The Beginner's Guide To Your First Tattoo

The Beginner’s Guide To Your First Tattoo

Beginner’s Guide to Your First Tattoo

Today I’m sharing my Beginner’s Guide to Your First Tattoo. So you’re ready to get your first tattoo and you want to make it the best experience possible, this beginner’s guide will help you do that! Not sure of placement? I’ve got suggestions. Do you have sensitive skin? I can help with that!


You’re going to have to do your research. Part of making sure your first tattoo experience is positive is all the research you do beforehand. Research the tattoo shop and artist to make sure that they are up to date on health certifications and standards. Read reviews on the shop and artists. Look at the artist portfolios. Make sure the artist can create the tattoo in the style you want.

Word of mouth is often the best way to find a tattoo artist. You can also try searching tattoo artists on Instagram in your area.

If you’re in the Tampa area, I highly recommend Stefanee Shofield and Steve Cornicelli at Forbidden Images. Stefanee has done all of my tattoos so far. Steve has done an amazing cover-up tattoo on my partner’s arm.

Steve Oker at Electric Gold Tattoo is another highly recommended tattoo artist in the Tampa area. I have several friends from all over the state who have driven to have work done by him. I’m thinking of seeing him for my raven tattoo that I have planned.

Russel Van Schaik is a highly respected tattoo artist in the Orlando area. Many of my friends have been tattooed by him. He has a lot of gorgeous work available.


Tattoos are permanent. Yes, you can get laser tattoo removal, which I’ve heard hurts worse than getting a tattoo. Spend the time to design and fall in love with your tattoo.

Don’t rush on your design, especially for your first tattoo. It took me twenty years to work up the courage to get my first tattoo and a month to come up with inspiration for the first design. I then worked with my tattoo artist to finalize the design and make it unique. I have done this every single time I’ve gotten a tattoo.

I’ve had tattoo designs in mind for years, but once I decide to get a piece done, I usually gather up all the reference images and send them to my tattoo artist. I explain to the artist what I want to change about the designs, what aspects of the designs I like or don’t like, etc. I think of it as collaborative design. It’s a piece of art I’ll be wearing for the rest of my life.

Need some tattoo inspiration? Check out this Pinterest Tattoo Inspiration board.


Decide where you want to get your first tattoo! In my opinion, the best place to get your first tattoo is on the upper arm and shoulder. In my experience, you can barely feel the needle in that area. Places where your bones are close to the surface of the skin such as your wrist, the top of your foot, or your sternum, are all going to be more painful.

My first tattoo was actually on my inner wrist, which is usually pretty painful for people. My second piece is a very large upper thigh piece and it was pretty painful. My third tattoo was my hand, which wasn’t great but wasn’t terrible. My fourth was on my wrist and forearm. The wrist was very uncomfortable but the upper forearm didn’t bother me at all. My fifth tattoo was on my upper arm and shoulder. Click here to see my Inked Girls Bat Tattoo, as well as my other tattoos.

I have recommended the upper arm and shoulder to several friends for their first tattoos. They were surprised by how easy it was to sit through. I think most people feel less pain there.

The other big reason I recommend the upper arm and shoulder for your first tattoo is that it is a very easy area to hide with a short sleeve shirt. If you work in a conservative environment, you can still hide your cool side with this tattoo placement. Most people recommend choosing spots on the body that are easy to hide with clothes for tattoos.

Prep the Skin

If you have sensitive skin like I do, or you are worried about being able to sit still while you’re being jabbed repeatedly with a needle as you get your first tattoo, prep the skin like me! I use the best numbing cream I’ve found by Zensa. Zensa has 5% lidocaine in it. Zensa numbing cream makes your skin feel numb for 2 to 4 hours and you can extend that by applying it during the tattoo session. Zensa is a cruelty-free product, too.

The way I like to prep the skin with Zensa numbing cream is by liberally applying it to the area that I am getting tattooed a half hour before the session and cover it with saran wrap to keep it moist. Then during the tattoo session I give my tube of Zensa to the tattoo artist, who applies it during the tattoo process once the skin has been broken.

