Unlike clothes, tattoos can't be cast off, boxed up, and donated away, so if you are thinkin' about inkin', you better get stamped by the best. These shops, and their respective artists, simply can't be beat—we enlisted our tatt-ed up friends (and drew on some personal experiences) for a group that guarantees cleanliness, coolness and creativity. Our handy guide tells you where to go to get your very own skin art that won't leave you looking like Britney Spears (our top tip: be very, very specific and prepared), organized by type and specialty—though, as each shop explained, they have pros that can do it all. So, whether you want your lover's name emblazoned across your back, a David Beckham-type sleeve (yes please), or a hand-drawn sketch tickling your thigh, these inkers are safe and stylish—no tramp-stamps allowed.
Best Shading/Photorealism: East Side Ink
After 18 years in the Village, ESI has a ton of specialities, but the near-photographic touch of artist Cjay is astounding. We love all of the sophisticated color gradients, but for subtle shading and traditional tats, head to Alex. Of course, for complicated black-and-white tattoos (which can require as much shading as color), we've always been floored by Josh Lord. ESI is $100 minimum, but $200 an hour for larger pieces
East Side Ink, 97 Avenue B (between 6th and 7th streets); 212-477-2060.
Best Line Work and Hyper-Detailing: Adorned
This ink institution may be one of the most famous tattoo shops in the city—and for good reason—the incredible complexity of work done by artist Stephanie Tamex ranges from thin, graphic fonts to incredibly rendered details. While every artist makes us wanna make like Kat Von D, the text work of Kris Magnotti is some of the best we've ever seen. Rates range from $100-200 an hour.
New York Adorned, 376 Bedford Avenue (between South 4th and 5th streets); 718-782-0007.
Best Celeb Following: Saved
Not only is he adorable, but Saved founder Scott Campbell has a client list that reads like a front row NYFW seating chart: Courtney Love, Orlando Bloom, and Marc Jacobs all chose Campbell, who was also the go-to guy for Heath Ledger. Though his waiting list is months long, but a Campbell tattoo is something of a collector's item. The other artists at Saved aren't slouches either: Michelle Tarantelli does delicate designs and gorgeous birds and branches, and Anderson Luna's anatomy work looks text-book ready. Starts at $150 an hour.
Saved, 426 Union Avenue (at Devoe Street), Williamsburg; 718-486-0850.