Getting a tattoo should be a safe and pleasant experience — aside from the discomfort or pain you may feel when getting the actual tattoo itself, of course. Tattoos can be a great way to creatively express yourself, honor a lost loved one, or go ahead and adorn your body with incredible art from some amazing artists who can be found worldwide.
Whatever the reason, getting a tattoo is a deeply personal and intimate experience that results in some permanent modification to your skin and body. Given that a tattoo is a lifelong commitment, you’ll want to ensure (to the best of your abilities) that the experience and resulting tattoos are the best they can be. If you’re researching tattoos to get one yourself, there are some red flags to look out for before you decide.
Strange or unclear pricing from your tattoo artist should be questioned
Getting a tattoo can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and require hours of your time. A reputable tattoo artist should always discuss pricing with you ahead of time and will generally have a breakdown of cost per hour or according to the size and design of your tattoo. In other words, tattoo pricing is typically transparent.
In the spring of 2023, a TikTok user named Courtney Monteith shared a video outlining a troubling experience with a then-unnamed tattoo artist. Eventually dubbed “tattoo gate,” the woman described alleged predatory pricing from the tattoo artist, including a $180 charge for a deposit and a $1000 fee for the design and consultation for a fox tattoo Monteith wanted on her arm.
When Monteith was unhappy with the sketch she received, the artist allegedly required more money to redesign the initial graphic. Users quickly commented, warning her against getting the tattoo and paying more money. One user commented, “I’m 70% covered in ink. I’ve never had an artist charge for a concept or a consultation. RUN!!” If you are ever concerned about the pricing of a tattoo, don’t hesitate to request a breakdown of pricing or consult with another shop or artist if you need a second opinion.
Unsanitary conditions in a tattoo shop are a major red flag
When you consider that getting a tattoo isn’t a medical procedure, it may be easy to overlook and underestimate the importance of cleanliness — but sanitary conditions are required to ensure the safety of staff, artists, and clients. A tattoo is created by inserting a sharp tool like a needle into the skin to deposit ink. The use of hands and the excretion of blood and plasma should mean that cleanliness is made a priority.
The safe and sanitary handling and disposal of things like needles must be up to the standards set by the city or county where you are receiving a tattoo. How tattoo stations, chairs, and beds are sanitized should also be considered. You may also want to look into various certifications tattoo shops in your area are required to have.
If your tattoo artist makes you uncomfortable, reconsider
Because getting a tattoo is an inherently intimate experience, it’s not uncommon to feel vulnerable. Sometimes, you may be in various states of undress, making you uncomfortable. Fortunately, tattoo artists who behave professionally are generally equipped with the skills to communicate with you, make you feel at ease, and advise you on how to dress for a tattoo appointment. Though it is not a fool-proof plan, researching your tattoo artist, reading reviews, or speaking with their previous clients (if possible) can help minimize the risk of working with an artist who may not have an excellent track record.
However, if you are in a situation where your tattoo artist is making you uncomfortable through inappropriate jokes — or perhaps commenting on your body outside the context of the tattoo you’re getting — speak up and let them know you are feeling uncomfortable. If the behavior persists, you may need to speak to shop management or end the appointment. Sometimes, you may need to consider finding a new artist to take on and finish your piece so that you don’t need to return to a shop or artist that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Pregnancy may be a reason to wait to get a tattoo
If you are pregnant or considering trying to conceive, you may want to consider delaying your tattoo appointment. The process of getting a tattoo isn’t necessarily a risk for pregnant people, but the possibility of an adverse reaction could be. While the risk of infection due to getting a tattoo is relatively low, there is still a risk that could hurt your pregnancy. Avoiding things that could lead to developing an illness should be considered during pregnancy, especially since there are few studies on how getting a tattoo while pregnant can affect a pregnancy.
Alternatively, if you speak to a tattoo shop about getting tattooed while pregnant, and they disregard or minimize the potential risk, that may also be a red flag to consider. Or maybe it is a sign to avoid a shop that doesn’t try to speak to you about all the potential risks of getting a tattoo to ensure you’re informed.
If your artist is unwilling to make accommodations for you, ask questions
If you’re getting a tattoo, you may already know what you must do before, during, and after your appointment. But while some of that onus does fall on you, the client, a tattoo shop, or a tattoo artist can do several things to help ensure that your experience is as pleasant and safe as possible.
For example, you may consider it a red flag if a shop or artist is unwilling to make reasonable accommodations to ensure you are comfortable. Some of those accommodations include taking breaks to eat and drink water during your appointment, offering the option of a numbing cream during your tattoo appointment, or providing opportunities for you to cover sensitive body parts if your tattoo placement makes it tricky for those parts of your body to be covered by clothing.
