Just as each tattoo is unique, so too are the shops and studios in which they’re created. Whether you’re a seasoned collector of body art or a newbie looking to get inked for the first time, understanding the way these establishments run will help you navigate them more effectively.
Everything from tattoo jargon to etiquette in the shop, this is a solid list of the details you’ll want to know when getting a tattoo.
Whenever you’re ready to get your new ink, contact us at The Honorable Society.
How the Best Tattoo Shops Operate
It usually starts with a consultation, which is a crucial part of determining the customer service of the shop. They should take the time to discuss your tattoo ideas, interpret your vision, and design a unique piece that speaks to you. They’ll also educate you on the process of getting a tattoo, what to expect, and the ongoing commitment of having and maintaining your new ink.
We have an article on how to identify the best tattoo shops that is helpful if you’re looking for more specific information about sifting through your options.
Here are a few of the stand-out features of top-tier shops:
The best tattoo shops operate with an incredible level of professionalism and openness. There’s a focus on delivering excellent customer service by making clients feel comfortable and heard. Staff members are welcoming, patient, and happy to answer any questions you may have, whether it’s about their procedures, prices, or aftercare instructions.
What’s more, tattoo artists in these shops are typically highly skilled and experienced. Having spent years honing their craft, they can produce a wide range of designs, from simple line work and color fill to intricate details and custom pieces. As such, they often have large portfolios of their work available for you to browse and draw inspiration from. You also should be able to see evidence of their skill on Instagram–theirs or the shop’s.
When stepping into a quality tattoo shop, you’ll immediately notice the cleanliness and organization of the space. Getting a tattoo should never have you questioning whether your skin is safe. In these establishments, maintaining a sanitary environment is paramount to ensure customer safety and comply with health regulations. So, you’ll often see sterilization equipment, clean tools, fresh gloves, and disposable needles, demonstrating the shop’s commitment to hygiene.
The best tattoo shops ensure that your tattoo process is a good one, from the moment you walk in till you leave their store with your new piece of body art. Their level of service, skill, and professionalism sets them apart and makes them worth every penny spent.
If you’re looking for a quality tattoo shop that has all this and more, that’s us. Check out our reviews on Yelp, the testimonials don’t lie.
Etiquette When Getting a Tattoo: Do’s and Don’ts
When you’re getting a tattoo, it’s important to respect the artistry, the space, and the people working there. If you’re new to the tattoo culture, there might be some nuances you’re unfamiliar with. For a more exhaustive list, we have a helpful article about all the do’s and don’ts as a tattoo client.
- Your research: Not all tattoo shops or artists are alike. Know what type or style of tattoo you want and seek out an artist and shop that specializes in that style. From Japanese traditional to American traditional, black and gray work to color realism, many artists have a niche.
- Come prepared: This doesn’t just mean knowing what you want, but also bringing any reference images or drawings that can convey your idea to the artist. Every detail helps.
- Be respectful: Tattooing is a form of art, and art takes time. If your design is intricate or large, anticipate multiple sessions. Understand that good work can’t be rushed, and be patient. It’s also important to respect their skill. They know what it takes to keep your skin safe during the process and how to achieve the design you’re looking for. Trust the process.
- Do not come under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s unsafe and disrespectful to the artist. Plus, alcohol thins your blood, which can lead to excessive bleeding during the tattoo process.
- Do not haggle over price. Artists charge based on their skill, complexity of work, and time. If you can’t afford a tattoo, save until you can.
- Do not bring a crowd. Unless requested by the artist, a tattoo shop is not a place for a party. Typically, you should bring at most one friend for support.
These do’s and don’ts are especially important if you’re a first-timer. We have an article whole bunch of recommendations if you’re looking into getting your first tattoo.
What’s the Difference Between Retail Shops and Private Studios?
When it comes to choosing between a retail shop and a private studio, it all boils down to your personal preferences, the complexity of your design, your budget, and the actual experience of getting a tattoo that you want. No matter what, you’ll need to make sure you’re finding a reputable place. To figure out what scenario is best for you, read our article about retail shops vs private studios.
- Retail Shops: Thriving with a more communal vibe, they facilitate a customer base that seeks everything from quick walk in tattoos to larger, fully customized designs.
