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How to Come Up With Good Tattoo Ideas

Tattoos are increasingly popular outlets for self-expression, and are often an attractive way to save dates, memories, or simply decorate your body. It’s no secret, though, that tattoos are mostly permanent, and getting them removed, if necessary, is painful and expensive. Before hopping out and grabbing your first (or next) tattoo, you should walk through all the steps to come up with good tattoo ideas. Plus, choosing your artists wisely and tending to your ​design properly can help ensure that you end up with a piece of body art that you’re proud to show off in any occasion. There are a handful of steps you can take to ensure that your next ​design is one you can live with forever.​

Choose a Reputable Artist

Before getting a tattoo, you should carefully decide which artist you trust to add permanent ink to your body. While it may be tempting to look for the best prices, there are greater things at play. Be comfortable investing in your tattoo. After all, it will be with you for the rest of your life, so you’ll want it to be great.

To choose an artist you should look at a few things. First, visit the studio to see if it appears clean. Make sure that the artists follow all sanitation procedures, including cleaning his supplies, using a new needle for each ​design, disinfecting your skin with alcohol pads before starting your tattoo, washing his hands, and wearing gloves.

Then, you should ask the artist to see his portfolio. A great artist will have an excellent portfolio to show you. The portfolio may include drawings and pictures of actual tattoos he or she has done in the past. If an artist does not have a portfolio to show you, then you are taking a risk with the quality of his work.

Understanding Tattoo Pricing

Cost of a Tattoo Design

​Since every artist sets their own rates, understanding tattoo pricing can be a bit tricky. There are several different ways that an artist may figure up the total price of a piece. Some artists opt for hourly rates and will charge by the hour (or the half hour) for each tattoo. Other artists will discuss the piece with you up front, in detail, in order to assess the time they will need to dedicate to a piece so that they can give you an overall price. Most body shops and tattoo parlors will have a “minimum” for tattoos, which can range from $25-100. The reason for this “minimum” amount is to cover all of the supplies needed for a sterile, safe tattooing experience. This means that even a small ​design that might not take much time will still cost the shop’s “minimum amount” to cover the price of the needle, alcohol, razor (for shaving away hair at the tattoo site), and gloves, plus the artists time. Pieces that have full color will usually cost more than black and white outlines, which accounts for more of the artists time and the extra ink. The artist will also factor in the amount of small detail necessary since it often takes longer to perfect. A great artist will be willing to draw up and make corrections to your design ahead of time to ensure that you get exactly what you were looking for, as well as decide on a price (or a price estimate) so that you know what to expect up front.You should never be scared to invest money into your work. $300 may sound like a lot for something as simple as a tattoo, but remember that great artists often know their worth, and if someone is charging unbelievably low prices, they are likely to do low quality work.

Consider a Symbolic Tattoo

If you are strapped for ideas for your next tattoo, a great way to get the brain cogs turning is to consider a ​design that has a sort of symbolic meaning to you. Not only can this help spark an idea for a great tattoo, but ​something with a meaningful backing is one you are sure to love for a lifetime, and it gives you a great story to tell when people ask about your art. Some ideas include choosing a tattoo to symbolize:

An Important Person

Getting a tattoo of a person who has meaning to you, whether that person has passed or is still in your life every day, is a timeless way to create beautiful, meaningful tattoos. Not only will you be able to honor a person who means a lot to you, but your tattoo will always be full of great memories and stories for anyone who asks. You don’t necessarily have to get a tattoo of that person, but you could still honor them by getting a tattoo of a place you visited together, their favorite animal, their birth flower, or some other symbol in their image. Many people choose to get ​designs that honor their children, which could be getting their names, footprints, handprints, or birth dates.

A Memorable Date

Scripted tattoos are beautiful and incredibly popular. One of the best ways to save a memorable date or represent a special day in your life (like a birthday, anniversary, etc.) is to have that date tattooed on your body. Consider different fonts and scripts, or even different colors to help make your date look unique.

A Pet

Many people choose to honor their pets with tattoos, and why wouldn’t they? For most animal lovers, their pets are like family. This could be getting the pets paw print with his or her name or getting a portrait of the animal. For a unique idea, maybe a ​design with your pet’s collar with their name tag showing is best for you.

A Life Philosophy

Quotes are another popular option, and they give so much room for self-expression. If you have a quote that you like to live by or a mantra that helps keep you on track, getting it tattooed where you and others can see it is a great way to make it a cemented part of your everyday life. Different fonts can help you express the emotion you feel through the quote as well, so ask your artist for some different font examples if you choose a quote tattoo.

