10 Key Questions to Ask Your Tattoo Artist

If you’re getting your first tattoo, you might not think to ask your tattoo artist these questions. However, you should know the answers to these before you get inked. These questions will help ensure you find a credible tattoo artist and be prepared for the big day.

1. Can you describe your artistic style?

All tattoo artists have different styles. It is an art after all! Ask for a portfolio of their past work to see if it aligns with what you’re looking for. You don’t necessarily have to look for the exact tattoo you want in their portfolio, but see if the style is up your alley. 

In an interview with Pro-Team tattoo artist Em Whiteseth, she recommends, "Find a portfolio where at least 75% of the work you see you think, ‘I would love that if it were mine.’ Then the key is to trust the artist, trust their personal unique process, and be open and flexible."

2. What is your artistic process?

Artistic processes look different between tattoo artists. Some artists freehand the design from a sketch you or they create. Others create an outline specifically for your skin and placement on your body part. Once the outline is done, they will fill the tattoo with colors or shading, if needed. Some artists will sketch a draft of your new tattoo. This will give you an idea of what it will look like.

gloved hands hygiene

3. What hygiene precautions do you take?

Working with needles, tattoo artists need to take sanitary precautions. The tattoo shop typically has guidelines and rules in place for the artists, but you can always ask about their sanitary practices. When you get a tattoo, the artist pokes small holes in your skin, essentially creating small wounds. Open skin is prone to infection, which is why all workspaces in tattoo shops need to have the highest sanitary measures in place.

All tattoo shops are required to follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sanitary rules. These are the basic rules to make sure your shop follows:

  • Wear gloves, goggles, or barrier gowns
  • Use single-use needles
  • Separate work and waiting areas for customers
  • No carpet

If a shop isn’t following these hygiene rules, find a different one that is. Sanitary measures are not something to compromise.

4. How long have you been a tattoo artist?

It’s great to know how long an artist has been tattooing. While experience doesn’t necessarily equal talent, it does play a role in how familiar they are working with clients. No two tattoos are the same, so an artist needs to be comfortable accommodating clients' wants and needs.

You might also want to know their background. Many artists studied fine arts or graphic design in school, which lends to their fundamental artistic knowledge. Others grew up drawing and painting, then moved into tattooing. Everyone has a unique story; learn your tattoo artist’s background. 

5. How do I prepare for my appointment?

Tattoo artists will give you instructions on how to prepare for your appointment. For example:

  • Wear loose clothing with easy access to the area the tattoo will go
  • Eat before the appointment
  • Stay hydrated
  • Don’t drink alcohol for at least a day before
  • Remember to bring your ID
  • Only bring one person or come by yourself
  • Shave the area if needed

To have a smooth appointment, you need to be prepared for it. That will also reduce nerves on the day of your appointment because you’ll feel prepped and ready to go. If you don’t properly prepare, you could experience more bleeding, skin swelling, more pain, or passing out. Always tell your artist if you experience any of these things. They can stop for a break and help you rest and hydrate.

6. What should I expect during my appointment?

You might also want to know what to expect during the actual appointment. Knowing what’s coming can reduce nerves on the day of your appointment. Have the artist explain what will happen while getting your tattoo, such as cleaning the skin, preparing their equipment, making sure you’re happy with the location and size of the tattoo, then beginning the actual tattoo process. 

hour glass time

7. How long is the appointment?

The time it takes to complete depends on the tattoo. Larger and more complex tattoos will take longer. Ask your artist what their time estimate is and plan your day accordingly. You might even need multiple appointments before the finished results, so ask about that possibility as well.

8. What is the cost, and what are my payment options?

The cost varies depending on size, location, colors, and complexity. Once you know the tattoo you want, ask for a cost estimate before the artist gets started. That way, you won’t be caught with a larger bill than you originally thought. You also have to consider the tip for your artist. It’s generally customary that you tip at least 20%. 

For more expensive tattoos, artists may offer payment plans. For example, if you have to come in for multiple appointments before the tattoo is complete, you could pay a small chunk at each appointment, with the tattoo paid in full by the last session. 

9. How badly will it hurt?

Your pain tolerance plays a role in how badly the tattoo will hurt. Some people describe it as uncomfortable, while others clench their teeth or request a stress ball to squeeze. And some people actually fall asleep. You can ask for breaks during the tattooing process, and a professional tattoo artist will be patient with you.

Also, different areas of the body are more sensitive than others. Tattoo artists can recommend areas of the body that will hurt less. For example, tattoos on the ribs tend to be very painful because the skin is very thin, and there’s hardly any muscle. If you give your artist a heads up that you’re nervous about the pain, they can warn you of different sensations you may feel during the appointment or distract you by making conversation or playing music.

10. What is the process for new tattoo care?

Tattoo aftercare is crucial to reduce “downtime” after your appointment. The artist will provide instructions for tattoo aftercare. Here are a few things to expect:

  • Bandaging
  • Gently washing and drying the area
  • Use all-natural products for tattoo aftercare
  • Keep the area clean
  • Don’t touch or scratch your new tattoo
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Reduce movement of the skin
  • Limit sun exposure
  • Watch for signs of infection

You can read more about these best practices in this article

Think of these questions as a guideline for “interviewing” your tattoo artist. These are important things to know before hiring someone to create your new tattoo. When you find an artist who gave you all the right answers, you’re ready to get your new tattoo! And in the end, a new tattoo is only as good as its tattoo aftercare commitment, which is up to you.