Where you get your tat is as important as what you get inked on your skin. A tattoo studio is the launching pad for your body art. Its safety standards should match the artistry of its tattooists. Know what to look for before you sign up for that permanent etching.
Types of Tattoo Studios
A few hold-out artists may run a strictly custom business from their apartments, but most tattoos happen in studios or tattoo parlors that adhere to rigorous sanitation standards and feature fine artists who are full-time professionals.
There are different types and styles of studios, including boho, funky, and sleek and modern ones. Maybe a studio is trendy-shabby with Victorian red velvet settees, Tiffany-style lamps and steampunk artwork on its unpainted brick walls. Your choice might be a light-filled loft with mid-century modern furnishings and bare wide-plank floors. Older, established shops tend toward traditional funky decor with walls of flash and artist portfolios on display. But regardless of what the decor and general style is, reputable tat shops all have a few things in common that make them great -- or not.
Sanitary Equals Safe
First up in your search is a shop that takes you on a tour, including the autoclave machine, and explains the rigorous sanitary procedures followed. This is critical because you are piercing your skin and opening yourself up, literally, to germs and infections. The studio should display its regulatory health certifications and be spotless -- cleanliness means lots of changes of protective gloves, new tubes of ink, safe sharps disposal, meticulous scrubbing, sponging and hand-scouring. An autoclave is a pressurized sterilization chamber used to disinfect reusable equipment between clients. Look for one. No autoclave, no deal.
The Art of Ambience
You should feel at home in a tat studio, and comfortable with the tattoo artist. You'll be hanging out there for an hour or more - many hours for a full sleeve or back or an elaborate tattoo. Professionals will work to help you relax and give you tips for preparing for your session. Tattoos are not pain-free, but they can be stress-free, and a studio that provides an environment that helps reduce stress is the one you want to spend your time in.
If it's clean and well-lit, if the people are confident and friendly, if you like the music and are comfortable with the set-up (most shops don't have private rooms but will use a screen if you prefer) you can feel good about your choice. Some places do book private sessions, so it's up to you in terms of what you feel most comfortable with.
Ask around. Your friends may have experience with reliable studios that can help you to narrow your choices. However, be sure to call first and set up a visit or appointment for a consultation. Most good studios insist on this anyway.
- Take a tour of the premises and look at the portfolios of the artists. Sometimes online portfolios on a shop's website will give you a good sense of the level of artistry and types of tattoos that are specialties of that studio.
- Get a cost estimate. Many studios charge a minimum fee and then cost out your tat by the hour. The hourly fee differs for simple tats, flash, and longer more elaborate work. It's also different for sought-after or specialty artists. A good tattoo from a first-rate studio is not, and should not be, cheap. You'll be wearing it for a long time so regard it as an investment.
- Prepare to spend some time talking over your ideas with the artist, particularly for custom work. It's an art commission; your tattooist should give it some respect and so should you. The tattoo studio that gets your business should be completely transparent about the cost and in agreement about the art.
Finding a Tattoo Studio
You can get inked just about anywhere, but make sure the studio is safe and sanitary, and that you feel comfortable in it, before committing to your appointment. Here are a few sample tattoo studios to start your search, whether you're inking close to home or on vacation.
Celebrity Ink Tattoo: This studio offers Sak Yant sacred tats (with blessings), traditional hand-picked bamboo method and machine tats. Book at the end of your vacation because you can't swim with a new tat.
Imperial Tattoos: The photo-realistic black and gray work here is mind-blowing. Book well in advance for the renowned artists.
The Icelandic Tattoo Corp.: A Reykjavik presence since 2005, Icelandic Tattoo has five artists who do custom work by appointment. There are many ambitious, elaborate and gorgeous tats that have been done here.
Good Times Tattoo: A favorite of models and rockers, the well-known resident artists are sometimes booked months in advance.
Chapel Tattoo: Chapel, a popular Aussie tat parlor since 1994, has 13 tattooists who cover the waterfront with tribal, traditional, Eastern, portrait, and Japanese styles.
New York, New York
Fun City: You can't go wrong almost anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, but Fun City has been around since 1976 and has a celebrity roster to match its staying power. Funky, lots of styles, and frequent guest artists are perks of visiting this studio.
Los Angeles, California
Onizuka Tattoo: This small shop is your ticket to Japanese-style tats without the travel. Tebori traditional hand-tattooing is a specialty here.
True Blue Tattoo: The thirteen artists at True Blue have a decade or more of experience working in the shop, which specializes in custom but takes a constant influx of walk-ins. Two locations are available, and downtown also offers piercing.
Zen Tattoo Maui: This tat shop blends an art gallery and an art tattoo studio. Resident and guest artists work in tribal fine illustration, modern Polynesian, traditional, watercolor and abstract styles, grayscale, and Sailor Jerry.
There are also some tattoo locators available to help find one in your area. These range from ones that simply provide the name, address, and phone number of the studio to those that also include a little bit about the studio, have online portfolios or samples, or include specialties.
- TrueArtists.com: Just enter in your desired location and this finder will provide studios in the vicinity. It includes names and addresses, as well as things like social media links, artist techniques, any specialties, and awards. Listings may also include samples or a portfolio of artists' work.
- Tattoo Central: With this locator, you have the option of not just including your location, but also specifying what style of tattoo you are interested in. This will help match you to a studio that does the type of work you want. You can read a brief profile, view an online portfolio, and see the address and phone number.
- Tattoo Cloud: This tool recommends shops according to your location. Results include a brief profile of the studio, along with address, social media links, and portfolios for the artists that work at that studio.
Reading reviews of others' experiences at a studio can also help you make an informed decision as to where to go for your tattoo. Some directories include reviews to help you.
- Yelp: Yelp is a directory that offers users the chance to leave reviews. Star ratings and comments can be found for studios in many locations throughout the U.S. and countries around the globe. Some studios even have the option for you to book an appointment online through Yelp.
- Better Business Bureau: The BBB is another place you can check on a tattoo shop. You can find out if they are a BBB member, what the studio's rating is, and if there are any complaints. You can get information on studios in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Choose the Right Studio
Buy a painting and you can move it to another room or sell it if you get tired of it. Ink art is forever, so take the time to find the right studio. If you aren't in love with the work, the shop doesn't impress you beyond belief with its sparkling pristine cleanliness, or you just don't get the right vibe from the place or the artist, then keep searching. There's a perfect location for your body transformation. Part of the fun of getting a tattoo is finding the studio that's perfect for you.