Dress for Comfort

In this beginner’s guide to your first tattoo, I’m going to tell you to dress for comfort. Whether you’re going to be at the tattoo parlor for an hour or six, you want to be comfortable. Think about where you are going to get your tattoo, and make sure that you have loose fitting clothing on.

I typically wear a TomboyX bralette, my favorite pair of leggings with pockets, and a loose fitting shirt or tank. I bring a hoodie or blanket with me.

For guys, my partner likes a loose fitting tank shirt like this and the TomboyX joggers.

What to Bring

I like to bring protein cookie snacks and Bubly sparkling drinks with me when I get a tattoo, because I’m normally planning to be at the tattoo shop for at least a few hours.

I usually also bring my iPad so that if I want to read a book, watch a movie, or listen to my own music while I’m getting tattooed I can. While I bring all this stuff with me, I normally end up talking to my tattoo artist or listening to music and zoning out during the process.

I bring the aforementioned Zensa numbing cream with me. I have ultra sensitive skin and it really helps me to be more comfortable during the tattoo process.

I also bring Saniderm with me. Saniderm tattoo bandages are medical grade bandages that allow you to wet heal your tattoo. They’re latex free, vegan, water resistant and breathable. Saniderm is going to be the best way to heal most tattoos. Your tattoo artist puts the Saniderm tattoo bandage on after completing your tattoo. You leave it on for 5 days, then remove it. You can shower with the Saniderm tattoo bandage on. I strongly suggest only wearing loose fitting clothing over your tattoo.

If you are prone to anxiety like I am, you may want to bring a friend with you to your first tattoo, too. While my tattoo artist enjoys talking during the process, some don’t, so you might want a friend to help distract you from the pain or to hold your hand. My partner has come with me to every tattoo session I’ve had, though he hasn’t stayed through the entire tattoo process. The first time it was especially important to me to have him there, but after that I’ve been fine doing it on my own.


Tipping is not mandatory in the USA. However, tipping your tattoo artist lets them know you really appreciate their time, effort and work. If you feel your tattoo artist for your first tattoo has gone above and beyond to meet your expectations, they deserve a tip.

I believe it’s industry standard to tip a minimum of 20% for a tattoo. Some people tip up to 30%. Tattoo artists tend to charge by the hour, so that can be quite expensive on larger pieces. Other people just tip a flat $100, no matter the size of the piece. If you’re only getting a small piece done that’s $300 or under, I would tip 25-30%. 30% of $300 is $90. For larger pieces that are $1000 to $2000, I would tip 15-20%.

Another suggestion, bring cash to tip your tattoo artist. 99% of the time I don’t carry cash, but when I get a tattoo done, I try to take cash out for tip. I’ve been told cash is king when it comes to tips.


Talk to your tattoo artist about aftercare for your first tattoo. It’s so important! As I mentioned above, I usually heal my tattoos with Saniderm tattoo bandages for the first five days.

After that I switch to Dial Gold Antibacterial soap to wash it twice a day. After washing it I put Aquaphor Healing Ointment or HustleButter Soothing Tattoo Cream on it to hydrate it and leave it alone. You want a thin layer of ointment after cleansing so that it can heal properly. I’ve found by wet healing the first 5 days, it’s far less itchy for me. After those first 5 days, if it gets itchy, I’ll tap or slap the skin, but never scratch it.

Make sure to use SPF! After you get a gorgeous tattoo and it’s healed, be sure to put SPF on to prevent fading. I wear sunscreen 365 days a year. I recommend Coola Sport SPF 50 Spray for the body. It has broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, 80-minute water resistance, sweat resistance, non-aerosol, and is reef-friendly. My partner has very sensitive skin, so he uses the Coola Sun Silk Drops SPF 30 for the face. I prefer Supergoop Unseen SPF 40 for the face.

Courtney Nawara
Author: Courtney Nawara

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