How To Get A Tattoo You’ll Love Forever: A Guide

I discovered tattoos as an art form in my teens. At that time tattoos started being more mainstream and they even got their own shows on television (Miami Ink).

I used to spend hours scouring the internet for sick tats and found myself drawn to the Japanese style. Obviously, because I was 16, I couldn’t run out and go get that huge koi back piece I wanted, and boy am I glad I didn’t.

There’s a reason you shouldn’t get a tattoo when you are that young, and mostly it boils down to this. At that age you are dumb and impulsive, and tattoos last forever, so you are likely to end up in a situation you are less than enthused about.

Even the legal age to get a tattoo (18) is really young if you ask me. Looking back I was so dumb when I was 18, and if I had had the money I would have accumulated many terrible tattoos.

But anyway, I’ve been into tattoo art as a form of self expression since then and in that time I’ve learned a little about making good decisions vis-a-vis tattoos. Mostly because some of the people around me had less restraint than I and went out and got tattoos because they simply wanted one.

Respect the art form jerks!

I’m going to go through the steps that a reasonable person would do in order to get the tattoo of their dreams.

1) Research styles

There are many tattoo styles and the one you pick will impact what you get tremendously. One shouldn’t just walk into a shop and demand a butterfly, because that is a really ambiguous request. You could end up with a style that doesn’t suit your personality.

Do research before hand and collect references to show your artist (they will appreciate that you know what you want). And to do that you first have to pick the style in which your tattoo will be done.

There are many, and I can’t cover them all here. But I’ll try to get to the meat and potatoes of tattoo styles and from there you can do your own research if you choose to learn more.

The world of tattooing includes these styles…


Also known as American traditional, this style has been incredibly popular for more than a 100 years. It consists of bold lines and bright, vibrant colours. The imagery associated with this style includes (not exclusively) roses, skulls, swallows, lady heads, and ships.

This style was really popular with sailors of a certain era. As a result some designs have meaning associated with the trade (a swallow represents 5,000 nautical miles at sea).

traditional tattoo of a Rose and a lady head
Lady heads and roses are incredibly popular in this style


This style is exactly what it sounds like. Either in colour or in back and grey the artist is trying to make the most realistic looking image that they can. Typically, people get portraits done in this style.

A side note on getting a portrait, make sure it’s of someone you really love, perhaps someone in your actual life. Because often times people get portraits of celebrities and because celebrities are real people who make mistakes, these tattoos might become a source for embarrassment. Just choose wisely is all I’m saying.

Realism tattoo of Walter White
Here is an example of a realism tattoo done with colour

Water Colour

Water colour tattoos are pretty popular at the moment and again, this style looks like exactly how it sounds. Usually using bright pastel colours, tattoos of this style can generally be anything but particularly lean towards flowers, and other bright imagery. There are typically no big bold lines in these tattoos as the colours flow into each other.

water colour tattoo of paint smear
I’m not about this style, but it usually replicates an image of paint on the body


Okay so I know what you are thinking. This style is no good. And I would have to agree that most of the tribal tats out there should never have come into existence. The 90’s were a bad time for tattoos and in particular this is due to the proliferation of unnecessary tribal tattoos on meat heads.

But the truth is that the real tribal tattoos hold cultural significance for many people around the world, and there are a number of sub-styles that exist. There are tribal tattoos that come from South East Asia, the South Pacific, and Africa. They can be boiled down to large designs on the body done in black ink. Unless you are a Maori you probably should not get this tattoo style on your body.

Please don’t get this style if you are a dude from Minnesota

New School

Usually the imagery for this style is over the top, cartoonish, or distorted. Bright colours accentuate the design and give it a special touch. This style is known for being kind of funky, and odd. Sometimes people get designs of literal cartoons because the style lends itself to that sort of thing. It was particularly popular in the 80’s but now we see less of it. Maybe for good reason…

new school tattoo of fish


This is my particular favourite style. It takes everything that is good about traditional tattooing and takes it even further. Bold lines, great colours, and lady heads, lots and lots of lady heads. The reason why it is called Neo-traditional is that the same designs are used but are reimagined for the 21st century.

You can still get roses and swallows in this style but the image will end up being more multifaceted than a typically 2 dimensional traditional version.

neotraditional tatto of lady head wearing a wolf
look how dope this lady head is!

Japanese/ Irezumi

The Japanese have been producing amazing tattoos for hundreds of years. The designs derive their meaning from ancient Japanese mythology and they are fucking awesome. I used to always want some Japanese style tattoos, then I determined I’m not Japanese so I shouldn’t do that.

