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Written by Kieran Proctor

Ordering A Custom Tattoo Design

Tattoo

Updated

A tattooist drawing a custom tattoo design for a client

Now that you’ve picked your style of tattoo, decided on tattoo placement, selected a tattoo studio and a tattooist, here’s where the fun really starts. The next stage of your tattoo journey, is when you go to see the artist and have them create a custom tattoo design.

During the first stage in your tattoo journey, you decided on a tattoo style and collected at least 5 images of tattoos you like. These 5 images show the style you want and the colors you like. And ideally, they also show the features like flowers, stars, compasses, brass knuckles, straight razors and so forth, that you’d like included in your custom tattoo design.

These images show clearly the pieces of a tattoo puzzle that you’d like the artist to solve. They’re the pieces you’d like the tattooist to incorporate into your unique custom tattoo design.

So, let’s now turn to how we order a custom tattoo design from our chosen tattoo artist. 

tattooed hands drawing

How to order a custom tattoo design?

You will need to provide your chosen tattooist pictures of the stylistic elements you would like incorporated into your tattoo. And you will need to tell the tattooist where on your body you would like the tattoo placed. So that the tattooist can properly size the design.

Ordering a tattoo is best done in person. And this is so the tattooist can see you and get a feel for how big (or small) the tattoo that they will design needs to be.

You can order a custom work over the internet or by phone. But it becomes much more difficult and you will be less likely to be taken seriously, than if you were to attend the studio in person and meet the tattoo artist.

Yet, you shouldn’t randomly turn up at a tattoo studio and expect to take up a tattooists time. You should pick up the phone and call the store to arrange a time to visit and order your custom tattoo design. If you just turn up at the tattoo studio and the tattooist is busy working with another client, they will likely ignore you.

That’s not a tattooist being rude. On the contrary. It’s the tattooist respecting the client that they already have in their chair. If you just turn up and expect service, the client who is in the tattooists chair and who has booked in advance, gets priority.

Stopping and starting a tattoo to chat with someone who has just walked into the store, without booking, creates extra discomfort for the client whose work is in progress.

Trust me when I say you’re not going to want your tattooist to be stopping and starting your tattoo to chat with random clients, who’ve just wandered into the store off the street. 

Book a time to see the tattooist and find out how much they would like as a deposit to create your custom tattoo

Pick up the phone and arrange a time to go to the tattoo studio and order your custom piece. While on the phone arranging a time to visit the studio, this also gives you opportunity to get more information.

tattooed arm holding a telephone


You should ask what the average hourly rate is for custom tattoos and how much deposit you need to leave with the artist.

Most tattoo studios require a deposit to produce custom tattoo designs. The artist will invest time and energy into producing the tattoo design that you order. And a deposit ensures you will return to get the tattoo that you are having them create.

For whatever reason, people do wander into tattoo shops and order custom designs, only to never return. Life gets in their way, they chicken out or they’re just tire kickers waiting for a bus who like to chat to tattooists. Whatever. It happens. A lot.

Everyday people do try to order custom tattoo designs that they never end up getting. And a deposit ensures you’re a real client and it tells the tattooist that you aren’t wasting their time. So, be prepared to leave a deposit.

tattoo studio neon sign

Attending the tattoo studio and meeting the tattooist

When you attend the studio to order your custom tattoo, you need to give the artist the pictures you’ve collected as reference material for the design. And you need to tell the artist which tattoo placements you’ve chosen.

The artist will then assess your tattoo ideas and tell you what’s possible, based off the designs you like and your chosen placements.

They will tell you roughly how long it will take to design and how long it should take to tattoo. If your tattoo idea requires multiple sittings (multiple sessions or bookings) the artist will be able to tell you when discussing your custom design idea.

At this stage, the tattooist should also be able to give you a rough estimate of the cost for your new tattoo.

While meeting the artist, you should seek clarity on their booking schedule while ordering your custom design. Some artists are booked months (and sometimes years) in advance. You should arrange a time to see and approve the design and you should also consider making the booking/s to get the work done.

A tattooist drawing a custom tattoo design for a client

A note on tattoo numbing products

You should inquire about numbing products in advance. If you’ve chosen a particularly painful tattoo placement or have a low tolerance for pain, then numbing products are available.

But not all tattooists use tattoo numbing products or allow their use. And you should inquire in advance if you’re interested in using tattoo numbing products.

Don’t expect to turn up to your tattoo appointment and automatically have a numbing product used on you. You need to get approval from the artist and apply the product prior to your session, so as not to waste the artists time.

If you don’t inquire about numbing products from the start, it will be assumed by the artist that you won’t be using these items. So, if you want to use tattoo numbing creams or tattoo numbing sprays, inquire about them when you first order your custom tattoo design.

I’ve personally tested dozens of tattoo numbing creams and I’ve found most to be very effective. And I recently used one containing 5% Lidocaine, when I got my blackout sleeve on my right arm. And it’s the cream I recommend over all the others.

Mad Rabbit Numbing Cream
The numbing cream I use

Now that you’ve ordered your custom tattoo design and have left a deposit, what’s next?

Once you’ve met your tattooist, ordered your custom tattoo design and you’ve left a deposit, you should know roughly when you can expect to see and approve the design.

You should also know roughly how long the tattoo will take, how many sessions you’ll need to book to complete the tattoo, an approximate cost and whether or not you’re allowed to use a numbing product and if you need to source that numbing product yourself.

You should also know their schedule and how far in advance that you need to book your tattoo appointment (if you haven’t already booked).

While waiting for the design to be finished and for your tattoo day to arrive, you now need to think about what you’ll wear to your tattoo appointment and which tattoo aftercare products and creams to buy in advance of getting tattooed.

In the next article, I’ll cover all the preparatory steps you should take while waiting for your tattoo design to be created by your new tattooist.

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