Everything You Need To Know About Your First Tattoo

A tattoo is a huge decision. When I decided to get a tattoo I researched everything I could. I wanted to know exactly what to expect. I watched YouTube videos, read articles and talked to my tattoo artist but I could never find a full explanation all in one place. I just got my second tattoo so I thought I would write a full explanation and post pictures as my tattoo heals so that you know what to expect.

I just got my second tattoo so I thought I would write a full explanation and post pictures as my tattoo heals so that you know exactly what to expect!

Deciding on a design

Draw your design, find similar images online and plan exactly what you want on your body. Really think long and hard about how big, what placement and what colors you want - This is going to be on your body forever. Make sure you are completely in love with it. I drew a design then kept it as my computer and phone background for a few months to make sure I wouldn't get sick of it.

Finding an artist

Find a good shop and a good person to do your tattoo. Have them draw up a design based off your drawing or description and make sure it's exactly what you want. Don't be afraid to ask for changes, it's their job to give you something you love. Make sure the shop is clean and your artist has all the correct licenses.

Tattoo Day/ Prep

The day of/day before you have your tattoo appointment you should avoid alcohol and pain relievers (both can make you bleed more), drink plenty of water (stay hydrated - your pee should be clear), eat something an hour or two before the session (don't want to pass out) and wear some comfy clothes that can easily be moved or removed to reach the tattoo area. For example, on my rib tattoo I wore a bra and t-shirt that I tucked into my bra strap so it was out of the way for the tattoo. Don't wear your favorite t-shirt either- there's a chance you could get ink on it.

When you go in, your artist will have a drawing of the tattoo that they'll "stencil" onto the area. You'll be able to check it out in a mirror to make sure the placement, size and design are all correct. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TELL THEM IF IT'S NOT RIGHT. If you want it smaller or larger, let them know. It's a pretty quick fix and you'll end up loving it more.

Typically tattoo artists will do a couple strokes so you can get used to how it'll feel- especially if you let them know it's your first tattoo. They'll start with an outline (if you want one), then do black and white, then color and last shading. My artist said outlines typically hurt the most, but personally I thought shading was the more painful of the two. If you need a break, just let them know.

Post Tattoo

Right after the artist finishes up, he/she should wipe it off with some rubbing alcohol to kill any bacteria, then they will put some kind of plastic wrap over it to keep it safe until you have time to wash it. At this point it'll probably feel like a bad sunburn, and if the tattoo was on any bone, you'll feel a little bruised. Every artist is different, but they will recommend some kind of soap and lotion to use for the next few days of healing.

Your tattoo may bleed quiet a bit after it's wrapped. It's completely normal - don't freak out. Just use some moist paper towel to wipe around your tattoo, DO NOT WIPE YOUR ACTUAL TATTOO. Your skin will most likely be swollen and red, it's normal. You can take some pain reliever to help the skin heal. For my rib tattoo I had some bruising on my ribs for a few days.

Also be sure to tip your artist! My tattoo was $100 and I tipped another $50 because he was so patient with me when I needed a break. You can tip 10%-110%, it's really up to you. Try to tip in cash if you can.


When you're home you can remove the plastic and wash your tattoo. First rinse it with cool (not cold, not warm, not hot) water. Make sure your hands are clean. After it's rinsed, use a pump of the soap and very gently rub it over your tattoo. Rinse and let the tattoo air dry. DO NOT WIPE YOUR TATTOO WITH A TOWEL OR CLOTH. This can pull the ink out of your skin and you will end up needing to get it touched up. Let it air dry completely. You don't want any moisture getting trapped beneath the lotion, this can cause "bubbles" which can scab over and cause scarring. Once it's 100% dry apply a thin layer of the lotion over the top and leave it alone.

Night Time / Seeping

Overnight it's okay to wrap your tattoo in plastic again to avoid rubbing. You should most definitely wear a crappy t-shirt or clothes (where ever your tattoo is located) because it will likely "Seep". Seeping is totally normal, it means your tattoo is healing! It will look almost like your skin is bleeding ink. Don't worry, your tattoo will still look fine. I took the photo below the morning after my tattoo was done. Yours may look worse or better depending on your skin type, the location of your tattoo and the size of the tattoo.


Washing off excess ink

Your tattoo will "Seep" for a few days. When it's time to wash the area make sure you use cool water and rinse off as much as the ink as you can. As a general rule, if the excess ink doesn't rinse off - leave it. Fine lines, outlines and shading may not look even or crisp like they should and that's okay. Don't pick, scrub or try to remove the excess ink that doesn't rinse off. Gently rub the tattoo with soap, rinse again and leave any excess ink. By the time the process of seeping is done your lines should look crisp again. Don't force anything.

