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A Guide to Getting a Walk-in Tattoo

A walk-in tattoo can be the quickest way to get some fresh ink. This method of getting a tattoo is separate from the tattoo appointment world; when you want a tattoo, you walk in and get it. Customization is more limited, though not impossible, but one thing is for sure: you’ll have new ink before you know it.

The process of a walk-in tattoo is different from one booked with an appointment. Shops that offer walk-ins will typically have an array of flash designs for you to choose from. Make sure to check out each of the artist’s available designs.

The spirit of a walk-in tattoo is a fast-paced process; pick and plan your design, get tattooed, and be on your way.

You are absolutely able to make adjustments to the design, however, the artist may not be able to accommodate every change or customization during a walk-in. The artist(s) available for walk-ins may be able to create a custom design for you but keep in mind that drawing takes time and depending on your idea, it may be better suited for an appointment where you will have more time to work with your artist to formulate and modify the design.

History of Walk-In Tattoo

In the late 1800s, tattoo artists often attached themselves to carnivals and traveled around the country. Here, they were able to set up “flash” booths where they were able to show off the different designs that were available to be tattooed. This essentially started the premise of the walk-in tattoo, sometimes called tattoo flash.

Flash grew in prominence around sailors as well during this same period. To keep up with the demand for tattoos, artists were encouraged to have premade, simple designs that they could quickly apply to a customer to get to the next. The speed of the walk-in tattoo tradition is a huge part of the experience.

Pros of Walk-In Tattoos

Speed is a primary advantage to the walk-in tattoo; you can quickly go in, get ink done, and be on your way. This creates interesting opportunities and memories to create. For example, you can practically get a flash tattoo while on vacation to capture a memory, to remember a unique experience. Planning an appointment while on a separate vacation may not be practical.

Speed is a primary advantage of a walk-in tattoo; you can be in and out of the shop on the same day sporting some new ink. This creates interesting opportunities and memories to create. For example, you can practically get a flash tattoo while on vacation to capture a memory, to remember a unique experience. Planning an appointment while on a separate vacation may not be practical.

Cons of Walk-In Tattoos

Speed can also be a detriment to the walk-in tattoo. It’s very easy to make rushed decisions while in the shop, decisions that will stick with you for many years to come if not forever. What’s more, you are limited in what you can get. If you are looking for a larger piece, such as a half-sleeve, that would require an appointment and is highly unlikely to be accommodated as a walk-in. That being said, some artists offer some truly great designs to pick from, though part of the walk-in process is taking the available artist and not the one you want. Requiring a certain artist to do your design is best suited for a tattoo appointment.

Preparation for a Walk-In Session

Do research

check what shops welcome walk-ins, look over their artists’ portfolios, and the reviews of the shop. Make sure to check out the shop’s website and artists’ social media profiles to see if they have available designs listed.

Have a plan

you will be able to discuss your ideas with the artist but if you struggle to make decisions it is a good idea to think over what you want before arriving at the shop.

Prepare your body

Make sure you’re eating and drinking before going into the shop. Take care of the skin in the desired tattoo region; a sunburn in the desired spot, for example, isn’t practical for getting a tattoo there.

Your I.D

Understand that you will need proper identification to show that you’re of age, and make sure you have a form of payment for the artist.

What to Expect During the Process

Arrival and Waiting

When you first arrive, you should expect to fill out paperwork and consent forms. Depending on how busy the shop is, be prepared to wait your turn as well. In this sense, it’s kind of like walking in for a haircut at a barbershop.


When you meet the artist, this is your chance to discuss your design and make any possible tweaks or suggestions. Keep requests simple for the artist, more complicated designs need an appointment.


Depending on the location of the tattoo, you can expect different sensations. Either way, expect some stinging pain while being tattooed. Talk to your artist if you have any concerns. Flash designs are usually done quickly. Depending on the size and complexity of the design, expect the tattooing session to last anywhere from 10 minutes to up to an hour for more complicated designs.


Tattoo aftercare is an important part of the process. Your artist should give you a rundown of the best practices for short-term healing and long-term strategies to prevent premature fading.

Choosing the Right Artist for a Walk-In

While researching a shop, look at which artists specialize in what styles, techniques, and subject matter so you can work with an artist who would be the best fit for your tattoo (some artists are by appointment only so make sure to check). Some shops may have several artists available for walk-ins so you may be able to talk to and choose between a few artists in person. Communication is key; make sure you voice your opinions and concerns. It is your tattoo and body so discuss the design with your artist; their priority is that you will leave the shop with a quality tattoo that you absolutely love.

Risks and Safety Measures

Picking a reputable shop is not only important for the quality of design but for health reasons too. Using clean, new needles is a must to prevent disease and infection. A tattoo is, at first, an open wound. Proper cleaning and practices around open wounds are a must.

Walk-In Tattoo FAQs

Can I bring my own design?

If you have a really simple idea, most artists can honor it. But custom designs are generally best left to appointments to make sure everything is right.

What If I change my mind halfway through?

Up until the tattooing begins, you can decide to hold off and leave. Make sure to talk through any concerns you have during the consultation. Some artists may decide to book you for an appointment instead if your changes are too complex for a walk-in, that way you and the artist will have ample time to make adjustments to ensure you are 100% thrilled with the design. Once the tattoo has begun, you become more limited. If you want a different design, sometimes there is room to cover up part of the tattoo that has been started.

How much do walk-ins usually cost?

Cost boils down to the time and complexity of the design. Flash tattoos can be cheap, ranging anywhere from $30 to over $100; every shop will have its minimum price. Although the design is premade, the size and level of detail may factor into the price.

Are walk-ins first-come, first-served?

Yes, this is the premise behind the tradition of the walk-in. If you don’t have time to wait at the shop, you’re better off making an appointment at a time when you are available.

Walk-In Tattoo Conclusion

Walk-in tattoos are a fun way to get ink quickly and capture a moment or memory. Still, some preparation and thought before walking into the shop definitely helps create a smoother process and better results for you. Enjoy the experience, getting a tattoo is unique and something that sticks with you forever. Make the most of being in the shop, there are usually some great people with great stories sticking around.

References and Further Reading

Check out books and documentaries about flash tattoos if you enjoy the tradition at play. Flash is a huge reason why tattoos have grown in popularity over the centuries. Dig into local tattoo shops and see what they have to offer, and if they are worth your business. Enjoy this experience and do it right to get a tattoo you can be proud of for the rest of your life.

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