So think of the tattoo you are about to get as a piece of art, because that's what it should be. Tattoos are one of the most ancient forms of body art, for which you will be providing the canvas. And because tattoos have soared in popularity over the past decade, there is no shortage of tattoo "studios" more than willing to practice their artistry on you. How do you separate the best tattoo parlors from the rest?
Let me confess. I have, for years, indulged in oil painting as a hobby. I have an easel, brushes, a palette, paints and mediums too numerous to count, palette knives, and even a smock. I have won a few awards in amateur competitions, and even sold a few pieces of my work. Does that make me a professional artist?
No more than owning inks, needles, designs, and renting a store space makes someone a professional tattoo artist. Before you decide to patronize a particular tattoo parlor, learn what a successful parlor should look like. If the one you are considering doesn't measure up, take your money, and your canvas, elsewhere.
When you start looking for the best tattoo parlor, you'll be able to tell a lot simply by paying attention to your first impressions when walking in the door. If you see clutter, overflowing ashtrays, dirt in the corners and dust on the furniture, will you really be able to overlook them?
Pay attention to the quality of the tattoo designs on display. Tattoo "flash", all those design posters covering the walls of every studio, are, or should be, anyway, copyrighted artwork purchased from professional artists. Do they have the bright colors and clear definition of professional artistic prints? Can you see the copyright and the artist's name?
If the flash you are looking at appears washed-out, and you can't see any identifying marks, you may be looking at designs bootlegged from anywhere; the same people who sell traditional artwork or bootlegged movies from the trunks of their cars are perfectly capable of selling stolen tattoo designs. Any merchandise that has a market is merchandise which can be counterfeited, and the soaring popularity of tattoos has made tattoo designs prime bootlegging material.
If the shop you are visiting was willing to cheat legitimate artists out of the royalties they should be getting for their tattoo designs, will they be willing to give you full value for the money you spend on your tattoo? The best tattoo parlors offer new needles, fresh high quality ink, clean gloves, and artists who will spend all the time necessary to make sure your tattoo is the best it can be.
How is the lighting in the studio? At the best tattoo parlors, your tattoo will be done in natural light, so that you can judge how it will permanently appear. Or will it be done under fluorescent lighting, or in a dimly lit corner? Fluorescent lighting will heighten the effect of yellow and greens inks while graying the blues and reds.
If the studio's cleanliness, flash, and lighting seem acceptable, it's time to learn about their history. How long have they been at their present location and can they give you the names of some satisfied customers? Do they have a portfolio with pictures of their healed tattoos to show you? Do the artists know how to avoid scarring, or what to do if they see plasma leaking during the tattooing process? Do they even know what plasma is?
There are some terms you can throw around to find out how familiar a tattoo studio's employees are with safety regulations. Asking whether they practice "Standard Precautions" will let you know if they are in compliance with the OSHA guidelines for controlling bloodborne diseases.
Standard precautions mean that the best tattoo parlors will have artists who sterilize their packaged needles and tubes in an autoclave before opening them for use. Any equipment they use on a customer, including inks, glove, razors, ink cups, and ointments, will be discarded after sue, and the artist will wipe down the work area with a virucide, to destroy any lingering germs or viruses.
The best tattoo parlors dispose of any sharp instruments in the same way that hospitals do, in "sharps" containers, and any other materials which have come into contact with blood in biohazard containers.
The simple rule is that anything which is exposed to human blood, in the best tattoo parlors, will either be disposed of or autoclaved after use.
It may seem uncomfortable, but you want your tattoo artist to treat you as if your blood were infectious. Even though you know it isn't, you can't say the same for everyone else who has been tattooed at that particular parlor. So the best tattoo parlors will approach everyone that way. Don't take it personally.
If the person who greets you when you enter the parlor is reluctant to answer your questions on the parlor's safety practices, and can't refer you to another employee who will, scratch that tattoo parlor off your list.