Anyway, the style uses dark inks for amazing backgrounds of smoke or water, and uses brighter colours to do tigers, dragons, foo dogs, or oni’s on top. They are typically very large pieces that are extremely detailed.

Japanese tattoo of a koi in water with flower petals
This could have been me

Black Work

Another style that is getting increasingly popular, particularly with the already heavily tattooed. It consists of large sections of the body being ‘blacked out’, obviously using black ink. Sometimes this is done to later put white ink over top, or sometimes just to have black sections of your body. It’s as simple as that…black.

black work tattoo

Black and grey

One the more versatile styles, black and grey can pretty much be anything. A portrait, skull, scenery, or anything you can think of. The artist uses shades of black and grey (duh) to created a nuanced image. They can be hyper realistic, or more 2 dimensional if you please. This has been a favourite style of tattoo aficionados everywhere for a good chunk of time.

black and grey tattoo of woman wearing skull

Dot work

Revolving around creating an image out of many tiny dots, this style can produce designs that are pleasant at first glance but offer crazy details upon further investigation. Not much else to say about this style, other than that it is probably pain staking for the artists to do.

dot work tattoo of a whale, mountain and forest


Tattoos of this style are about patterns. The artist will create a pattern for your design and let it flow with the symmetry of your body. It is becoming increasingly popular and generally has no meaning behind it. It’s just pleasing to look at. I feel as though many people have gotten these tattoos for aesthetics and will later regret it when they go out of fashion (like the tribal of the 90’s).

geometric tattoo of a mandala


Okay so I’m going to say something really controversial. And that is to never get words tattooed on your body. If you want to tattoo the name of your GF/BF on you body, you should know that is extremely bad luck. Anyway, the meaning of certain sayings and phrases tend to fade with time. What was once an impactful statement, loses all power eventually and becomes just lines connected together on your body. If you are fine with that result, than go ahead. I know a few people who regret their lettering tattoos, and now they are stuck with them.

large lettering tattoo
This is a monstrosity

Those are all the styles I’m going to address here today. There are plenty more and if you are adamant you want a tattoo, you should do plenty of research on styles.

2) Pick what you want

If something is going to be on your skin for the rest of your life it should be something you are fully committed to. Perhaps take an event in your life and break it down into symbols you like, and organize them in a fashion that a tattoo artist can make sense of.

One approach is to go to an artist who will pick your design for you after you tell them a little bit about yourself. That is more expensive and you might end up with something you are not pleased with.

Pick what you want then, in the style that you chose, find some references to show your artist (that you will eventually have to find).

3) Choose a body part to get tattooed

Some people really fuck up where they get tattooed. Tattoo placement should reflect the body’s symmetry and take advantage of that to make the tattoo ‘pop’ more. For example, many women have tattoos that go from their upper thighs up to their butts. This uses the human body to better display the art.

What you should not do is put your first large tattoo smack damn in the middle of your chest if the design is already not symmetrical. It’s just bad form.

Keep in mind, that different body parts will hurt more or less depending on where you land your tattoo.

I’m going to post a pain chart here, with the DISCLAIMER that these are notoriously inaccurate and everyone is different when it comes to tattoo pain.

tattoo pain chart
I’ve heard the knees and elbows are particularly bad, but this chart says they are only the second worst part to get done

4) Do a tattoo audit of your life

You have to consider a number of things before you fully commit to getting a tattoo.

  • Will this upset the people in your life (parents)
  • Are you willing to go ahead with it even if it does upset other people
  • Will your tattoo effect your ability to make money and support yourself (Neck tattoos are affectionately named ‘job stoppers’ for a reason)
  • Are you prone to impulses, is this something that you will become less interested in over time
  • Can you afford the tattoo you want
  • Will having a tattoo negatively impact any of the facets of your life

You might think I’m being way to cautious but I recently read a story on Reddit that illustrates my point exactly. To summarize a sad situation, a man’s brother died and he got a tattoo of his face right in the middle of his chest. This made things really uncomfortable for his girlfriend when they were being intimate. She didn’t like looking directly at a child’s face during her love making and it made her upset that she wasn’t consulted before this decision was made.

Anyway, I don’t think it worked out for those two. You should consider the people in your life before you do anything permanent.

5) Save your money

If you passed your personal tattoo audit, then you are going to need to save your money. A tattooer’s time is expensive, heck, all art is expensive. So keep this in mind when you are picking what you want and plan accordingly.