- Private Studios: These are perfect for those seeking a more intimate and personalized experience by getting a tattoo with a certain artist who puts a strong emphasis on a particular style.
Private studios are more “exclusive” and require appointments. These studios offer a more personalized experience, often focused on detailed custom work. They’re usually home to individual artists and appeal to clients who want more unique, intricate, and complex tattoos, valuing originality and customization. Here, clients typically have to reach out directly to the artist to set up the appointment when their books open, discuss the design, and agree on the price. This can often be a more expensive experience getting a tattoo but rewarding, nonetheless.
Meanwhile, retail shops accept a wider customer base. You can often get the same skill with artists here, save for the private experience, and with easier scheduling. These are perfect for anyone who wants to incorporate multiple styles on their skin or is thinking of getting a tattoo sooner rather than later. You will have the same consultation time and the same amount of attention given to your design ideas.
Can I Just Walk In?
Let’s address a common question: “Can I just walk into a tattoo shop?” The answer is that it depends on the shop. Most retail tattoo shops welcome walk ins or have same-day appointments available. They are able to cater to spontaneous clientele, or those who may not know exactly what they want and prefer to browse flash art for inspiration.
However, this can largely depend on the specific shop and the uniqueness and complexity of the proposed design. Larger and more intricate tattoos generally require advance appointments and consultations, so it’s always wise to call ahead or check the shop’s guidelines online.
Private studios, on the other hand, function differently. They are typically operated by individual artists or small teams who prefer a more personalized and quiet work environment. In these cases, appointments are typically required, and walk-ins are rarely (if ever) accepted.
We suggest reading more about how walk ins work before you go in for one and always make sure the shop actually accepts walk ins!
Common Terms Used in Tattoo Shops
Before you hit your favorite tattoo shop, it’s essential to acquaint yourself with common terminologies that you’re likely to encounter. This way, you’re well-equipped to understand your artist’s language, speeding up the process and enhancing your overall experience.
Books Open vs Books Closed
In the world of private tattoo studios, you may encounter terms such as “books open” and “books closed.” These are critical terms in understanding how an artist operates bookings and consultations.
“Books open” simply means the tattoo artist is presently accepting new projects and is open to consultations. Oftentimes, their books may be open for a limited time only. This can mean they’re accepting requests for any period they choose; sometimes it’s just the next 12 hours and others it’s until they have 6 months booked out. This is the appropriate time to submit requests to them however they specify they’d like to receive them, usually via email or Instagram.
An important note is that, if an artist is in higher demand, they may say there’s a preference for particular types of projects or only their own art.
On the other hand, when an artist says their “books are closed,” it signifies they are currently not accepting new requests, either because their schedule is fully booked or they are taking a break. Of course, the duration of how long the books remain closed varies from artist to artist. During this time, your patience is appreciated. Remember to keep a look out for updates on their booking status and seize the opportunity once books re-open, as spots can fill up rapidly.
It is essential to know that it’s generally considered best not to inquire until an artist’s books are open or you run the risk of your message being discarded. Response times for artists can be very slow, so patience is key in all aspects.
We like to think of that as a brownie point for retail shops with an easy booking system or a receptionist as the booking process may be easier and more responsive. Not to mention, our books are open! Schedule a consultation with us today.
It’s important to note that you might hear things said in different ways depending on the shop, but here are a few terms specific to tattoo shops that you might hear:
- Flash: Pre-drawn tattoo designs that are displayed in the shop for customers to choose from.
- Line work: The outline of the design.
- Shading: The process of adding depth and dimension by using varying degrees of color.
- Color saturation: Refers to the intensity and richness of the colors in a tattoo.
- Script: Refers to text or lettering within a tattoo design.
- Stencil: The outline or transfer of the design onto the skin before tattooing.
- Healing process: Instructions and care for tattoo aftercare to ensure proper healing. We’ve got a great article about the tattoo healing process if you want to be completely savvy.
- Touch-up: Additional work done on a tattoo to fix or enhance certain areas after it has healed.
- Custom piece: A unique and personalized tattoo design created specifically for a client.
- Sleeves: Tattoos that cover a person’s arm extensively, often from shoulder to wrist. Can be referred to as a “leg sleeve” if they’re covering the leg instead.
