Eric Gibson thought the symbols tattooed on his right arm were his name in Japanese.
The Hebron resident later found out it wasn't his name — and wasn't even Japanese. The first two characters of the tattoo meant "safe" and "Kung Fu" in Chinese, Gibson said. No one knew what the other symbols meant.
Gibson said he doesn't regret that first tattoo nor the six more that followed it.
"My body is a canvas," he said.
Tattoos have become a "generational badge" for an increasing number of young adults, according to "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next," by the Pew Research Center.
The study found that 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have tattoos. Of those, 50 percent have between two and five tattoos and 18 percent have six or more.
Cresencio "Chencho" Leon, owner of 45th Street Tattoo Co. in Griffith, said a lot of people in that age bracket come into his shop.
He said some clients choose a design based on impulse, but most have a clear vision for the type of tattoo they want. Their tattoos tend to be bigger and more personal than in years past, he added.
Ten years ago, Leon said he would do three or four panthers or sun and moon tattoos in a day. He said TV shows about the tattoo business have educated the public and allowed them to trust tattoo artists to design more personal pieces.
"We don't get a lot of meatheads who walk in, point at the wall and say give me that," Leon said. "Everyone wants to come in, tell their story and get their personal tattoo."
Each of Portage resident Alicia Richmond's eight tattoos are deeply personal — from the Star of Life surrounded by God's hands to symbolize emergency medical technician school to her dad's nickname for her to the "No lies, just love" she got tattooed over her heart after her fiance left.
The 27-year-old said she regrets the music note tattoo she got on the day of her 18th birthday from a place called No Regrets. Richmond said she is bothered now by the idea that her tattoos will be visible when she puts on a wedding dress.
"I know it's exciting to get tattoos, but wait until you really, really know what you want," she said. "Don't be in a rush to go get that tattoo."
Tyler Camacho got a half-sleeve tattoo on the day of his 18th birthday in memory of his grandfather, who died in 2010. It is a combination of eight tattoos that include a portrait of his grandfather with roses, a nautical star, a banner with flowers and skulls and his grandfather's date of death.
"Tattoos have always been a big interest ever since I was little," the Hobart resident said. "I always wanted one."
Camacho, Gibson and Richmond all said people's reactions to their body art have been mixed.
Camacho said some people tell him that he'll regret his tattoos because they will make it harder to find a job. Others think they look cool.
Richmond said some older adults she transported by ambulance would ask her what she thinks she will look like when she's older.
Gibson said a girl once refused to date him because of his tattoos.
"Tattoos disgust me, so this isn't going to work," she told him.
Gibson said he isn't bothered by people who don't appreciate his tattoos.
"I'm nowhere close to being done yet," he said.