Out of all of the major life decisions that you might regret later, getting a tattoo is the best one. It’s far cheaper, more fun and less likely to be regretted than, say, marrying the wrong person or getting bad plastic surgery.
Tattoos have existed for thousands of years, the earliest example being from the ‘Iceman’ mummy dated at over 5,000 years old. Over the course of its long history, tattooing has come a long way, both in terms of the technology used and the quality of tattoos. Gone are the days when your only option to get a rad tattoo was from a piece of sharpened bone or bamboo.
Researching Tattoo Shops
Research studios online and look at the portfolio of the artists the shop employs. Type in “tattoo near New York, New York” in Yelp and you’ll get 40 pages of tattoo shops. When you’ve narrowed it down to a few shops, visit them in person and get a feel for the place (and find out which guest artists are working). Many studios won’t make an appointment on the phone anyway, and once you make a reservation you have to put down a deposit that will not be refunded (or only partially refunded) should you decide to cancel. This doesn’t apply to walk-in appointments, but if you want a custom tattoo at a top studio, a walk-in appointment is unlikely.
Once you choose an artist, listen to what he or she says. It’s important to know what you want, but good tattoo artists have experience and know what won’t look good or work, so be open to suggestions or changes. If your artist is not professional, courteous, or dismisses your ideas with a judgmental attitude (as opposed to explaining issues with what you’re asking for based on professional experience), move on to someone else. There are plenty of others in this great city who can give you a better experience and tattoo.
Paying the Cost to be a Boss
Some of the most talented tattoo artists in the world work in NYC, and if you do your homework and have the money, you can get the tattoo of your dreams. High-end studios like the ones listed below are not cheap. Several factors come into play when determining a price: the size and complexity of the tattoo, how long your tattooing sessions last and the prestige of the artist. Expect at least $150-$200 an hour at high-end studios, more if your ink is coming from a famous tattooist with a long wait list like Scott Campbell or Paul Booth. Plus, you should always tip your artist unless he/she did a lousy job. There is no “right” tip, but I personally think $20 per hour of tattooing is a good tip, sometimes more or less depending on the circumstances.
That being said, don’t skimp. This blog exists to help you save money, and if you’ve been living on the cheap, you hopefully have some greenbacks set aside for the finer things in life…like an awesome tattoo. A tattoo is a permanent investment, and it’s going to really suck if you get a bad tattoo. Or, if you have a penchant for stupid tattoos, then whatever.
Think it Through, Dude
You should have a good grasp on what you want and how you’ll feel about your tattoo in the future. One of the worst attitudes you can have about getting a tattoo is, “Well if I don’t like it or regret it later, I’ll just get it removed.” Getting a laser tattoo removal is much more painful than actually getting a tattoo, as you’re basically having it “burned” off your skin. Plus, this expensive process will often take multiple sessions over the course of months, depleting both your bank account and sanity. To make things worse, there is no guarantee the tattoo can be completely removed; this depends on the colors of the ink and how deep your tattooist went with the needle. So: tattoos are permanent. Don’t think of them otherwise. Before you get inked, consider how your tattoo will affect your life in the future. Even though research shows that tattoos are increasingly commonplace, especially among us millenials, certain tattoos can still get in the way of gainful employment or respect from others.
This Might Hurt a Bit
You never forget your first. The artist snaps his latex gloves to make sure they’re snug, the needle starts to buzz, and you brace yourself for a world of hurt.
A few minutes into the session you realize, “hey, this isn’t so bad!” The endorphins kick in and the sensation feels like a series of pinches, not a horrible needle being stabbed into you over and over again. During my second tattoo (inked by the talented Jason Tyler Grace at Kings Avenue Tatto, listed below), I held my Kindle in my free hand and read to pass the time, despite the slight pain.
Of course, how much it hurts varies from individual to individual. Much of the pain is contingent on where you’re getting your tattoo (ribs, for example, will hurt much more than your upper arm), your own mental state and the expertise of the tattooist.
In the End…
Getting a tattoo is special. Unlike most things in life, a tattoo is truly yours and yours alone. If you are looking for a great piece of art on your skin, then the list below will give you studios and artists that will provide you with the tattoo of your dreams.
The Top Ten Tattoo Studios in New York City
1. Kings Avenue Tattoo, 188 Bowery, Manhattan (they have a second location in Massapequa, Long Island).
If you’re looking for a stunning Japanese style tattoo, you’re in the right place. Mike Rubendall, who is considered an American master of Japanese style tattoos and has appeared as a guest judge on Spike TV’s Ink Master, owns the shop. If that isn’t enough, working alongside Rubendall is Chris O’Donnell, also considered one of the best American artists for Japanese style tattoos. The shop employs other incredible tattooists who can do all kinds of styles, such as vintage American tattoos or more graphical, “new school” tattoos. Check out their portfolios and you’ll see that the caliber of their work speaks for itself.
