An Administrative Note
I’m adding two pieces of advise up here because I think they are worthwhile to communicate to you and I am too busy to prioritize finding a better place in this article.
Post-Publish Addendum Number One
Something you get on your back is not for you.
It’s something you say to others.
Something you get in your chest/torso is also not for you.
The arms and front of your thighs are for you
Post-Publish Addendum Number Two
There was a tattoo that I really wanted to capture an image of a terrarium. I loved the image and I love plants and it made so much sense to me and I went to a great artist to get it. It’s a fine tattoo, but it doesn’t look anything like a terrarium and I was pretty disappointed. And its REALLY good. Depth is insanely difficult to achieve and pretty much every tattoo will look flat — 2D. The artist kind of told me this and later on, I learned to literatlly defer to them 100%. On placement, even on a tattoo. So if you feel like the artist understands your want but they say you know, it’s going to be HARD TO ACHIEVE that, just trust them :)
I hadn’t counted my tattoos until our startup was doing a round robin of Intersting Tidbits as an icebreaker.
It turns out, I had 55 and was just as surprised as everyone else. It’s closer to 65 now and feels like a good time to put tattoo ink to paper on some of the questions, conversation topics, and personal perspectives that I’ve accumulated on them.
I have big tattoos and small tattoos on sensitive areas and not. I’ve gotten tattoos in major US cities, the UK, and in the back of an apartment in India. I have bad tattoos and good tattoos, some placed well and others not. I’ve been asked about the tattoos a million times and wrestled with family and workplace impressions. Given the breadth of The Tattoo Experience, it’s best to just dive in.
I. WHY get a tattoo?
There are two reasons to get a tattoo.
#1 Because They Look Cool
Most tattoos will fall into this category and recognizing this will speed up the process of identifying The First One. Once you know the why, the when and how comes much more easily.
Tiger, $350, Rabbit, $200, NYC, Magic Cobra
#2 To Commemorate A Particularly Meaningful Experience
The rest of reasons for getting a tattoo will fall into this category. Portraits of a family member/friend/pet, a symbol of unity or reminder of bonds, or a emblem that your military unit used after 6 years in Afghanistan. This tattoo may be intended to permanently tie you to this relationship or event.
It’s a Trap!, $125, NYC, Kings Avenue
II. How Much Do Tattoos Cost?
The process of pricing a tattoo is a highly subjective financial transaction. You should be familiar with shop minimums, which is the minimum price to get any tattoo by any artist at a shop. I’ve seen people pop in and get a tattoo in less than 2 minutes and it costs $150 because that is the shop minimum (see TRAP above).
In 2021, a shop minimum in NYC (Manhattan or Brooklyn and parts of Queens) is $150 — $250 (most will be $200). Ten years ago, the shop minimum was between $100 — $150. In NYC, the most expensive tattoo is in SoHo/Nolita and it gets progressively cheaper as you move farther away from this epicenter.
If your tattoo is deemed to be ornate enough to surpass the shop minimum, we can roughly quantify the cost such that the total cost will be:
- 80% attributable to size, location, and color
- 20% is the artist’s interest in your business (are they a recurring customer?, how original the idea is?, or maybe to fill a gap in their schedule)
- ADD 25% on top of it all if the tattoo is niche/by famous artist
Poppy, $650, NYC, Eight of Swords
Qualitiatively speaking -
- Larger tattoos cost more than smaller tattoos.
- A tattoo on the hand will cost more than one on the chest (placement matters).
- A lot of color will cost more than just black and white.
- A good relationship with the artist may result in slightly less per tattoo costs as a recognition of a recurring customer’s value.
Werewolf, $250, NYC, Magic Cobra
As with any major purchase, you should ask for an estimate from the artist prior to getting the tattoo and compare multiple quotes. It’s not a good feeling to be surprised at the cost afterwards, however, be aware that what you are getting is an estimate, not an exact price. Finally, tattoo artists work under a tipping structure. You should tip $20 per hour.
III. I heard getting tattoos is addictive, is that true?
Yes, it is. I’m not sure why.
