What is a Custom Tattoo Shop?

A custom tattoo shop is a place where your unique vision for body art becomes a reality. Unlike standard walk-in tattoo parlors where you might flip through a book of pre-made designs, custom shops specialize in creating one-of-a-kind tattoos tailored just for you. Here, artists take the time to work with you, fleshing out ideas and sketching original designs until they perfectly capture what’s in your mind. It’s not about picking a number off the wall; it’s about crafting a piece that’s as individual as you are.

Walking into a custom tattoo shop, you can expect a personal experience. The environment is usually laid-back, inviting you to discuss your ideas openly with your chosen artist. You’ll find that these tattooists have a passion for the art form, dedicating themselves to their craft with the aim to create something memorable. The collaboration doesn’t just result in a tattoo—it’s an artistic expression that tells a story and reflects your personal style or experiences.

The process is as important as the final product. You spend time in consultation, going over every detail of size, placement, color, and style. This careful planning ensures that when the needle starts buzzing, you’re on the path to wearing a piece of art that’s yours alone. It’s this attention to detail and commitment to originality that sets a custom tattoo shop apart from the rest.

Understanding Custom Tattoos

When you walk into a custom tattoo shop, you’re entering a space dedicated to bringing your unique vision to life. Unlike standard walk-in tattoo parlors that offer preset designs—or “flash tattoos”—a custom shop specializes in original artwork created just for you.

Here your tattoo idea becomes the centerpiece. To start, you’ll discuss your vision with an artist, sharing aspects like theme, imagery, and placement. The artist will then sketch out an initial design, ensuring it aligns with the unique statement you want to make. This custom design is tailored to fit your body’s contours, personal style, and the story or message you aim to express.

During this creative process, you’re encouraged to provide input, making the design truly yours. And it’s not just about the image; even the line work, shading, and coloring are customized.

In essence, a custom tattoo is a collaboration between you and the artist. It’s an opportunity to ensure that no one else will have the same ink as yours—it’s as original as you are.

The Custom Tattoo Process

The journey of getting a custom tattoo involves personalization at each step, tailored to your vision and preferences. You’ll work closely with an artist to bring your unique idea to life.


You kick things off with a consultation, the get-to-know-you phase where you share your tattoo idea with the artist. It’s a sit-down chat where you’ll discuss elements such as theme, size, placement on your body, and any specific imagery or symbols you want included. Be prepared to answer questions and maybe even show some examples that can help the artist understand your vision.

Design Process

After the initial meeting, your artist starts the design process. They’ll draft a sketch or digital illustration of your future ink. This is when your feedback is crucial. You’ll typically review the design and suggest any modifications to ensure it’s exactly what you have in mind. It’s a collaborative process which sometimes requires several rounds of revision to get every detail perfect.

Appointment and Tattooing

Finally, you’ll set the appointment. This is the home stretch! On the day of your session, your artist will prepare their station, making sure everything is clean and ready for you. Then, the actual tattooing begins. The artist will transfer the design onto your skin, adjust as needed for fit or aesthetics, and start the inking process. This part requires patience and trust in your artist’s expertise as they bring your custom design to life.

Remember, communication is key throughout each of these steps to ensure you and your artist are aligned and you walk away with a tattoo that’s as awesome as you imagined.

Custom Tattoo Shop versus a Walk-In Tattoo Shop

These steps may seem very similar to your experience at a walk-in shop. A walk-in shop will not do a consultation to start. This isn’t because they don’t care about your tattoo, they simply operate with pre designed pieces you can choose from. 

Custom Tattoo ShopWalk-in Tattoo Shop

Appointment required
First-come, first-served basis

Personalized designs
Pre-designed or “flash” art options
In-depth Consultations Quick decision making

Artist collaboration
Limited client input

Higher cost for uniqueness
more budget friendly

At a custom tattoo shop, you’ll start by booking an appointment. It’s all about creating a tattoo that’s uniquely yours. You’ll often sit with an artist to discuss your vision, and the artist will craft a design that aligns with your ideas. It’s a collaborative process and tends to be more expensive due to the time and creativity involved.

In contrast, a walk-in tattoo shop is perfect when you’re feeling spontaneous. You can choose from a range of pre-designed tattoos, also known as “flash” art. Most artists won’t let you change or add anything to a flash tattoo. Although there’s less room for customization, the process is quicker, usually cheaper, and you leave with a new tattoo the same day.

Remember, the keywords are personalization and time for custom shops, and convenience and cost for walk-ins. Choose what fits your needs and, of course, your style!

