How To Ink: The Man’s Guide To Getting Your First Tattoo

Getting your first tattoo is quite a step. It’s a rite of passage into a world of shared experience. As soon as you have your first tattoo, you’ve got a connection with other’s who’ve been through the same process and endured the same pain. Your boss and your parents may not approve, but the world of permanent ink isn’t just for drunken sailors and people slangin dope. You see meaningful art on people of all sorts of backgrounds–and you want to stand out and cooly state something just as they are. But before you get that cryptic Japanese symbol or your grandma’s face tattooed on your bicep, it’s important you do your research before getting your first tattoo.

I’ve waited a long time to finally get some ink. Do you remember in the 90’s when people were getting those awesome tribal bands tattooed on their upper arms? Yeah, if I had gotten a tattoo at 17 that would have been it. 5 years ago I would have gotten my very own Asian script upon my arm or shoulder. What I thought was cool then I thought was cool merely because of the trend.

I want something that’s unique to me, that’s unlikely to be repeated. It’s important to me that I don’t get something inked that 10 years from now I’m not going to like anymore. Or I’ll look around and realize everyone else got it. So I made these 4 rules before I would seal the deal and get a tattoo.

First Tattoo Rules

1. Don’t get something novelty.

Make sure it means something to you. What does it say to you and about you?

Close to something or someone? Get a tattoo that symbolizes that relationship. Is there a statement that’s meaningful to you? Represent it.

Love cats? Then shoot yourself in the face and don’t get a tattoo.

2. Get something timeless.

What symbol, image, artwork or words will still hold meaning to you 100 years from now? I’m not messing around. I want to live to 120, so whatever I get better be meaningful for a longgg time.

3. It should be a reminder.

What is a life-changing moment or season in your life that you often look back at? Something that really changed you? Is there something or someone that you’d want represented as a reminder?

getting your first tattoo

Leonard has some things he’s not willing to forget.

4. Whatever the tattoo is, I have to want it for a REALLY long time.

Over the years I’ve wanted different tattoos, but then months or years later I’m glad I didn’t get them. So two years of wanting the same tattoo had to pass. Only after having wanted it this long-without changing-was I willing to commit to getting my first tattoo.

Getting Your First Tattoo Tips

So what’s next? If you’re convinced of getting your first tattoo and know what it is, here’s tips on what to do next.

Pick Your Art/Words
getting your first tattoo


Before even considering pricing,  first tattoo parlor location, or anything else, decide upon what you want. There can be wiggle room later–but know what you want. If you walk into a place saying you want a few words, but don’t know what they are or where they’ll go, you’ll frustrate your tattoo gatekeeper.

What genre of art do you want? Have you looked at at least 50 different tattoos that are just like there? Where would they located on the body? How big? Were they in color?

If you go with words–spellcheck. Show them to a friend and make sure your first tattoo is spelled right!

If you want an original piece of art drawn up just for you, gather pictures of the genre of art to show to an artist. Think of really specific words that describe what you want. Write them down, and even make a rough sketch yourself. Many tattoo artists will prefer inking art they’ve personally drawn, but they aren’t necessarily going to be opposed to doing a piece you’ve seen elsewhere.

If that all seems like a lot, don’t be afraid to keep it simple when getting your first tattoo.

Pick Your Art’s Location

Where do you want the tattoo to go? Hands, face and neck are typically a bad idea unless you’re willing to limit yourself professionally. Getting full sleeves would be pretty badass. But then you might be stuck wearing long sleeve shirts the rest of your life in the office.

I want tattoos located or arranged in unique, but not completely odd ways. Feel free to play it safe getting that “I Love You Mom” tattoo on your shoulder. Or you could have something different running down the side of your arm that people haven’t thought to place there before.

Pick Your Script (Font)

You’ve got to pick something you like. Don’t pick something you don’t. Try to find something timeless if you can. Right now we’re on the bottom end of guys getting konji or Japanese lettering for tattoos. That was pretty awesome, unique, and rare 10 years ago. Now it’s a bit of an after-statement. Don’t just follow the trend, find your own unique style that is YOU that you’ll be proud of when you’re all wrinkled and nasty.

Not Just Any Artist
getting your first tattoo

Verify the talent.

Ask around and read reviews. Make sure the tattoo parlor you go to is well-reviewed, and that you have seen the artists work. Make sure  that artist is good at the type of art you want.

If you’re going for lettering, don’t think that is simpler than art. In it’s own way, getting lettering done is more demanding and restrictive than art. Your tattoo artist will put a stencil on you for him/her to follow, but they still have to be perfect in filling it in. See the work they’ve done and make sure you’re confident in their steady hands.


Don’t go cheap


I’ll go cheap buying a car before I go cheap permanently making artwork out of myself. If there’s anything you go cheap on in life, don’t let it be on an investment like tattoos.

Depending on where you live, good work usually works out to be $100-$200 an hour.

Avoid alcohol
getting your first tattoo

Cheap is a mistake.

Drinking booze thins the blood. And you don’t want extra bleeding while you’re getting your first tattoo. It’ll only make it tougher for the artist to get the art right.

A bit of liquid confidence has made many a man make stupid decisions in his life. Don’t drink and make a permanent one.

You’re gonna suffer

Getting tattoos is not pain free. It’s going to take some pain and sweat on your part. That’s why I prefer getting tattoos in the winter. At least I won’t be doubling my discomfort.

