How to Find the Right Tattoo Artist and Shop – The COMPLETE Guide

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Think Before You Ink

You’ve made up your mind and crafted the perfect design – now it’s time to see your tattoo vision come alive. The journey starts with finding an expert artist; do some research, compare portfolios and you’ll be one step closer to seeing ink become art. Let’s get this adventure underway.

Key Takeaways

  • Know your own style
  • Use word of mouth
  • Do artist research
  • Read tattoo artist online reviews
  • Get in touch with the artists
  • Visit the tattoo studio
  • Study the artist’s work
  • What to look for in a tattooist
  • Questions to ask
  • How to pick a safe tattoo studio
  • How much will it cost?
  • Take your time
Bird with Crown Tattoo
Finch with Crown Tattoo (Photo by essie / CC BY)

Understand Your Style (Because Your Tattoo Artist Will Have One Too)

Just as with any other type of artist, tattoo artists have distinct styles and specializations that they cultivate over time.

After finalizing the design and placement of your tattoo, it’s crucial to seek out an artist who is proficient in executing tattoos of similar size and style to yours. For instance, if you want a Celtic knot tattoo on your lower back or a large tattoo in the traditional Japanese style, it’s essential to find a tattooist who specializes in that particular style of work.

Have Any of Your Friends or Acquaintances Worked With a Good Tattoo Artist?

It is sometimes said in the tattoo industry that the best advertisement for an artist is a good tattoo. Frankly, it’s also the best place to start your own search. If you’re in the U.S., it’s likely that you know someone who has a tattoo. Unless you live in a fallout shelter, it’s almost certain that you do.

Before, if you saw someone with a tattoo, you may have just looked quickly and not stared for too long. Now, however, it’s important to be curious and ask questions about the tattoo.

Americana Anchor Tattoo
Americana Anchor Tattoo (Photo by Tony Alter / CC BY)

Do Your Artist Research on Social Media

In my list of huge tattoo idea resources, I listed some social media sites like Instagram, Reddit, and Pinterest for places to find inspiration for your tattoo design. Now that you’re looking for the right tattoo artist, these are still great places to look. They almost surely have accounts where they post their latest work. Pay attention not only to the tattoos, but the comments on their posts. Before you even meet them (more on this below), you’ll start to get a feel for them as artists and people.

Look at a Potential Tattoo Artist’s Reviews

Because of the nature of the internet, where you’ll find reviews will change over time. But a solid place to start is Yelp. In fact, you can search by tattoo studio, or simply tattooists near your location.

Dragon Tattoo
Dragon Tattoo (Photo by Pam loves pie / CC BY)

Get In Touch With Your Potential Tattoo Artists

If you find an artist whose work you like, contact them. Most artists will say how to reach them on their social media or web page (email, DM, a phone call).

Exploring multiple tattoo artists is a great way to craft your perfect, personalized artwork. Before deciding on the design, provide them with all the details regarding size, style and placement of your desired ink. When they give their opinion or reply back to you – be sure that it resonates well with what you had envisioned for yourself. Don’t forget about patience either: as there’s likely several other customers in line, so hang in there.

Laika Tattoo
Laika Tattoo (Photo by Paul Harrison / CC BY)

Visit More Than One Studio

Even in the age of the internet, this old school technique has something to offer, particularly if you’ve never been tattooed. Your first time there can be a blur of artwork, sample tattoo posters (known as flash), and tattooed people (both artists and customers).

Part of finding the right studio is finding the vibe and ambiance that suits you. Like visiting any business, you’ll start to get a feel for their service, see how they treat people, even listen to the music they’re playing.

You get bonus points if you visit more than one tattoo shop. It’s the only way to see how different they can be.

Study the Work

When looking at tattoos, make sure to consider the quality of them in addition to the style or symbol you want.

Make sure the healing process is complete. In other words, there should be no redness, swelling, or peeling. These are normal in the healing of a new tattoo they but make it hard to judge the quality. If the healing is done, then you can look for some specific artistic things.

Does the outline or the lettering look neat and even? A good quality line should be solid and have a consistent width.

Do the lines look uneven, unsteady, and broken? If not done on purpose, these lines are usually not good.

A few other things to consider: 

Do lines that join one another meet without a gap? Likewise, do lines that join stop without overshooting?

Is the shading, whether it’s black, grey or color, stay within the outline? In other words, can the tattooer color inside the lines? Is the shading, whether it’s solid or graduating from light to dark or one color to the next, smooth and without gaps? 

It can be hard to put into so many words when a tattoo is spot on or not. Does it look inaccurate in some way? Is it the right size for the body part it is on?

These are a few things to keep in mind. But remember, the tattoo artist doesn’t always have control over how the tattoo will ultimately turn out.

Wrist Tattoo
Wrist Tattoo (Photo by Melinda / CC BY)

What Should You Look for in a Tattoo Artist?

Great tattooing and artistry are obvious answers. Let’s assume that you’re meeting a tattoo artist because you’ve already gravitated toward their work.

