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There are certain things in New York City that are harder to navigate than others, like the West Village, the G train, and finding a really good tattoo shop that won't charge you an arm and leg for something stupid on your arm or your leg. To help you out a little bit, we've come up with a list of five tips on how to pick a winner.
1. Know what you want. It sounds like a pretty big duh, but knowing what you want is key when picking out a tattoo shop, which is why we're hitting this one first. Walking into a random parlor and pointing to something on a board really only works if you've already got a bunch of tattoos and can risk an on-the-spot one turning out bad. (Here, camouflage is key.) Instead, think real hard about what you're going to get, find a reference image, print it out, and then read the rest of our list.
2. Identify the most difficult part of your tattoo. If you want something with intricate linework, then you need to go to someone who does really intricate linework. If you want a portrait, go to someone who specializes in portraits, and if you want a wolf's head, go to someone who does a mean one. This might sound like a no-brainer, but the lesson here is that not all tattoo artists are created equal. And just because someone can do a killer Sailor Jerry doesn't mean they'll do a good Salvador Dalí.
3. Get real recommendations. Looking through a tattooer's book at the shop or at their work on their website is one way to narrow it down, but the best way to see someone's skill is to see the work that they've done in person. People who get tattoos usually like talking about them, so if you spot someone out and about with some sweet ink, ask them where they got it. This is also what tattooed friends are for. Also, if you've already found a shop you like, it's more than likely that the shop assistant who's booking your consultation or appointment has gotten some work done by someone there. Ask them for a personal recommendation about who would be best to go to.
4. Don't go somewhere disgusting. Tattooing is a business just like a nail salon or a beauty parlor is a business, and you wouldn't get a pedicure or a blow-out in a place that looks like trash, right? A tattoo shop doesn't need to be seedy to be good. In fact, it shouldn't be seedy. And the people should be professional. If you're getting bad vibes when you walk in, chances are you won't be satisfied with the end result.
5. Make sure you like the artist you picked. You should like them as an artist, but you really need to like them as a person, too. Part of getting a tattoo is the experience of getting a tattoo, and if you're already butting heads with someone during the consultation, maybe keep scouting out other alternatives. It's good to remember that they probably know what's best as far as placement and details of design, but if you feel like you're getting pushed into something you don't want, remember that it's going on your body forever, not theirs.