From the little portrait of your favorite cartoon character to a larger portrait of your father, tattoos can have a different meaning for everyone. But before you plunk down money for body art, put thought into your decision and follow a few easy tips:
• Give it some thought. It can't be said enough that this will be a permanent mark on your body. In 20 years, will you still like that band, that cartoon, that guy or girl, that paisley pattern? Choose wisely. Sally's not gonna be happy that Martha's name is over your heart. Your employer may not appreciate the four-leaf clover on your forehead, either. Wisely choose its placement, too. That tribal symbol in the center of your lower back is great until every other girl has it and it becomes a "tramp stamp."
• Find the right artist. Take your time and go to different shops. Talk with the artists and check out some of their previous work to make sure they have a good reputation (and applicable licenses). Explain what you'd like to get done, and work with them to get a sketch made. Don't be afraid to make changes and get it the way you want before it's put on your skin.
• Stay sober. Aside from not wanting to regret any drunken decision you've made, alcohol will also thin your blood and make you bleed more.
• Think about what you wear. If you're going to be sitting in a chair or laying down for a few hours while the work is done, you want to be comfortable. You probably want to shower too -- the artist will appreciate it, and the water won't cause you pain (at least on the first day).
• Be careful of foreign languages. Asian characters, like Kanji, might look great in your eyes, but make sure you know the true meaning of the symbols before they become a part of you. What you thought meant "peace" and "happiness" may actually mean "beef with broccoli" or "gang slut." Check with someone who is fluent instead of trusting the Internet or non-Asian artists.
• Do your research. Read about tattoos online, go to tattoo shops, talk with artists, and talk with people who have them. Ask about their experiences and what to expect.
• Make the commitment. Aside from this being a lifelong commitment, it may also take more than one session to complete. Talk to the artist, set up an appointment for the work and approach it in a serious manner, instead of on a whim.
• Finally, take care. Your artist will give you tips to care for your tattoo -- from application of ointment to staying out of the sun -- to prevent it from infection and to keep it looking great. And honestly, if you weren't going to pay attention, why did you pay the money in the first place?