You’ve done a ton of research, looked at portfolio after portfolio, and have finally found the perfect tattoo artist for your body art. And as your consult approaches, you’re wondering what to expect — and what’s expected of you. After all, it would be a shame to accidentally offend and irritate your artist by disregarding proper tattoo industry etiquette.
The good news is that the dos and don’ts of getting ink aren’t hard to follow. But ignoring what’s expected — and acceptable — puts you at risk of being a problem client, whether you mean to be or not. Make sure your artist is happy to see you again and again by following these rules of tattoo etiquette.
#1 Know What You Want
You don’t have to have an ironclad vision of your tattoo — as a matter of fact, it’s probably best if you don’t — but if you’ve scheduled a consultation to discuss your new tattoo, show up with some idea of what you want. Your artist is a skilled professional. Don’t waste your appointment with him or her flipping through books for inspiration because you haven’t put any thought into the actual design. Instead, look at examples on your own time and don’t schedule your consultation until you’ve landed on an idea worthy of a discussion.
#2 Print Your Inspiration
While looking for tattoo inspiration online (or a photograph of a person or pet you’d like to have tattooed) print out the pictures you plan to show your artist. Yes, it’s easier to save them to your phone — but doing this is only easier for you. Your phone’s screen is too small to display these images clearly enough to work from, so not only will your artist have to enlarge any details to see them clearly, but it will also be impossible to leave the pictures behind, which will be necessary if you decide to work your inspiration into a custom drawn design.
#3 Don’t Ask Your Artist To Copy
Speaking of custom tattoos, don’t walk into your appointment expecting your artist to copy something you’ve found online. Custom tattoos are works of art that take hours of labor, sketching, and ink to bring to life. Because of this, many artists now copyright their custom pieces. Asking your artist to infringe on the work of one of their peers is disrespectful and seen as stealing. Instead, bring print outs of pieces you’ve found online that can be used as inspiration in the creation your own one-of-a-kind tattoo.
#4 Value Your Artist’s Time
Your artist has spent years developing the abilities required to become the reputable and skilled professional you’ve scheduled your appointment with. In short, your artist’s time is valuable. Don’t disregard that worth by canceling without proper notice, showing up late, or flaking on your appointment altogether. At many shops failing to show up will result in a forfeiture of any deposit you’ve paid to compensate the artist for the lost time.
#5 Don’t Ask For Free Work
The deposit to have your artist draw your custom design covers the cost of their time, not the design itself, so don’t expect to walk out with a copy. It’s become commonplace for customers to take an initial design to another (cheaper) artist for the actual tattoo. To safeguard against this, the artist who designed your custom piece may be willing to sell you the drawing itself, but don’t expect it to be free.
#6 Don’t Negotiate
Tattoos are expensive — and rightly so. That high price-tag reflects the talent and time of someone whose ability took years of experience and development to master. Haggling over the price of your tattoo is insulting — and while you’re welcome to find someone cheaper, a low price usually indicates shoddy work. Instead, save a little longer if need be for that quality tattoo. You’ll probably save money in the long run on repair or cover work.
#7 Leave Spectators At Home
Bringing a friend along on your session is one thing; inviting your whole crew is another. Not only will your entourage unnecessarily crowd the shop and ruin the laid back vibe, but their questions and conversation are likely to distract your artist, who is no doubt trying to concentrate on giving you the best tattoo possible. If you have children, you’ll also need to hire a sitter. Bringing kids into a tattoo shop is simply bad form.
#8 Skip The Pre-Game
No matter how nervous you are about your session (and the pain of being tattooed) it is never okay to show up intoxicated for an appointment. If your artist can smell it on you there’s a good chance you’ll be turned away, with or without your deposit. There are three reasons for this:
- Alcohol thins your blood and that excess bleeding can interfere with your artist’s ability to give you a well-defined tattoo.
- Tattooing someone under the influence is illegal in certain areas and even if it’s not, can open the door for lawsuits against the shop and the artist.
- You may not be nearly as charming when you’re tipsy as you think you are.
Do yourself a favor and schedule happy hour for after your session.
#9 Keep Breaks To A Minimum
If you need to use the restroom, by all means, speak up. Your artist doesn’t expect you to sit and squirm the entire session and will gladly let you use the facilities, especially if it means you’ll be able to hold still when you return. But you should also be aware, especially if you’re a smoker or have a low tolerance for pain, that taking a break every half hour is a waste of your artist’s time. Keep breaks to a minimum and don’t suggest cutting the session short unless you plan to compensate your artist for the full session. That tattoo will hurt just as much the next time you come in.
#10 Tip Your Artist
Much like dining out at a restaurant, it’s customary to tip your artist for their service. Especially in a shop environment, your artist is probably paid only a portion of the cost of your tattoo. The rest of that price-tag goes to the shop for supplies, overhead, and other costs. To not tip your artist sends the same message it would to a waiter who’s been stiffed: that you were unhappy with the service.
#11 Don’t Ignore Aftercare
Your artist will not only discuss the importance of aftercare with you but will likely give you take-home aftercare instructions to keep your new ink looking fresh and healing properly. Choosing to ignore this advice comes at your own peril. Possibly one of the worst things you can do is disregard these instructions and later bash your artist or badmouth their shop for complications you caused yourself. Want to soak in that hot tub after your session? No one’s stopping you — but don’t blame that infection on the shop or artist.
#12 Mind Your Personal Hygiene
This seems like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: during your session your artist will be up close and in your personal space. Try to make that space as pleasant as possible by showering, brushing your teeth, and otherwise eliminating any foul body or food odors that your artist will be forced to endure while working on your tattoo. Your artist will be grateful, even if they don’t outright thank you for it.
Follow these guidelines for tattoo etiquette, respect your artist’s time, and he or she will enjoy working with you — and will be glad to see you again and again.