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Tattoos 101 > View Lessons

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Getting a Tattoo...

...But Were Afraid to Ask!

by AdamSkyArtist

January 17, 2012

I'm very happy to be bringing you this information on how to decide on and shop for your first tattoo. Please keep in mind that this information is mostly just my opinions which I've formed after almost two decades of working in the tattoo industry. I've done quite literally thousands of first tattoos on clients from all four corners of the earth and it's amazing to me to see that everyone always has the same questions and concerns when approaching their first tattoo. I hope that this article can give you a little insight into what you'll need to know before getting into the wonderful world of tattoo collecting.

As the old saying goes; it's a mile to your first tattoo but a minute to your second.

Please keep in mind that for simplicity's sake, I describe the hypothetical tattoo artist in this article as 'he' but of course the tattoo community is filled with qualified and talented female tattoo artists who I'm definitely not trying to discount.

How does a tattoo work?

In simple terms, a tattoo is created by puncturing the skin with needles which insert tattoo ink into your flesh. Although there are many different tools for applying tattoos, they all follow this basic rule. Modern tattooing is done with an electromagnetic machine, which causes a small cluster of needles to puncture your skin at a rate of approximately 100 strikes per second and to a depth of not usually more than a few millimeters. The artist can control the rate of speed at which the needles strike by using a rheostat on his power supply which connects to the tattoo machine. The artist also varies the amount of needles being used at a time. Needle clusters can vary between 1 needle up to 14 needles for creating an outline and 5 all the way up to 43 needles for shading and coloring in. The amount of needles used all depends on the artist's technique and the type of tattoo that's being applied.

What's the procedure?

The tattoo artist will start by asking you to expose the area you want to get tattooed, usually requesting that you remove your garment entirely, rather than struggle to keep your clothes from getting in the way with the procedure. It's best to not be modest, but sometimes strategic clothing can be worn that will expose the appropriate area of skin without having to disrobe. Remember that a tattoo artist sees people in various states of undress every day, so don't be shy.

The artist will then shave the surrounding area that's to be tattooed, even if you don't have any visible amount of hair. Even the smallest amount of hair can complicate the tattoo process and cause ingrown hairs during healing. The artist will then disinfect your skin with rubbing alcohol to remove oily residue and minimize the risk of infection.

The tattooist will then apply a stencil. A stencil is created from your design; essentially it's a carbon copy of the line art taken from the artwork you decided on. Then stencil will leave a temporary carbon outline of your tattoo on your skin. It's this stencil that will guide the tattooist during the outline process. Some tattoo artists prefer to draw the design right on to your skin using a marker, instead of using a stencil.

Can my friends watch?

Every tattoo shop operates a little differently in regards to inviting your friends to observe the process. Some tattoo shops have large, communal areas where anyone walking in to the tattoo shop can watch people get tattooed from over the front counter, while some shops have private tattoo rooms in the back of the shop. In some tattoo shops you'll be getting tattooed in the same room that someone else is getting tattooed and some tattoo artists will work in isolation.

It's not considered rude to ask your tattoo artist if a friend can join you in observing the tattoo process but you should respect his wishes if he prefers to work without the distraction of someone else in his work space. If you are going to bring a companion with you, certainly limit it to one person. A large party of people is usually considered too much of a distraction for the tattooer.

Will I be sitting or lying down while I get tattooed?

Most likely you'll be asked to sit in a chair. Some tattoo artists like to have a client sit in a big and comfortable dentist or barber's chair, while others will give you not much more than a fold out office chair to sit in. Depending on where on your body the tattoo is being applied, you might be required to lie down for your tattoo. Many tattoo shops use massage tables or esthetician's tables for this purpose. The tattoo artist will want you to be comfortable but in a position where it's easiest for him to work on you.

Will it hurt?

First of all, tattooing IS NOT as excruciating as people tend to make it out to be. It's a common misconception to compare the pain of tattooing to childbirth or breaking a bone. These are wild exaggerations. People tend to make these comparisons because they expect getting a tattoo to be as painful as some of the other most painful experiences they could expect in their lives, like childbirth. But for the most part, the process is no more traumatic than getting your legs waxed.

The sensation of getting tattooed does have some variables, such as where you're placing the tattoo on your body. Muscular areas and areas that are more exposed to the elements such as the forearm will hurt a little less than protected areas of the body like underarms or ribs. But it's very important to not prohibit yourself from getting a tattoo where you really want it simply because you're afraid it'll 'hurt more'. The discomfort is temporary but the permanence of getting tattooed is for life. So be sure to get it where you'll want to wear it. (continued next page...)

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