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Tattoos are the ultimate form of self-expression. They share your inside story with the outside world. You want that story to be told right, which means you’ve probably got a few things to nut out before you walk into the studio.

Whether you’re braving your first tattoo or adding to your epic collection of tattoos, this handy little lowdown list will help you take your tattoos from idealization to creation.

1. Who are you?

You know that moment in Alice in Wonderland where the caterpillar asks Alice: “Who are you?” Well, it’s kind of the same here. From the outside looking in, your tattoos will tell the world something about who you are. And although we get tattoos for ourselves, thinking about what matters to you and how your tattoo can capture a part of who you are, is a good place to start when you’re thinking about getting inked. Your tattoos don’t need to be a prolific essay on life, but they will undoubtedly speak volumes, so inhale the hookah smoke and muse over: “Who are you?” to get close to the heart of your next piece.

2. Have you done your research?

We’ve all heard those horror stories of people getting Kanji tattoos that they thought meant hope, but actually just offended someone’s mother. No one wants to be that person. Do your research. Make sure your tattoo says what you want it to say. Ask an expert if you have to. Research doesn’t only apply to foreign words. If you’re after something particular, coming prepared with some source images or font styles will never go astray and will help your tattooist really capture what you want. There are so many different styles of tattoos out there. Find the one you want most.

3. Where on earth?

That’s right… where on earth are you going to get tattooed? This one should probably advance to the top of the list. Where your tattoos go will have an impact on the design and size of the tattoo. Some tattoos suit some parts of the body better than others. Your tattooist can probably make anything work, anywhere, but thinking about where you want your tattoo is important. Thinking about the location will also help prepare your pain threshold. If you’re seasoned with tattoos that might not be a concern, but for the tattoo virgin this is something you may want to think about.