2. Three Kings Tattoo, 572 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn
Currently, Three Kings’ website shows 15 resident artists to choose from, plus guest artists. Because of this long list of inkers to choose from, the possibilities are endless. Myles Karr has a unique, graphical style in which he often adds his signature touch of white eyes on the animals, humans and creatures he creates, and Matt Bivetto creates tattoos that are old school and modern all at once.
3. Saved Tattoo, 426 Union Ave, Brooklyn.
Saved is the home of Scott Campbell, who has inked many famous clients including Marc Jacobs, Heath Ledger and Robert Downey Jr., among others. In addition to being a talented tattoo artist, Campbell also works in advertising and fine arts. He is very, very, expensive, and though he is a great artist, you are definitely paying extra for his name and celebrity. That being said, Saved has several other incredible artists like Thomas Hooper, who creates stunning black and grey geometrical designs, and Stephanie Tamez, who can write out your favorite quotes with fonts that go above and beyond the usual fare found at the corner tattoo parlor.
4. East River Tattoo, 1047 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn.
East River Tattoo is one of the few studios on this lists that specializes, for the most part, in one signature style. The four resident inkers, such as Duke Riley and Sue Jeiven, use very fine, sinuous black lines to put a stylized spin on classic tattoos like clipper ships and anchors. East River is a great option for people looking for a custom tattoo that is unique and detailed but isn’t loud and in your face.
5. Inkline Studio, 62 Rivington St, Manhattan.
Inkline is home to two expert tattoo artists: Anil Gupta and John-Paul Bonanno. Looking at Gupta’s portfolio, you get the sense the man can tattoo anything you want and always make it phenomenal. Indeed, the categories he has listed on his website are as diverse as “music world” to “World Trade Center memorials.” I haven’t seen such awesome tattoo recreations of work by master artists like Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt and Salvador Dali anywhere else. He also specializes in “miniatures,” incredibly detailed tattoos that are roughly the size of a quarter or a playing card. The other artist at Inkline, Bonnano, has a talent for “cover ups” — redoing or covering up that Korn tattoo you thought was cool back in ’98, as well as creating awesome custom tattoos.
6. Tattoo Culture, 129 Roebling St, Brooklyn.
Tattoo Culture is the place to go if you want your tattoo to look like it was painted with watercolors instead of drawn with needles. Resident artist Gene Coffey does exactly that, which goes to show how dynamic a tattooing machine can be. If watercolors aren’t your bag, one of the current guest artists, Loic, creates tattoos that look like they came straight out of a printmaking machine instead of the end of a needle. Be sure to stop by or call and find out which other talented guests artists are appearing at the shop.
7. Last Rites, 511 W. 33rd St, Manhattan.
Want to get a tattoo that will scare the hell out of your mom? Look no further than Last Rites, home to celebrated tattoo artist Paul Booth. Booth specializes in horror, sci-fi, gore, evil, Care Bears (just kidding) and other figments of a dark imagination. Unsurprisingly, he has tattooed members of metal bands like Slayer and Slipknot. Even if his creepy ink isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying that he’s very talented and in high demand (and his steep prices and long wait list confirms this). You can get other kinds of tattoos at Last Rites from one of the several other great artists on the staff, like a realistic portrait of a loved one from Darwin Enriquez.
8. New York Adorned, 47 2nd Ave, Manhattan.
New York Adorned has a long list of resident artists and a constant rotation of guest artists. Every style of tattooing is represented at the shop, from eye-popping Japanese back pieces by renowned tattoo artist Horizakura to classic Americana in modern colors by Kris Magnotti. New York Adorned is a staple in the NYC tattooing community since its always had a roster of great artists since its inception in 1996.
9. White Rabbit Tattoo Studio, 121 Essex St, Manhattan.
White Rabbit is another tattoo studio that can give you a great classic or “new school” tattoo, but also features artists that specialize in making your tattoo look like it was created with the strokes of a paintbrush. Jessie-Lou Ashby, owner and resident artist, can create stunning abstract designs or nature scenes that look straight out of a watercolors palette. Plus, White Rabbit is particularly unique for claiming to use 100 percent vegan inks and soaps, so your rabbit tattoo will never contain byproducts from an actual rabbit!
10. East Side Ink, 97 Avenue B, Manhattan.
East Side Ink is another studio with a large staff: eleven artists are listed on their website, many of whom have won awards for their work. As a result, a wide variety of tattoo styles are represented: bold colors, black and grey, old school, new school, Japanese sleeves, pop art…the list goes on. Another selling point? There are more women on the staff than at most tattoo studios.