First tattoo? Choosing a good studio

Choosing the right tattoo parlor is just as important as the design you pick. When deciding to get a tattoo for the first time, it’s very important to get the very best advice you can (from the most experienced guide you can find). Once you find a person you can connect with, it’s time to begin the serious step of planning that tattoo. (BTW- that’s the REAL key, finding someone qualified that you can trust. Don’t be taken in by those who prey on customer ignorance, either on the street OR at a shop! Get informed. Be patient. And BE DISCERNING!)

Arthur Petrov tattoo
Tattoos by Arthur Petrov

When someone actually makes the decision to get a tattoo for the first time, the next logical step is finding the right tattooist to do the work. BUT WAIT- how do you do that?! Tattooers are a dime a  dozen, these days! Well, for the majority of new tattoo collectors, it often and inevitably begins with finding the right tattoo parlor. This is a great place to start. Realistically, if you go to a less than ideal tattoo parlor, you’ll more than likely end up with less than the ideal artist and, hence, a less than ideal tattoo. No problem. It’s easy TO AVOID the most common mistakes made by the majority of people just getting into tattoos; the answer: simply be more informed than the majority!

Before you decide on a tattoo parlor to do your tattoo, you need to compare what’s available to you and weigh out your options. The higher quality tattoo parlors certainly MAY cost a bit more money, but you’re worth it! What you could have saved by getting a cheaper tattoo is almost always a fraction of what cover-ups or laser treatments cost later, and your safety is the most important factor of all. Hepatitis won’t just ‘go away’, nor will a myriad of other infectious dangers you inherently face with every tattoo decision you make. Choose wisely.

Start your search with the very best tattoo parlor in your area. It’s a safe bet to begin with the oldest and most respected tattoo shop around. There’s a reason they’ve been around so long, (even if others don’t understand why that is.) Think about it this way, you really can’t go wrong by seeking out the most experienced professional you can find who does what you need, no matter WHAT area of life you need it– be it for car upholstery, dentistry, tattoos, surgery, or even your next haircut. Quality matters, so try to remember this: Experience is KING. That’s what an expert isssssss.

tattoo by Cody Eich
Tattoo design by Cody Eich

Safety and cleanliness are often stated to be the areas of MOST CONCERN for people getting their first tattoo, and for good reason. The very best tattoo parlors will certainly invite you in with open arms, anticipating your concerns and being prepared to carefully walk you through every aspect of their safety and sterilization procedure. (*HINT- Boiling equipment on the stove is NOT sterilizing it.) The more experienced the shop, the more they will demand from the artists they employ, (which includes not just application of tattoos, but also the proper service and safety of their customers). Now, of course- it isn’t always true that the oldest is going to be ‘the best’, but it IS a damn good place to start this journey of artistic self-expression.

Regardless of where you ultimately go to get tattooed, clean equipment and a clean studio are the most essential factors to consider when obtaining your first tattoo. If you are seeking to get a tattoo you should see to it that the studio is licensed and clean, that the equipment is sterile, and that the entire tattoo area of each artist is disinfected and sterilized after each and every tattoo. This applies to counters, chairs, floors, papers, waste baskets, lamps, bottles, disposables, etc, etc, etc; EVERYTHING that gets touched during a tattoo (by you or your artist) is unclean and considered contaminated. (How many scratchers would you willingly gamble on and trust with your LIFE? Because that’s what you’re doing, with every tattoo.)

TAM traditional bundleUnfriendly salesmen are always common risks with virtually any modern company, particularly when they are trying to ‘sell you’ something. But tattoos are a personal service and tattoo parlors should always be open and friendly, not using pressure tactics to get you in the chair. Be wary if that is the case. Although the more knowledgeable tattoo artists will certainly provide their advice and suggestions, (and they may even have lines they won’t cross, like copying someone else’s tattoo you found on Instagram), they should not attempt to push you around or try to make you get something other than what want, after hearing all their advice. If a tattoo artist believes there may be a problem with your design or its placement on your body, or if they think they can do anything to enhance it, he/she will certainly let you know.

Good luck!

ps- It may be difficult to do, but it is recommended that you start by talking with someone with at least a decade or more experience behind them in the art (& craft!) of tattooing. Nearly every leader in the professional tattoo world agrees that it was after the 10-year mark that they finally started to master their trade. This experience can’t be bypassed and it can’t be hurried. It just comes with time; like professional athletes vs weekend players, there is a qualitative difference that comes with dedication, practice and experience, over a long period of time.

Tattoo Artist since 1990 and creator/publisher of Tattoo Artist Magazine since 2003

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4 thoughts on “First tattoo? Choosing a good studio

  1. Great article! I have finally found the artist I want to work with but she is overseas and difficult to reach via email. I’ve made first contact but her schedule is very full. Do you have any suggestions on how to get a popular artist I want to work with to want to work with me?

    1. Check out Taylor Street Tattoo, Chicago Tattoo and Piercing Co., Deluxe Tattoo…and there’s more. Chicago is a good tattoo town!

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