Respect is a staple of any tattooing experience – your artist should be creating an atmosphere that is professional and focused on the task at hand. While there’s always time for some friendly banter, it shouldn’t come at the expense of getting you exactly what you’re looking for from your meeting.

For example, did the tattoo artist treat you nicely when you asked them many questions? If so, that’s a good indication.

Are they allowing you to think about what they are saying, showing you visuals and providing options for you to choose from, and listening to your opinion?

Your tattoo artist should work with you to help you decide on the best design and placement for your tattoo. When choosing a tattooist, it is important to think about how you feel around them and if you can talk easily to them. Even if the tattoo artists are all good at what they do, you should pick one that you can get along with. In the end, you have to be comfortable with your tattoo artist because ultimately you are placing trust in them.

Questions to Ask a Tattoo Artist

Question: May I look at your portfolio?

Answer: Yes. When selecting a tattoo artist, reviewing their portfolio is essential in order to ensure that they have the skills and experience you’re looking for. Make sure to look over any photos of tattoos they’ve done as well as awards or recognition received by major publications – this can provide valuable insight into their capabilities. However, bear in mind if there are not many pictures present it may be because the artist hasn’t been creating for long yet; likewise recent work could appear red and swollen so don’t let that sway your judgement.

Question: Do you do custom designs?

Answer: Yes. You don’t want to be rude, but it’s nice to know that the artist can do a good job if you need something custom-designed.

Question: How much would you charge for “fill in the blank.”

Answer: If you have a single tattoo that is already designed or in the flash on the wall, then you will pay one price. If it needs custom work or is bigger and more complicated, then you might be charged per hour. Look at all the information before deciding on a price, but don’t try to haggle. It has been said over and over:  Rule #1 in the tattoo money game is that great tattoos are not cheap. The Corollary to Rule #1 is that cheap tattoos are not great. The cost of a tattoo also includes things like the shop’s rent and other items like sterilization tools, disposable items and ink.

Buddha Tattoo
Buddha Tattoo (Photo by Neeta Lind / CC BY)

How to Pick a Safe Tattoo Shop

Getting a tattoo means that your skin is punctured and tiny needle holes are filled with ink. Any time your skin is opened, you can get infected with viruses or bacteria. The person doing the tattoo needs to know how to prevent infections when they’re working. They don’t need to be a doctor, but they need to have processes in place.

Here are some questions you can ask about safety measures:

Question: Do you sterilize your instruments?

Answer: Yes, with an autoclave. (Medical autoclaves are the only way to make sure metal instruments like needles and tubes used for tattoos are sterile. These items should be in individual packages and opened in front of you when you get your tattoo.)

Question: How do you know the autoclave is working properly?

Answer: The person running the machine needs to write down what they do. The machine is also tested once a month to make sure it is working properly.

Question: Before and after getting a tattoo, you should ask the artist if they wash their hands, wear gloves, and use germicidal solution to clean their work area. You can also observe this for yourself. If you don’t see the artist doing this, then make sure to ask about it.

Answer: Yes. I take great care when washing my hands and wearing gloves. I make sure to change the gloves whenever necessary, for example when I pick something up or answer a phone call.

Question: Besides the sterilized equipment, is everything else new and single use?

Answer: Yes, the inks are put into special containers that are only used once, then disgarded. Paper tissues, gloves, ointments, trays (or their coverings), and razors all get thrown away after they are used.

Let’s Talk Money

There are two ways to pay for a tattoo: a single price for something standard (an outline heart) or an hourly rate for something more complex (a sleeve).

Depending on where you live, a simple, small tattoo can range from $50 to $200. The more expensive your area, say New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, the higher the overhead (rent) for the shop, the cost of living for the artists, and the higher the price for a standard tattoo. A tiny tattoo, an outline, or a solid color, all take time and resources.

Hourly rates vary as well, but not just with the location of the shop. The experience of the tattoo artist counts, and a good tattooist can charge a higher hourly rate. In general, you can expect to pay between $150 to $250 per hour, although the best tattoo artists can command rates double these.

Jimi Hendrix Tattoo
Jimi Hendrix Tattoo (Photo by mario / CC BY)

Take Your Time

Finding the perfect tattoo artist can be a daunting task. With so many styles, studios and artists to choose from it’s important not to rush into an appointment – especially if you’re getting your first ever piece of ink. Take your time in researching all the options available, ensuring you find someone who will create something truly unique.

Finding the right person to do your tattoo–someone with the right skill level, a style of art that matches yours, and that you feel comfortable with–takes time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you tell a tattoo artist to do whatever they want?

No. By all means, encourage artistic freedom and have a discussion. One of the reasons you picked this artist is that you like their work and trust them. But even good artists can have a vision that will push the boundaries of your tastes.

Is it rude to ask for the price of a tattoo?

No, when done politely. Talk about your design first, including body placement, and get their opinion. Hopefully they’ll answer questions that put you both at ease, before talking about money.

April 30, 2024 @ 1:40 pm