Getting A Tattoo

A Brief History of Tattoos

In 1991, the body of a 5,000-year old tattooed man – ‘ötzi the ice man’ – was found frozen in a glacier in the mountains between Austria and Italy. The wonderfully preserved skin of this corpse bears 57 tattoos which are thought to have been medicinal in application, comprising a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines above the kidneys and numerous parallel lines on the ankles.

Does it hurt? – Pain Levels 1-10

This is the first question that people usually ask. The answer is yes. Having needles pierce your skin *does* hurt. But what you *really* want to know is, “How MUCH does it hurt, and can I handle it?”

It’s not nearly as bad as what you might imagine. The pain comes from the cluster of needles on the tattooing machine piercing your skin very rapidly. This sensation, however, doesn’t feel like the poking pain of an injection–it’s more of a constant vibration. You will be amazed at how quickly your body releases endorphins, (pain killers), which dullens the pain significantly.

The pain will also vary according to where on your body you get worked on. Skin right above bones (collarbone, anklebone, etc.) tend to be more painful than other areas. In addition, certain types of needles seem to hurt more than others. I personally think the needles used for outlining produce a sharper, more noticeable pain, while the needles used for shading seem to be much more like an electrical buzz (nearly painless).

Remember, you are volunteering for the experience. The amount of pain will depend on your psychological attitude.

NOTE: Do not drink alcohol or take illegal drugs for pain relief purposes prior to your tattoo sessions. Both aspirin and alcohol thin your blood and promote excessive bleeding. Aspirin also decreases the clotting of blood, which will slow down your healing as well. In addition, artists do not appreciate dealing with drunks.

Here at Offtheclothboff, we came up with the idea of creating a post totally dedicated to the most insane areas people have been tattooed and rating the pain levels out of ten..!


Body parts to tattoo


Pain Levels 1 – 10

  1. The Arm Pits – 4-5 out of 10
  2. The Face – 5-6 out of 10
  3. The Palms – 6-7 out of 10
  4. The Head – 7 out of 10
  5. The Fingers – 8 out of 10
  6. The Ears – 8 out of 10
  7. The Soles of Feet – 8 out of 10
  8. The Toes – 8 out of 10
  9. The Penis – 8-9 out of 10
  10. The Thumbs – 10 out of 10
  11. The Testicles – 9-10 out of 10
  12. The Anus – 10-11 out of 10

Should I get a tattoo in the first place?

Why do I want one?

People get tattoos for different reasons. Is it to please your partner? Is it because you want to belong to a group that has tattoos? Do you identify with a certain subculture known for tattoos? Do you want to show your independence, individuality or uniqueness?

These are all valid reasons, and why many people get tattooed. However, because of the permanency of your tattoo, try to look at yourself in five, 10, or even 20 years. What will you be doing at that time? You might be a free-spirited college student now, and a web of vines on your wrist would look really lovely. However, are you planning to work in a very conservative field after you graduate? Will others look at your tattoo in a bad way? Will you have to hide it with long sleeve shirts? Are you *willing* to wear long sleeve shirts if the environment is negative?

Do you want a tattoo of a tiger because your partner’s nickname is “Tiger,” and you love the way s/he scratches your skin? Do you think you’ll be with this person in five years? If not, how will you look at that tattoo? With fond memories, symbolizing a special period in your life? Or a shameful or painful reminder of somebody who hurt you and didn’t care for you?

You’re a headbanger (or a nose-smasher, ear-bopper or whatever) and you *REALLY* want a tattoo all over your arms just like Axl Rose, but you can’t afford a professional artist so you get your friend with the mail-order tattooing machine to do those designs for you? Or perhaps you get spider webs tattooed all over your hands (or your face, which has happened) because you want to be “different” in school. What if you decide to “straighten out” and get a real job; train as a chef or something, and then no restaurant hires you?

GETTING IT REMOVED is NOT easy, and is NOT cheap. Expect to pay $1,000 to remove even a fairly small-sized tattoo if you’re looking at laser surgery. Expect to have a noticeable ugly scar if you go with a non-laser technique. Expect to pay for every penny out of your own pocket because health insurance companies will not pay for tattoo removal. There may not be a laser surgery specialist in your area. Then think of all those laser-surgery doctors who are going to get rich off of a person’s foolishness or lack of careful thinking.

Questions you may want to consider

  • Maybe tattooing isn’t for you?
  • Maybe you shouldn’t get that £10 tattoo your friend’s been telling you he’ll give you, in his garage?
  • Maybe you shouldn’t let your buddies tattoo your hand with India Ink and a needle at this weekend’s party?
  • Maybe you should get a tattoo on your back instead of on your hand.
  • Maybe you should get a tattoo on your left wrist so it can be covered by your watch if you have to…

And maybe after reading this FAQ, you’ll think carefully about it, and make some informed, wise decisions about what to do with your body.

