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5 Things to Know Before Getting Tatted Up

What you should know before the ink dries.
Tattoo artist: Jeremy Sutton

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Whether you're rewarding yourself for working hard in the gym or you want to express yourself through body art, committing to a tattoo is a big decision.

Guys have enough trouble choosing a barber. But the decisions, or the mistakes, you make in a tattoo artist's chair will last you a lifetime. Or at least as long as it takes to save up for laser removal surgery. The trick is not only to be sure of what artwork you want inked onto your skin but also to make sure the work is top-notch. So, we enlisted the help of Matthew Marcus, tattoo artist and owner of Three Kings Tattoo in the the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, NY, to help us make a list of the things to consider before venturing into a tattoo parlour—because you're not just tatting "Mom" on your forearm anymore. 

Men's Fitness: What are the most important things a client should know before entering a shop?

Matthew Marcus: Do your research. Know your shop and know your tattoo artist. A good shop is not hard to find, and when you do, allow yourself to trust your artists. Like a doctor, we know what we're doing and talking about. When we give you advice on size, placement, design, or color schemes, it's for a reason. Ask questions. Get the tattoo you want to get but also be willing to compromise.

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make before coming in or after getting a tattoo?

One of the biggest mistakes people make is price haggling. If you've done your research and find yourself in a reputable shop, then you should feel confident that you're going to get the best tattoo possible. Tattoo shops are not flea markets, and I don’t know anyone who wants to go to work and make less then what they normally make. Asking for a discount or lesser price is the same thing as your boss asking you to work for two dollars per hour less than your wage for a day. Also, you're getting something that will last for the rest of your life. If people are willing to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on shoes, clothes, and food, don’t bargain for something that will be a permanent part of your body forever.

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Outside of keeping your tattoo lubricated and shielding it from the sun at first, what are some things people can do to keep their tattoos looking fresh longer?

A few things you can do to keep your tattoo fresh are keeping it moisturized and using a higher SPF when out in the sun. In all honesty, just basic healthiness will help keep your tattoos fresh. Taking care of yourself and maintaining healthy skin is essential, which means eating well and keeping hydrated. It’s most important when you first get the tattoo to really take care of it during that healing period.

In terms of placement, what are some areas guys should never get inked? What are some ways guys can use placement to make a simple tattoo more creative/interesting?

I wouldn’t say there's necessarily anywhere someone shouldn’t get a tattoo. There are certain risks and ramifications to getting tattoos in certain places. For example, most palms and inside fingers are going to blow out over time if not immediately. Areas where skin is thinner or tighter requires a different touch from areas that are fattier or muscular. It’s more important to go to someone who understands how to tattoo different areas of the body the right way. There are a million different body types, and a huge thing you learn over time is how to give someone the best tattoo based on their shape, skin, and specific area of the body. It’s also important to go to an artist who knows how to draw tattoos for specific body parts. A lot of tattoo artists think you can just draw something and throw it anywhere, but that's wrong. Certain designs are most certainly meant for certain areas of the body. Doing a drawing that needs to fit into a certain space or go onto a unique area of the body takes a lot of skill and experience.

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For someone getting inked for the first time, what are some of the things they should look for in order to know that an artist does good work (i.e. shading, borderlines, etc.)?

Today’s generation is lucky because it has the Internet. Most good shops will have good things written about them in reviews on the Internet nowadays. You always want to look at a shop’s cleanliness, and everyone there should have portfolios of their specific work. You want to look for clean and crisp lines and shading that doesn’t look choppy but smooth. All the color should be solid and bright.  When you're looking at any black or gray work, check for varying degrees of weight in the shading and smoothness. Unless you’re looking for something superspecific, it’s always good to look at versatility and how long the artist has been doing it. How long has the shop been there? Have they had the same guys working there for a long time? Ask around to see what people may say about the place. Talk to heavily tattooed collectors, and they'll usually point you in the right direction.

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