5 Tips for a Terrific Tattoo

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In 2003, a Harris poll revealed that 16 percent of American adults had at least one tattoo. In the Great Recession year of 2008, Harris conducted the same poll – and found the number had dropped to 14 percent. Last week, Harris released its 2012 version of the poll and found the number has now jumped to 21 percent.

Could tattoos be the next leading economic indicator?

The poll didn’t offer any insight into why tattoos are more popular now than ever. Maybe it’s reality shows like Miami Ink. Or maybe a younger generation is just more accepting. But whatever the reason, more people are getting skin art. And surprisingly, Harris says, “Women are slightly more likely than men, for the first time since this question was asked, to have a tattoo (now 23 percent versus 19 percent).”

I’m a woman with a couple of tattoos: a tiny sun on my big toe and a rather large koi fish on my lower back (insert bad joke here). I’ve also had a poorly done tattoo covered up – making me one of the 14 percent of adults who told Harris that they regretted getting at least one of their tattoos.

Since I’ve been under the ink gun three times, I can tell you there’s a right way and a wrong way to get a tattoo. Here’s the right way…

1. Select a design

When choosing a tattoo, most people either select one from the tattoo artist’s catalog or design their own. Personally, I’ve designed one of my own, and had the artist design the other for me – after all, who wants to walk around with the same tattoo other people have?

Best of all, it costs no more to bring in your own design or ask for help from a pro. But here’s what does cost more: Larger designs, or those with a lot of detail and several colors.

That shouldn’t persuade you to get something cheap, however. Get a design you didn’t really want and you’ll probably end up spending way more having it removed or altered later. (More on that below.) Instead, tell the tattoo artist how much you’d like to spend, then ask him or her to alter the design to fit the price.

2. Find an artist

Tattoo artists rent booths in tattoo parlors – much like stylists in hair salons. They pay rent and can (mostly) charge whatever rate they want, either by the hour or by the piece.

Because of that freedom, prices for the same tattoo can vary wildly even in the same city. And don’t forget that this is a skill – some tattoo artists are better than others. So price isn’t the only consideration.

That’s a lesson I learned the hard way.

For my first tattoo 11 years ago, I had picked the cheapest artist at the cheapest tattoo parlor. I paid less than $50 and got a slightly off-center, crooked Egyptian eye. A year later, I paid another artist $480 for a custom-made design to cover that first mistake – the koi. It’s been 10 years, and I still love the tattoo. (You can see the eye in the fish if you look close enough.)

You don’t need to use the most expensive tattoo artist you can find, but don’t base your decision on pricing either. Ask to see samples of the artist’s work before you decide. And be wary of anyone willing to do a tattoo for free. New artists often do free ink to build their sample catalog. Don’t be a newbie’s guinea pig.

3. Find a tattoo parlor

The tattoo parlor itself is just as important as the tattoo artist, especially if you’re at all concerned about your health. While the FDA doesn’t regulate tattoo ink, they do warn people of other potential dangers. According to U.S. News

The FDA warns about the risk of tattoo parlors transmitting viruses like HIV and the cancer-causing hepatitis C. Because of this, blood banks typically ban donations from people who have been tattooed in the previous 12 months. The FDA also warns patients that if they have an MRI scan, their tattoos can swell or burn, presumably related to the metal in some inks.

Tattoo parlors can greatly reduce the risk of health complications by properly sterilizing their equipment, banning the use of homemade ink, and requiring fresh needles. And you can greatly reduce your risk of suffering expensive and painful health problems by asking the tattoo parlor to show you their sterilization process. Don’t be shy about that – if they do a good job, they’ll be happy to prove it.

4. Living with a tattoo

Clearly, I have no problem with tattoos, but some people will. In the Harris poll mentioned above, 45 percent of those polled said people with tattoos seemed less sexy – and 50 percent said people with tattoos were more likely to be rebellious.

What does that mean for you? While public image is getting better, it’s not perfect, especially when it comes to dating and work life. If you’re still dating, your new tattoo may be a turn-off to some potential mates. And according to a CareerBuilder study we cited in Are Tattoos at Work OK? Advice for the Inked, having tattoos may hurt your chances of landing a promotion.

I’d suggest getting your new tattoo in an area you can easily cover, or choosing a smaller design. It may not be fair, but how many CEOs or high-profile lawyers do you know with a dragon tattoo on their neck?

5. Removing a tattoo

Thanks to laser surgery, tattoos aren’t forever anymore, but that doesn’t mean you should take the decision to get inked lightly. According to the Chicago Tribune, laser tattoo removal can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 – and won’t be covered by your health insurance.

You may end up paying $500 for a good tattoo only to pay another $1,000 to remove it later, so be sure to be sure about what and where before you head to the tattoo parlor.

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