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What Tattoo Should I Get – Tattoo Artist Advice

A friend of mine asked me what tattoo should she get, as she never had one and doesn’t know where to start. So I had a bit of thought about this and as I am sure this is a common question, I decided to write this article to help you get decide on your next tattoo.

So what tattoo should I get? For your first tattoo, It is always recommended that you start with a small design, preferably something with a personal meaning. If you already have tattoos, you can: continue the style you already have, get a contrasting style on the other side of your body, or just go with new ideas.

Depending if this is going to be your first tattoo or you already have tattoos, there are a few different ways to plan your next tattoo project. Today I will explain how to plan and decide on which tattoo is best for you.

What Should I Get As My First Tattoo

Usually the first tattoo is quite the most brain wrecking, at this moment in time you might not know what to expect when getting a tattoo, how to prepare for one, where on the body should it be and most importantly what should it be.

First of all try to consider that for your first experience you can either go all out with a big bold design or play it safe and get a small tattoo in an area that is known for not being to painful.

Usually these areas are on the forearms, the outer upper arms or on the shoulder blade.

If you decide to play it safe, I always recommend to go small (2-3 inches). There are a lot of designs can help you get a simplistic lined tattoo that can be cute (especially if you are a girl) and can also be quite personal.

The reason I recommend a small liner tattoo on the forearm is because all my first time tattoo customers are concerned with the pain of the actual tattoo. Friends usually don’t help too much as most of them might try to scare you saying that is very painful, whilst others might try to encourage you and tell you that you won’t feel a thing.

The truth is usually in the middle. Most of the customers I ask to put in words the pain they have experienced, usually say that it feels like a cat scratch or a very localized burning sensation, but 9 out of 10 customers will always admit that is far less painful than they imagined, and usually book in straight away for their next tattoo session.

Of course the pain threshold is different for each person, but it can also be influenced on how well you prepare for your first tattoo session.

Depending on how you are as a person, different styles or designs might appeal more to you, and all of them can be personalized so that even if you won’t get another tattoo, at least you have something that is personal and has a deeper meaning to you. Be it a celebration or a memory, I always recommend the first tattoo is personal.

The most common types of designs are as follows:

  • Infinity signs – usually they represent either a love that is never ending (for example for your kids, parents or pets) or a memory of a loved one that has sadly passed away. In these types of designs you can add initials, names, etc.
  • Feather – a feather usually represents a story that is still being written but in some cases it can represent leaving the nest and finding ones true self or “their own 2 feet”
  • Anchor – this type of design usually represents somebody that is grounded to their past (in a positive kind of way, as in “I will never forget”)
  • A loved ones name – a child’s name or a parents name could be a sign of appreciation for them. However I strongly recommend AGAINST getting a partner or a boyfriend/girlfriends name, as we always end up covering them up. The partners name tattoo has become so infamous, that it got the name “The Curse” amongst tattoo artist.

I’m sure a quick google search can reveal a lot of ideas for your first tattoo, but always make sure to also search for the meaning of said design.

What Tattoo Should I Get If I Am Already Tattooed

If you are a veteran in the tattoo side, or as we call it an “ink collector”, and are stuck for ideas, here are some tips that might help you decide on your next project.

I have regular customers that sometimes come in the tattoo studio and ask me what should they get next.

There is nothing more pleasing for me as a tattoo artists to recommend designs and ideas, and I usually get approval on the first design that I show my customer. Trust is also an important factor in this tattoo artists – tattoo collector relationship, but all of my customers know that I tattoo for the love of the art and I’m not interested in “just taking the money”.

The way I see it is that the better the tattoo and the better the design my customers get, the more work I will get from it as my customer is my walking billboard. As you all know a good reputation takes a lifetime to build, so I would never want to jeopardize that. So it in both our interest for my customer to have the best tattoo possible.

Here is what I always recommend to my “collectors”:

1. Good vs Evil – What I mean by this, is that if my customer has a sleeve of super heroes, the other one should be with all the bad guys. This idea applies also to when my customer has a color traditional Japanese sleeve, I always recommend the next sleeve to be black and gray realism keeping the Japanese theme. If my customer has a Greek Mythology black and gray realism I recommend a black and gray realism sleeve with the opposite of the gods that are on the first sleeve.

I don’t know if good vs evil explains the way I propose the next project to my customers, but usually I try to always have a contrast between what has been done and what will be done. Be it changing the tattoo style, changing to the contrast elements of what the sleeve is made of.

2. Black vs Color – this is particular interesting to see a reaction from my female customers, as if one customer has a black and gray sleeve, I might recommend we do the opposite leg in full color, but keeping the theme. Sometimes a change of style might emphasis even better the tattoos as there will always be a contrast on my “canvas”.