Generally, it costs hundreds of dollars for an hour of a good tattooer’s time, the larger and more detailed the project the more expensive it gets.

I have a friend who has a half sleeve and it cost him 1,500 dollars (CAD). So don’t bite off more than you can chew financially. I know people are often over taken by ‘new thing’ lust, and tattoos are no exception to this. But if you really want your tattoo, you’ll stick it out through the process of saving your money.

6) Find your artist

There are so many good tattoo artists in the world, they just might not be in your backyard. A lot of people travel to get the tattoo’s of their dreams, and maybe you should too. I know this compounds the cost exponentially, but this is a forever thing so make sure you get the artist you want.

One way to get your artist is a service called Tattoodo. On their website you can search for artists in your area or by style, design, or shop. It’s a great jumping off point.

But if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it. Instagram has hundreds of thousands of tattoo artists on it’s platform. It’s obviously a mixed bag, but the reason why I mention Instagram is that you can follow hashtags, and each style that I mentioned has it’s own hashtags.

So follow the hashtag of the style you like and artists from all over the world will populate your feed. Additionally, if you do not want to travel to the artists you find this way, it’s a great way to gain reference material for the artist that do you choose.

Another reason why Instagram is important in the quest for tattoos is that artists keep their followers up to date about when their books open, aka, when they will be taking appointments.

Absolutely stalk the artist you want to get tattooed by and wait until their books open, be first in line, and be ready with your deposit (a deposit is required so that the artist gets paid if you decide to waste their time- it can be anywhere from $100 – $500 depending on the project).

When you’ve booked your appointment, and payed your deposit, there’s not much else to do but wait. This waiting period can be anywhere from 1-3 months, depending on how in demand the artist is.

7) Really think about it…and wait

You might feel as though you are committed at this point, but the truth is you still don’t have to get tattooed if you decide not to. Sure you will lose your deposit, but this waiting period between booking and your appointment is there to let you think about it.

If you change your mind about anything in regards to your tattoo, perhaps getting a tattoo isn’t for you. You are just a fliberdeegibit who can’t make up their mind. You’ll probably end up with a regret on your skin if you make it all the way to the appointment.

8) Get psyched (Day of)

Today is the day and you should be absolutely pumped. But first there are some things you have to do before leaving for your appointment. And they are…

  • Shower (tattooer’s hate stinky clients)
  • Put on deodorant
  • Eat (Some people have been known to faint)
  • Drink plenty of water, and bring some with you
  • Invite 1 friend to come with you if you need the support
  • Dress appropriately so that the tattooer can easily get access to your skin
  • Shave the area where the tattoo is going (called tattoo prep)

Now you can head to your appointment. When you get there the artist will show you what they came up with after your consultation, and you will either give the go ahead or decide to back out (you can still back out).

7) Sit still

When the tattooing actually starts, god damn sit still. You don’t want to make conditions adverse for your artist or they will mess up the work. Just pretend it doesn’t hurt (even though it does) and be still as a rock. Artists often say about clients who sat still, “he sat like a rock!” for a reason. They want you to be as still as an inanimate object.

8) Take care of your new tattoo

The tattoo artist will direct you on how to best take care of your new tattoo. They will put various goo’s on it and wrap it in cellophane. But there’s some home work for you as well. You’ll need to make sure the tattoo heals properly by applying scentless moisturizer to the fresh tattoo wound. Or there are other products that are specifically designed for skin with healing tattoos, such as TattooGoo.

Also don’t go out and get a sunburn right away, this will severely affect the healed quality of your tattoo and should be avoided at all costs. You want the tattoo to heal as flawlessly as possible and that means not agitating the skin.

9) Revel in your awesomeness

When your tattoo heals it’s time to show it off to the world. Go ahead, you’ve earned it by being persistent and patient. You’ll eventually get used to being a tattoo person, and you’ll probably end up with more. And that’s fine, it’s just you should always go through the same steps before you get one.

If you prefer to get your tattoos via walk-ins, that’s fine too. It’s just you better know what you are walking into.

10) Worst case scenario – Laser removal

Self explanatory. Lasers destroy the ink that’s embedded in your skin. I heard it’s wicked painful, even more so that getting the tattoo in the first place. It’s also quite expensive. So hopefully, you never get to this stage of the process.

And there you have it, there’s the guide to getting a tattoo you’ll love forever.

If you or someone you know has a bad tattoo story, feel free to leave it in the comments below. Everyone loves a train wreck.

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