What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like? (Honest Overview)

Written by: Pete

With so many conflicting messages on how painful a tattoo is, you may not know what exactly to expect when it comes to your first tattoo. While there are numerous factors that may influence individual experiences, we’re here to share with you what getting a tattoo really feels like. We’re always authentic with our readers, so you’ll only find the honest truth in this article!

Related: How Long Do Tattoos Take?

What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like?

First thing’s first, we want to reassure you that if you’re scared of the potential pain of a tattoo, most chances are that you’ll be able to handle it without much stress or suffering! It’s really not as bad as many people, films, or television make it out to be. In fact, if you take the time to research a highly experienced artist, they’ll most likely be very gentle on your skin.

Here are a few things you can expect heading into your session:

  • Your artist will clean and likely shave the area you are planning to have tattooed, to make it easier to deposit the ink in your dermis. They will then place a stencil on your skin and you can approve the placement and sizing. There is nothing painful to worry about during this step!
  • Linework is normally how the artist starts their process, and this involves outlining the tattoo. This is done in case you need to end a session early and have to continue at another date; it allows the artist to have a sort of “coloring page” to return to.Your artist will probably do a small test of your pain tolerance during this point and ask you if you are doing okay. What you can expect to feel is a light stinging or prickling sensation. Usually, the needles used during this process are the least painful. Most people compare the pain to being scratched over and over with a really sharp fingernail. They say it’s tolerable but annoying.
    At the very beginning of your tattoo session, your adrenaline is at its utmost peak and this part of the process will hurt the very least. It’s recommended that if you want to minimize pain, book your tattoo appointment early in the morning, as your adrenaline decreases as the day goes on.
    In addition, your body will begin to release pain-diminishing hormones as an immune response to the process and these get weaker as your session extends.
  • After linework is complete, depending on your design, you may need to have your piece colored, shaded, or filled in. We’ll be honest with you: this is where it starts to get a little uncomfortable. The needles used during this process are wider and consist of multiple very tiny needles to make up one head. This is where the stinging sensation stops and the burning sensation can begin. It may feel like you have a sunburn or as if your skin is on fire.
    Since shading or full color requires a lot of time and patience, your adrenaline will begin to drop and the immune system response you had at the beginning of your session will begin to dull. This is when the tattoo experience can become more uncomfortable.
  • Most experienced tattoo aficionados say that a tattoo session is tolerable up until the 4th hour of the appointment. At that point, your skin and you are just fed up with the discomfort and it can become irritating or impossible to sit through. This is why big pieces are often broken down into smaller sessions.
  • Your artist will end your session by cleaning your tattoo with a cool alcohol and applying ointment, which is often described as a relieving and soothing experience to end your tattoo on.

Things to Keep in Mind About Tattoo Pain

If you're concerned about the pain while getting a tattoo, consider using a numbing cream!

  • Your mindset will have a big impact on how much pain is felt. If you enter into your appointment excited and convince yourself that the process will be a breeze, you may not find the process to be uncomfortable.
  • Some people actually like the adrenaline rush of a tattoo and say the pain is a little exciting! This is what can make getting tattoos a little bit addictive.
  • How does it feel once the tattoo has been completed? Well, your tattoo may continue to sting or be sensitive even after your session and that’s completely normal. Some people find the aftercare discomfort to be worse than the tattoo itself.
  • Your individual threshold to pain, which is determined by your immune system, genetics, mentality, and your learned responses to pain as a child, will heavily impact how uncomfortable a tattoo feels.
  • Where you get tattooed can have a big impact on how painful the tattoo experience will be. Have a look at our thorough article collection on tattoo pain for more information.
  • Is getting a tattoo unbearable? Absolutely not! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such a popular avenue of self-expression. Many people would say it’s not painful at all. 

How Does the Tattoo Studio Atmosphere Feel?

The tattoo shop or studio will have a big impact on how uncomfortable you are during your session. The cleanliness, the comfort of the chairs you’ll be in, the mood of the employees of the shop, and even the music can all add or take away from your comfort level during your session.

Take the time to research reputable and high-quality shops with great testimonials and reviews. Visit the shop and feel out the vibe. And book a consultation to see how you feel with an artist you are considering. 

What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?

There are a few different types of pain that are described when getting a tattoo:

  • Point Pain - This is centralized due to the pricking sensation of the needles. 
  • Diffused Pain - This is when you no longer feel the individual pokes of the needle but your skin feels generally quite uncomfortable.
  • Scratching Pain - This is comparable to being scratched by a cat or a fingernail going over the same place, over and over again. It’s tolerable but annoying.
  • Throbbing Pain - This sensation can come and go during your tattoo and is related to the inflammation reaction of your immune system.
  • Burning Pain - This pain feels like a really severe sunburn and can sometimes continue even after you’re done your tattoo.
  • Background Pain - This is a general sensation of discomfort. It’s tolerable, but it’s not really enjoyable!
  • Vibrating Pain - When tattooing over thin skin or bones, you may feel a vibration sensation through entire limbs or even your whole body. Most people say that this pain is the most uncomfortable, simply because it is so odd. 

How to Make a Tattooing Session Feel as Comfortable as Possible

A tattoo will never be a painless experience, but there are certainly ways that you can help make the session more comfortable for you. 

  • Be transparent with your fears during your consultation.
  • Ask your artist to select a placement that will be less painful for you.
  • Be well-rested and eat before your appointment. 
  • Keep yourself distracted during your session.
  • Ask your artist if they’re comfortable using numbing cream for your tattoo session.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask to take a break if you need to, or to delay the continuation of your tattoo to another session appointment.
  • Come in with a positive mindset and use breathing techniques during your session.

For more advice, check out our article on How To Prepare For A Tattoo: 16 Must-Know Tips For A Perfect Ink Appointment.

Our Final Thoughts

The pain of a tattoo can be an individual experience. Our best advice to you is to enter with a positive mindset and keep yourself distracted during your session. Remember that an incredible piece of art lies at the end of the uncomfortable tattooing journey. With how popular tattooing is becoming, it can’t be that unbearable! Remember to advocate for yourself and your comfort by discussing all fears with your artist. 

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