Tattooing can be beautiful

Tattooing can be exhilarating

Tattooing can open a whole new world for you..but make sure to do it RIGHT.

A temporary alternative?

“Temptu primarily develops semi-permanent body art. Current interests include working on a ‘safe’ and legal line of tattoo inks, airbrush body art, and Indian Mehandi (henna). I work closely with the New York Body Archive, a strange and wonderful place!”

Roy adds one of comment: “I’m frequently asked about the six-month tattoo you mention in FAQ. East Coast people say it’s available in California. But this is bullsh*t. No such animal!”

B) For some, the easiest thing to do is to simply draw on the skin with a non-toxic marker. In fact, many people who already have tattoos do this to figure out placement and design. If you want it to wash off right away, use something temporary. Crayola’s washable markers work well. I you wanna see if you can live with a design for a couple of days, try a permanent marker such as the Sharpies. They come in basic colors.

C) MEHENDI: In some countries such as India, brides are covered from head to toe with intricate bridalwear (including the face). To try to show off as much of what skin they can show, they paint their hands and forearms with something called henna. Henna, when applied correctly, stains the skin and can last several weeks. Mehendi has become popular with the mainstream, with a number of mehendi tattoo shops cropping up in some cities such as Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Part of the process of getting a tattoo is coming to terms with its permanency. It’s like losing your virginity. You lose it once, and you can’t get it back. You can neck and make out, but it’s not intercourse. If you’re afraid of losing your virginity, you have to come to terms with THAT before you can have sex.

But once you lose your virginity, you forget all about how you feared its loss, and simply enjoy having sex! 🙂

Debunking of urban folklore: Someone asked to confirm a rumour about the possibility of temporary tattoos obtainable by using a tattooing machine very shallowly on the skin, to have the tattoo last only six months or so.

Several professional tattoo artists replied with a very strong *NO*. There is no way to be able to prevent the needles from entering the second layer of skin (the dermis), where tattoo inks normally go. Further, even if the tattoo machine only enters the top layer of skin (the epidermis), you will end up with too much scarring that the tattoo will never really go away.

Considering the time, cost and pain factors, this is not an option–and no professional tattoo artist will want to experiment on you.

The Decision Process

Taking the big plunge –  Where can I find a good artist, and what should I look for in a tattoo artist?

The bane of the tattoo world is the shadowy, unprofessional person called the “scratcher” A scratcher is somebody who:

  • Does not have the proper training in either tattoo art or of running a professional operation.
  • Does not know and/or care to use responsible sterilization methods.
  • Promises to provide tattooing services for an incredibly low fee, for free, or in exchange for drugs.
  • Chooses not to apprentice through a legitimate tattoo shop because of one excuse or another (but lacks the knowledge one needs to work in, or run a professional shop.;
  • Will hurt you because they don’t know what they’re doing.
  • Will give you a permanent tattoo you will regret for the rest of your life

You should stay away with a ten foot pole

Never, never, never get work from a scratcher unless you are willing to accept all the hazards listed above.

Of those in a study by Clinton Sanders who regretted their tattoos, more than two-thirds of them regretted their tattoo because of poor quality!

Looking for an artist can be as easy as checking the Yellow Pages, or as complex as checking references, magazine photos. There are a number of ways to find good artists, including (but certainly not limited to):

Perusing tattoo magazines. While not all tattoo magazines are of the National Geographic quality, the photos will speak for themselves. Some issues highlight specific artists’ works; a good way see the type of work someone does. Use the photos in the magazines to compare with those of the artist you are interested in. These magazines have done a lot to show what is possible.

Some things to look for in magazines:

  • Style (realistic, black & grey work, tribal, etc.)
  • Placement on your body
  • Ideas for images
  • Size in proportion to your body
  • Artists whose work you like.
  • Attending a tattoo convention. Read the FAQ section on tattoo conventions for more information. You can approach this one of two ways.

You can either go to a shop because someone recommended the artist to you, or you can go in cold. For obvious reasons, you will have a little more information with you if you already know something about the artist. This may make you feel more at ease when going into a shop for the first time.

Body art enthusiast Dr. Kai Kristensen , a pathologist and a recently retired lab director of an internationally prestigious medical center in La Jolla (California), says the most important aspects of a good result are to:

  • Choose an experienced, knowledgeable performer who knows about sterilization and avoidance of infection.
  •  Avoid infection during the healing process.

With both of those bases covered, healing of either should be non-eventful and the desired appearance should be guaranteed.

What images do you think of when you think of a tattoo?

Do you think of anchors, of roses or of skulls? While these traditional images are still available, you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety you will find today.

There are two basic types of tattoos: Flash, and custom. As you can imagine, “custom” means you have a design you like that you take in with you. “Flash” is the stock designs you see on the walls of the shop.