I found this helpful Tattoo Pain Chart for you tattoo virgins out there. For getting your first tattoo, I suggest getting something small or medium sized in a lower pain zone.

getting your first tattoo

For my first tattoos I got something on my chest and upper arm. While getting inked, as the tattoo artist got closer to writing on my sternum, I was in some pain. On my upper arm, work that I got done in the fold of my arm over my veins wasn’t actually that bad. Artists are good at starting at the least painful zone, and working on up. By the time they were inking on top of my veins, I kind of was already numb.

Follow aftercare instructions

Don’t neglect to take care of your tattoo. After my first tattoos a friend of mine told me “you heal like a god.” An hour after I was inked they were convinced I’d gotten fake tattoos because there wasn’t swelling or blood. Chalk that up to a great artist.

Make sure you use baby ointment or whatever the parlor suggests you put on your tattoo–and put it on twice a day. Gently wash the tattoo each day. Expect that you might bleed a little the first night, but beyond that bloody sheets shouldn’t be a problem.

Getting your first tattoo?

If you’re getting your first tattoo, don’t fear. Know what you want. Want it for a really long time. Do your research. Look at a wide range of art. Know that it’s meaningful, save up some money, find your artist and seal the deal.


  1. Good post Todd! My wife has been on me a while for us to get a tattoo together. She got a small one before we were married and wants to get one with me. I tend to be of the opinion that if God wanted it there then He would’ve put it there. 😉 I told her the post title actually and that did not help matters. Who knows…maybe someday.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      I think it’s great your wife is the one pushing you to get tattoos together!! What does she hope you both get? Something matching?

  2. “Love cats? Then shoot yourself in the face and don’t get a tattoo” Lol, nice.

    I have several tattoos. The gang symbol was of course the stupidest thing, which cost A LOT of hard saved money to get removed later on. But I don’t regret my other tattoos, they just become part of who you are.

    I did go with the trend and get the armband barbed wire tat and I still think it’s awesome. So that trend worked out good for me. I’ve got a shamrock on my arm that’s sweet and I still like. Your advice about thinking it out for a long time before getting it done is GREAT advice. There’s been a lot of other stuff I’ve wanted over the years and man, I’m glad I didn’t do it right away because I’d have stuff on me that I really don’t want anymore.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Man how much does tattoo removal really cost? And is it as painful as they say?

      One thing I think is cool about tats like the arm band, is that in 50 years that’ll be our eras classic tat. Kind of like an anchor or something like that. It’ll become immortalized I’m sure.

  3. I can’t get one right now, because I depend on the income I make from donating blood plasma. But I want to get the initials of my hometown of New Egypt, NJ. Home is very important to me, and I’ve missed it every day since moving 1800 miles away nearly 4 years ago. I’ll probably go with a traditional spot, like upper arm. Although if shoulder is really one of the lowest pain spots on the body, I’d do that instead.

    Odd that the shoulder, wrist, and ankle would be low pain spots. I always heard that bony areas were more painful.

    How does hair affect things? I imagine you would have to shave the area where the tattoo is going, but will the hair growing back affect healing? This is probably the most important question for me because, well, the family joke is that we are part-gorilla. 🙂

    • Todd Mayfield says

      You most definitely don’t want to lose your gorilla-ness.
      They do have to shave the area, even on a lady, when inking a tattoo. But the hair grows back unobscured. I just got two tats and my hair is coming back and not messing with healing. Maybe it’s a little prickly/itchy.

      Does getting tattoos somehow affect whether or not you can give plasma or donate blood?

      That is odd that the diagram points to low pain on the wrist/hand. I imagine that to be pretty freaking painful. I think the pointer down low is to the top of the foot, not the ankle.

      • I don’t know about blood, but for plasma, you cannot donate if you have gotten a tattoo or piercing in the past 12 months due to concerns about contracting a disease through the needles. It is one of several factors where I believe they are much more cautious than they ought to be, considering the health precautions taken by tattoo & piercing professionals.

        • Todd Mayfield says

          Ah, that makes a lot of sense. The tattoo industry has really been sterilized over the last 10-20 years, but that decision by the health industry still makes a lot of sense (to play it safe).

  4. Man, you certainly know a lot about tattoos! I’ll have to say that I don’t have one and I never plan on getting one. What you may think is pretty cool now certainly won’t be cool (and definitely won’t look cool) when you’re 50. That’s just my thinking though…I know they’re popular and becoming more-so every day.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      Yeah that was my thinking for a long time. That whatever I think is cool now I wouldn’t want in 20 years. But that’s why I’ve decided on something not trendy, and had wanted it for 2 years straight. In 50 years we’ll all look terrible anyways so I’m not worried about the state of my tattoos haha.

  5. My very first (and only, so far) tattoo was on my foot and if it was in a 5 on the pain-o-meter, I will welcome many many more tattoos because I barely felt anything (which many people can’t believe because it’s pretty much the entire side of my foot

    • Todd Mayfield says

      The artists at the shop told me it’s pretty clear how much higher the pain tolerance of a woman is. There were two girls there getting tattoos on there ribs, and it wasn’t that big of a deal to them. The artists said guys are usually baring breathing when they get inked on that spot! So I very much can believe your tattoo toughness!

  6. Great piece of information stated on your site . Its very beneficial for the people who like to get there body inked.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Excellent post and love the location spots, you missed out the collar bone! 🙂

  8. Your post was very helpful and informative! I’m planning to get my first tattoo on my 18th birthday (in a month!). It’s not a recent decision so don’t worry ahaha.

  9. Ive wanted a tattoo of a phoenix on my side for a while now, any suggestions?

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