From Consultation to Aftercare: Everything you need to know about the tattooing process
By now you have probably heard a 100 stories about the experience you are about to undergo and although there will be an element of of truth in some of them, there will be even more “tall tales” and exaggeration. You have to keep in mind, that everyone’s experience is different.
Tattooing as an art form is evolving at a good rate. There have been several styles of artwork & techniques of hygiene developed in the last 50 years. There is a safer way to make art on skin now than ever before.
The purpose of this introduction is to clarify the decisions, process and care needed when choosing and receiving a tattoo. The end goal is to not only knowing what makes a hygienic studio, but also the recognition of genuine tattoos as an art form.
Part I : Tattoos
Does it hurt?
One of the most frequent questions asked when it comes tattoos. The answer is YES. But, PAIN is RELATIVE.
There are three factors when considering the pain of a tattoo.
1) Anticipated pain often seems to be greater in one’s mind than it actually turns out to be. You while be pleasantly suprised when the physical pain from the tattoo is less intense than the mental expectation. Consider your motivation and dedication behind receiving the artwork.A huge factor regarding pain levels is the way one views and chooses the tattoo.
2)Skill of your artist. If the artist doesn’t know the levels they should be pushing the needle to, is too rough or simply doesn’t care then they can cause excessive bleeding and scarring.
3) Body Part: Some parts of the body are easier to handle than others. The general thumb rule is , the fleshier the area you are getting tattooed, the less painful it is. Places that aren’t exposed to daily wear and tear : like the inner thigh, behind the knees & & inner bicep can up the pain stakes. Bony areas can be problematic as well. It’s more of an odd feeling than painful since it feels like the needles are hitting the bones. This is not the case since the needles are not long enough to do that. The same goes with tendons. Getting a tattoo on your wrist can make your fingers dance like a mad puppet, but the needles are not doing any damage
Are They Safe?
Yes: However you need to choose the right artist and studio. Tattooing holds no more risk than any comparable cosmetic treatment or surgery. Care should be taken the same way one would choose to receive a surgery from a reputable doctor. With tattooing, the evidence of the wrong choice is more or less permanent.
The Artist should know basic medical procedures to ensure there is no cross contamination in the equipment being used & follow it to give you the safest , least painful & great healing tattoo.
Can I use some kind of numbing cream?
Numbing creams are available but it makes the skin difficult to work with. Besides, the reason tattoos are so awesome is because, (much like a good physique) you have to earn it!!! I always suggest you get a tattoo not as a fashion statement, but because you believe in it. Anyone who promises a pain free tattoo is being dishonest however, there are a few techniques that can be used to make the tattoo process less painful.
What tattoo would look good on me? Where should I get it?
When you are creating your piece a good artist will sit down and discuss these options with you. However, you will need to bring a lot of information to the table. Ask yourself what you find beautiful, appealing, powerful or inspirational? What do you want to be reminded of or carry with you the rest of your life? Your artist can guide and advise you for the style and direction but in the end, you are the only person that can decide.
How much does a tattoo cost?
Transfer this question to any other art form & you should get your answer. You pay for the quality and artwork of the tattoo. You pay for the artist’s experience & talents. You can either commission an artist or you can pay a much smaller fee to someone who knows how to trace a picture. You are deciding on something you will wear and display for the rest of your life. Don’t let money determine your choices.
Where can I find tattoo designs?
Any where you look. You can find images online, in books, real life, etc. It is the concept & it’s illustration that matters.With the kind of work being done in Realism tattooing any image can be put on the skin.
WARNING : Use any images you find for reference only! I’m sure the last thing you want is some one else with the exact same tattoo as you. Images can be used by you and your artist to guide and direct your design. There a few exceptions to this case. This would be when a family crest, emblem or very meaningful design element is requested to be incorporated. Alterations to any such element are of course not necessary. The overarching principle is that tattoos need not be something chosen out of a book. They do not have to be repeated and they should definitely not be something chosen quickly.
When should I get a tattoo?
When you are truly ready – Physically & Pschologically. While there is no one time that is necessarily better than another factors to consider are lifestyle and skin conditions. A tattoo needs to be allowed to breath, it needs to be kept clean and lightly moisturized – particularly for the first 28 days (one skin cycle- time period the body takes to shed & regenerate the top layer of skin). If you work in an office you spend most of your time in a climate controlled environment there would be little season affect. If you work outside during the summer then certain precautions are necessary.
