So we’re assuming you’re all booked in at this point, ideally via Outline 😎, and more importantly, you’ve ticked all the boxes qualifying you as a pleasant, receptive customer for the artist thus far (we’ll write a guide for that soon).

The actual day of the tattoo is approaching. What can you do to prepare? This is a guide for anyone getting their first tattoo, or for anyone who felt they weren’t suitably prepared for their existing tattoos.

Here’s your checklist

1. No alcohol/drugs

100% avoid booze or drugs on the day of the tattoo booking, along with the day before, and ideally the day after. Alcohol and most drugs essentially thin your blood, which makes it a nightmare for the artist to actually do their work — it’s hard for them to tattoo if you’re bleeding all over the stencil. Thin blood can also contribute to a less effective healing process, so it’s best to avoid pints until a day or two after.

If you like to rely on either of these for pain relief, and you’re still tempted… seriously just don’t. Artists will instantly be able to tell, and almost all of them will likely refuse to work on you until fully sober, or not at all (losing your deposit). On the bright side, nearly all artists and shops stock pain relief sprays and alternatives that actually work for both parties. They’ll be way more effective for you, with only minor side effects for the artists. These also have the benefit of allowing you to scope the pain first, and then potentially get a helping hand halfway through the booking if you’re really struggling. Overall, first tattoo pain is nearly never as bad as people think. Grit your teeth and crack on.

2. Eat, eat, eat (and be hydrated)

Make sure you get a good, high calorie meal in before your tattoo. I’d always been organised with this one, so I almost managed to forget just how vital it is. But I had a harsh reminder with one booking last year. I’d ended up running late for a booking at 1pm, so my plan to grab lunch and snacks before going in didn’t work out. Fast forward one hour, and my body is trying to deal with lining with just one slice of toast in me (lining is the initial, 100% worst part of a tattoo — anyone who thinks shading hurts more is utterly wrong). It was absolutely awful pain, along with dizziness and a lot of sweat. I actually called for lunch before the lines were done, and after inhaling an absurd amount of pizza and chocolate, I can’t even describe how much easier the final lines were. By the time we were shading I was basically ready to fall asleep.

Tattoo days defy all the health guidelines basically. Get plenty of calories in you, embrace carbs and sugars. This is a necessity on the day, but if you can start eating a little more than average the day before, it all helps. If you have an early booking but you’re not a morning/breakfast person, honestly for your own sake, get up early and force a good meal down you regardless.

Finally, bring snacks to chow on during your breaks while being tattooed. Chocolate, crisps, Haribo… pick your sin. And stay hydrated before and after!

3. Get a good sleep

Of course this isn’t always in your hands. I’ve had tattoos following nights where I’ve simply been unable to fall asleep, and the pain does always end up feeling worse. But certainly help yourself as much as possible — get to bed early, avoid phones and TVs… you know, all the standard sleeping tips.

4. Scrub up well (but wear non-precious clothes)

Make sure you have a good shower before your tattoo. Firstly it’s just nasty for the artist if you’re not on top of your hygiene. Secondly, you want your skin to be clean before having artwork stabbed on to it. You artist will have all the required sanitising sprays and such, but it does help if you turn up clean in the first pace.

Wear comfy clothes suited for wherever the tattoo is going to go. It’s almost guaranteed that clothing around the area of the tattoo will get a certain amount of ink staining, so don’t wear anything you care too much about.

5. Know what to expect

Which is something like this:

How things (normally) go down on the day

  • You turn up (on time), let the receptionist know who you’re booked in with.
  • Your artist will show you the design they’ve put together. Or just remind you of the flash you’ve booked.
  • Then they’ll shave any hair off in the relevant area, apply a stencil on the design, and make sure you’re fully happy with the placement and size. Then it’s go time!
  • Depending on the size of the tattoo and the booking length, you’ll be encouraged to take a break or two (or literally as many as you need). Breaks work for you and the artist, as it’s hard for them to maintain concentration endlessly. Plus everyone needs to pee.
  • Once done, you’ll need to be cleaned and wrapped up! Though before wrapping, your artist will likely want to take a photo or 50. Be patient, getting a good photo with the right light can take a while. They’ll also give you their advice on aftercare. Again, we’ll likely share our thoughts on that via a proper post eventually, but generally it’s good to just follow what your artist tells you.
  • Unless you’ve booked some flash through Outline, the final step before leaving will be paying in cash. Because of this, it’s good to know roughly beforehand how much the tattoo will cost, so you can bring along the appropriate amount. If you have booked through Outline, you can embrace the modern, cashless, pre-payment experience!

Enjoy and good luck!