What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on May 10, 2023
    Last Updated: May 10, 2023

As the buzz of the tattoo gun begins, many can’t help but imagine a swarm of needles relentlessly puncturing their skin, stirring up apprehension about the sensation of getting a tattoo. However, the truth is that the tattooing process is not an unending source of pain.

In reality, receiving a tattoo is a unique blend of emotions, thoughts, and sensations, influenced by various factors that differ for each person.

Read on to discover what getting a tattoo truly feels like.

What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like?

Tattoo pain often comes and goes in varying strengths throughout the tattooing process. Some people liken the feeling to a prickling sensation or an irritating scratch. If the tattooing needle comes into close contact with bone, it can feel like an uncomfortable vibration or rattling sensation.

Normally, the pain starts off quite bad for several minutes at the beginning of the session, but once your body starts to react by releasing various pain-dulling hormones as a response to the needles pumping in and out of your skin, the affected area usually begins to go slightly numb. The pain often goes away for a while before coming back again in waves of varying length and intensity throughout the process.

Usually (especially with longer sessions), the pain is worse toward the end. This is when you’re likely beginning to get fed up and tired, and the pain-dulling hormones begin to run out and fade away. This is the part where you’ve got to give it your all and fight through to the finish line. After all, you’re usually nearly there once the pain starts getting really bad.

Preoccupying yourself with various distractions (like talking to your artist) can often help to take your mind off the pain and help make the tattooing process more comfortable.

Along with distraction techniques, maintaining a positive mindset can also help make the tattoo session feel less painful. For example, if you walk into the studio already admitting defeat and contemplating throwing in the towel as soon as the needles start to pinch a bit, then you’ve already lost half the battle.

However, if you confidently charge into the shop with the mentality that pain is only weakness leaving the body and that you will not give in to any amount of discomfort that is to be thrown your way, then you’re in a much better mental state to smash your way through the entire session.

In the past, more than just a few customers have described the general feeling throughout their tattooing sessions as ‘euphoric’ and ‘enlightening’, while many even go as far as saying the pain actually becomes addictive, causing them to go back for more ink time and time again!

How Does The Tattoo Studio Atmosphere Feel?

Tattoo shops can vary widely with regard to how they present themselves. Usually, tattoo studios are very relaxed and welcoming, and the artists/staff will generally do everything they can to ensure you feel calm and comfortable.

While some studios will be small and will only work on one customer at a time, many studios are much larger, and you will often be accompanied by several other customers all going through the same experiences as yourself.

This can sometimes be a psychological boost to help reduce any anxieties you may have as you visit the shop. Taking the time to talk to these other customers can also often help to make you feel much more relaxed.

Also, don’t be afraid to throw questions at your artist. Most tattoo artists will happily go through queries and concerns with you if it helps to make you feel more at ease. Your consultation will be the best chance to ask as many questions as possible.

Before getting started on your tattoo, your artist/the reception staff will likely ask you to fill out a health waiver to ensure you’re in a good enough condition to go through the tattooing process. This is to minimize the risk of you suffering from any serious/adverse effects during or after the process.

Once the waiver has been completed, your artist will usually begin to measure out your skin and the size of the stencil if this hadn’t already been done on a previous trip to the shop.

If the tattoo is placed on an area containing any hairs protruding from the skin, your artist will shave them off so they don’t get in the way.

Sitting In The Chair

If you’ve never gotten a tattoo before, the nervousness can heighten as you sit in the tattooing chair.

No need to fret – your artist isn’t going to jump straight into sticking needles into your skin. They will need to finish setting up first, usually by having to fill up ink pots and getting the image references in place.

Many first-time customers worry about messing up the tattoo by jumping/twitching when the needle goes into the skin for the first time. Don’t worry; the pain isn’t sharp enough to cause you to jump or otherwise move the area away from the needle.

The needles are so sharp they cause minimal pain when puncturing the skin and will, therefore, feel more like a scratching pain, not a sharp, jolting pain that may make you involuntarily pull the specific body part out of the way.

