of dead skin cells which contain no tattoo pigment, this will have muted the vividness of your colors somewhat, and given your tattoo a more natural, beautiful quality.

Now that your tattoo is fully healed, it will begin the long, constant process of decay.  As time passes, the skin cells (in which the tattoo pigment is embedded) shift slightly, causing the tattoo to blur. In addition the body continually attempts to break down and remove the pigment grains, causing your tattoo to fade. Both of these processes occur as gradually as the rest of your body ages, so slowly that you may not even notice. 

There is no way to completely prevent the fading and blurring of your tattoo, but remember that a properly designed tattoo will look great for a lifetime, and the fading and blurring will not completely ruin the images.  Here are a few things you can do to help them look their best for as long as possible:

– Keep your skin moisturized

– Avoid direct sun baths and use sunblock 

– Maintain a healthy diet 

– Stay hydrated 

– Avoid excess weight gain or weight loss (unless  you have to due to health issues)

Tattoo Removal Methods

When getting a new tattoo, the last thing you want to be thinking about is removing it. But, it’s nice to know you have options.

Tattoos were once taken to be permanent. However, it is currently possible to take them out with treatments either wholly or partially. Tattoo removal will usually require several sessions because healing is required between stages. 

Depending on the design, size and ink used, tattoos will not always be successfully fully removed. Green, blue and black inks will be easier to remove while red, yellow, orange, red and white inks will be harder to remove from the skin. Efficiency in laser removal technology is continuously improving.

Keep in mind that tattoo removal is expensive and can leave permanent scarring and skin discoloration.

Most people decide to cover an unwanted tattoo with a brand new one. It is typically known as a cover-up. Excellent concealment may make the previous tat invisible. However, it depends wholly on the size, style, methods and colors used on the old tattoo. It also depends on the artistic skill of the tattoo artist – a cover-up will be a challenge even for the most experienced of tattooers. Take your cover-up to an unexperienced artist, and you might end up a less than satisfactory result. 

Covering up requires the use of darker tones in the new tattoo. Numerous tattoos are, however, too dark or difficult to cover up. In such cases, partial laser tattoo removal could be needed to fade the existing ink. 

Laser Removal

Tattoo removal is usually done using lasers. They break down the ink particles in the tattoo into smaller elements. As mentioned earlier, darker colours will be easier to remove as they absorb light better. Current pastel colored inks have high concentrations of titanium dioxide. They are considered to be highly reflective. Consequentially, such inks are hard to take out. 

The premium standard of tattoo removal treatment modality is by the usage of multiple Q-switched lasers. They come in different kinds with each effective for specific removal of a different level of the color spectrum. During the treatment procedure, the laser beam penetrates the skin. It targets the ink resting within in a liquid form. 

Getting immediate results is possible. However, in most occurrences, the fading eventually occurs gradually over the seventh to eighth week. It is the healing period between treatments. Body areas with less dense skin are likely to scar compared to thicker regions. 

There are methods that are used for tattoo removal that aren’t reliable. They include the use of dermabrasion, saline, creams, acid peels and surgery. Dermabrasion is a profound exfoliation-think “sandpaper”. It’s a fast-moving brush which sands down the skin. This method removes the dermis and top layer of the skin painfully. Saline is applied to fade the tattoo. It is injected into the skin in the area surrounding the tattoo. Creams cause most damage in comparison to other methods. Surgery involves removal of the tattooed skin. Acid peels dissolves the layers of the tattoo.

Before you decide for a removal method, make sure to consult a medical professional. If you decide to do a cover-up, make sure you consult with an experienced tattoo artist – Inkably’s recommended artists will be able to help.


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