Before going into just any tattoo parlor for ink, you need to research two things. One of those things is the parlor itself, and the other is the artists employed there. Some people start at a parlor and remain loyal to it. Some others start with an artist and remain loyal to him or her.
Evaluating the Tattoo Parlor
What you're looking for in a tattoo parlor has less to do with the décor and more to do with your safety. This is what you need to look for.
Good lighting – If the artist cannot see well, what makes you think you'll receive a quality tattoo?
A clean environment – The place, especially the work area, has to look spotless. Even if it is a seedy looking place, that's fine for atmosphere, as long as it's clean. Think surgically clean.
Sterilized equipment – Reusable equipment on hand should go through regular, routine sterilization. Look for the presence of an autoclave.
Unopened equipment – For disposable equipment make sure you note the presence of fresh, still-in-the-packaging needles and tubes. Used ink is unacceptable as well.
Gloves – Tattoo artists should have gloves on when they're working. Look to see if there are boxes of latex gloves hanging around.
Picking a tattoo parlor is much like choosing a healthcare facility. This makes sense because a tattoo is an operation. It requires care, delicacy, professionalism, and a safe environment.
Evaluating the Artists
Your design, and the artist you choose to do it, are both personal. However, the artists at a tattoo parlor need to conform to standards that go beyond those of the person that charges for tattoos out of their basement.
Other than your individual interpretations and feelings about the art samples, here are a few more professional qualifications you should look for in an artist.
A portfolio of previous work – You want an experienced artist that can show you work they've done in pictures and samples.
Licensing – In many places, tattoo artists need licensing to practice. Make sure your tattoo artist has theirs.
Training and certification – Official training isn't really required for many tattoo artists, so there's no real certification much of the time. Ask a potential artist about their training. See if they did an apprenticeship and whether they studied under somebody notable.
There are some associations that give out certifications like the NTA, APT, and many smaller ones. But it's not a given that any artist will be a part of any association, although it helps their case if they are.
Putting the Two Together
These two things go together and they're equally important. You wouldn't want an awesome artist that works in a less than ideal environment. You wouldn't want a great environment that has artists that do not appeal to you. You want a place that offers both with no compromises.
If you are interested in a new tattoo, check out companies like Gallery Tattoo & Piercing to see if you want to receive a tattoo from them.