Updated: Aug 18
Here are some handy tips on what to bring to your tattoo appointment so you can be prepared!
1. Directions and instructions!
Not all studios have a ‘shop front’ and are easy to find. Private studios tend to be more hidden to provide more privacy for customers and a more chilled out environment. Make sure you’ve got directions, and read any instructions the studio sent you. It can be quite a few months in between your booking and actual tattoo so it is always worth going back and re-reading what they sent you. Many studios will ask you to call once you arrive so make sure you have their number saved. Be ready to adjust a little to the environment you find when you arrive - artists tend to want to create a chilled out atmosphere to benefit customers. If you’ve come from a busy or hectic pace of life, a little readjustment may be needed!
2. Food & drink
Even for a small tattoo, bring a drink and some snacks with you. If you booked a day sitting, bring a good lunch, water, and sugary snacks or drinks. Eating a good meal a couple of hours before your appointment helps massively to get you through, and eating a proper lunch during a day sitting is essential. Sugary pop and sweets can also be your saviour and really make the difference getting you through your tattoo.
You will feel a certain level of stress as part of the tattoo process, even if you think you don’t mind the pain. Once the needles break your skin, your body responds. The nervous and immune systems both spring into action on a number of tasks. When the body experiences pain, our nervous system triggers our fight or flight response releasing adrenaline - a natural reaction which usually gives us that boost of energy we need to escape danger. After a few minutes, as the pain continues, the body also releases endorphins which act as natural painkillers. That special mix of adrenaline and endorphins is partly the reason why a tattoo can feel both awful, and pretty exhilarating at the same time. But the fight or flight response is short lived, and will be long gone, while you’re still in the chair, so that alone can leave you feeling drained.
At the same time, as soon as ink is deposited into the dermis layer of your skin, your body's immune system jumps to action. Specialised cells rush to the wound site. Their job is to start to repair the wound and protect the body from infection. As part of this process, macrophage cells recognise the tattoo pigment as an inflammatory ‘foreign body’ and surround it. Some of these cells transport particles of the pigment away through the lymphatic system, and some remain in the dermis which is how your tattoo becomes permanent.
On top of all this, there’s a chance that you could be stuck in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time, which in itself is pretty tiring. Your tattooist will make you as comfortable as they can but depending on where you have the tattoo you’ll need to be positioned in a certain way.
Hungry yet? We thought so!
Your tattooist will usually take breaks during the process too, so don’t worry about asking to stop when you feel you need to top up your blood sugar levels or hydrate.
Sealed food and drink is more practical and more hygienic. So if you rock up with your favourite starbucks in hand, you may be asked to dispose of it before going in. (Tattoo booths are usually fairly limited in size and you’ll be busy up and down getting the tattoo stencil applied and getting positioned, so plenty of opportunity to kick over or drop things).
3. Comfy clothing and layers
The number one mistake customers make is wearing restrictive clothing - and usually in white! This can make it difficult for the artist to properly access the area being tattooed.
If we had a penny for every time we've watched someone wrestle a skinny jean up to knee-level for an ankle tattoo, only for their circulation to be almost cut off. Clothing can pull or restrict your body to the extent that if a tattoo is applied with it on, and looks straight, you might well find that once you get home and remove the item of clothing, your tattoo does not look straight anymore!
Tight-fitting garments can leave impressions or marks on your skin that take time to disappear, so if you’re having a tattoo in that spot it will be difficult for the artist to negotiate that. For example if you wear a bra, and are getting a sternum or rib tattoo, it’s best to wear a soft bra if you can that won’t mark your body. Or for an ankle tattoo, avoid socks that will leave you with large ankle marks.
For some tattoos, you may be asked to remove clothing altogether, so sometimes taking a thin scarf can be a useful way to preserve modesty or keep warm - as long as it’s not getting in the way of your artist. For example, for ribs tattoos we might ask you to remove your top and bra and put on nipple pasties. But once the tattoo stencil is on and you are settled in place, we'll offer you a blanket or smaller cloth which we can tape in place to cover up a bit more if you prefer. Some studios don’t do this, so if you’d feel more comfortable having a back-up cover item, pack your own.
Expect to feel all the temperatures during your tattoo! Commonly, hot and flustered to begin with, and the increasingly colder the longer you’re sat not moving. So having extra layers with you is a good shout.
Tops that have a front fastening can be really handy - so think zip up hoodies, button down shirts, or cardigan type tops. Super handy when worn backwards to keep your front warm for example. An extra pair of cosy socks is never a bad idea especially if you've got a day sitting.
Try not to wear anything that you value very highly, as there’s a chance you’ll get ink on your clothes. Tattooing can be a messy, and sweaty process so being comfortable is key - and avoid white if you don’t want to give your tattooist nightmares!
4. Photo ID
Every studio should at least ask to see your photo ID, and most will be required to take a copy of it. This is usually a local authority requirement, and studios can be inspected at any time to make sure everything is in order. In the UK, it’s illegal to tattoo anyone under the age of 18 and there are no exceptions. Unlike piercing, which is 16, or younger if you have parental consent. Any studio willing to tattoo underage customers is risking their licence and their business, so it’s worth taking a second to wonder why they would take that risk, and if that's the safest place for you to be.