Itching, Peeling and the "Sunburn" phase

Once your tattoo begins to heal some more (3-4 days) it will become dry and flaky. The flakes may be skin or ink. Once again, it's completely normal! At this stage, do not apply lotion. You can still wash your tattoo like usual but whatever lotion your artist told you to buy is no longer needed at this point. From here on try not to itch, pick, rub or remove any parts near or on your tattoo. Let your skin do its thing. This will look a lot like a healing sunburn. If it really itches and you have to scratch you can lightly slap the skin DO NOT SCRATCH - this can cause scabs and scarring. If it becomes unbearable you can apply some hand lotion to the area, just make sure it has no perfumes and is high quality. Don't slather it on, a thin layer will work just fine.


Finally Healed

After some time (anywhere between 3 weeks to 4 weeks) your tattoo should be fully healed. It will feel like normal skin again and now all you have to do is make sure you use sunscreen. Anytime your tattoo will be exposed to the sun for longer than 20 minutes you should put on a generous amount of protection. The sun can fade the colors and line and you will have to get it retouched more often.

If you think I missed any details please let me know!! Good luck on your new ink!

I just got my second tattoo so I thought I would write a full explanation and post pictures as my tattoo heals so that you know exactly what to expect!
  • Are tattoos safe?
    As long as you go to a reputable artist who uses new needles and gloves, yes, they are very safe.
  • How much does it hurt?
    It hurts. Anyone who says different is lying. Every person has different pain levels, but no tattoo feels nice. Areas with lots of bones (ribs, spine, knees, elbows, hands, feet) hurt because you can feel the vibration in your bone. More fatty areas hurt less (back, arms, legs). Expect it to hurt, but just keep in mind it's a couple hours of pain for a beautiful tattoo that you get to keep forever.
  • Can I take some Advil or use some numbing cream before getting tattooed?
    No to both. Pain relievers often cause your blood to thin which can make you bleed more during your tattoo and that could end up causing uneven lines on your design. Numbing creams only work on the top layer of your skin, and the tattoo gun penetrates to the second layer of your skin to place the ink. The numbing cream won't stop any pain and it could cause complications as your skin heals.
  • What's the best place to find tattoo ideas?
    Pinterest is a great source for designs. You can Google specific ideas, but I think Pinterest has a ton of variety. A great tattoo artist can hear the basic idea of what you want and draw something for you, so just ask! Be original and find something you love.
  • Can I donate blood after I'm tattooed?
    Most places ask that you wait up to 2-12 months after new ink to donate blood or plasma. This is just to ensure the needle the artist used was actually clean. After the waiting period you're all set! Every state varies but in Colorado you have to wait a full year.
  • What should I avoid after getting my tattoo?
    For the first month avoid tanning, soaking in water (baths, pools, ocean, hot tubs), saunas and steam rooms. All of these places can cause bacteria to grow. You should be treating your tattoo as an open wound. Showering is obviously okay, but everything else should be avoided for at least a month.
  • Is there a best time to get tattooed?
    Many people want new ink in the summer when everyone will be able to see it, but a month of avoiding swimming and tanning probably doesn't work well in the summer. Try to get your tattoo in a time where you won't be outside too much and when you can let your tattoo heal without being exposed. I think the spring & fall are best (winter gets too cold and it can dry your skin out more than usual).
  • Can I tan when my tattoo heals?
    You CAN but you shouldn't. Your tattoo will fade in the sun over the years so use sunscreen. You can always get a tattoo touched up every few years and many tattoo shops do free touch ups (you should still tip). Using sunscreen keeps your tattoo looking better, longer.

Additional Tips

  • If you're unsure about whether to get tattooed or not -DON'T DO IT. Make sure you don't do anything you will regret. Wait until you're 100% ready.
  • Think about your future when deciding a placement. If you want to be a lawyer, that awesome knuckle tattoo may not be the best idea. Consider what jobs you want later on and be sure where ever you get your tattoo you can cover it up when needed.
  • If you do need to cover your tattoo, there are all kinds of makeups, arm sleeves, leg sleeves, bandages and paint that can help you out. Do some research.
  • If you're worried about the pain take some music with you. Find ways to distract yourself. Talk to your friend or the artist, play a game on your phone or read. Everyone is different.

This blog post was written in 2015, here is my recent update: