Tattoos might be more common than ever (with up to 40% of American young adults aged 18 to 29 having at least one) but it still requires doing careful homework beforehand, experts warn.
Poor research, unrealistic expectations, and poorly trained tattoo artists can lead to disaster, participants at the South Africa International Tattoo convention in Cape Town told Business Insider South Africa this weekend.
"Waking up one morning and saying 'hey, I want a tattoo' usually leads to regret," Devin Gouws of The Tattoo Hub in Alberton said.
Here's what you need to keep in mind when you get a tattoo.
"We live in the age of social media; no one has any excuse anymore (of not doing their homework)," says Sean Lewis of the Just Inked Tattoo Studio in Johannesburg.
"Tattoo artists usually have Instagram pages: check out your work and make sure it's what you like."
Like any artist, different tattoo artists have different strengths. "Some do good geometry while others are excellent in watercolours - don't go to a person with good geometry skills and expect a great watercolour tattoo."
Gouws says it's important to check the most recent work of the artist, and to speak to someone who has a tattoo from the artist.
"Feel what the vibe of a studio is like; if you feel something is wrong, you are probably right," says Gouws. "
You need to be comfortable with both the place and the artists. There's no reason to risk it with someone you don't trust."
A red-flag is when an artist tries to push you into something, says Lewis.
"A hard-sell should always make you question the artist's ability."
Make sure you are happy with the sketches the tattoo artist drew up beforehand, Lewis says. It is also important to know how much you'll be paying.
A typical rate is R1,000 per hour, Lewis says. "A full back tattoo can take seven hours a day for six sessions. That's R42 000."
You will be putting your body through some trauma with a tattoo, Gouws says, and preparing for that is a good idea.
"You need to make sure you are well rested, have eaten something and drank some water before getting any tattoo."
Tattoos are celebrating a part of who you are, Gouws says. "Why get a tattoo if it is only something you are going to be ashamed of and try to hide?"
"A tattoo becomes a part of who you are, you simply can't not love it."