A drivers licence, or passport is ideal. ID needs to have your photo, and your date of birth on it. Drivers Licences are ideal as they also show your registered address, which is something you’ll also be asked to add to the consent form. If you know you’ve got a tattoo appointment coming up, dig out your ID in advance so it’s not a last minute scramble to find.
One thing we would add here, is that everyone changes over time! It’s understandable if your photo is old or looks a bit different to how you look now. Usually you will still be recognisable, but if you’re unsure, you can always bring a more up to date back up like a student card, a company issued ID card, or a PASS card and show both. Expired passports are ok, as long as they expired fairly recently (say within the last 6 years).
And don’t worry your photo won't be scrutinised to see if you look great - frankly, slightly funny passport photos are the norm for everyone!
For LGBTQ customers whose gender identity, and/or name has changed since their ID was issued, the ID process can be a bit of an uncomfortable experience, but it shouldn’t be. Our consent forms provide space for you to tell us your name and your pronouns as they are now. If they are different to what is recorded on your ID your tattoo studio should be professional, understanding, and discreet in terms of how they approach this. Again if you are worried about it, try to bring a second form of ID.
If you don’t have a passport or drivers licence, it’s a good idea to contact the studio in advance and ask them what alternatives they would accept - a birth certificate is not accepted, as it doesn’t have your photo on it. But there are alternatives such as student cards, company ID cards, or UK residence cards if you are not from the UK.
Some artists are comfortable chatting during the tattoo process, and some prefer not to. It will depend on the artist and also the placement of the tattoo - for example a tattoo on the torso unfortunately means any chatting or laughing will make your body move a lot where the tattoo is supposed to be going, making it harder for the artist to do a good job.
If you do find that your artist is not chatty, it’s nothing personal, you can be sure that they are focusing all their energy and attention on making your tattoo look great.
Having some earphones with you so you can play music, listen to podcasts or audio books, or watch something on your own device is a good option to have, especially if you don’t like the music at the studio! It can help to calm your nerves and get you settled in, or just pass the time if you’re going to be there for a while. If you don’t have much data, or are unsure if there will be wifi, download a few episodes of something in advance so you’ve got a back up.
Some studios still require customers to wear a mask while in the studio. If they do, they should provide one for you. But it’s best to have one anyway just in case.
7. Charger or power bank
It’s likely your phone battery will take a hammering so make sure you’re not left at the end of the day unable to check train times, let friends or family know you’ve survived! or call yourself a taxi :)
8. Stress balls, Fidget and Finger Toys
Sounds silly, but can be a lifesaver. Some studios have a stash of stress balls, bean bags and fidget toys for customers, but if you're not sure, feel free to take your own. They are a great way to keep your mind a little busy and a little calmer and can help you stop tensing up as much if you have something to squeeze. They can be especially useful if you happen to be neurodiverse so if you already know your favourite fidget, bring it along. Just make sure it’s clean, and not going to be too disruptive like causing lots of movement or flying across the room!
9. Anti-bac wipes
The artist will be working to keep the whole tattooing area sterile so as not to transfer any bacteria to your fresh wound of a tattoo. For each new customer the area will have been disinfected, and covered in protective barriers. This means whatever you bring with you into the tattooing area, can potentially contaminate it. So for example, you might be asked to remove your shoes so they don’t transfer bacteria onto the tattoo bed.
Phones, kindles, books, etc are all going to bring bacteria with them - electronic hand-held devices are especially notorious for this. Wiping down anything you want to bring with an anti-bac wipe will be welcomed by the artist but try to do this as you're waiting to be called in, so you’re all ready.
10. Information about medication you’re on
Why are they all so difficult to pronounce, and even harder to spell? Make sure you have the names of any medication you are taking written down somewhere ready for your appointment. For example, some anti-depressants have a secondary effect of thinning the blood, which can make the tattooing process more difficult or too risky. So we’ll need to know any medications that you’re on and check them out to avoid putting you at risk. This information will be kept confidential and any discussions with you regarding this should be discreet.
Every studio is different in terms of how they like to be paid. Cash used to be king. However nowadays studios tend to be more aware of things like hygiene, and personal safety for their customers. There are lots of digital options available now which are safer and more convenient.
Tattoos are expensive, so walking around carrying large sums in cash is not the safest. A lot of studios will now prefer bank transfer, and most also have card machines and will accept Apple Pay. Some may prefer Paypal. The best thing to do is find out what the studio you’re going to prefers, and if there’s any additional charges for paying a certain way.
Bear in mind that you may need a little extra money with you, especially if you’d like to buy aftercare cream. Studios often have prints and original or hand-made items for sale too, so it's good to take some extra in case you see something you like.
If you can afford to, and you've had a great experience, tipping your artist is always appreciated. Bear in mind that somewhere around 20-50% of the cost of your tattoo will go to cover the artist's expenses, such as all the tattooing materials during the process, chair rent, travel etc.
Make sure your banking/PayPal apps are up to date and you have enough data to use them.
Every studio is different and this is just a round-up of what we thought would be useful. If you’re unsure, just ask, and the studio you're going to should be happy to help.