How to Choose a Tattoo Artist

Choosing a Tattoo Artist

You have a tattoo idea; you’ve thought about placement, dreamt up the color palette and styling . . . but you’ve got one problem: who are you going to trust to ink that idea onto your skin forever? There’s an art to how you choose a tattoo artist; it’s no easy feat.

For works that are really involved, like backpieces or forearm sleeve tattoos, you might be sitting with your tattoo artist for hours, so let’s hope you don’t mind their company. You need to make sure that the style of the artist you choose meshes with your idea for that perfect Egyptian or Marine tattoo. You also need to ensure that your artist listens to your needs, is safe, sanitary, and professional. Tattoos are a lifelong commitment; you want a tattoo that lasts and is of high quality.

Below, I’ll share my tips for selecting a tattoo artist. Why should you trust me to tell you how to make this huge decision? I’m a heavily tattooed lady who’s spent the last 9 years decorating her body with ink from a few select tattoo artists. Between my full sleeve, sternum, and chest tattoos, down to the teacup tattoo on my finger, I’ve spent some time under a tattoo needle. So, it’s without further ado that I happily share my insight in the hopes of making your tattooing experience a positive one.

tattooist makes a tattoo. closeup

Beginning Your Search

Your first step to finding the tattoo artist is gathering names. A simple place to start is to talk to friends and family whose body art you like, ask them about their artist and their work location. They’ll usually be happy to share! I recommend casting a wide net initially, and social media sites like Instagram are great for finding artists near you and styles you admire. Google searches for studios in your area can also broaden your search and give you ideas.

Another element to beginning your search for the best tattoo artist is knowing which tattoo style(s) you like. Are you into traditional or neo-traditional tattoos? Do you love pointillism or linework? Do watercolors and brightly colored tattoos float your boat? Knowing the style you want will make the rest of the process much easier.

Start with a larger pool to give yourself options, and don’t get overly excited about a singular artist until you’ve met them and scrutinized their work.

Reviewing Their Work

So, you’ve got a shortlist, and you want to see what other tattoos this person has done. An artist’s Instagram, personal website, or physical portfolio are all great places to start. As you explore various avenues, keep the following questions in mind:

  • Does their work appear professional and high-quality?
  • Does their work look similar to your ideas or at least represent a style you like?
  • Have they tattooed anything like what you have in mind?
  • Do they have positive reviews and a decent body of work?

You should be looking for quality work, a professional artist, and someone who’s style lines up with what you want. If you ask a sculptor to paint you a painting, you might not get the best result. If you want a watercolor tattoo or a military tattoo, you don’t want to select someone whose specialty is in pointillism or linework.

beautiful tattoo

Contacting and Meeting Your Artist

You’ve got someone in mind, or maybe a few artists, and it’s time to contact them. Be sure you go through their chosen channels. Some artists are okay with a direct message on Instagram, some prefer an email and others use booking systems. A great way to get on a tattoo artist’s bad side is to contact them about tattooing through inappropriate channels. These folks are professionals; respect their boundaries, and follow the process.

Most tattoo artists will either start with a formal consultation or drawing session or talk about the idea with you via email to make sure it’s in their wheelhouse. Your artist may require deposits for drawings and consultations.

Keep in mind, if an idea or style is outside an artist’s specialty, they may tell you no. Telling you no and encouraging you to find someone better suited is a professional response, not personal. They are trying to ensure you get the tattoo you want and that they maintain a high-quality body of work.

If you’re committing to long or multiple tattoo sessions, it’s imperative that you like your tattoo artist enough to sit with them for hours at a time. If the communication you’re receiving from the artist doesn’t seem professional or makes you uncomfortable, that might be a sign to cross that name off your list. I once left a truly beloved tattoo artist that I worked with for years because communication started lacking. I’d wait months for email replies; my appointments were double-booked and then canceled. While I loved their work and was a faithful client, it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Prioritizing Cleanliness and Safety

In pre-pandemic times, you may have been able to stop by a shop and get a visual on the space to verify its cleanliness, above-board, and to meet your artist before getting inked. This option isn’t as common these days and with that in mind, remember you can terminate the professional relationship at any point in time if you feel uncomfortable. Clean, professional spaces are non-negotiable in tattooing. They are working with bodily fluids (blood and perspiration), and there are cleaning protocols that are essential to preventing potential infections.

A professional tattoo artist will also require you to complete legal paperwork and provide you with aftercare information and recommendations for the best healing lotions for tattoos; you can also check out our list!

professional tattooer

Other Considerations

While we’ve now covered most of the basics on selecting your tattoo artist, keep the following in mind, too.

First, high-quality work that lasts usually comes at a price. Hourly rates vary by artist, but don’t be drawn in by a low hourly rate — there’s usually a reason for it.

Second, if possible, find tattoos from the artist you’re interested in that are several years old. It will give you an idea of how experienced they are and how well their work holds up over time. Did the lines bleed and crack? Are there blocks of color missing? Does the tattoo now barely resemble its original design? Some of these issues can be due to placement or improper healing.

Third, look into your artist’s touch-up policy. Most artists offer free or low-cost touch-ups within a specified period. Tattoos on hands, fingers, feet, joints, and other movement-prone locations won’t hold up as well over time and will need more frequent touch-ups.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, clear communication to and from the tattoo artist you choose is key. Communicate what you want to them, and a sign of professionalism will be timely and appropriate communication from your artist.

Tattoos can be a significant investment in skin, money, and time. As such, I highly recommend doing your research, taking your time, and investing in quality work. The effort is worth it in the long run, and few things are as permanent as tattoos.

Alright, you now have the information you need to find and choose your tattoo artist. Go forth, be discerning, and enjoy your new ink masterpiece!