Fundamental differences between custom and walk in tattoos

When you choose a custom tattoo, you’re getting a piece that’s as unique as you are. It involves collaboration between you and the artist to bring your vision or idea to life on skin. On the other hand, flash tattoos are pre-designed images that are readily available in the tattoo shop for anyone to pick from. You are far more likely to run into someone with the same walk in tattoo than the same custom tattoo. While you may see someone with a similar custom tattoo no custom artist will put the exact same design on two people. ( unless you want to match)

If you have a simple design you want replicated as a tattoo, a walk-in shop is a great way to get it. Walk-in shops can be a great way for a fast and cheap first time tattoo but be very selective of the shop you go to. Walk-in shops are known for housing a rowdier crowd than custom shops. Of course not all walk-in shops are like this, some offer a more relaxed atmosphere, so even if your tattoo is spontaneous you should put some effort into picking a shop. 

Styles and Techniques

In any tattoo shop, you’ll encounter a variety of unique art styles and application techniques. This diversity lets you choose exactly what resonates with your personal taste.


Traditional style tattoos, also known as American traditional, are characterized by their bold lines, vivid colors, and iconic designs like roses, skulls, and anchors. You’ll notice a distinct lack of shading, giving these tattoos a classic flat appearance.

Lines: Bold and Thick

Colors: Solid and primary


Neo-Traditional tattoos take the basics of traditional style and add a twist with more complex imagery and a broader color palette. You’ll spot more dimensions and a blend of both classic and modern elements.

Lines: Bold yet varied

Colors: Vibrant with more subtle shades

Black and Gray

The black and gray style is exactly as it sounds—tattoos created using a spectrum from black ink to all its gray shades. These pieces often display excellent depth and realism through precise shading techniques.

Shading: Smooth gradients

Detail: High for realistic effects

Photo Realism

For a tattoo that looks like a photograph etched on your skin, photo realism is your go-to. Artists in custom shops achieve incredible lifelike detail. This style demands a high level of skill to accurately replicate faces, scenery, and objects.

Detail: Extremely high, with fine lines

Shading: Delicate and detailed for a true-to-life appearance

Pricing and Payment

When stepping into the realm of custom tattoos, it is essential to understand that pricing may vary greatly depending on the design’s complexity, size, and the artist’s expertise.

Custom tattoos are unique designs crafted specifically for you, and because they require extra time and effort in design preparation, they usually cost more than pre-designed or “flash” tattoos. For a custom piece, you’re not just paying for the ink on your skin, but also for the artist’s time spent creating the design before the needle even touches your skin.

When booking your custom tattoo appointment, you’ll likely be asked to pay a deposit. This deposit secures your spot and also shows the artist you’re committed to the tattoo. It typically ranges from $50 to a few hundred dollars, depending on the overall cost of your tattoo and the policies of the shop.Your deposit does go towards the final cost of your tattoo. Because a walk-in shop doesn’t do appointments you won’t have to pay a deposit either. 

Deposits are generally non-refundable because they cover some of the artist’s time and materials invested in your tattoo design. However, if you give sufficient notice of cancellation, some shops may allow you to apply your deposit to a rescheduled appointment.

Contact and Hours

When you’re ready to get inked and need to reach out to a custom tattoo shop, you’ll find that their contact details are often prominently displayed. Most shops will have a Contact Us section on their website where they’ll list their email address, phone number, or a contact form for you to fill out. After initial contact most custom shops will ask you to come in for a consultation before setting a date for your tattoo. The consultation is for you to see the shop and get a feel for it, it’s also for your artist to see the canvas and talk to you more specifically about what you want. 

Hours of Operation

As for the hours, custom tattoo shops may differ, but they often open late and close late, catering to a wide array of schedules. Most custom tattoo shops are by appointment only but will take walkins when they have time. Weekends tend to be busier, always give them a ring or shoot an email to make sure you’re not showing up when all artists are booked. Walk-in shops tend to have later hours that reflect the nightlife in the surrounding area. 

Whether you choose a custom tattoo shop or a walk in shop it’s important that the shop is clean and you feel welcomed there. For a simple pre-designed tattoo or spontaneous tattoo that will cost less, a walk in shop is a good option. If you want a custom piece and are willing to pay a little extra for it, I highly recommend a custom tattoo shop. Ultimately it is your decision for your perfect tattoo.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the process like for getting a custom tattoo done?

Getting a custom tattoo starts with an idea or concept that you bring to the artist. They’ll then sketch out a design, oftentimes with your input, until you’re both satisfied. After that, you set an appointment, and the artist brings your unique design to life on your skin.

What should I bring to a consultation at a custom tattoo shop?

Bring references or inspiration for your tattoo idea. This can include photos, drawings, or any visual material that helps convey the style or elements you want in your tattoo. Also, have a clear explanation of your concept to help the artist understand your vision.

How do I choose the right artist for a custom tattoo?

Research artists whose style resonates with your vision for the tattoo. Look through their portfolios to ensure they have experience with the type of design you want. It’s also valuable to read reviews or get recommendations before making your choice.

Are there any specific styles that custom tattoo shops specialize in?

Custom tattoo shops can vary in their specialty, ranging from traditional, realism, portraiture, to abstract and more. Some shops may have artists that specialize in certain styles, so it’s best to check their portfolios to find the right fit for your desired style.

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