A Palm tree scene gets tattooed Eddy Harrison's leg (20) at the South Africa International Tattoo Convention (James de Villiers, Business Insider South Africa)
  • Impulsive tattoos can end up as an expensive mistake – but it doesn't have to be that way.
  • Social media can help you do homework on tattoo artists.
  • A tattoo can cost up to R1,000 an hour, so know what you are getting and how much it will cost.

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. 

See also: Here's why tattoos stay in your skin forever

Here's what you need to keep in mind when you get a tattoo. 

Research the tattoo artist – thoroughly.

Tattoo artists Sean Lewis and Devin Gouws at the South Africa International Tattoo Convention (James de Villier, Business Insider SA)

"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.


If a tattoo artist tries to push you into anything, get out.

"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."


Know what you are going to get – and how much you are going to pay.

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."


Prepare your body for the physical trauma of a tattoo.

Tattoo artist Darryn Lambert inks a Batman tattoo on Matthew Sullivan's back. "I'd shake your hand, but I can't move my arm at the moment," Sullivan said. (James de Villiers, Business Insider SA)

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."


Once you have it, embrace it.

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."

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