Before an appointment
- You can’t be tanned: Do not book an appointment right after a vacation to the beach. Exposure to the sun, chlorine water etc. damages the skin & it should be given enough time to recuperate before being tattooed.
- You can’t be sick: Do not go in for an appointment if you have a contagious disease or other medical conditions.
- Inform the artist in case of any blood related health issues: (Diabetes, HIV etc) so that they can ensure your safety & other customers’.
- Avoid excessive alchohol, coffee or drugs: It’s harder for the artist to do the best work possible with the presence of these external chemicals in the body. It will not only lead to a more uncomfortable experience while getting tattooed but also to a poor tattoo.
- Be ready: You should be confident enough in the concept of your design to be able to appreciate the tattoo through the rest of your life. Please do not get a tattoo to be deemed “Cool”. Get it done to symbolise something to truly believe in.
Are there any things I can’t do once I have a tattoo?
No. Tattooed people face no physiological restrictions because of their tattoos. To keep your tattoo in optimum condition there are a range of aftercare procedures you should follow (a period of 15 days, usually). The purpose of the aftercare instructions are to ensure that the tattoo remains in good condition. There are myths like – “You can not donate blood” but that does not stand true if you get the tattoo in a safe environment under the right conditions.( There are countries where you will need to wait for a certain period before to go in for a plasma donation)
Part II : Studio
How Do I Know If I’m In the Right Tattoo Studio?
To paraphrase: when it comes to matters of opinion, there is no accounting for taste. Everyone will have varying requirements when it comes to choosing their tattoo studio. No matter what studio you do end up in – how you got there should be from an educated decision.
Any extra time spent researching artists and studios will pay off. Remember that like any other industry there are reputable studios and ones that you should stay away from. Find an artist with a style that speaks to you. There is often an excitement that accompanies the prospect of getting inked right away. Instead of making quick decisions try and transfer that energy into the design itself; quality before speed.
A good tattoo studio will always take the time to answer your questions, schedule a free artist consultation and provide or point you in the direction of any tattoo related information. Artist’s portfolios should be readily available online. At any time if you feel the studio is not being forthcoming with any information – go to another one!
No matter your level of experience bad tattoos are easy to spot.
Are the lines of the tattoo straight and clean? Good work will retain the same shape and flow you find in any other artwork.
Is everything in proportion? There are natural bodily contours and curves that have to be accounted for in tattooing. Due to the way the image is placed and the contours of the body there might be parts on an image looking unatural.
Is the shading smooth? Good artists can create a range of tones using black ink. This is the smooth shading depth and effect found in grayscale works.
Complexity and positioning of colors? Good artists can, if they work with color, create an amazing array of complex colors. There are various shading and alignment techniques but in general look for pieces that don’t simply consist of large areas filled in with solid block colors.
Important Recommendations while deciding on a studio to get inked:
1) Make sure the studio uses an autoclave.
Why this is important: An autoclave is a sterilization tool used in hospitals. It is basically a powerful steamer that ensures all reusable items in the tattooing process are properly cleansed between clients. Tubes and grips are the two items most commonly sent through an autoclave. The use of an autoclave is the only method that guarantees hygiene when cleaning reusable equipment.
2)Always ask to see examples of the artist’s finished work.
Why this is important: Full portfolios should be readily available. The best artists’ work will be displayed in a variety of sources. A quick internet search should yield plenty of results.
3)Are they vaccinated for Hepatitis B?
Why this is important: Hepatitis B is an extremely serious infection. It is spread through the contact with infected blood and bodily fluids. It is absolutely essential that your tattoo artist be vaccinated for Hepatitis B.
4)Find out if the artist has formally trained in any other areas.
Why this is important: Tattooing is an art form that has traditionally been passed down from master to student. But the modern tattoo studio and working environment should be held to the same levels of cleanliness and hygiene as any doctor’s office. There are numerous courses in sterilization, studio maintenance and first aid available. Quality studios will promote these kinds of certificates and training
5)The artist should be wearing gloves.
Why this is important: This is standard hygienic practice. To stop the transmission of any bacteria it is crucial that the artist use these protective barriers. You are undergoing a procedure where your skin is being pierced. The use of gloves protects both you and the artist. If an artist is not wearing gloves during your appointment – chances are they didn’t for the last customer either!
6) All ink and materials should be in disposable cups or ‘caps’.