A Special Place

Sometimes people have places that are near and dear to their hearts, like hometowns, honeymoon destinations, or just places they love to visit. These locations can translate into stylish, unique tattoo ideas that represent something you truly love. Instead of getting the actual state or town tattooed, consider something unique, like the state flower, or your favorite building from the town instead.

Remember, there are no limits to what you can design, so you may even want to combine a few of these to create a tattoo that is truly unique and meaningful. Adding quotes, scripts, and words to well-designed images can help you create a piece that turns heads and tells a story all its own.

​Does My Tattoo Have to Mean Something?

There is a sense of shame surrounding what people often call “thoughtless” tattoos or ​designs that don’t often have some huge backstory. However, there is no reason that your tattoo has to have some symbolic meaning or an elaborate life event attached. Since you are tattooing your body, it is perfectly acceptable to get whatever you like tattooed on your body. While some people like their ​designs to have a deep meaning, other people just love to have beautiful decorations on their body. If you want an octopus eating a slice of pizza because you love sea creatures and Italian food, then go for it! Just make sure that whatever you decide on is something you’re comfortable living with forever. Your tattoo doesn’t have to have meaning to anyone but you, just make sure that you’re comfortable with the commitment.

Meaning Behind a Tattoo Design

​Try Out a Neat Design Instead

If you don’t have anything symbolic in mind, you may want to opt for a design instead. Design tattoos, such as watercolor tattoos, tribal markings, or simple patterns not only look great, but they often can be sculpted to the body part you choose so that they look custom. Plus, they are a great way to cover up large scars from accidents or surgeries. Some people even opt for a design to help cover stretch marks. If you can’t come up with anything on your own, try asking your chosen artist for suggestions. Many artists have a collection of designs that they have drawn up in their free time, as well as an extensive portfolio of work they have done on others, which could help spark an idea for your newest ​design.

Turning Small Ideas into Large Pieces of Art

One popular method for tattooing is to work many small tattoos into one larger piece, which is how many people end up with larger pieces of work like full sleeves, chest pieces, back pieces, or leg sleeves. This is often the best way to embark on a large ​inking journey since a sleeve can take up to ten hours to complete (or longer depending on the amount of detail involved). Instead, talk to your artist about the small tattoos you have in mind, and let him work with you on a great way to piece them together to create a larger design. Then, you can get one piece at a time, which is often easier on your wallet (and won’t have you in the chair for a long time). Your artist probably has an eye for design, so even if you aren’t sure your ideas will flow, talk to your artist about how to blend them together. You’ll be surprised how tattoos can be designed to combine multiple ideas and to sculpt to the shape of your body, too.

Choose a Location for Your Tattoo

After you have chosen a good design, you will need to choose a location for your tattoo. There are several things you should consider before choosing a location for your ​design.

Artist Tattooing

First, consider whether you want to be able to easily cover your tattoos or if you’d like them to be somewhere that is easily visible. If your workplace or other restrictions will require you to keep your tattoos covered, you may want to consider ​something on your back, legs, torso, or foot. If visibility is not a concern, arm and hand tattoos are also attractive.

Another reason to carefully consider the location of your tattoo is that some areas are more sensitive to pain than others. Many areas, such as the rib cage, groin, inner thighs, and feet can often be twice as sensitive to pain as areas like the bicep, shoulder blade, or outer thigh. Plus, areas with thick skin, like the palms of your hand, areas that move and stretch often, like knuckles or elbows, or areas that are exposed more frequently to sunlight all will fade more quickly than other areas, and therefore may need to be touched up more often to keep your tattoos looking bright and new.

An elongated design will often fit best on your bicep or leg, while a wide or abstract design will work great on a larger canvas, like your back or torso. You should be realistic about your tattoo placement. If you go in and ask your artist to ​ink a portrait of your dog on your pinky finger, you might get a good laugh at best. ​One great way of getting a look at a design on your skin without actually inking it on, is to have it printed with a stencil machine first. This ​gives you the opportunity to see how the final design might look when finished on the ​chosen area, and make any adjustments you would like before the actual tattoo is done.

Determine the Best Size for Your Design

Size of Tattoo Design

Now that you know the what and the where you should zone in on the small details. Decide exactly how small or how large you want your design. Your first indication for choosing the size is determining how much room you have in the desired location. Then, think about detail. Obviously, smaller tattoos will not be able to include a ton of detail, while larger ​ones give room for fine lines and beautifully blended colors. Don’t size up larger than you’re comfortable with, though, because a good artist can add enough detail into even the smallest tattoos to leave you with a piece of art that will please you for a lifetime.