3. Style change – by style change I mean that for example if my customer has black and gray portraits I might recommend we extend it with some geometrical style tattoos. That way the contrast between the 2 tattoos will always show off both of them in equal detail. If for example one of my female customers has a mandala type tattoo on her sternum, I might recommend a geometrical style on the chest or maybe some realistic flower design.

If however you are just looking to continue a sleeve, I always recommend keeping a theme going on a larger area, as when is completed it looks more appealing to the eye. We have all seen people with all sorts of tattoo styles or designs that just look like a sticker bomb exploded on their arm, and usually they look quite unappealing.

If still unsure, why not search online databases of ideas like PrintMyTattoo or Miami Ink Tattoo Designs.

How To Prepare For Your Tattoo Session

Every tattoo artist might have different recommendations, but I always recommend what I have already tried and tested myself and if I failed to prepare, I saw the difference in my pain threshold and my comfort.

Although I am a tattoo artist, this doesn’t mean that I won’t feel a thing when getting more ink done.

The only difference between me and other people, is that I prepare for a tattoo session well in advance just to ensure that on the day of my next tattoo session, I’m as comfortable as possible.

Here is what I have found best to prepare me for my tattoo sessions and what I recommend to everybody:


1. NO alcohol 48 hours before the tattoo session – as you probably already know, alcohol thins blood quite considerably, which means that you will bleed more when getting tattooed and the artist will have to wipe more the area getting tattooed and also this might affect the healing process. The second benefit to this is that you will not have a hangover which, lets be honest, it not fun on a normal day, let alone when getting tattooed


2. Plenty of sleep the night before – if I don’t get my 8 hours of beauty sleep I am very cranky, probably just like everybody else. Not just that we are cranky, but also our pain threshold is quite low. We all know how it feels at work after a night where sleep wasn’t really possible, now imagine feeling like that and somebody tattooing you at the same time. Doesn’t look like fun, does it?


3. Drink Water – researchers have found that dehydration has a negative impact in our pain threshold. So this means that 48 hours before a tattoo session you should start drinking as much water as possible.


4. Have a proper breakfast – I usually ask my customers in the morning of their session if they had breakfast and they usually reply “Yeah, I had a toast and some tea…” . NO that is not a proper breakfast. The reason I ask my customers to have a proper breakfast on the morning before their session is that a good consistent breakfast ensures that the sugar levels in their bloods are more stable and they won’t get tunnel vision or light-headed whilst I’m tattooing them, making me stop halfway through a tattoo. As when getting tattooed, you will get a small adrenaline rush and then an adrenaline dump, which when this happens, the sugar levels in your bloods drop and you start feeling light-headed, and if you don’t replenish them, in extreme cases, you will faint.

I actually had a bodybuilder customer that is all into healthy eating and all of that and when I asked if he had a proper breakfast, he replied that he had his “protein shake”. Although I insisted for him to go and have a much more consistent breakfast, he assured me that he will be fine. Needless to say that when I started tattooing him he fainted, and here I was trying to get a bodybuilder to come through just because he thought his size will be better than my experience.


5. Bring a fizzy drink and a sweet snack – The sugary fizzy drink and the sweet snack is to make sure you replenish your sugar levels in your bloods. Or maybe bring some donuts for your favorite artist. It won’t make the tattoo less painful, but it will make your tattoo artist happier.


6. Wear something comfortable – although I advise to all my customers to wear something comfortable, every now and them I get somebody that comes in tight clothing or if the tattoo is on their legs or thigh they might just come in jeans. Try to remember that the area you will be tattooed in needs to be exposed and usually there are other people around, unless you get tattooed in a private area.

I also recommend choosing who comes with you for support at your appointment. From all the tattoo artists on this planet, I beg of you, don’t bring 20 friends and all your family and their dogs and cats. Please bring just one person with you.

It is recommended you bring a close friend that you can have a laugh with and can keep you positive, rather than bringing your overly stressed mom that might be wanting to scream at the tattoo artist because the “bad man” is hurting her little baby.

Always think of the fact that we need to focus on giving you the best tattoo possible, and distractions are not the best things to help with this.

Related questions

Do tattoos hurt? The pain depends on your personal pain threshold, and usually females have a higher pain tolerance than men. Most people associate tattoos to cat scratches or a localized burning sensation.

How long does it take for a tattoo to heal? A tattoo usually heals in 4-6 weeks from the time it was made. Following a strict aftercare routine will help your tattoo heal a little faster. Linework tattoos usually heal within 3-4 weeks whilst black and gray realism tattoos usually heal in 4-5 weeks. Color realism tattoos can take up to 7 weeks to heal.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will try to answer them as soon as possible.

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