I like to learn from other people's experiences as much as possible and that's what I've been doing for many years when it comes to tattoos. I'm careful like that and tattoos are too permanent to jump into half-informed.
I've been learning a lot recently and wanted to share some tips and information I learned:
You need to check out this tumblr blog: http://critink.tumblr.com/
This blog shows you the difference between an awesome tattoo and one that is so-so. Read the "critiques" section and you will get a lot of tips about what makes a tattoo great vs. one that isn't. I was learning a bunch of this information overtime, but this site is like a compact guide to getting a great tat so I feel that it's important to metnion it.
Here are some things to keep in mind, I believe most points make an appearance on this site:
General:1) Find the best artists that you can in the style you want. This will be on your body for a long long time, don't take it lightly. A great artist is a difference between a bad, good or amazing tattoo.
What to get:
1) Think about whether it's just a tatttoo trend or really something you want. You probably wouldn't want to have a tribal tattoo right now, but it was trendy at one point and everyone got them... Is your idea the next thing that will be the typical tattoo? Placement can also be a trend, like the lower back tattoo that has a bad reputation right now. I strongly disagree with the "tramp stamp" label on lower back tattoos for women but it's still something that women with these tattoos have to live with now.
2) Be culturally appropriate. Don't put all sorts of things you don't understand on your body.
Example 1: Kanji symbol or Arabic script. If you don't speak or read the language, WHY get this?! If you want something no one can understand except you, you might as well make up your own language and go for that. It'll have the same meaning without being tacky or potentially offensive. Well... it might be tacky.
Example 2: A person of another culture (a Native American woman, an Asian woman, etc?). It's kinda racist.
Example 3: Be careful with symbols that are not part of your culture. Do you fully understand them? Are they really part of who you are? Are you contributing to making this symbol lose its meaning? Are you "stealing" from a culture that is not your's, in particular a culture that has been historically oppressed?
3) Keep in mind that a drawing, painting, cartoon or other artwork will generally not look as good tattooed as it does in its own medium.
4) Script. Don't get Microsoft Word font. Make the script original and make it work with your body curves, etc. Let it be a work of art, not a piece of paper you printed in 2 seconds. And be careful with awkward spacing between the letters words and lines. Like having enough space for a whole other line of text between two lines of text. Or cutting the phrase at an awkward spot to put the other half on the next line...
Placement:1) Keep in mind how visible it is. Wrist, ankles and foot tattoos are popular spots for first tattoos but very visible!
2) Do you think you'll want more tattoos later on? If yes, you need to think about this when planning your current tattoo. You might like a particular, single, tribal design but it might look like crap with something else you'd want in the future. You might want a black and grey half sleeve, but if you also like colour, think about how all this will look together. You don't want to look unbalanced and unplanned. This is you and how you will look like for a long time.
3) For a better overall look, make the tattoo "fit" the space it's in...
Example 1: Getting a really tiny tattoo smack dab in the middle of your foot is not as nice as one that fills the space better.
Example 2: A round tattoo on the shoulder area will look more attractive on the roundness of the shoulder than in the flatter crook towards the chest.
Example 3: Be mindful of possible future tattoos you might want to get in a spot before you put another tattoo there. A phrase on your bicep might be hard to incorporate in with other various tattoos you also want on your arm... And it risks always looking like an obvious first-tattoo in the area.
4) For script, keep in mind that people will try to read it if it's in a visible place (like your arm, forearm, back when you're wearing tank tops) and they might touch you and approach you. It'll probably get old quick so the recommendation is to not put a paragraph of script on your forearm (for example).