1. Window-shop: Ask tattooed friends with work you like where they go, and head over to look at their tattoo artist’s book.
2. Be patient: Don’t expect to walk into a shop and walk out with a tattoo. Before you set up the actual appointment, you’ll want to discuss the design. Bring reference art to your meet and greet. And expect to put down a deposit.
3. Look for general cleanliness, including an autoclave, a pressurized device that sterilizes equipment. Everything you or your tattooist may touch during the process should be newly wrapped in plastic. Needles should be in sealed sterilization pouches, and ink should be squirted into single-use containers.
4. At your appointment, the tattooist will show you a sketch. It’ll be a line drawing, and it may not look very impressive, so discuss shading and color to get a better idea of what the finished product will look like.
5. Once you’ve signed off on the sketch, a stencil transfer will be made. Then the tattooist will shave you, and the transfer placed on your newly shorn skin. Check it out in the mirror for positioning and size. Now is the time to be very picky.
6. The tattooist will cover the area with a thin layer of Vaseline to make it easier to tattoo. If this is your first tattoo, the tattooist will do a test line to give you an idea of what you are in for. An hour or so later, depending on the size and detail of your piece, you’ll be done. Don’t forget to tip (15 to 20 percent).
7. Most tattoo artists advise you to keep the newly tattooed area covered for a few hours with gauze and tape. Then wash it with a gentle soap like Cetaphil and water, and apply a protective ointment like A&D. Don’t overwash the area or put too much ointment on or keep it covered. It should heal within a week or two. Use lots of sunscreen to keep the colors vivid.
8. The rest of your life: Get answers ready for questions like “What does it mean?”