How to Prepare for Getting a Tattoo Consultation
A tattoo consultation is a significant step in the process. Approaching it with the right level of preparation can help to ensure a smooth process and the best possible result.
Before setting foot in the tattoo shop, make sure you do your homework. Know what tattoo styles you’re interested in and have a few reference images handy. Pinterest is perfect for this but we also encourage you to take a look at our work as we have tons of clear examples of various styles. This will make it easier to explain your vision to the artist and allow them to gauge what it will take to bring it to life.
While it’s vital to know what you want, you should also be flexible. Your tattoo artist is a professional with an understanding of what will or won’t work on your skin. If they propose modifications to your design, listen and consider their advice.
Remember, a consultation is exactly that – a time to consult with your artist. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, be it about the process, hygiene practices, pricing, pain management, or aftercare.
How Do Tattoo Shops Handle Custom Design Requests?
If you’ve dreamt up a unique design or even have a small idea of what you want, you’ll be excited to know that many tattoo shops are more than equipped to bring your vision to life. The process of requesting a custom design differs from shop to shop, but a typical outline goes something like this:
- Initial Consultation: During the initial consultation, you will discuss your tattoo idea with the artist. They will ask about your design, where you want it placed on your body, and any specific details you require. This meeting is generally free and gives you an opportunity to feel out the artist and shop’s vibe.
- Booking and Deposit: If you decide to continue with your chosen artist, you will need to book your tattoo appointments. Often, a deposit is required. This deposit not only secures your appointment but also compensates the artist for the preparation time required.
- Sketching and Review: Your artist will draft a sketch or digital rendering based on your ideas. After it is done, you’ll be invited to review the artwork and provide feedback. If necessary, adjustments can be made to ensure the design perfectly aligns with your vision before proceeding.
- Final Approval and Tattoo Application: Once you’re absolutely satisfied with the design, it’s time for getting a tattoo! Your artist will apply the tattoo, taking care to ensure your comfort throughout the process. Aftercare instructions will be provided to promote optimal healing.
Whether you’re picking a design off the wall or creating a piece from scratch, the most important factor is that you feel heard, respected, and comfortable in the tattoo shop. Every artist will have a different process—some might present sketches at every stage, while others might include color studies—but the key is to establish a clear line of communication from the start.
What to Expect During a Tattoo Appointment
When you’re ready for your tattoo appointment, there are certain things to keep in mind to make the experience of getting a tattoo as smooth as possible.
First and foremost, your skin should be clean and healthy. Avoid sunburn, cuts, or irritated areas near the spot where your tattoo will be placed. Any such conditions can complicate the process significantly.
Things to Do the Day of Your Appointment:
- Hydrate and eat a full meal: Tattooing can be physically taxing and hours long, you want to avoid feeling weak or faint during the process.
- Wear suitable clothing: The area where you’re getting your tattoo should be easily accessible, your clothing should not obstruct the artist.
- Bring your ID: Most tattoo parlors require legal identification to confirm you’re of legal age.
- Arrive on time: Just like any other appointment, punctuality is important to keep the business running smoothly.
Upon your arrival at the shop, the artist will typically provide a consent form. After reading through and signing the form, you’ll decide on the design (if you haven’t done so already).
What Follows Can be Broken into Four Steps:
- Stenciling: The artist will sketch out your chosen design and create a “stencil,” which is an outline of the design that will serve as a blueprint for your actual tattoo.
- Placement: The stencil is then applied to the skin. You’ll have the chance to approve the exact location of the stencil before the tattooing starts.
- Tattooing: The inking process begins. Depending on the size and complexity of the artwork, this may take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours-long sessions.
- Aftercare: Upon completion, your artist will bandage your new design. They will also provide you with instructions on how to care for your new tattoo, including cleaning and healing processes.
Remember that each tattoo shop operates a bit differently, and there may be subtle variations in the process. The most important thing, always, is that you’re comfortable with both the artist and the environment. This will ensure that the experience of getting a tattoo is a positive one from start to finish.
Looking For the Best Tattoo Shop?
We hope you’ve got a good understanding now of how a tattoo shop and its appointments operate. If you’re ready to the full experience of getting a tattoo, schedule a consultation with us.