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Navigating Walk In Tattoo Shops: Understanding How They Work and What to Expect

Walk in tattoo shops might feel like stepping into new territory if you haven’t before. But, whether new to it or an experienced enthusiast, walk in tattoo shops offer a spontaneous and exciting experience. This guide will take you through the process, explain common tattoo shop terms, showcase the tattoos available for walk ins, and more. 

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The First Step Inside: What to Expect at a Walk In Tattoo Shop

As you step inside a walk in tattoo shop, you’ll see walls filled with flash designs and hear the gentle hum of tattoo machines. For a full list of what to expect when you get a tattoo, check out our article with all the tattoo tips you need.

Reception and Consultation: The tattoo shop will usually have a reception area where you’ll be greeted by a receptionist or an artist. They’ll ask whether you’re a walk in or have a pre-booked appointment. As you’re a walk in, expect a brief conversation about your expectations for size, cost, and design. They may lead you to a book of flash designs if you don’t have something small already picked out. 

Next, you’ll have a quick consultation about your desired tattoo design, its placement, size, details, and the estimated cost. It’s a nice, collaborative process, ensuring you get the piece you want. 

Take note that walk in tattoo shops operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. You may have to wait, especially if you’re visiting during peak hours. Some shops also have a waiting list, so early arrival can help ensure you get your tattoo sooner. 

Preparation and Procedure: After the consultation, the artist will prepare your desired design. They’ll sketch it out or use a tablet and make a stencil. You’ll approve the final design before they transfer it onto your skin. 

Before they start with the tattoo machine, the area will be cleaned and often shaven to create a clean slate for the tattoo. They’ll apply the stencil, ensuring it’s placed exactly where you want it. Thereafter, they’ll start inking, and voila, you’ll witness your vision come to life. 

Post-inking, the artist will clean the area and bandage it up. They will also provide aftercare instructions to ensure proper healing. These directions are vital and it’s crucial to follow them religiously to maintain the quality of your ink longer. 

  • Sketch: Your vision of the design translated onto paper or digital form.
  • Stencil: The sketch transferred onto a special paper to apply on skin as an outline for the tattoo.
  • Aftercare: Instructions for taking care of your fresh tattoo, ranging from cleaning to bandaging and skincare products to avoid.

Decoding Tattoo Shop Jargon: Terms You Should Know

If you’re new to the tattoo shop experience, you might find yourself encountering language that’s foreign to you. Just like any other industry, tattooing comes with a unique set of terms and phrases.

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These are some phrases you’ll want to know before you head to a walk in tattoo shop:

  • Flash: These are pre-designed tattoos that you’ll often see displayed on the walls of a tattoo shop. If you’re not sure what design you want, picking from the flash can be a good starting point. These are especially useful as a walk in because they are always small enough to do in a same-day session.
  • Style: This might seem obvious off the bat, but tattoo styles have a wide range of options. Flash designs are often done in the traditional or neo traditional styles, so that’s mostly what you’ll see when you enter a shop. But many artists have styles that they specialize in and there are endless ones to choose from. Instagram and Pinterest are great places to start when you’re considering what styles are your favorite.
  • Aftercare: This is the process of taking care of your new tattoo once it’s done. Professional tattooists will always provide aftercare instructions once they’d finished their work. We recommend this article to learn more about the tattoo healing process.
  • Touch up: This term refers to any additional work that needs to be done after your tattoo has healed, usually to clarify and brighten the lines and colors.

This list is far from full, but it should give you a fair idea of what to expect when you enter a tattoo shop. Remember, don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. Most tattoo artists are more than willing to explain what they’re doing and to demystify any terms or part of the process.

Different Tattoo Styles You Can Get as A Walk In

At a walk in tattoo shop, you’re no doubt going to wonder about the different types of tattoos available to you on your adventure. Great news! Most tattoo shops offer a variety of designs and styles that cater to walk in customers. These often comprise pre-designed pieces – also known as flash tattoos – as well as simpler, smaller custom designs. Although flash is less common these days than it used to be, it still comes in primarily traditional styles. 

What does this mean? We recommend reading our article breaking down tattoo styles so you have a clear idea of your options. 

