What to Know About Realistic Tattoos, According to Tattoo Artists

Tattoos are one of the most personal forms of body modification that you can get. Everything from the design to the type of ink used can be highly customized to fit your personal preferences. If you're a sentimental person with a keen eye for detail, there's perhaps no option quite as meaningful as a realistic tattoo.

Realistic tattoos are portraits that are so intricate, they almost look like photographs on the skin. "This style has become very popular the last few years alone, especially for people who love attention to detail and creating an entire story within their tattoos," Lauren Westervelt, tattoo artist at Brooklyn-based studio Fleur Noire, previously told POPSUGAR. "The improvement in tattooing technology has allowed for artists to be more creative than ever with what they put on their clients' skin — nothing is out of reach now."

If you're considering a realistic tattoo to add to your collection, we asked tattoo artists to break down what to expect before your appointment, ahead.

Choosing a Realistic Tattoo Artist

One of the most important parts in getting a realistic tattoo? Finding the right person for the job. "If someone is interested in a realistic tattoo, they should consider finding an artist who specializes in photorealism," Jazmin Paulino, a tattoo artist at Fleur Noire, says. "This is one of those styles that shouldn't be taken lightly. You can luck out with and get a pretty good walk-in 'traditional' or 'fine line' design, but realism is not that simple. Definitely do some research and find someone who practices this style specifically."

Another aspect to consider is the time and monetary commitment a realistic tattoo can require. Because of how detailed these portraits often are, they typically require multiple sessions and can be quite costly. To make sure you understand the full commitment needed for the completion of the design, have a detailed chat with your artist prior to starting the tattoo so that there are no surprises once you get started.

The Best Placement For a Realistic Tattoo

Because tattoos are so personal, where you decide to get your realistic tattoo is completely up to you. But there are some recommendations on areas that may work best: "Every artist is different, but for realistic tattoos, I've found flat areas like forearms or the back work best," Kandace Layne, owner of Magic Mirror Tattoo Studio, says.

How Painful Are Realistic Tattoos?

Though everyone's pain tolerance is different, both Paulino and Layne agree that it's not necessarily the pain from the needle but rather how long the tattoo will take. "A 20-minute tattoo versus a five-hour tattoo will make a big difference on how painful a tattoo feels," Paulino says. "Photorealism definitely does take time to get all those detailed aspects correct, so while I can't say for sure exactly how painful it will be, definitely don't expect it to be a walk in the park."

Also to be considered is where the tattoo is placed. If you have an area with more nerve endings, like the back of your knee or sole of your foot, it will be much more painful to get a tattoo there than, say, on your arm, for example.

The Cost of Realistic Tattoos

The price of a realistic tattoo varies based on multiple factors like your location, the experience level of your tattooist, the design size, and the amount of detail going into your piece, but you can expect to pay at least $250 or more for most realistic tattoos.

Best Designs For Realistic Tattoos

The best part of getting a realistic tattoo is that the design is typically already set in stone when you go to your appointment. "The designs for realism tattoos are usually based on photos taken from life," Paulino says. "This is the best way to ensure the piece mimics real life."

Even if you're someone who wants to come up with your own original realistic tattoo design, each detail is typically so meticulously thought out that you know you'll love the finished product before getting started. In other words, the best design for your realistic tattoo is the one you know without a doubt that you want etched on your body forever.