My personal tips for tattoo virgins

If you belong to that shrinking breed of people who’ve never been inked, you’re probably still contemplating that oft-repeated question of tattoo virgins: Does it hurt?

[I am asked this question EVERYWHERE… in offices, on the bus, at house parties, business meetings, one middle-aged woman poked me on the shoulder to ask me this question while boarding the train at rush hour!] Everyone is curious about the level of pain. “I always wanted to get a ‘permanent’ tattoo but I’m worried about the pain,” is a dubious line thrown at me. Puhlease, if you really wanted a “permanent” tattoo, the few hours of temporary pain wouldn’t matter.

My advice: Get past the temporary pain once you’ve set your mind on getting a tat, and decide on the design. Says tribal tattoo expert Mo Naga, “You need to have some concept for your tattoo. The artist will convert your idea into a creative design. If you don’t have any idea about what exactly you want on your body, the artist will be at a loss about what to suggest and you might get something you regret.”


Amateur tattoo artists download ready designs from internet. Don’t settle for clones. Demand a custom design. It’s your right to ask your artist to draw something specially for you.

Finding a good tattoo artist is half the job done, yet there are things even the most professional artists might withhold from you. Here is what your tattoo artist might not tell you:

There is SOME pain

The pain you will experience while getting a tattoo is relative, and a lot of it is in the mind. Says tattoo artist Lama, “I’ve had body builders crying once the needle pierces the skin and middle-aged women who doze off while they are getting a tat. Also, women generally have a higher tolerance for pain.”

If you are confident in your artist and excited about the design, experts say that you’re more relaxed and the pain is minuscule. It also boils down to the skill of the artist. If he doesn’t know the levels to push the needle, is too rough or doesn’t know the level of thickness of the skin’s layers, it could cause bleeding and scarring. The tattoo needle shouldn’t make you bleed.

Asking for the shop minimum is an insult


The shop minimum at a tattoo parlour is the overhead costs that it takes to get you tattooed. Keeping the equipment clean and sterile costs money. This includes needles, ink and workstations. Asking your tattoo technician a question like, ‘What’s your shop minimum?’ can dampen his mood. Besides, bargains are for flea markets, not tattoos. You’re going to be living with this artwork on your body for the rest of your life.

Never get a tattoo in summer

Tattoo ink is made up of pigments that can fade easily when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. With the weather hot all year-round in Mumbai, you can’t deprive yourself of tattoos. So, while your tattoo is healing, cover it up. Wear clothing while walking in direct sunlight and avoid the beach.

Machine users aren’t tattoo artists

“There are many people around calling themselves tattoo artists because they know how to use the equipment,” says photo-realistic tattoo expert Sunny Bhanushali who runs Aliens Tattoo in Mumbai. The machine is just a tool, knowing to use it doesn’t make a person tattoo artist. While choosing the tattoo artist, always ask to see his finished work. A good artist will be very good at drawing, painting or any other art form. So the easiest way to find the right artist around you is to look at his tattoo portfolio and drawings.

Don’t tattoo names of anyone… besides your parent or child


Tattooing the girlfriend’s name on your arm is risky business so hold off on name tats. Brash youthfulness, saving broken relationships, and even branding a partner as yours makes name tattoos a cover-up job.

After his split with long-time girlfriend Winona Ryder, Hollywood actor Johnny Depp had to change the tattoo on his right arm from ‘Winona Forever’ to a weird ‘Wino Forever’. Bottomline: Young love ends, the tattoo stays.

All inks should be in disposable caps

Ink, cream and other materials must be divided into separate containers for each client. Visit a tattoo parlour and you will see rows of tiny white caps on a tattoo artist’s work station. Tattoo ink is placed into these caps because throughout the tattooing process, the artist has to constantly dip the tattoo needle into the colour of ink.

Like old fountain pens, tattoo needles retain a tiny amount of ink on the tips that have to be constantly replenished. “If they were to keep dipping the tattoo needle into a central, main pot of ink, it would cross-contaminate every client,” says Sunny.


Word to the tattoo virgins: Never say never. Once you get your first tattoo, it’s likely you will go back for more. Even while it’s painful, it’s controllable. Perhaps that’s why you see a lot of athletes with big tattoos — it’s a rite of passage of sorts, like running a marathon.

By Kasmin Fernandes

(A version of this post was first published in The Times of India)

Enjoyed this post on tattoos? Here are some more you might like:

  1. My relationship with tattoos – Life of Angela
  2. Girls with (more than four) tattoos are confident – Holly Riordan
  3. Tattoos, rebellion and dirty needles – Heatherland
  4. Tattoo testimony – Steward of strength
  5. Inked Abroad – Getting a tattoo in a foreign country

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