Why this is important: You’ve probably seen photos of rows of tiny white or clear caps on an tattoo artists work station. The ink is placed into these caps because throughout the tattooing process the artist has to constantly dip the tattoo needle into the color of ink they’re using. If they were to keep dipping the tattoo needle into a central, main pot of ink it would then cross contaminate every client. Ink, cream and other materials used throughout the tattooing process must be divided into separate containers for each client.
7) New sterile needles must be used always.
Why this is important: This is for the same reason as above – only the risk that would arise should needles be shared is far more direct. As tattooing needles piece the skin they can be exposed to bodily fluids. Needles must be sealed containers, opened in front of you before the tattoo and disposed of in a proper receptacle afterwards.
Part III: Aftercare
Once the ink is in your skin, it’s no longer the responsibility of the tattoo artist.It’s Your’s. What happens next is totally in your hands, so let’s check the options to get you through the next week or so. If you do not properly take care of the tattooed area it can lead to infection. If a few simple guidelines are followed it will remain a source of pride for many years.
If you have any doubts whatsoever about the care of your tattoo, give your tattooist a call. Seriously – one simple telephone call could save you a world of hurt & no nobody will mind.Better a phone call than have bits of it re worked.
Following just the next three steps will put you way ahead in the healing game.
1) Treat the tattoo particularly for the first few days, as an open wound.
2) Whenever you have washed the tattoo Don’t give it a rub with a towel, instead DAB the tattoo a few times with a clean towel, Don’t pick the scabs
3) Don’t pick at the scab.
What’s going on Inside?
Well, your skin has been broken & alien bodies have been put beneath it. As with any cut/open wound, blood will flow to that point & begin one of it’s most important jobs. Thus, in the days that follow, the body will set about fixing the damage. First things first – A protective layer over the area in question. Once this protective layer begins to fall away, much like the effect of sunburnt skin, you will notice that the tattoo looks perhaps a little lifeless – even in the greatest of circumstances this will happen but this is as it should be. As soon as the protective layer has done it’s job & falls away, it will be back to it’s former self.
The First Three To Four Hours –
After your tattoo application appointment the artist will wrap your tattoo with a protective bandage. This prevents infection from air borne bacteria and pathogens. Leave this bandage on for the first three to four hours after the tattoo. You do not need to wrap it again.
Cleaning and Breathing –
Once the time comes to remove the bandage you can rinse the tattooed area. People often ask if they can shower normally and the answer is yes, however do not let the shower hit it directly. But be sure not to soak the tattooed area. Depending on your skin type and climate, you may or may not want to use some antibacterial soap to clear any excess ointment or cream/colour. Always pat the tattooed area dry as rubbing can cause irritation.
Protective Layer –
A thin layer of moisturizer should be applied to the tattooed area ideally three to four times a day. The key healing time is the first few days. However the tattoo will not completely heal until one full skin cycle – 28 days. Keeping a light layer of moisturizer on the tattooed area throughout the first four weeks is highly recommended. It helps avoid irritation due to dryness in the area.
Mentioning it again, since it is that important.You have a tattoo because ink was pushed through the top layer of skin and deposited on the second or middle layer. When the needle was pushing through some ink will have been temporarily retained by the top layer of skin. In the first few weeks the top layer of skin over the tattoo will start to flake and peel. This is completely natural. Your tattoo is not falling off. Do not pick or scratch the area. Instead, let is flake naturally.
Stay Out Of The Sauna –
Saunas, hot tubs and swimming pools can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Normally your skin protects you by providing a waterproof barrier. However, your skin has been punctured during the tattoo process and the tattooed area is therefore susceptible to infection should you enter these areas with a recently applied tattoo. The same applies to baths and even showers – but the exposure is shorter and far less intense so the risk is minimized.
No Sun Tanning –
The first 28 days are crucial and you should limit exposing the tattooed are to the sun as much as possible. Once the tattooed has healed applying an SPF50 is recommended prior to hitting the beach. Plenty of tattooed people also have sun tans. But staying out of the sun for the first few weeks is critical. The reason that direct sun is bad for a tattooed area is that the sun will heat up the tattoo ink. When this happens your body reacts and treats the ink as a foreign element. It will then attempt to digest the ink so as to ‘flush’ the intruder. This is why tattoos exposed to sun will start to look faded.
Special thanks to tattoo temple – hong kong for content & format on this page.