Finding the best place for your first tattoo is one of the most important decisions to make (besides the design, of course) but do you know where on your body the ink should go? Should you pick an obvious spot, or go for somewhere more hidden?
Don’t forget to factor in the pain as well!
To help you decide where your first tattoo will look best, we’ve created this short guide. Oh, and if you’re feeling a little bit too nervous, check out our section on temporary tattoos below. They’re a great way to test out the ink without the permanence.
First Tattoo – 3 Things You Should Know
Before you get a tattoo, there are some things you should know.
Be Open Minded
You might have been planning your first tattoo for decades, with hundreds of sketches and mood boards. But you need to have an open mind. Your tattoo artist will have advice for you, and you might even find that your tattoo placement is completely wrong for your tattoo design.
If this happens, don’t panic. Listen to your tattoo artist and check out temporary tattoos (we have a section on this below). The ink you leave with might not be what you thought it would be – but it will certainly be better.
It Always Hurts
While it is true that some tattoo placements hurt more than others, you can’t escape the pain. Tattoos will hurt, but you will get accustomed to it. Some people find that the adrenaline that’s released when the needle hits your skin to give you a kind of high!
After the initial sting, it’s more like a sandpaper/sunburn with too much friction type feeling. If you just cannot handle pain at all, then tattoos might not be right for you. If you’re worried, ask for a very small tattoo first, like a freckle on your arm, so you can understand what to expect.
You Need to Prepare
There is a list of things you should do (and not do) before you get a tattoo. It’s unwise to just go to a tattoo parlor for a walk-in session for your first tatt. Instead, make an appointment with your chosen tattoo artist before you get inked. They will tell you what you need to do.
Once your tattoo is complete, there are aftercare steps that you need to follow as well. So, while experienced tattoo-monkeys can handle getting impromptu tatts when they feel like it, beginners should take more time to think and plan things through.
Try Temporary Tattoos First
We strongly advise that before you even get your first tattoo, you try a temporary tattoo first. There are companies now that create temporary tattoos that looks exactly like the real thing. They’ll slowly fade too, so you’ll get an idea of what an old tattoo will look like on your skin as well.
If you need convincing that temporary tattoos are a good choice:
- They’re relatively inexpensive, so why not try them out?
- They give you a chance to try different designs.
- You might be able to get a custom design that you’ve drawn made into a temporary tattoo.
- If you dislike the tattoo after a couple of weeks, it’s not permanent.
- You will be able to try out different placements and figure out what part of your body the actual ink should go on.
Temporary tattoos are like trial runs. If you’ve never had a tattoo before, it’s wise to give temporary tattoos a try first.
Temporary tattoos are basically food-safe inks printed on paper. You apply this paper to your skin to transfer the ink across. Depending on who made the temporary tattoo, the design can last a week or longer.
How to Decide on Tattoo Placement
You might be thinking, “well, I’ll just pick the spot that’s least painful” but that might be a mistake. Tattoos hurt no matter where you get inked, so you might as well think through the decision carefully and pick a placement that’s right.
The right placement can make a tattoo look amazing. The wrong placement can distort the design or just look plain weird!
The design is so important. Your tattoo artist might have ideas on how to improve it, and you may need to adjust it if you have a very specific placement in mind. Bony areas, like the wrist and ankle, look particularly good with swirling designs. E.g., snakes and flower stems that can curve around the natural contours of your body.
If you are going for a solid design that’s square in shape, then pick a flat and even surface. Your hip is a good spot for large tattoos while the pad of your toe is brilliant for very small ones.
Scale and Size
The scale and size are also very important to consider along with the best place for first tattoos. For example, a very detailed and realistic tattoo of a rose wouldn’t be appropriate for your big toe. Your tattoo artist would find that nearly impossible!
So, if you want a very detailed tattoo, be prepared for it to be larger and in a placement that allows for a bigger canvas.
But it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. Some minimalist and simplistic tattoos, like the example above, can work when they are scaled up or down.
Read More: Tattoo Sizes: Expert Guide With Examples (2023 Updated)
Yep, tattoos hurt. You cannot avoid the pain, so if you have very low pain tolerance maybe you should stick with temporary tattoos!
But if you’re willing to deal with a little pain in the name of art, then you can choose any placement you like. As a rule, any area that’s bony or full of nerve endings, will be extra painful. This includes areas like your skull, ankle bone, and elbow.
Meanwhile, areas that are quite fleshy will be a little easier (although still painful overall). Your butt, hip, stomach, and arm are all medium-low on the pain scale.
