Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Friday the 13th Tattoo Specials; What You Need to Know

 Bargain hunters, rejoice! Every year it seems that ever-more tattoo studios are running specials on Friday the 13th. You can get a tattoo for just $13! But, before you start planning your tattoo-sleeve design for the next Friday the 13th, there are some things you should know.

 Tattoo studios do this to increase awareness of their businesses.

 Think of it as a wine-tasting at a winery, or samples being offered at a bakery. You are getting a little taste of what the tattoo studio has to offer, a sample. The tattoos being offered are small and limited to a select set of designs in order to make the process efficient. The tattooers want to take this time to show-off the studio, let people check out the atmosphere of the shop and their techniques, and introduce themselves to potential new clients. This is a great time for tattoo collectors to check out portfolios, visit shops, and talk to artists about future projects. Plus you get a nice new tattoo.

 What you can get tattooed will be extremely limited.

 As mentioned above, this is meant to be a chance to sample the work of the studio. Friday the 13th specials are generally $13 for the tattoo and a $7 set-up fee (things go faster if they don't have to make change, thus the total is an even $20). The tattoo you can get will come from a select set of tattoo flash-sheets, often a jumble of small designs. There will probably be a limit to the number of colors you are allowed to have in addition to black (often just two), and you will probably only be allowed to get the tattoo on certain parts of the body (generally no fingers, faces, necks, feet, or genitals). The size of the tattoo will be limited to the size of the design on the sheet, and the only modifications that will typically be allowed are those that take away from the design (such as dropping the number 13 from a design). The point is to make the process efficient; you pick a design and it gets tattooed.

 Pro-tip: the smaller the designs offered, the better the shop (typically). This is just my observation, but the better studios that do a Friday the 13th specials tend to offer a sheet or two full (and I mean FULL) of small tattoo designs. This is a decision driven by experience, more popular shops have heavier traffic on days when they run specials, so smaller designs make the process faster. They are popular shops BECAUSE the quality of work and the atmosphere of the shop are better than their competitors. Smaller designs equating to a better shop may not always be the case, but it is a good indicator.

 Do your research.

 Getting a tattoo is the ultimate way to judge a shop, but it helps to plan ahead. Visit the shop you want to check-out and ask if they are having a special (ideally, do this the beginning of the month a Friday the 13th falls in, not six months out). Ask what kind of traffic they expect to have, and if they have a flash-sheet prepared for that day. Pick your designs in advance, if you can, and if you plan to visit multiple shops, come-up with a game plan taking into account how busy they may be.

 Arrive early.

 There is an old saying, 'the early bird gets the tattoo'. Okay, maybe it doesn't go quite like that, but it is a good idea to arrive early. For example, at Little Pricks Tattoo in Austin, Texas, they started the day at noon, and by 6pm had to close their waiting list at four pages in order to get everyone who signed-in tattooed! People had to be turned away. Getting there early is a great idea.

 But, there is something to be said for not arriving too early. Another reason not to be late is fatigue. Doing numerous small tattoos can wear a tattooer down faster than one large piece. However, since tattoo (like any art) is a physical exercise, it is always better when the athlete has warmed-up a bit. While a good shop will have great artists who are consistent in their work-quality, it could be argued that the tattooer will hit their sweet-spot after the third or fourth tattoo (in this marathon-type situation).  Not a rule of any kind, but something to think about when getting in line at the door before the shop opens. Maybe let a few guys get in line ahead of you. 

 Be prepared.

Tattooer: Kyle Giffen

 You can really help your tattooer by being a little prepared. In addition to knowing what you want, know where you want to get it. If you are a hairy guy like your favorite tattoo-nerd, maybe give that area a trim. You may be there a while, so have something to do for when you have already walked around the shop a few times checking-out the art-work and looked through everyone's portfolio. Be prepared to step-out to a convenience store or restaurant for a bite to eat. If you have questions for your tattooer, have an idea what you are going to ask. If you want to talk about a future tattoo, bring your reference designs or anything that might help you explain to your tattooer what you want.

 Be courteous to your fellow collectors.

 If you are at a good studio, it is going to get crowded.  Try not to crowd the front desk or stand too long in one spot in the shop. Give other people a chance to sign-in, conduct their business, and check out the shop. If you are going to eat, step outside. It is great to be enthusiastic about being a part of the tattoo-tribe, but don't be too pushy about interjecting your ideas when you hear someone else having a conversation with your tattooer. When someone is getting a tattoo, that is their time with the tattooer, so keep your chit-chat to a minimum and save your questions for when you are in the chair if you can.

 Be respectful to your studio.

 You know why it is called a special?  Because there are special conditions, and it doesn't happen everyday. $13 tattoo day is not the time to negotiate price on your selected tattoo. Trying to get a price better than $13 is just not cool. Be flexible about your spot in line, if you are not around when your name gets called they are going to go to the next person, but you will be moved to the top as soon as you get back. Let your tattooer or the shop-help know if you are stepping-out for a smoke, adjourning to the restroom, or going down the street for a bite to eat, especially if you are getting close to your turn. Ask about taking pictures, especially while the tattooers are working on someone else. Understand that you are encouraged to wander the shop, but stay out of work-spaces,

 And, if the studio you are at is fully booked, don't ask if they know if another shop is running the same special! That is just poor tattoo etiquette!

 Also, a huge THANK YOU to Little Pricks Tattoo for letting me visit, to Kyle Giffen for my awesome new tattoos, and for just being a great tattoo studio. Check them out at!

 The next five Friday the 13ths are...

 May 13th, 2016

 January 13th, 2017
 October 13th, 2017
 April 13th, 2018
 July 13th, 2018

 Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at

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