How to choose the right tattoo for you, according to tattoo artists

Chelsea Ritschel

Deciding what tattoo to get is a life-changing decision - after all, without expensive and painful removal surgery, they're going to last forever.

And while getting an important name or date etched on your skin will likely remain poignant for years to come, if you're going to get creative there are a number of factors to consider.

For those that already have something in mind - perhaps stolen from Pinterest - it is typically a good idea to have an artist give a second opinion, and then put a unique twist on the design.

After all, like the once-unique infinity sign or Harry Potter symbol, tattoos are bound to become repetitive.

For those who want a tattoo but have no idea what to get, we spoke to tattoo artists for some advice.

Dina Dicenso, the owner of Gristle Tattoo in Brooklyn, New York, told The Independent that you should start by finding an artist whose work you like.

“For people who don’t know what design to get, they should start by finding an artist whose style they love and ask to see their books of work for ideas,” she told us. “Artists usually have sketchbooks with lots of designs they’ve drawn up that they would love to tattoo on prospective clients.”

However, Dicenso does admit it is ideal to at least have a rough concept of what you want tattooed on your body.

“Ideally, it’s best to have at least a general idea of a theme or elements to include in the piece and then work with the artist to customise it into a piece the individual will be happy with in the long-term,” she said.

Luki from Good Times Tattoo in London also advises doing some research beforehand before committing to a tattoo.

“We could suggest thousands and thousands of designs, but ultimately, it needs to be something they will be happy with forever, so it’s not something to be rushed into,” she told us.

Once you have decided on the type of tattoo you want, choosing an artist is the next step - which requires careful consideration.

While most artists are adept at tattooing the basics - flowers, birds, important names - some artists are more skilled than others, especially when it comes to certain techniques such as portraits or geometric work.

Instagram is an excellent outlet to find a specialist artist whose work you like, and most tattoo artists suggest you look at their past work before deciding.

If you are aiming for a tattoo that isn’t easily seen, the ribs, behind the ear or neck, and ankle are all well-hidden spots.

The rise in fine-line tattooing also means tattoos can be especially dainty - with the artists from West 4 Tattoo telling us that fine-line tattoos are "something the everyday person can take on."

If you prefer for your tattoo to be seen, your fingers, arms, legs, chest or back are all places to consider - as they offer a large canvas for bigger tattoos or more tattoos, such as a sleeve.

For those who aren't sure, a small tattoo is a good place to start - as you can always get more or add to it in the future - for example to build up a sleeve tattoo.

If you want a tattoo but are worried about the pain, the good news is some locations are less painful than others.

For those with a low-pain tolerance, artists from New Wave Tattoo suggest avoiding the ribs, elbow and top of the foot - as well as the inner arm area, such as the inner elbow.

And the sternum and kneecaps are also likely out - as artist Kerri said they are easily the most painful locations.

If your biggest concern is uniqueness, do your research beforehand to avoid any of the common tattoo trends - which means opting out of a lower-back tattoo.

Additionally, think twice before committing to Harry Potter movie references, tourist landmarks, roses or finger tattoos - as they are all unfortunately overdone.

For those equally concerned about the type of ink being placed permanently into their bodies as they are about the design, vegan ink is worth looking into.

Although widely available, it is important to double-check with your artist beforehand that the ink they use is vegan.

According to Peta, non-vegan tattoo inks get their colour from ingredients such as bone char to insect parts.

If a vegan tattoo experience is essential to you, make sure to also confirm that the supplies such as the ointment, stencil paper, soap and razors used by the tattoo shop are vegan as well.

Fading is also something to consider before deciding on a tattoo location, so it is worthwhile to ask your artist for advice if you don't want to get your tattoo retouched.

Finger tattoos and mouth tattoos are the most prone to fading, but over time most tattoos will fade at least a little, especially if they are subjected to sweat, sun, or friction.

If you are worried about a tattoo fading in the future, use sunscreen and try to keep your skin moisturised.

This article was originally published in January 2019.