You’ve wanted a tattoo since college but aren’t sure if you’re the “tattoo type.” Well, guess what: There isn’t one. Tattoos aren’t just for convicts and sailors anymore. Everyone from gas station attendants to Rhodes Scholars sports ink these days. Still, if you’ve got virgin skin, you’re going to want to know a thing or two before you book time and sit in a chair. Since the day a friend inked me at the tender age of 16 in his Brooklyn loft (don’t do this), I’ve been hooked. Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Pick the right spot
The writer’s tattooist of choice, El Clasico in Echo Park, Los Angeles.
Good customer service is a must. If you walk into a place and aren’t greeted and attended to in short order, leave. There are plenty of other shops out there that actually want your money. Take a look through artist portfolios and bring a friend who knows from good tattoos. The untrained eye can have difficulty telling the difference between good work and mediocre work. Tattoos don’t exactly age like fine wine, so you want to get it done right the first time.
Look for an artist who shares your aesthetic sensibilities. For example, I prefer a certain retro look to my tattoos, as opposed to a faux retro look. Thus, I go for shops that have an old school feel. It’s not that there aren’t “better” tattooists out there. It’s just that they aren’t “better” for my purposes. Once you’ve found a spot, talk to the artist a bit about what you want, then get him to quote a price.
You should never bargain shop for a tattoo. When you divide the cost of a tattoo by the number of years you’ll have it, even top-notch tattooists are a bargain at $250 an hour. I generally shoot for the $100 to $150 range. Your focus should be on finding the right artist for you. Haggling is, of course, totally out of the question.
I wish I lived in a world where this didn’t need saying, but… never get tattooed anywhere but a licensed shop. Your friend who’s apprenticing might be able to ink you for the price of needles. He can’t, however, magically control the environment for pathogens. Remember: a good shop smells a bit like a hospital because it’s more like one than a garage.