Think Before You Ink

[Edited: October 06, 2023]

7 Essential Pro Advice Tips Before Getting a Tattoo

“Think before you act”. “Think before you buy that”. “Think before you drink”. These pearls of wisdom have been with us since childhood. Parents, teachers, friends. Anyone with our best interests at heart has always reminded us to use our brains before making a decision. But who’s reminding us to think before getting inked? That’s right - tattoo artists.

Many of us have seen the famous “think before you ink” warning written in big, bold letters on the front of exam papers in high school. For most, this cheery advice was duly ignored, outdone by the teenage urge to write down answers and get the hell out of there as fast as possible, only to deal with angry folks and summer school down the line. But teenage regret is fleeting. For most, high school was a lifetime ago, and we’re all a little wiser now. Or are we?

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Nobody wants to be the person walking around with a big fat regret inked into their skin. Sadly, there’s no shortage of people out there who failed to use their noggins or invested in good tattoo planning before walking into their local tattoo studio. We look at some of the most important things to think about before turning your tattoo concept into a real tattoo. From the design and meaning of your art to the timing and placement of the masterpiece, our artists offer up some of the critical points they’ve noticed often get ignored by clients.

Failing to plan is planning to fail…at your tattoo

When it comes to tattoos, getting things wrong by not thinking things through isn’t a good idea. Tattoos are near-permanent, and fixing, covering up or removing those tattoo mistakes that turned out to be a bad idea is no fun. An awful haircut or failed self-tan experiment can be waited out as time corrects the error of your ways. A dodgy paint job can be repainted, and even a folly-induced injury will heal. But with tattoos, life’s just not that forgiving.

All it takes is a little brainpower

Planning your tattoo correctly is a necessary and important part of the creative tattooing process. You won’t see an artist blindly slapping random paints onto a canvas and then exhibiting their works to amazed patrons. No successful author has ever just gone at it, winged their novel, and got published. And what moviemaker would expect to win an Oscar for a flick that has no ending? No, the artist creates around a vision before painting, the author develops a plot before writing, and the director reads the script before shooting.

The same goes for tattoo planning. If you’ve taken the time to think about what you really want, you eliminate the bad ideas, consider the long-term consequences, and likely won’t regret your art immediately after getting it.

What to think about before you ink

Here are seven basic but vital pieces of advice from tattoo artists who’ve learned a few things in their time and are tired of watching people make stupid tattoo mistakes they’ll regret in the morning. Think about these elements before you commit to your next inking session, and make sure you’re getting the tattoo that works for you.

1. Consider the Concept behind your Tattoo

This is especially important for tattoo novices who aren’t aware of the need to give enough thought to their tattoos. The tattoo concept, or, more specifically, the design, style, meaning, and look of the tattoo, is the first step to getting one you’ll want to keep.

Do a little research on your intended skin art. Think about if it really means something to you and what others may think when they see it. Avoid anything offensive, stay away from styles that may clash with your personality, be aware of popular tattoo fads and don’t forget about any future tattoos you’re likely to want.

2. Take a Time-Out and Sleep on your Tattoo Idea

Once you have an idea of the tattoo concept behind what you want, stop and give it a chance to stew a little. Many times, people have what they think is a seismic idea, only to realise the next day that it’s a stupid thought, not worthy of their time (or that the tequila wasn’t doing them any favours).

If you have an image of the tattoo you want, stick it up somewhere visible so you can glance at it with fresh eyes at the start and end of each day. There’s no rush here, no limited period to think about these things, so take your time. Remember, once it's there, a tattoo is for life. So make sure you take the necessary time to cover all your bases and ensure your future self won’t want to come back and slap the silly out of you.

3. Tattoo Placement

When you’ve taken the time and decided that you’re going to pull the trigger on a tattoo, you’ll need to think about where you want it. ‘Where’ is just as important as ‘what’ when it comes to tattoos, and you won’t be able to shift things around once they’re done. Putting your tattoo where you can manage it is always a good idea, and think twice about going too bold – unless that’s your thing.

Consider where you want your tattoo to go before hopping in the chair to get inked. Tattoo placement matters with tattoo planning, especially around the need to cover up, both now and in the future. Truthfully, you may regret the spider crawling up your neck tattoo in 10 years' time, particularly after you’ve been to that seventh failed job interview and begin to realise that your art might have something to do with why things aren’t going too well.

4. Size Matters. It just does

The era of tiny tattoos may be over, but that doesn’t mean full sleeves or a neck-to-butt fresco is a great idea. The beauty of tattoos is that artists can make them look incredible, no matter how big or small they are. Just because you love Jon Bon Jovi, it doesn’t mean you need to have his face etched from nipple to nipple.

Be smart about how big you want your tattoo to be. Aside from the additional cost and time it takes to complete the tattoo concept that involves larger pieces, the smaller your tattoo, the easier it is to cover up if necessary and the more room it leaves for future art.

5. Skin isn't Paper, it’s a Living Tattoo Canvas

When it comes to tattoos, skin is everything. And like people, skin comes in many different forms, not just between different individuals, but between various body parts too. Skin texture, skin colour, skin age, and the thickness of the hair covering the skin can make a big difference in how a tattoo turns out.

The condition and skin surface type affect how many hours of inking it can handle, how certain ink shades and tones will appear, and how delicate or bold the design can be. Some skin can take a whole lot of pain, others not so much. Some skin reacts badly to needles, taking much longer to heal, and some skin types just aren’t meant for tattoos. Think about the places you want tattooed and consider if your skin is really ready for it. Check out this skin-care guide to get a head start.

6. Consult with the Tattoo Experts who know what they’re doing

Impulse control is an important part of living a good, happy life. And part of keeping things together means counting on the experts to help you check the urge to act without thinking. Tattoo artists are the only real authority on tattoos. They are the experienced professionals who know what they’re doing and are always right when it comes to the science, the art and the best practices behind tattooing.

Have a tattoo planning brainstorm with your tattoo artist before booking your session. Their invaluable input will help create something original, something special and something that you won’t end up regretting. Try to avoid simply walking into a tattoo shop and getting one done on a whim (which is easy to do in most tattoo parlours with a wall of tribal flash art to choose from), and consult with an artist before committing to something you’re going to have to live with forever.


7. Picking from the Colours of the Tattoo Rainbow

The colours you pick for your tattoo define how it turns out, but they also differ from person to person, and a wrong option can lead to tattoo mistakes. Darker tattoo pigments contrast with the colour of the skin to create depth, and certain colours compliment different skin tones better. A red or blue undertone will also impact the overall look and feel, while blacks and greys blend better with most skin tones.

Consider your own skin tone before heading in to get tattooed in colour. Medium or tanned skin tones work well with oranges, greens, and bright blues. Darker skin tones enjoy the darkest colours, like royal blues, crimson reds, and deep blacks.

Think first, then get a tattoo you’ll love forever

As human beings, we change our minds all the time. It’s in our nature. But like the married adult with three kids who regrets not reading the opening line of their exam paper before missing out on that “A” that would’ve landed them a shot at a better job, thinking before we make our minds up is important.

Many of the things we enjoy in life change over time, as do many of the things we don’t. But, as we learn and experience more of our world and lives, so too do we develop an appreciation of thinking things through before we make one of those tattoo mistakes we’ll end up regretting. Your tattoo concept, placement, style, size, and colour choices are no different.

Remember that what you put on your body is there until the day they tip you six feet under, so you’d best make it count! Think before you ink, follow these important tattoo planning guidelines, and you’ll never regret a tattoo again.