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For now, here are a few tattoo styles that can be done fairly quickly at a walk in tattoo shop:

  • Traditional: Traditional tattoos (AKA American Traditional or Old School tattoos) are the most popular for flash designs (and therefore seen all over walk in tattoo shops). They use a simple color palette using only the basics and bold, dark lines. Think the classic “MOM” in a heart tattoo.
  • Neo Traditional: Neo traditional tattoos are a more modern take on the traditional style. This can look different depending on who does it but the rules are essentially all the same. The bold lines carry over but the color palette is wider. Artists often incorporate varied colors like pinks and greens, as well as different subject matter. For a clear understanding of what this looks like, we recommend reading our article on neo traditional tattoos or taking a look at our neo traditional work.
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  • Watercolor: Watercolor tattoos are a fun display of color on your skin. They mostly avoid harsh lines but still have their own shape. This can be done in a few different ways, whether it’s a color splash background or filling in other shapes.
  • Fine Line: Fine line tattoos are beautifully intricate. They range in size and utilize thin lines and light shading, making them a delicate choice that spans from minimalist to incredibly detailed, finished looks. For a walk in tattoo shop to give you a fine line tattoo same-day, it will need to be smaller scale. Because they are so detailed, you may consider putting more thought into it and scheduling a consultation
  • Script: Simple and to the point. If you’ve got something you want to say on your skin, a walk in tattoo shop is the place to do it so long as it’s smaller scale and simpler font. Read this article if you want a better idea of fonts for script tattoos.

Note: While these styles are usually available for walk in clients, it’s vital to remember that the final decision rests with the tattoo artist – based on their expertise, comfort level, and of course, their current workload.

The Pivotal Difference: Walk In Tattoo Shops vs. Appointments

When you step into the world of ink and needles, you may wonder about the different ways to get a tattoo. Should you go to a walk in tattoo shop, spontaneous and simpler is the way to go. If you opt for a scheduled appointment, you’ll be granted more time and individual attention. Highlighting some of these key differences can guide you in your decision.

Walk In Tattoos 

These are great if you lean more towards spontaneity. You enter the walk in tattoo shop, choose from pre-existing designs, and go under the needle, all in the same day.

Important to know: You can’t expect to get tattooed immediately upon walking in. The shop will tell you what time that day they can accommodate you. The earlier in the day you go, the less time you will spend waiting. 

This is great for those who are looking for a fast, less-planned tattoo experience. Also, walk in options are perfect for simpler, smaller designs or traditional tattoos which don’t require extensive preparation or significant design time. 

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Appointment Tattoos

Typical tattoos via appointment are ideal for elaborate or larger pieces that require careful planning, more time, and artistic input. Appointment sessions often involve prior consultation with the tattoo artist to design and refine your envisioned tattoo. This method ensures that delicate details are well-captured and you have a personalized final product that appropriately narrates your tales or sentiments. Curious about bringing your tattoo ideas to life? Contact us.


 Walk InAppointment
Wait TimeSame Day, Potentially ImmediateScheduled
Design ComplexitySimple to MediumSimple to Complex
CostTypically LowerPotentially Higher

Note: Please recognize that walk in tattoos have their charm and apt circumstances, but are not suitable for all tattoo designs or styles.

In conclusion, your choice between a walk in or an appointment will significantly depend on factors like the complexity of your desired design, your time availability, and your budget. 

How to Prepare for a Walk In Tattoo

As excited as you may be about going to a walk in tattoo shop, it’s important to prepare properly. Good preparation not only can enhance the tattoo outcome but also can help ensure a smoother tattooing process. Here are some considerations you should keep in mind: 

  • Know what you want: While the spontaneity of walk in tattoo shops is part of the charm, it’s crucial to have a general idea of the tattoo design you desire or be willing to choose a pre-designed artwork from the artist as-is. You don’t need to have every detail figured out, but at least have an understanding of what you’re getting into.
  • Do your research: Different tattoo parlors specialize in different styles. There are some famous for traditional styles, while others are renowned for tribal or realistic designs. It’s you who should be satisfied with the result, so you should thoroughly research the parlors you’re considering. It is crucial to look at a shop’s portfolio or Instagram to see what they’re capable of doing for you as well as making sure they are reputable by checking review sites like Yelp and Google.
  • Placement and Pain:  Each person has a different pain threshold, but some areas of the body are more sensitive than others. Consider where you want your tattoo and prepare yourself mentally for the level of discomfort associated with that area. Read our article on tattoo placement for a good idea of how this will impact you.
  • Preparation: Staying well-hydrated, bringing snacks, headphones, and wearing loose clothing can help prepare you for getting a tattoo.
  • Prepare financially: Good tattoos are not cheap, and cheap tattoos are not good. Be financially prepared to pay for quality work. It’s a life-long investment, after all. In most places, it is also considered proper etiquette to tip your tattoo artists.

Walk in tattoo shops can give you the ease and thrill of an impulse decision coupled with a lifetime of art. That being said, it is important to note that tattoos are permanent, and should therefore be considered seriously. With the above advice in mind, you are one step closer to a successful walk in tattoo shop experience!

Mantle Tattoo DTLA

If you’re ready to go to a walk in tattoo shop for your next tattoo, take a look at our work and visit us in Downtown Los Angeles!

Think you want a more intricate tattoo? Schedule a consultation with us.

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