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Living the Alternative: While you get your first tattoo

George Sanchez's tattoo, symbolizing his sister Catherine (Photo courtesy of George Sanchez)
George Sanchez’s tattoo, symbolizing his sister Catherine (Photo courtesy of George Sanchez)

College is all about firsts: first roommates, first apartments, first legal drinks, and, of course, first tattoos. Many people come to college and mark the occasion of new freedom with something new and equally as permanent: a new tattoo.

The first tattoo you get is like nothing else: you don’t know exactly what to do, what to think, or what to expect. You understand the permanence of it logically, but you still feel like it hasn’t fully sunken in, the same way you logically know it will hurt but don’t fully grasp it until you go under the pen. But fear not, all of the inked people you know and love were once inkless, and everyone that has a tattoo had to get their first tattoo. Luckily, there are many people out there willing to share their experiences. I’ve broken their experiences into three parts, the before, the during, and the after. So, without further ado:


Advice for While You Get Your First Tattoo

Lots of people fear the process of getting a tattoo. It means hours of remaining calm and still under something that is basically injecting little needles filled with ink into the lower layers of your skin. Lots of people tell you it’s painful, but lots of people also exaggerate, so many go in without really knowing what they are getting themselves into. But trust me, it will hurt.

“Personally, I felt that getting the tattoo was more uncomfortable than it was painful, but I think it’s different for every individual,” said Katy Beirise, a Pre-Vet major. “I’ve heard varying stories.”

“It will hurt,” said Emmalin Phillips, a Business major at CSU. “I promise. If you’re ever feeling light headed or nervous, speak up. It’s no fun if you pass out.”

If you do faint, though, do not feel bad. Lots of people faint during their first tattoo, and the artists should know how to handle it. If you are looking not to faint, Tattoo Insurance has a helpful list on their website about how to set up the appointment so that you are less likely to faint.

“If you ever need to take a break, say so,” emphasized Phillips. “While getting your tattoo, talk to your artist! It will hurt, but enjoy it anyways. The experience is part of getting a tattoo.”

If you are feeling at all out of place, remember that you can speak to your tattoo artist throughout the process. It won’t distract them or make them mess up, as some of my friends feared during their first experience, and they should know how to ease your mind.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your artist questions,” Beirise said. “Mine was great about telling me every detail of what was happening, which put me at ease. You should feel very comfortable with your artist — if you don’t, find someone else. There are plenty of good ones out there!”

The entire process can feel a little bit torturous to some, so make sure you are taking care of yourself. Remember to ask for breaks, make time for water and food, and surround yourself with people you know and love. They will make the occasion more memorable and more comfortable, and, usually, they will know how to keep your spirits up.


George Sanchez, under the pen during his first tattoo (Sarah Ross | Collegian)
George Sanchez, under the pen during his first tattoo (Sarah Ross | Collegian)

“During [the appointment], I was super nervous because I heard that they could be really painful,” said George Sanchez, a transfer student currently studying International Studies at CSU. “So, I brought some water and [had] my sister and my friend bring me some food during it.”

Fun fact, I was that friend. He almost squeezed my hand into oblivion, but it was a great time filled with laughter.

“Definitely have a friend there with you,” Beirise agreed. “Having my best friend, who helped me with designing the tattoo, really helped keep me calm and not focus on the pain.”

Also be aware that different parts of the tattoo may hurt worse than others. A quick google search will show you that the consensus is that the shading and color will hurt much more than the outline. Be prepared that the worst usually is to come.

“The black outline didn’t hurt as much as the colors did,” said Sanchez, “and even then I noticed that the colors had varying degrees of pain. The yellow hurt the most and blue was the least painful of the colors.”

Many people get tattoos to symbolize emotional, physical, or mental struggles, obstacles they have overcome, or to mark a tragedy that changed their life. If the theme of your tattoo comes from one of these experiences, be aware that some of those emotions may come back up during the appointment. It can take hours to get a tattoo, which leaves you a lot of time to mull over the past or the event that inspired the artwork.

“My tattoo has a lot of sentimental value,” Beirise explained. “The pawprint is my first dog’s — she had died a few weeks earlier. I knew that the day of the tattoo I would be both nervous and excited, but I didn’t fully anticipate all of the other emotions that would fill that day.”

“I was still grieving the loss of my dog, my best friend, and the hole in my heart felt a little bit bigger that day,” Beirise said. “The wound just a little more fresh. So, my advice to anyone getting a tattoo with sentimental value is to be prepared for feelings that aren’t necessarily related to the process of getting inked to be present. These feelings certainly didn’t make the day any worse — in reality, it made the day that much more complete.”

If you are overwhelmed with emotion or pain, check in with your artist. They can give you time to process and take a break, and some may even let you come back another day if you so choose (although some may charge for a second appointment, so ask first). If you do make it through in one sitting, make sure to thank and tip the artist, as well as ask any care questions you have. It’s vital to maintain a good relationship with your artist even after your visit, because if you decide to change it or revitalize it down the road, you’ll want to be able to count on them.

Congratulations, you’ve made it through your first tattoo!! You’re not out of the woods yet, though, as there is much to learn about tattoos even after you go home with your own. Next time, we will go over more about how to care for a tattoo and how it feels after a week of having it. Until then, enjoy the newest piece of you!

Collegian Editor Sarah Ross can be reached online at or on Twitter at @HowSarahTweets. Read more of her content on AltLife. Leave a comment!

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  • K

    Kate HansenSep 27, 2016 at 10:50 am

    I have a friend who wants to get her first tattoo and I didn’t know what to expect for her. I bet it’s a lot easier to go through with it when you have someone there to distract you. I also like how you say to not be afraid to ask questions. If you ask the right questions, you can make sure to get the best detail in your design.