How to Choose a Tattoo Artist | Painful Pleasures Community

How to Choose a Tattoo Artist

Getting a tattoo is exciting! If you’re interested in body art but aren’t sure where to begin, follow these steps to help you decide how to choose a tattoo artist.
by Painful Pleasures Last Updated: June 30, 2022

Step 1: Decide Which Tattoo You Want

Start by developing a concept for your tattoo, including its specific design, colors, and location on your body. The more detailed your concept, the better your artist will be able to design and draw it. If you can, try to gather reference photos of tattoos that have a similar style, colors, or design. When thinking about placement on the body, consider both artistic factors – how well the design fits and flows with the shape of your body – and practical factors, such as whether your current or future employers will allow you to have visible tattoos. An experienced tattoo artist will be able to provide insights and improvements for your location and design, so be ready for and open to suggestions.

Step 2: Research Tattoo Shops

There are thousands of tattoo shops out there, but the internet and social media make finding the right one a lot easier. Look online for shops in your area, then check their customer ratings and reviews. Find two or three shops with overwhelmingly positive reviews and posted work that seems similar to the design you’d like to get. At this point, your primary concern should be to find shops that seem professional and trustworthy based on the information you can find online.

Step 3: Ask Advice From Friends and Family

Once you’ve thought about your design and started researching tattoo shops, you should look for input from people you know and trust, especially if they have tattoos themselves. Gauge their reaction to your tattoo concept and location, and take any specific advice under consideration. In addition, ask if they or anyone they know are familiar with the shops you’re interested in working with – they might be able to give you some firsthand information you wouldn’t find online.

Step 4: Research the Artists

After developing your initial tattoo idea and running it by a few people you trust, it’s time to start looking for an artist. If you have a specific shop in mind, start by checking out the portfolios of each of its artists to find one with strong overall artistry. That means looking for finished and healed tattoos that demonstrate clean and clear linework, solid and even fill, and a strong sense of composition, proportion, and control in the design. Look closely for common tattooing errors such as blown-out lines and scratchy fill. Ideally, you’ll find an artist whose portfolio generally matches the style of tattoo you’re interested in. If you’re not sure about an artist’s preferred style and how it might work with your concept, don’t hesitate to ask. These days, many tattoo artists have a professional social media account where they post photos of their work and completed pieces, so you may be able to do some of your research remotely.

Step 5: Understand Tattoo Pricing

Many customers getting tattooed for the first time get attached to a design concept without fully understanding what it might cost. To avoid last-minute sticker shock, make sure you research tattoo pricing beforehand. The price of a tattoo is determined by many factors including the size and location of the tattoo, the complexity of the design, the amount of time it will take to complete, the experience level of the artist, the availability of the artist, and the geographic area the artist is working in. Generally speaking, large and detailed designs will cost more, experienced and in-demand artists will cost more, and getting tattooed in a major city will cost more. Additionally, not all artists bill the same way. Some might charge a flat rate for certain types or sizes of designs, some might charge a day or session rate, and some might charge by the hour. On average, you can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for a small tattoo, around $250 for a medium-sized tattoo, and at least $500 or more for large projects. For especially large pieces, such as a full chest tattoo or a sleeve, the price tag will likely reach into the thousands. Always discuss pricing with your artist before committing, and remember to include a tip!

Step 6: Check Out the Tattoo Shop

The internet is a great tool for initial research, but to make sure your chosen tattoo shops live up to their online reputations, you need to see them for yourself. If they allow it, you can walk in, but otherwise, call to tell them you’re interested in working with them and want to schedule an appointment to see the shop. Your primary concern at this stage should be the shop’s overall cleanliness. Check that the floors, walls, and work surfaces are clean and that the workspaces are neat and organized. If they aren’t keeping up with basic cleanliness, they might not be practicing safe and hygienic tattooing either.

Step 7: Examine the Tattoo Equipment

If you can, try to check out their tattooing equipment and procedures as well. Ask the shop manager if they have an autoclave and if they can show you the results of their most recent spore test. If they don’t have an autoclave, they should be using single-use disposable equipment only. Be sure that there are sharps containers available for artists to dispose of used needles. If there’s tattooing happening while you’re there, check to ensure the artists are wearing gloves and practicing good station hygiene at all times. That includes using the correct surface and skin prep procedures and using barrier film to cover all the surfaces and equipment they and the client touch during the course of the procedure.

Step 8: Set Up a Consultation

When you find the artist that you like, set up a consultation to talk to them in detail about your tattoo idea. Make sure you bring any photos, mock-ups, or examples you have so that they can reference them while drawing up your custom tattoo. The goal of the consultation should be to ensure that you’re both on the same page. At the consultation, the artist will also provide a price quote and ask for a deposit to reserve your appointment and begin working on your design. Some artists price based on size, and some charge by the hour.  In either case, your deposit will be credited toward the final cost of your tattoo, but keep in mind that large tattoos may require multiple sessions to complete.

Step 9: Schedule a Tattoo Appointment

Once you’ve completed your consultation, you’ll set a date for your actual tattooing session. On the day of your appointment, be sure to:

  • eat a healthy meal beforehand
  • wear clothing that allows easy access to the area being tattooed
  • avoid drinking alcohol or taking any kind of pain medication, which can cause your body to bleed more than usual
  • bring water and a small snack
  • relax, and try to enjoy the tattoo experience

After your tattoo is done, the artist will give you complete aftercare instructions and send you on your way. Remember that the healing and aftercare process is just as important as the tattooing itself, so listen closely to your artist’s instructions.


Finally, you get to enjoy your new tattoo! With this experience and knowledge under your belt, you’ll be confident and ready when it’s time to start planning your next piece.

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