IV. Does it hurt?
Generally, yes, it does hurt. The factors that most influence the scale of hurt are how long it takes to get the tattoo, the location of it, and the degree of thin/thick lines + filling. The artist’s skill may also influence it to a small degree.
Of mine, the abs/ribs were the most painful location, but a 4.5 hour tattoo on the calf was the most painful overall. As far as my personal experience goes, the over-the-counter salves have been completely useless in dulling pain. One artist used a spray that had to sit for 10 minutes but that did help a lot (on the abs/ribs towards the end).
I would recommend watching out for bony, sensitive areas. The forearm, tricep, calf, upper back all felt medium. The abs/stomach, upper thigh near the adductors, anterior thigh, neck were all painful. You can research locations and avoid them for your first tattoo, if you wish.
Change, Boston, $225
One more note here on placement. When you’re scheduling, they’ll ask what you want to get, where you want to get it, and how big do you want it to be. You don’t have to be certain on these things, in fact, I’ve learned to defer to my trusted artist on size and placement.
When you give them a location and show up for the tattoo, they will have a printout that they stick to you and it will outline the tattoo. You can then look at it in a mirror and decide if you like it or not.
V. What are the most common questions about tattoos?
What was your first tattoo? What’s your favorite tattoo? What does that tattoo mean?
First Tattoo, $80, Chicago
The questions support a general sentiment that tattoos are Important Decisions and as such, carry an implicit, heavily-weighted gravity.
The truth is — any amount of additional consideration for a tattoo is unlikely to yield a decision with which future-you is more pleased. A tattoo is the equivalent of your my little pony or ninja turtles bedsheets from childhood — indicative of a time and place in your life. If it is your intent to identify an image that will be Forever Meaningful and Relevant, than please allow me to inform you that you may not wish to do it in the form of a tattoo.
Furthermore, additional planning will add expectations and constraints that must be met for you to be happy and satisfied. If your tattoo plans have become multi-year engagements with many iterations of fine-tuning, that may be a sign that deep down you don’t want a tattoo in the first place.
Flower Snake (thanks, I hate it), $250, NYC, Magic Cobra
Consider this an Buddhist exercise is acceptance and relinquishment of societal norm-driven decision making and get what is calling to you now, or don’t.
VI. Options When For When You Regret Your Tattoo
You may regret the color, the placement, or any single/combination of it’s aspects. A person whom you respect may see it and dislike it which causes you to dislike it.
To be clear, the liklihood that you will regret a tattoo is extremely high.
My strong recommendation is to lean into your regret and accept it — find something to laugh about in your reckless behavior or naivete. I have so many tattoos that are so silly, ugly, or simply didn’t turn out the way I thought they would. In recognition of this, I got a tattoo of the emotion, regret.
Regret, $100, NYC
However, two more options remain if you regret a tattoo and want to back out of it — removal or a cover-up. I’ve never had a tattoo removed but the word is that it is much more expensive than the tattoo being removed, it’s painful, and it leaves marks. Cover-ups depend on the tattoo being covered up and seem like a better option, to me. I have had tattoos covered by new tattoos.
Cover-up, $65USD, India
If you have severe, immediate regret, as the result of the artist’s misinterpreted or poor workpersonship, you should discuss it with them first, then the shop to find out if you have any options to have it cleaned up for free.
VII. Quality of tattoos
The general consensus is that the more you pay, the higher quality to expect. I find this to be untrue. Instead, the longer an individual has been an artist, the better the quality. If the artist is excited about the tattoo, it will be better quality as they will take more care to realize it.
My tattoos of worst quality have nothing to do with price. The top 3 worst quality are ones that the artist recommended I do not get prior to getting it.
The learning here is to heed their advice or find another artist who can get excited about it.
Link, $400, NYC, White Rabbit
VIII. Finding a Style & Artist
Many tattoo artists have highly specialized styles and it would behoove you to familiarize yourself with some of them to help shape your idea and in finding someone to execute it.