When you’re not satisfied with the drawing, wait
If you’ve done extensive research on the tattoo artist you’d like to work with — based on the tattoo you want, their tattoo style, and previous work — you might assume that any idea you have for a tattoo will be executed flawlessly. However, if you find that you and the artist are going back and forth making edits to the design you’ve discussed, this may be a red flag that you shouldn’t get a tattoo. Choose someone whose vision aligns with yours!
Though misunderstanding or poor communication may be something to consider if you’re not satisfied with a tattoo sketch, you may also want to think about the possibility that perhaps your specific vision is not being understood or that you may have to simplify or edit your original idea to be better-suited for a tattoo design.
It’s taboo to copy a tattoo from another artist
Like any industry, the tattoo business has its dos and don’ts when working with a tattoo artist and getting a tattoo. One of the significant don’ts is copying or plagiarizing another artist’s work. If you have a specific design or style in mind, and it belongs to another artist, there is a slim chance that you will be able to have the same thing done by your artist.
If you only want a color tattoo in a particular artist’s style, it may be a red flag that you shouldn’t be tattooed by someone else until said artist doesn’t tattoo you. Alternatively, there are compromises to consider, like using your ideal artist’s work as a reference or inspiration for your piece from a different artist with a similar style.
Make sure you know what tattoo you want
The permanence of a tattoo should not be understated, especially if you are thinking of getting your first. While there are no rules about what your first tattoo should mean or what kind of tattoo you should get, going into it without knowing what you want may be a red flag that you should pause and think about your choice. Careful consideration is critical if you’re thinking about getting a matching tattoo.
Regardless of your tattoo’s meaning or lack thereof, getting one without knowing what you want may increase the risk of regretting your choice over time. If you haven’t had much time to give your decision some thought before committing to something so permanent — especially if you choose to get a large design or opt for a tattoo on prominent placement on your body — you may end up disliking it in the long run. While laser tattoo removal is an option, not everyone is a good candidate for optimal results, so your decision may not be easily reversed.
If a tattoo artist doesn’t guide you, take a minute
Though getting a tattoo is incredibly personal — and your choice of design or placement could be a key element in that decision — a tattoo artist’s input may help to enhance your idea and ultimately create a better piece for you. A tattoo artist should make personalized suggestions for the best placements or size options for your tattoo since they understand how to turn a flat image or design into a tattoo that works with the shape and contours of a body.
While the choice is ultimately your own, it may be considered a red flag if your tattoo artist isn’t open to suggestions or is demanding or rigid in their ideas of where and how your tattoo should be placed on your body. For the most part, the client-tattoo artist relationship should be collaborative to achieve the best results.
Rethink your design if you want a tattoo in a language you don’t speak or read.
If you appreciate different languages around the world, getting a tattoo in another language might appeal to you. Many languages have beautiful and intricate characters that may seem like an exciting way to incorporate words or quotes into your tattoo design.
However, if you do not speak or read the language you decide to get tattooed, you may be left with something that doesn’t have the meaning you intended. A TikTok creator who goes by @chinesewithlia explores this potential tattoo red flag by sharing photos of tattoos in Chinese characters that have incorrect meanings when translated into English or are simply popular menu items at Chinese restaurants. And, though it is perfectly acceptable to appreciate other cultures and languages, some may consider a tattoo in a language not native to your culture appropriative.
An incommunicative tattoo artist is a red flag.
So much of the tattoo experience revolves around communication with your tattoo artist. They are there to walk you through and assist you with decisions regarding your tattoo design, size and placement on your body, and even aftercare (which can prevent your tattoo from aging faster than it should). It is not uncommon for the relationship between a client and a tattoo artist to begin with a consultation. Consultations help to determine if the design you want is something a tattoo artist can execute according to your vision. A consultation is also usually where rates are discussed.
It should raise a red flag if an artist does not want to have a consultation before the tattoo appointment, as you likely shouldn’t enter a tattoo appointment without knowing if you can get the design you wish to tattoo or how much you may be charged. An open line of communication should also continue after your appointment as you heal. If an artist ignores or does not want to assist you, should you have any questions regarding aftercare, this is a huge red flag. Aftercare is typically a key component in discussions between tattoo artists and clients, as they want to ensure that your tattoo heals in the best way possible.
Skip your appointment if you’re not feeling well
While this may seem like common sense, it should still be noted that if you are feeling sick, it likely is not a good idea for you to get a tattoo during that time. Most tattoo shops recommend delaying your appointment if you’re sick, as you put other clients, shop staff, and artists at risk if you are contagious. Getting a tattoo while sick can also increase the risk of infection as your immune system may already be compromised.
Staying home and waiting until you feel better before putting yourself close to someone for an extended period is also a generally consistent thing to do. Because tattoo artists spend a lot of time near other people throughout the day, the spread of germs should be minimized if possible.