I'm a tattoo artist sharing the 9 biggest mistakes first-time clients make

On the left, Alissa in black clothes tattooing a client. On the right, a red and green floral tattoo.
I've been a tattoo artist for 2 years.Alissa Jung
  • After working as a tattoo artist for two years, I've seen first-time clients make common mistakes.

  • You should bring something to entertain yourself and ask for breaks when you need them.

  • Prepare your skin for tattooing ahead of your appointment, but don't apply numbing cream.

Getting your first tattoo can be daunting. To have a smoother experience, it's best to research the process, shop, artist, and aftercare procedure ahead of time.

But as a professional tattoo artist of two years, there are still common mistakes I see first-time clients make.

Prepare your skin for the tattoo

Think of your skin as a canvas for your tattoo – if it's smooth and hydrated, it'll take the ink more easily, resulting in better-healed results.

To best prep the skin, start by moisturizing the area for a couple of weeks prior to your appointment. Also be mindful to drink plenty of water and avoid anything that might irritate your skin.

Never ask for an exact copy of another artist's original design

A picture of a tattoo of a colorful bowl of ramen
Artists can spend hours designing tattoos for their clients.Alissa Jung for Insider

Asking for a copy of an artist's original design is the same as stealing their artwork.

Many custom-tattoo artists spend hours designing a piece specifically for their client and inking it only once. So this request is disrespectful to the original artist, as well as the client, who paid for a tattoo they thought would be individual.

Instead, find a tattooer whose work you love and trust them to design a custom piece for you. It's OK to use another's work as a reference to give them an idea of what you're looking for.

On the other hand, certain flash designs, references from pop culture, or famous artwork can be replicated.

Ask your artist before using numbing cream

Your first tattoo can be very nerve-racking, so I understand wanting to use topical numbing cream, but it can leave the skin in a rubbery or leather-like state, making it harder to tattoo and heal.

Every artist has their own thoughts on numbing cream — some use Bactine to help numb the skin throughout — so make sure to ask before applying it.

Bring something to do

The writer tattooing a client on their leg while the client reads a book
You're welcome to bring a book or headphones.Alissa Jung

Many first-time clients don't realize you can bring things to pass the time. It's helpful to have something to distract yourself, especially for tattoos that can take a few hours.

I suggest bringing headphones and downloading something to watch, listening to music, or packing a book to read.

Some clients prefer to bring a friend or talk to the artist, but it's best to ask prior to the appointment since shops have different rules for guests and artists have different preferences on how they work. Some love to chat, but others prefer to silently concentrate.

Don't feel pressured to get anything you don't want

A tattoo's going to be on your body forever, so never feel pressured to get something you don't want.

If you want changes to your design or placement, let your artist know. A good tattooer will give their honest opinions and be willing to work with you to get the piece you envisioned.

That said, make sure to find a tattooer you trust — both as a person and an artist — and take their suggestions into consideration. There may be certain design or size restrictions required for the integrity of the piece.

But at the end of the day, don't feel pressured to ink anything you're not 100% sure about.

Try not to schedule your tattoo right before or after a vacation

After your tattoo, you'll need to avoid exposing it to the sun, exercising, and swimming for at least two weeks while it heals, so don't plan a vacation that may require any of those things immediately after your session.

Your tattoo is essentially an open wound and needs to be kept clean to avoid infection. It'll take four to six weeks to fully heal, so plan ahead for your aftercare.

Alternatively, avoid planning a tattoo session after a vacation in the sun – you'll most likely need to reschedule if you're sunburned.

You're allowed to ask for breaks

Pink, colored tattoo of an orchid on arm
Some tattoos can take a while to ink.Alissa Jung

If you need a break for any reason — to use the bathroom, stretch, or get some water — don't hesitate to ask. Your artist will be more comfortable tattooing you if you're comfortable.

Some artists will power through a tattoo without any breaks, so make sure to speak up if you need one. It's most likely a much-needed breather for them, as well.

Don't come in sick, drunk, or hungover

Getting a tattoo puts your body under a lot, so it's important to be healthy, hydrated, and in good condition for your appointment.

While you're sick, it can even take longer for your tattoo to heal, which can affect the final result. Plus your body should focus on healing itself, not your new ink.

It's also best not to drink alcohol at least 24 hours prior to your appointment. Alcohol thins the blood, which can lead to excess bleeding. This can affect your tattoo artist's visibility while inking, as well as compromise the healing process and final result.

Eat something before your appointment

Make sure to eat a couple of hours before your appointment. Getting a tattoo on an empty stomach can make you feel faint, lightheaded, or nauseous.

Eating a protein-rich meal and drinking lots of water will help calm your nerves and get your body fueled for your session.

It also may be helpful to bring water, as well as snacks or candy, in case you feel sick.

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