The main thing to remember is that you’re not required to choose from the selection of flash in a shop.  You’re NOT limited to just an anchor, a rose or a skull. Remember however, that these smaller pieces of pre-priced flash are the bread & butter of many shops, since they are proportionately expensive (£75 for 20 minutes’ work, for example where an artist might charge £100 an hour for custom work). Also, the number of customers who lay out the big bucks for large, elaborate custom pieces is too small to keep a regular shop in business.

A few of the major styles of tattooing:


A style popularized by illustrator H.R. Giger, who designed the creature from the Alien movies.  Bio-mechanical work usually involves an anatomical flesh intertwined with some technical drawings of machines. A close relative of this style involves just the biological look of flesh without the mechanical parts.

Black & Grey

Refers to the colours used, this style requires the artist to have advanced shading techniques for subtlety.


Beautiful, intricate knotwork of the Celts (a hard “k”, NOT a soft “c” like the basketball team). These are much harder for artists to do, and is best done by someone who specializes in it. Also usually done in just black ink.


Big, bold pieces of Oriental images (carp, clouds, dragons, etc.) based on the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of 18th Century Edo-period Japan.

Note: It is fine to call this “Oriental” and not “Asian,” because it references an object and not a person.


Images taken from photos, best done by someone who can render realistic photographic images. Usually  done in black and grey ink.

Sailor Jerry

Traditional sailor tattoo style made famous by Jerry Collins in Honolulu

Salior Jerry Tatoos



Usually bold simple lines, simple patterns. Almost always done with just black ink.

With a good artist working for you, you can get practically any image you’d like. Accomplished artists can render portraits, wildlife, psychedelic and bio-mechanical styles with impressive results. Your main challenge is to find the artist who can best do the design YOU want.

What kind of colours can I get?

Concerned that you’ll end up with a greenish tattoo with little bits of red or yellow? Worry no more! Today’s inks run the entire gamut and it would not be terribly sarcastic to take a Dulex colour chart with you!

Most tattoo inks are metal salt-based pigments that are not made specifically to be used under the skin, and have not been approved by the FDA for this purpose. The idea is that for most people, these pigments are inert and cause no problems. Some people have been known to have allergic reactions; any reputable artist should be willing to provide you with a small “patch test” of the colours you desire.

Tattooist Uncle Bud Yates (Pikes Peak Tattooing) says some artists use acrylic-based pigments, which he feels may be more troublesome than the metal-based pigments for some with sensitive skin. Best to ask your artist first.

How to look around in the shop?

Don’t let the shop intimidate you when you first walk in. For the uninked, a tattoo shop is intimidating enough. Strange smells, strange sounds. Some shops even try to look intimidating to create a tough-guy feel. Just keep in mind that you’re a potential customer. Consider it window shopping.

The first thing you should do is to take a minute to look around. Chances are, you’ll encounter some flash (stock illustrations) stapled on the walls. These will most likely lean toward the traditional. Skull and crossbones, roses and the like.

You might also see some signs (“No minors; we ID,” “We have sanitary conditions” etc.). These signs will also be indicators of the personality of the shop owner. If the signs seem overly intimidating, patronizing or snobbish, they can be tip-offs of the shop’s attitude. Some are very friendly, with plants, aquarium fish, and signs like “Tattooed people come in all colours.”

Asking to see their portfolio

Do NOT be impressed by the flash on the wall. These illustrations are usually purchased from other artists and do not represent the work of your artist. Frankly, anyone with some experience can easily trace the outlines of these illustrations and fill in the colours. What you really need to look at is a book that contains a collection of photos of the artist’s work. Go to the counter and ask to see one. If they tell you they don’t have one, walk out immediately. You’re visiting the shop to commission a piece of art to be permanently illustrated on your skin; for the artist to tell you s/he doesn’t have samples in a portfolio is insulting.

What to look for in their portfolio?

When you do look in their portfolio, there are a few things to keep in mind. Do you see any photos of pieces that you recognize in the flash (on the wall, or in a flash book)? If so, how is it rendered in tattoo format? Before anything else, check to see that the lines are clean. Are they well-defined? Straight where they should be; not shaky or blurry? Are the borders all uniform in width? Do the colours seem true? Are they bright? Proportionately correct?

Look at the people in the book. This can be an indicator of the clientele in the shop (besides looking at the ambiance of the shop). Is there a fair mix of women and men in the book? Are they all sporting “biker” tats, or any one particular genre/ style

Again, keep in mind that anyone can stencil an outline of an illustration onto your skin. The skill in the artistry comes in the shading, use of colours and other subtle things that set an artist apart from a simple tattooist.

Do you see anything in the portfolio that is not in the flash? These are the custom pieces that the artists have done, and they should be their crowning glory. How do they look? Do you like what you see? If there is more than one artist working in the shop, and you see some photos you like, make sure to find out which artist did the work.