DO recognize quality. With tattoos, you get what you pay for, and generally the only time you’ll get a sweet deal on a great tattoo is if you’re friends with the artist. A good quality piece that’s designed well and rendered cleanly, that fits your body and will age smoothly with it, is probably not going to be cheap. You’re not just paying for a service; you’re commissioning a work of art — the goal is not to get the best deal but to get something worth paying for.
DON’T be a cheap bastard. If your artist is wonderful to you and gives you a new piece of art you love, you have absolutely no reason not to tip.
DON’T go to a kitchen magician. Not only will the tattoo itself end up looking like badger poop, you risk infection, scarring, and all kinds of other complications by going to someone who you can be 99.9% certain doesn’t practice proper sterilization procedures. Don’t think you’re doing yourself any favors by “saving money” — the money you save on your bootleg tattoo is money you’ll later spend on removal, a cover-up, or hospitalization. Going to a clean, professional studio is the #1 most important factor of getting tattooed, so please, for the love of avoiding hepatitis, have some respect for your body and don’t get tattooed at “some guy’s house.”
DON’T trust just anyone. Simply because someone works at a studio doesn’t mean they’re any good. There’s no shortage of talentless hacks out there who my grandma could tattoo better than that call themselves tattoo “artists.” Do your research and make sure the person you’re seeing is, in fact, an artist.
DO trust yourself. You’ll know a tattoo is right for you if and when it feels right. If you don’t know what you want and find yourself pawing through the flash sheets growing increasingly more frustrated, maybe you’re not ready for a tattoo. If you’re not 100% all about it, don’t get it.
DON’T steal. While it’s perfectly okay to draw inspiration from someone else’s tattoo, it is in horribly bad taste to directly copy it. There are literally thousands of ways to customize familiar subject matter, that’s the beauty of custom tattooing. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to incorporate some elements of a particularly inspiring design into your own, there are a lot of things wrong with printing something out from Google Images and saying “I want THAT.” Think about it: you are literally taking a part of someone else’s body and putting it on your own. Can you think of anything creepier?
DO check out portfolios. Get to know different artists’ styles. Find an artist whose style makes sense with what you have in mind. If you want biomechanical, someone who specializes in traditional tattoos probably isn’t your best option.
DO listen to your artist. If you’re getting a tattoo from someone you trust who’s been in the business a long time, chances are they know what they’re talking about. If they advise against a particular design or placement, they’re not doing it to bum you out on purpose — they’re doing it because they want to give you a good tattoo that will continue to look good over time. Be flexible.
DON’T be afraid to speak up. While it’s good to be open to suggestions, if you and your artist aren’t remotely on the same page, let alone in the same book, maybe you should be working with someone else.
DON’T sabotage yourself — make sure your lifestyle accommodates tattoos before you get a whole bunch of them. Tattoo discrimination sucks, but it does exist. If your dream job is to become Secretary of State, you probably shouldn’t get knuckle tats. If nothing would make you happier than knuckle tats, perhaps you should think of a new dream job. Just think it through.
DO be yourself. If you’re really into cats and want a cat-themed sleeve because just thinking about it makes you all gooey on the inside, go for it! Why the hell not? There’s this strange misconception out there that tattoos have to have some sort of “deep meaning,” but they don’t! My favorite tattoos mean absolutely nothing at all and I love them. You don’t have to rationalize your choices — if a tattoo makes you feel good about yourself and makes you smile when you see it, that’s meaning enough.