To Color or Not to Color

There are several different styles of ink, but the most basic decision is whether you want only an outline with simple shading (a black and white tattoo) or a tattoo with full color. Many people opt for color because it really makes the ​design pop, but the price will often increase based on the amount of ink used and the number of different colors added. You should also consider that some colors fade quicker than others, so an extremely colorful tattoo may take a little more upkeep than a black outline. Of course, with proper care, fading is only a minor concern.

Black or White Color Tattoo

You should understand that the needle used for the outline and the needle used for the color and shading is different. The shading/color needle is actually a small collection of needles that move together and cover a larger area at once. The outline needle is a single needle that does small lines and details. Some people say that the shading needle is a bit more uncomfortable than the outline needle, but it is really a matter of personal opinion. The needles do feel different, though, so if you are opting for color and shading, be prepared ahead of time.

Make Sure You Understand Proper Aftercare

If you choose your artist well, he or she will make sure that you understand the ins and outs of aftercare for your tattoo. The aftercare portion is perhaps the most important part of the ​whole process since poor aftercare can often result in infection, which can destroy your art in the best case and in severe cases result in losing skin from the area and some pretty nasty scars. Of course, that all can be avoided with some simple steps.

Tattooing Aftercare

Your artist may cover the area at first to allow the skin to seal over the ink. However, you will need to allow your tattoo to get air after a while. You should also keep the area clean by rinsing with mild soap and warm water. Ask your artist for a recommendation for a great ​aftercare cream. Keeping the area clean and moisturized will speed up the healing process. You can expect some discomfort and even scabbing in some areas, but if you tend to your tattoo while it heals, the art should come out beautifully.

Even after the healing process, some upkeep is necessary. Be sure to use sunscreen on your tattoos when in the sun to prevent fading. If you want to keep your ​designs bright and bold, you may need to schedule a retouching session after a few years. Many artists will touch up their own work for free or at least for a discounted rate. Of course, touch-ups aren’t necessary, but the faded ink isn’t always very attractive.

Consider the Risks of Tattoos

There are always risks related to getting a tattoo. Since they involve opening flesh, there is always a risk of infection. This risk is greatly reduced if you are sure that your artist is clean and uses a sterile needle and if you take proper care of your tattoo afterward.

Dangers of Tattooing

There is also the risk of having a tattoo you don’t care for. This ​can be scary ​as ​inking is designed to be permanent. Your artist should use a special ink and transfer paper to transfer the design onto your body before making any permanent marks. This will help you get an eye for the design and how it will contour with your body. If an artist wants to freestyle on your body, always be skeptical. Check their portfolio thoroughly to ensure that you are comfortable with the quality of their work. Even then, know that you are taking an extra risk by skipping the stencil.

If you still end up with a tattoo that you are not happy with, remember that you have the option to have the ​design covered up or touched up to change its final look. Generally, if you choose your artist wisely you won’t find that you have any issues with the design of the final project.

What to Expect in the Studio

Once you get to the studio, there are several formalities you will need to undergo before actually getting a tattoo. You will likely be asked to sign a waiver, or several waivers, that protect the artist in the event that your tattoo site becomes infected. You will also need to show ID since there is a minimum age (usually 18) to receive a tattoo in most states. The receptionist or artists may want to photocopy your ID to keep it on file. In most cases, you will be asked to pay upfront for your work. For hourly work, you may not pay until afterward. Some artists will even ask for a deposit since they can’t very well take their work back if you refuse to pay.

Relaxing on Tattoo Artist Chair

Many artists may want you to come in for a consultation before your actual tattoo appointment, especially for large pieces. This is because larger pieces may take them some time to draw up before your actual appointment. At this time, be sure to ask any questions you may have about the ​design or the tattooing process.

Be Relaxed for Your Session and You’ll Do Great

If you take all the steps to ensure a successful experience, like choosing an artist carefully, understanding proper aftercare, and deciding on the perfect design, then you are likely to love the final outcome. The best way to ensure that your first tattoo experience is a great one is to arrive at your appointment on time, informed, and relaxed. Asking any questions ahead of time and being properly informed will help you beat some of the anxiety associated with ​having an inking session. Your artist should be willing to answer all of your questions and help you feel comfortable, including taking breaks during long tattoo sessions. All in all, you set yourself up for success if you follow all the necessary steps.

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!