Here's what you need to know before you get your first tattoo

Artists and shop owners share tips to follow and mistakes to avoid

Artists and shop owners share tips to follow and mistakes to avoid.

(Credit: Getty Images)

So, you're thinking about getting your first tattoo. If you're feeling a little bit uncertain or nervous, don't panic! We get it. You might be curious about the pain or which artist to choose, and that can definitely be a bit daunting.

As someone with first-hand first-timer experience, I'm here to reassure you that it'll all be fine. (OK, I may only have one tattoo, but that still counts for something!) But don't just take it from me: we've enlisted a few experts to help arm you with information and ease your mind before you take the jump. Tattoos are forever, after all.

Here are some tips and words of wisdom to consider before you get your first tattoo from some of Canada's most seasoned pros.

Research, research, research

The first step in my tattoo journey was studying up on shops, artists and designs, which ultimately led me to seek advice from Toronto-based Black Widow Tattoo. After my first nerves-filled consultation exceeded my expectations — and I discovered resident artist Jeremy was a legit genius — this is where I decided to get my first tattoo.

According to shop manager, Jackson Trinh, doing this kind of research is key. "The quality of your tattoo should be the most important goal in the process. Know your idea and be prepared to communicate it well. The result should be seen as more important than saving money, having to wait for an opening or having to travel to get the job done right."

And when it comes to ideas, don't be afraid to check out Instagram! "Maximize your resources," advises Trinh. "Search Google, scroll through Instagram and ask your friends. Check out portfolios and determine the style that you gravitate toward the most." Once you've found an artist whose style reflects your vision, schedule a consultation. "Sitting down with an artist and discussing the details of your piece will provide you with a better understanding of whether or not they're right for you," Trinh says.

Don't believe the rumours

Even though I always thought it was a bald-faced lie, I can now attest to the fact that you shouldn't believe everything you hear about pain. Hayley Schofield, co-owner of Toronto's highly regarded women-operated tattoo parlour, Holy Noir, confirms: "It doesn't hurt as much as you've heard. If you're at all nervous, schedule a consultation with your chosen artist and they should tell you about the process in detail and assuage your concerns."

Schofield also recommends prepping your body before your appointment to ensure you have the best experience: "Be rested, fed and hydrated — it goes a long way." Your mindset is also a factor: "Come in with a 'Let's do this!' attitude. Tattooing should be fun!"

As for worries about hygiene and safety, she explains that there are serious regulations tattoo shops must follow. "Toronto Public Health oversees body modification businesses [in our city] with the BodySafe program, and all reputable — i.e. licensed and legal — establishments must display this certificate. Do your research and see if your city has a program similar to this in place, ensuring safe and sanitary practices."


What's the main mistake people make when getting their first (or second, or third) tattoo? Justina Kervel, owner one of Vancouver's top-rated shops, Liquid Amber Tattoo, sums it up: "Online trends will fade but your tattoo might not!"

Always listen to a tattoo artist's design recommendations, since the artist will be able to tell you what will look best over time and how different tattoos tend to heal. "Be mindful of copying designs that were customized for other clients," Kervel adds. "Do your best to offer design flexibility to the artist, as you might end up with a design that's even better than what you imagined!"

Another common mistake, according to Trinh, is trying to get a bargain. "An artist's rate will often reflect their skill set and experience. They're masters of their craft, experienced and provide a service that not many can do. Bargaining for prices [on tattoos] isn't the same as a finding deal on a television."

As Schofield puts it: "There's an old adage in the industry: good work ain't cheap, and cheap work ain't good." And there you have it.

If you have any tips for first timers or your own tattoo experiences to share, please comment below!


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