“Don’t come in cocky, but don’t be terrified. At least expect some pain. It’s not ponies licking unicorns, y’know what I mean?”

We’re going to put our most obvious tip up front: Unless you want your tattoo of a serpent to end up looking like a wrinkled penis, don’t ask your tattoo artist to ‘surprise you’.

A tattoo is a pretty permanent decision, and you’re likely to feel anxiety before getting your first design. Thankfully, the inimitable Jade Sparkle of King Kong Tattoo was happy to help us set the record straight on the dos and don’ts of getting your virgin ink. Here are her candid insights into how to make your (and your tattoo artist’s) experience as painless as possible.

Over to you Jade!

“There are two types of people who come in. The ones who are fucking scared, and the ones who are not scared at all, who think like ‘oh, how bad could it be?”

The ones who are completely not scared tend to be the worst customers, because they don’t realise how painful it could be… then they start bitching and whining and moving all over the place.

Don’t come in cocky; at least expect some pain. It’s not ponies licking unicorns, y’know what I mean?”

“The ones who are really scared tend to be scared of needles.  I mean, I’m scared of injections too, fuck. An injection goes like how many inches into your skin? I understand.

But calm your tits, you’ll be okay. A tattoo is only going to penetrate the second to third layer of the epidermis at max. Anything lower than that and your tattoo artist is scarring you… which, by the way, is how you get scarred tattoos.”

“Nowadays, it’s quite easy to research online. But don’t just type ‘tattoo shop’ into Google and go to that place. It’s possible for tattoo artists to place ads on Google, so make sure that studio gels well if you’re going do that.

A good place to start is with recommendations from friends whose tattoos you like. Quite a lot of people are tattooed nowadays; I find it hard to believe that you don’t have at least one tattooed friend.

Check your artists out, and of course, compare and contrast. A lot of tattoo artists have Instagram and it’s not hard to go check out their portfolios online. Research their work: Do you think it’s up to par? Does the tattoo studio’s portfolio match the kind of art you’re looking for?

Things to look out for: Clean lines, a similar style to what you want, and the entire tattoo should look good as a whole. Is the colouring clean? Is the black really black? Is the design solid?

Even in bad lighting, a tattoo should look decent. It’s not about Photoshop or Instagram filters.”

“Of course, I do get clients who don’t know what they want. I’ll usually ask them, ‘okay, what do you like?’ If they really have no idea what they like, I’ll give them a book which has everything inside, and they can just point out a design they want.

I’m honestly not super invested in those tattoos because they don’t know what the hell they want. It’s not the tattoo artist’s place to decide your tattoo.”

“I definitely recommend getting an appointment over walking in. I mean, if you want to walk in, that’s fine lah. But if you have a specific artist in mind, that artist might not be free.

Any sort of visual references will help. If you see something you like online, it’s best if you can get your artist to redraw it for you and make it unique. Even photographs are helpful; even if you come in with like 50 photos, I’ll tell you which work and which don’t.

You have to take your artist’s advice [on design and placement]. That’s really important: For example, don’t get a tattoo on your fingers because it will smudge. If we tell you it will smudge or it doesn’t work on a part of your body, we’re telling you for a reason.

Unless your design is already a good idea, you shouldn’t be super set on it, because sometimes your design may not work out as a tattoo.”


  • Sleep before your appointment. At least 6-8 hours.
  • Don’t come in sunburnt. You can’t tattoo on sunburnt skin.
  • Eat before your appointment… but don’t go for a fucking buffet. If you have low blood sugar: drink Coke, or suck on sweets so you don’t faint. It does happen.
  • No alcohol the night before. You’ll bleed like crazy, and that’s hard for the tattoo artist to work with.
  • Don’t be the idiot who wears white [Ed’s note: ‘Yes, there will be blood’].
  • Dress appropriately. For example, some girls who want to tattoo their waists come in with dresses. I look at them and I’m like “your brain where?” If you want to flash the studio, then by all means!

“I’ve had idiots ask me if they can share needles with their friends to lower the cost and skip out on the $60 base charge. We’re opening needles which take cost; we have to print out the tattoos, discuss with you about the design, so it’s just to pay for our time.

If not, and you’re coming in with something super small, what are we going to earn from a $10 tattoo?”

“Some people ask if I’m going to wrap their tattoo. This starts from the tattoo shop, but it’s also a country thing. It’s actually very humid in Singapore. If you put a cling wrap over your tattoo, it’s going to get damn gross damn fast.

 In Singapore you’re going to want to let it air; get your tattoo to bleed out, let it dry. I don’t see a need to cling wrap your tattoo in Singapore. Overseas… I don’t know, maybe it gets drier fast?

I don’t see a reason why you’d need to wrap your tattoo, unless you’re going to roll in the mud like a pig.
When I was in Europe and I got my backside tattooed, I put a cling wrap over it because I was wearing stockings that I’d been wearing for two days straight, so it would have been kind of disgusting if I didn’t [wrap the tattoo].”

“The same thing goes for the cream. Some people slather it on, but that’s in countries where the weather is dry. Singapore is humid, so just put a thin layer. If you want more you can apply it later, because really less is more.

If you overdo the aftercare cream you’re going to clog up your tattoo and it’s not going to heal very well. ”


“The very basic thing you need to make sure of is that your tattoo artist is wearing gloves. That’s the norm. Make sure they open up the needle fresh, and that the needles are clean.

Also, make sure the artist isn’t using the same fucking needle and tube as they did on the last person; that’s a massive ‘what the hell are you doing?’ If you want to be super stringent about it, you can check if the studio has an autoclave.

Overall, you should be able to see from the vibe of the tattoo studio whether they’re professional or not; it should look ‘basic hygiene clean’. I mean, if you’re seeing roaches running around, be smart lah!”

Raphael Lim

about Raphael

Raphael has interviewed Superman, gotten choked out by mixed martial artists, and sworn off food for a week without ending up looking like Gandhi. Yes, truth can be stranger than fiction. You can read his scribblings primarily in the Disrupter and Storyteller sections. He can be reached at raphael@departuremag.com.

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