How do I pick a good tattoo shop?

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Answered by: Lawson, An Expert in the Tattoos - General Category
So you want to get a tattoo. But where are you going to get it done? Sure, you could flip open the yellow pages and choose at random, but there's no clue what you'll really be getting. There are five tips that everyone should know when looking to get a tattoo. Follow these, and it could make the difference between a beautiful butterfly on your ankle, and a festering mess you're afraid to look at.

1. Style

Drive by any tattoo shop, and you'll see that they have very distinct styles. These styles usually translate to the work that they do best. If you see a shop with paintings of the moon, sun, wolves, etc., it will be your best bet for more traditional tattoos. A shop with sailors, pin-up girls, and various monsters, you'll know they do more alternative tattoos. If you don't like the style of the shop from the outside, don't waste your time walking in the door.

2. Flash

Once you go in a promising location, look around. How much flash art is on the walls? This makes a huge difference, depending on what you're looking to get. If you want something simple, like a cross or a ladybug, look for a shop with a lot of flash art. You'll have a better chance of finding exactly what you're looking for, without having to get the artist to draw it up for you. If you have a large or intricate piece that you have pictured in your mind, avoid flash art. No flash art on the walls equals a custom shop. You'll pay more, but you'll also have exactly what you want. And, best of all, it will be original.

3. Cleanliness

I cannot stress this point enough. Cleanliness. Look around. Are the floors clean? Walls? Counter-tops? Trash taken out? If the answer is no to any of these, turn around and leave. This can make the difference between a good tattoo and a nasty infection. If the employees aren't willing to clean the shop, then there's a good chance that they don't have the obsession with cleanliness that every artist worth their salt should have.

4. Portfolios

So the shop has passed all the previous tests. Now, you're ready to find the artist best suited for you. Ask to look at the artists' portfolios. These are collections of pictures of their best work, and sometimes include art. Look at the lines, the coloring, and the style. Pick an artist that matches the style you're looking for. If you're looking for an old-school style, don't go with an artist that does amazing Asian-influenced work.

5. Word of Mouth!

At the end of the day, the best way to find a good shop is word of mouth. Ask people with great tattoos where they got them done. You will find that people become very devoted to particular shops and artists (I've flown from Colorado to Alabama just to be tattooed by my artist). If enough people have wonderful work from one shop, it's probably a good tattoo shop. Would you recommend a restaurant where you got sick? Same goes for tattoo shops.

If you follow these five simple rules, you will end up with a tattoo you won't be embarrassed by. However, make sure that you truly love what you get. It will be with you for a long time, and that butterfly flying through a sea of stars on your lower back may not be so cute 45 years from now. But at least it'll be done well, as long as you pick a good tattoo shop.

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