Making your Mark: Shopping for a tattoo? Think before you ink

By Michelle Craig

For Minneapolis residents Dave and Val Mickelson, a recent vacation to the Valley meant sightseeing, a little golf, visiting friends and a trip to a tattoo parlor.
The couple says they had considered getting tattoos for some time, but the opportunity never presented itself. That was until they met a local tattoo artist on the golf course and decided it was time.
Dave, a 28-year old bank manager, and Val, 25, a physical therapist, are not what most people would call “the tattoo type.” There used to be a time when tattoos were reserved for Hell’s Angels, rebellious teenagers or those who had had one too many drinks.
Today, everywhere you look, someone is wearing a tattoo. People from all walks of life don miniature works of art on all parts of their bodies in an effort to make a statement about themselves.
But do you actually shop for a tattoo? AS with anything you purchase, the best advice is to be a smart consumer.
“Ask around…to shop owners, friends or people who have tattoos,” says Mark Walters, owner of Living Canvas Tattoos in Tempe.
He recommends that people visit several shops before making a decision. A friendly atmosphere and clan surroundings are important, but the first thing you should do, says Walters, is ask to see the artists’ portfolios. He says this can tell a lot about the type of work you can expect. He also says that if you feel uncomfortable, continue your search.
“Don’t feel pressured,” says Walters. “It’s a business just like anything else. If you aren’t happy with it, leave.”
Although the Mickelsons didn’t do a lot of research before getting tattoos, they say they visited Walter’s shop after meeting him.
“It was really feeling comfortable with someone,” says Dave Mickelson about what prompted him and his wife to get matching tattoo toe rings.
Mesa resident Alicia Mills says she asked friends about an Oakland, Calif., shop before getting her first tattoo there in 1999. She says a “down-to-earth” attitude helped persuade her.
“The place was very sterile. He (the artist) also made sure he explained everything to me.”
The process of tattooing has been around for centuries; however, it didn’t become popular in the United States until shortly after the first electric tattoo machine was patented in 1891. Because needles break the skin and inject ink right under surface, it’s important that tattoo shops make sure everything is sterilized and clean. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Arizona state law prohibits the tattooing of those under 18, unless accompanied by a parent; the reuse of needles; improper sterilization methods; and shops in temporary locations such as tents, trailers, or car trunks. Despite this law, passed in 1999, there is no regulation of shop owners or any process to ensure that equipment is safe.
Due to the risk of infection, consumers should make sure that the shop uses an autoclave, which employs pressure and steam to clean tools, rather than a machine that uses dry heat. The use of gloves, disposable towels and ink cups and disinfectant is also best.
Prices can range from $30 to $50 for a simple tattoo at most shops. Walters says the industry standard is $100 an hour, referring to larger, detailed tattoos in colors.