What makes a good tattoo? That will always be a matter of opinion. But what makes a good tattoo artist is a lot less subjective. Here we examine what you should be looking out for, and what you should avoid, if you’re considering a new tattoo.
Do your research
Once you’ve decided you definitely want a tattoo, and you’ve got an idea for a design, it’s important to find a tattoo artist who is capable of implementing the vision you have in your head. The best place to start is to keep your eyes and ears open. If someone you know has a design you like, ask them where they got it. It’s worth listening to anyone who recommends a registered tattoo artist, as they wouldn’t praise them if they’d had a bad experience. Equally, if someone tells you to avoid a particular artist, they should probably be crossed off your list.
Have a look at the websites and social media profiles of any tattoo artists you’re considering. They’ll all be showcasing their best work, and this will enable you to make a realistic comparison of their skills, and determine whose work you feel suits you best.
Image credit: Screenshot of Skin Fantasy’s (Burnley) Facebook photos,
Many customers leave reviews on Facebook also.
Image credit: Screenshot of Skin Fantasy’s Facebook reviews
Tattoo shows can also be an excellent means of meeting some of the top tattoo artists, who will often do live demonstrations on members of the audience. If you don’t fancy being part of the entertainment, however, you can always take their cards and take time deciding which ones you want to follow up.
Are they registered?
By law in England and Wales, tattoo artists must have a Tattoo, Piercing and Electrolysis Licence, which must be displayed in their premises. This provides proof that the artist and premises are both registered with the local council, who have the right to carry out inspections to check standards of hygiene, staff and equipment are being met. A licence is only valid in the area where the artist is registered, so if their certificate is from another part of the country, or they don’t have one at all, they should be avoided.
Image credit: Permanent Makeup
Are they qualified?
There is no standard qualification for tattoo artists; however, tattoo artists are expected to have completed an apprenticeship of two to three years with a registered tattoo studio. If they can provide proof of this, so much the better.
Don’t be tempted to let a “Scratcher” anywhere near you with a needle. They may be cheaper, but these unregistered, underground tattooists have had no training. Not only are they likely to saddle you with an unsightly design and even spelling mistakes, their lack of training and experience means that they don’t have the necessary knowledge of hygiene and safety.
What to look for in a portfolio
Once you’re satisfied an artist is registered and has sufficient training and experience, you should take a look at their portfolio to get a good idea of the standard of their work and whether it suits you. The portfolio is usually a book kept on display in their studio, featuring photographs of all their best work. Be cautious if the photographs are blurry or badly printed; a good tattoo artist will want their work to be seen in as much detail as possible. In case you’re not sure, here are a few basic technical abilities you should be looking out for:
- Their designs will be of a consistently high quality.
- Their lines should be even. If they start out fat and end up thin, unless this is part of the design, it shows a lack of competence. There should be no bumps and no joins or overlapping, as this is likely to cut too deeply into your skin.
- Solid black or block colours should be consistent, without any patchy areas. Where colours blend, this should be smooth, with no lighter areas where the colours meet. Colours should stay within the outlines.
- Their designs should be well-placed. For example, if a tattoo is in the centre of someone’s back, it should be absolutely central. Designs should also always be straight. A tattoo artist should not begin inking a design unless the stencil has been placed 100% correctly.
- Their lettering should be good. As this is one of the hardest skills to learn, it is heavily concentrated on in a tattoo apprenticeship.
If their work meets all these criteria, then it’s down to how much their work fits in with your idea of what you’re looking for. Does their portfolio contain designs similar to the one you have in mind? It’s important they can produce evidence of having completed designs in the style you’re looking for.
This is particularly important if you’re looking for a specific subject matter, like a portrait. If they haven’t got any portraits in their portfolio, the chances are they haven’t done them before, or if they have, they weren’t happy with them. Portraits should be displayed with the original photo they copied next to the photo of the finished tattoo, so you can see how good they are at capturing likenesses.
Get to Know Them
It’s pretty vital you have a consultation before you get your tattoo, to make absolutely sure that this is the person you want to ink you, and that they understand exactly what you want. The tattoo artist should be a person you feel comfortable with. Discuss your own vision for your tattoo, and whether that fits in with their style. If they suggest any changes or additions, make sure you are completely happy with them. Don’t be afraid to say no! A good tattoo artist will be prepared to listen to you, and put your vision before their own.
Safety is Vital
Tattoo artists are legally obliged to adhere to a variety of health and safety standards. It is vitally important all of these procedures are in place, to eliminate the risk of communicable diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
Before they start, they should firstly ask to see proof of age, as it is illegal in the UK for anyone under 18 to get a tattoo. Then they should establish if you have any allergies or health problems that could affect your tattoo. Following this, you need to ensure that:
- The work area is separate from the shop, and thoroughly sanitised between each client.
- Needles must be brand new, still in sterile packaging, and should only be opened in front of you.
- The tattoo artist must begin by washing their hands and putting on a fresh pair of disposable gloves.
- Make sure ink, water, ointment and anything else that has contact with your skin is not returned to a generic container after use on a previous client.
- Make sure the tattoo machine and any other reusable equipment has been sterilised in an autoclave; ask to see if you need reassurance.
- Needles should be disposed of and destroyed in a sharps container.
By law, your tattoo artist should also give you aftercare advice, such as how to keep the tattoo clean and dry, and how long it should take to heal fully.
Take your time when it comes to choosing a tattoo artist and do your research. As the old saying goes, “Only fools rush in”.
And remember, we exist because sometimes, things don’t quite turn out the way you’d hoped. We can give you that second chance 🙂
Featured image credit: Jonny Kreidler via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0