Read More: Tattoo Pain Chart: What Is The Most (Least) Painful Place
Finally, you’re going to get a lot of advice about your tattoo. Your family and friends will all have their own opinions on what looks good and what doesn’t. And you can expect your tattoo artist to have some advice for you as well.
Here’s who you should listen to:
- Your gut and dreams – they will tell you when you love an idea and what will make you happy with your body image.
- Friends and family who have tattoos – they will have invaluable advice as they’ve been through the experience.
- Your tattoo artist – you should listen to their advice carefully. If they tell you a tattoo just won’t work in a desired placement, then they are right! Give your tattoo artist’s advice the most weight.
Top 5 Best Places for First Tattoos
As you’ve probably figured out by now, the best place for your first tattoo is subjective. It depends on the design, your pain tolerance, and the size of the tattoo.
Here are the 5 most popular placements that beginners choose when getting their first tattoo inked on.
Although the wrist area can be quite bony, it’s still not an area that’s massively painful. The tattoo pain will be nothing compared to your skull, for example.
The wrist is a super popular area because it’s easy for you to see and admire. You can also show it off easily or cover it with a watch, bracelet or top. And there’s always the opportunity to expand the wrist tattoo into a full sleeve if you decide you like getting ink (fair warning, it is super addictive).
If you want a small tattoo, the wrist is also a good tattoo placement for beginners as small tatts look great here.
Also Read: 70+ Best Wrist Tattoo Design Ideas: Body Art Pieces To Make You Pop Out
If you desperately want your first tattoo to be medium-large and full of detail with a cool design… but you’re terrified that it will hurt… then the hip is the best tattoo place for you.
This area of your body is quite fleshy, so unless you tattoo directly on the hip bone, it won’t be too painful. Of course, you won’t be able to wear any pants with waistbands near the tatt until it heals!
This snake is one example of a hip tattoo on the inside of the hip bone, but you can go for the outside of the hip (on the side of your body) too.
Also Read: 30 Amazing Hip Tattoo Designs For Women
The ankle is a good placement if you don’t want your first tattoo to be public all the time. When you’re on the beach or wearing your sandals at a summer BBQ, you can show it off. But at work, it’s easily covered and not an area people look at naturally anyway.
Your actual ankle bone would be extremely painful to tattoo on, so most first ankle tattoos are placed just above the bone or to the side. Both small and medium tattoos look good in this placement, so you have more flexibility with the design as well.
The toe is an unusual choice, but it’s great for beginners. If you are unsure if you want people to see your tattoo, choose the pad of your big toe like this example. It will be moderately painful as our toes are quite sensitive, but not excruciating either.
Toes limit your tattoo artist to very small and simple designs, unless you want to expand across the top of your foot. Depending on how fleshy or bony your feet are, this might be a great idea.
Small symbols, smiley faces, and minimalist floral tattoos are all good for your toes.
The chest area is a good one to consider! This area of your body generally has a good layer of fat, which may help reduce the pain a little bit. Furthermore, it’s an area that’s easily covered, in case you dislike the tattoo, chicken out halfway through, or need it covered for your career.
Just bear in mind that this area of your body tends to change a lot as we age – the skin wrinkles and sags. If you don’t want your tattoo to morph over time, choose your toe or wrist instead.
Roses and hearts always look good in this placement!
Other Best Places for First Tattoos
There are many other places that are good ideas for your first tattoo. They include:
- Butt – if your butt is muscular or fleshy, it’s a great low-pain place to get a tattoo… but don’t forget, it will be sore for a while afterwards and sitting down will be awkward!
- Upper arm – another good place is your upper arm. It provides a larger canvas if you want a bigger tattoo but is still easy to hide.
- Back of neck – for women with long hair, getting a tattoo on the back of your neck is ideal. You can hide it easily! This placement is a little higher on the pain scale, however.
- Behind your ear – this area is very sensitive, but the only tattoos that fit here are quite small, so you won’t be suffering for long. It’s a very sweet tattoo placement.
- Thighs – while your inner thighs can be very sensitive, your outer thighs and the top of your thighs are usually quite fleshy or muscular. This makes them a good, low-pain space for medium and large tattoos.
- Shoulder and clavicle – these areas are very fashionable and can look very elegant, particularly on women, but they are a little bit painful.
- Hands – whether they’re along your finger or by the side of your hand, these tattoos are small and easy to show off. But bear in mind that with frequent exposure to sunlight, the ink will fade very fast. Touch-up sessions with your tattoo artist will be a must if you want to keep the ink fresh and bright.
If you are nervous about pain, then you will want to avoid:
- Calf bones,
- Skull and scalp,
- Inner thighs,
If you have any questions, check out our other guides for tattoo beginners!