Find what you love, let it kill you, $300 NYC, Invisible
The styles I encounter most often are:
In lieu of designing in a certain style, I’ll screenshot drawings, images, and tattoos that appeal to me and keep a folder of potentials. If I get one, I contact the artist for permission to use their image. In almost all cases, it’s been no problem, but sometimes I have paid a small fee to use it.
Once you decide on an image or idea, you need to find someone to execute it! You have many options here.
- Find your favorite artists on Instagram and ask if they travel, if so, do they plan on visiting your city? Or, perhaps you could travel to them?
- Use Yelp to find a local shop with good ratings. Use the shop website, Instagram, or book of tattoos (on-site) to identify an artist who has created work that appeals to you. Reach out to the shop and ask for the artist’s availability or contact information.
- Find a shop that accepts walk-ins. Walk in and bring a digital copy of the image you want tattooed.
Scuba, $250, Boston
Note that when you contact a shop or artist for the first time, you may be asked to visit the shop to go over the tattoo with the artist. Please note that in any case, if you’re giving them an idea and not a drawing, they will have to spend time drawing your idea and regardless of whether or not you end up getting it tattooed, you should compensate them for this work with a much larger tip.
IX. Preparation + Aftercare
You do not have to do anything to prepare for a tattoo. However, I would recommend you do not lift weights/exercise 1 day prior as your body will need resources to repair and competing for those is not preferable. Plus, increased bloodflow and pumped muscles that will be needled are also…not preferable.
Chicago Dog, $275, NYC, Three Kings
The artist will shave the area, do not do this yourself.
The artist will cover the tattoo with syran wrap and tape to get you home. Remove it when you get home, but be aware this should be considered an open wound. Wash it by blotting, not rubbing.
Wash it 2–3x a day and cover it lightly with Aquaphor after each wash for the first 5 days. After 5 days, use unscented body lotion and reduce washing to 1–2x. After 8–10 days, continue to apply lotion 2–3x a day, but you no longer have to go out of your way to wash the area — your daily shower will do. Remember to blot, not wipe over it because it will scab and wiping will pull the scabs, damaging the tattoo.
Continued care is essentially using sunscreen. If the tattoo fades, you may choose to have it re-colored. In 20 years, I had 1 (my first, on my chest, yellow) recolored. Some colors stay better than others, there is no firm logic here.
X. Tattoos in the Workplace
Regardless of how you feel about it, your prospective/current employer may feel differently. Call me old school, but I’ve largely refrained from getting tattoos that can’t be hidden by clothing. In a job interview, you will not see a tatto. On the beach, you’ll see more tattoo than skin 🤷
I work in IT in corporate workplaces or startup atmospheres. A finance startup is still finance and it’s where I’ve received the most comments, which tends to reflect surprise. I’ve never worked with anyone who has had a face or hand tattoo and I’ve worked in 10+ corporate environments. It is what it is.
If you choose to get a tattoo that is highly visible, it is a statement or signal that, to employers, is one of rebellion. Whether or not you agree, if you anticipate a corporate career, I would recommend considering placement as potentially impacting your career opportunities.
With that said, many popular placements will be visibile in short sleeves, rolled-up sleeves, or shorts. So long as the tattoo is not vulgar, then the same principles apply as when you are dating — once you get to know your colleagues and they get to know you, then roll up your sleeves and it will be an “oh, you have tattoos — ok”.
I generally don’t get vulgar tattoos, but I have some. They are not positioned to be visible in any work attire, ever.
Skull, $300, London
XI. Tattoos & Family
It is not uncommon to hear that someone’s mother will disown them if they get a tattoo. Family still plays an integral role in shaping what is acceptable and not, please plan your personal trajectory accordingly.
My grandmother would make comments reflective of her prejudices. OK, grandma. In the end, this is a personal consideration.
- Collect tattoo ideas and locations
- Research potential artists
- Obtain Quotes
- Commit and get it
- Care for it, a bit
Reckless, $100, NYC, Invisible
I hope this has been useful in your decision making processes and that you ultimately make decisions that work for you. Goodluck!