Tattoos are a fun and unique way to express yourself, but they are also permanent, and therefore require some serious thought and consideration. A great tattoo that you will enjoy for the rest of your life takes a lot of planning. It may seem like you can just walk into any old tattoo shop and ask for the image you have in mind, but it is not always that simple. Planning is crucial, and there are many steps you should take.

           How do you plan for a tattoo? The basics are simple. Consider your idea carefully. Think about it for a while and make sure you love it. Next, do lots of research, ask lots of questions, and find the right artist and the right shop.  

           The planning process can seem long and grueling, but it will be well worth it in the end. Bad tattoos can be a terrible eyesore and a terrible reminder of a bad experience. You want to go into your tattoo armed with as much knowledge and preparation as possible, to ensure you leave with a quality piece of artwork, as well as a positive experience. These steps will help you through the process and give you the direction you need to properly plan your tattoo.

Step One: Solidify Your Idea

           Don’t rush into any design. Give it some careful thought, and perhaps sleep on it for a few weeks or even a few months. If you still like an idea after several months of thought, chances are, you will not regret getting it tattooed. Once you have decided on an idea and you know you want it tattooed, try to come up with some reference material. You don’t have to draw the entire thing out exactly as you want it. A good tattoo artist will be able to take your ideas/thoughts/visions and turn them into something tangible but having something to work with will help them know exactly what you want. A sketch of your idea is helpful if you can manage, but even a few photos from the internet will help. It is not recommended that you try to outright copy a tattoo that another person already has, but some examples of your general idea or theme are not a problem.

plan for a tattoo

Step Two: Consider Placement

           Placement is not something everyone thinks about right away, but it is an important factor. You may be envisioning your dream tattoo on the side of your arm, but in reality, it may not be able to fit. Large designs with lots of detail will require a larger surface area so that the detail will be readable. There are also certain parts of the body where a design simply will not look good. Ultimately it is up to you where the tattoo goes but be open to what your artist has to say. They are the expert, and they know what will look good.

Step Three: Research

           If you have never gotten a tattoo before, researching the process is critical. Not all shops do things properly, and you need to know what to look for. Learn about the health and safety protocols that all shops should follow and know what to look for in terms of cleanliness and professionalism. It is also a good idea to have an idea of the level of pain you can expect, based on your desired location. Everyone has a different pain tolerance, but ribs will always be more painful than the thigh, for example. Reading about other’s experiences will give you an idea of what to expect, and you won’t have any surprises on the day of.

           It is also a good idea to research some shops before deciding where to get it done. Read reviews on some shops in your area and get an idea of which ones are best. You can do some preliminary research on artists as well. Most shops will have artist portfolios posted on their website and/or social media. There are many different styles of tattoos, and artists will specialize.

Step Four: Visit Some Shops

           Once you have found some local shops that have a good reputation, it is a good idea to pay some of them a visit. This gives you a chance to see for yourself if they are clean and well-run and get a sense of the vibe they put out. If you get a bad feeling at any shop, you know to rule them out.

Step Five: Ask Questions

           Once you have chosen the shop you want to use, don’t be afraid to ask all your questions. A tattoo is a permanent decision and should not be taken lightly. There are no stupid questions when it comes to your health and safety, so make sure to get all the information you are after. If anyone gives you a hard time for asking questions, it may be a good idea to find another shop.

Step Six:  Find Your Artist

           If you have asked all your questions, and decided on a shop, it is time to choose your artist. Some artists are quite versatile, but most of the time they will specialize in a handful of styles – or sometimes just one. It is important that the artist who does your tattoo has experience in your chosen style. You probably don’t want an illustrative artist doing your black and grey realistic portrait! The shop will be able to help you with this. They will suggest an artist or two, and it is up to you to talk to them and make sure you are comfortable.

planning a tattoo

Step Seven: Book a Consultation

           If you are comfortable with your artist and find that you get along well with them, it is time to book a consultation. Consultations will usually be included in the cost of your tattoo, and they are an important step to make sure you are happy with the design. During the consultation, you and the artist will talk more in-depth about your idea. They will ask their questions, look at your references, and draw something for you. Don’t be afraid to vocalize your opinions and desires. If there is something you want changed about the design, say so now. If you remain respectful, your artist will not be offended if you ask them to make changes to the design. This is going on your body forever, they want you to be 100 percent happy with it!

Step Eight: Prepare for the Cost

           Lastly, be prepared for the cost of a tattoo. Tattoos are an investment, and good quality work is not cheap – and you don’t want it to be! Cheap tattoos rarely equal good tattoos. Once the design is confirmed, the artist will give you a quote on the price before you commit to anything. The artist may charge by the hour, in which case they will be estimating how long the tattoo will take them. Alternatively, they may simply charge a flat rate for the design, once they know what it is. Regardless, do not try to haggle once they tell you the price. Either agree to the price and go ahead with the tattoo or politely decline if you don’t think you can afford it after all. Also, be prepared to tip. It is standard to tip your artist at least 15%, though many will do more especially on a very large or complicated piece.


           Tattoos are fun and exciting, but don’t go in blind! Know what to expect and do your research. Follow these steps and make sure you have as much information as possible. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you are not comfortable, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you want something on the design changed! Go in prepared, and be ready to leave with a beautiful, unique piece of art that you will be able to enjoy for the rest of your life.

Additional Questions:

How Long Will a Tattoo Take?

           The answer here will vary depending on your design. A small, simple tattoo can be done in under an hour. Larger, more complicated designs can take many, many hours. Some tattoos, such as an arm or leg sleeve, may take up to 24 hours or more in total to complete, which will need to be broken up into multiple sittings. The average length for a sitting is usually between five and six hours, although if you and your artist are both up for it, longer sessions can be arranged. Some people take their big tattoos slowly and complete it over several weeks or months. Others will do their sessions back to back and have a large tattoo done within a week.  If you are getting a larger tattoo, it is ultimately up to you how quickly it is completed.

Can You Reduce the Pain of a Tattoo?

           Tattoos are painful, there is no avoiding it. Some locations will hurt more than others, but it will always hurt. That being said, there are some things you can do to minimize the pain a little bit. Tattoos are hard on the body, so make sure you are well rested on the day of your tattoo. Going in tired and sleepy will only make you more sensitive and susceptible to pain. It is also a good idea to fuel up and eat a good meal before going under the needle. Lastly, if you are really afraid of the pain, you may be able to use a numbing cream on your skin. If this is something you want to consider, speak to your artist about it beforehand, and see what they recommend.