Be aware that most tattoo guns/machines emit a rather loud buzzing noise that can sound quite menacing and intimidating, but don’t let this put you off. Even with the buzzing of the machine, you’ll still be able to have a normal conversation with your artist without having to shout, and it still sounds a million times nicer than a dentist’s drill!

Plus, with technological advances in recent years, tattoo machines are getting quieter and quieter.

By the point in the session when the needle has gone in and out several times, much of the nervousness and tension has usually gone away, and many customers begin to settle down and feel much more at ease.

You’ve finally gotten over the worst bit of waiting around and nervously familiarizing yourself with the unknown surroundings of the tattoo studio backroom. You’ll have realized that the pain isn’t going to be so bad that it knocks you out. All you’ve got to do now is suck it up for a while and sit through the (usually) manageable discomfort until your artist has finished.

What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?

Many people appear to think that tattoos have a standardized feeling when it comes to the pain they will encounter during a session. However, this is a very wrong assumption.

Throughout a long tattoo sitting, you are likely to experience a multitude of different feelings and types of pain, all while being faced with varying levels of discomfort, from ‘this is easy!’ to ‘I want to stop right now.’

A large tattoo will likely cause many different types of feelings and sensations due to the variation in design and placement across the whole area.

Below is a list of the most common types of pains and feelings you’re likely to encounter while sitting in the artist’s chair:

Scratching Feeling

This is the most common type of pain that people tend to experience.

When a needle is moved over the same area of skin over and over again by the artist as they attempt to complete a specific area, it will feel like a deep, intense scratch.

This scratching pain is definitely manageable and not too high on the pain scale, but over a long period of time, the feeling can begin to get uncomfortable and tedious. You will most often feel this type of pain when multiple needles are attached to the gun at the same time (usually for shading).

Annoying/Irritating Feeling

As you get an hour or two into a tattoo, the pain sometimes seems to take a back-seat and doesn’t trouble you so much, but as you begin to get a little bit tired, uncomfortable and irritable, this low-level pain can start to feel quite annoying, and all of a sudden, quite intolerable.

Sharp Feeling

You normally feel this ‘sharp’ pain sensation when the gun only has one needle attached to it, usually when a thin outline or very fine detail is required within the tattoo.

This pain feels as though the needle is penetrating much deeper into your skin than it actually is, and feels much more intense when compared to the scratchy feeling as described earlier.

It’s worth remembering, though, that the needles aren’t actually going deeper. The whole tattoo will be inserted at the same depth, which is actually only a few layers of skin beneath the surface.

Normally, this ‘sharp’ pain feels worse in areas where the skin is thin and stretched, like on the inner bicep or wrist (don’t worry, the needles won’t be causing any damage to those visible veins you see when you look down at your wrists, either.)

While this type of pain isn’t very pleasant, just try to fight through it the best you can and have a positive mindset – it will make a difference.

Also, remember that everybody is different when it comes to pain thresholds. While some people may struggle with a certain type of pain, you may find it a breeze, especially if the area of skin you’re getting tattooed on isn’t too thin and delicate.

Nobody ever knows how they’ll handle different pain levels and types of pain until they experience it first-hand.

Stinging Feeling

This is much like the sharp feeling described above, but not as intense.

This stinging sensation doesn’t feel like it’s coming from deep under the skin and can be likened to being repeatedly swatted with a stinging nettle over the area.

Burning Feeling

The burning feeling many people experience can be perceived as a mixture between a scratching pain and a sharp pain.

This burning sensation normally becomes more intense when a small area of skin has been worked on for a while. It’s also more common when the tattoo is being added to areas of the body that contain higher fat levels beneath the skin, such as on the stomach, thighs, and buttocks.

While this isn’t intense, it can become very annoying and wear you down mentally over time. Try to stay strong and ask for a short break if you’re beginning to struggle. Your artist will completely understand.

Vibrating/Jolting Feeling

When a tattooing needle comes into close contact with a particularly bony area of the body, it’s not unusual to feel as though the needle is vibrating right through the bone.

While this isn’t particularly painful, it is certainly a strange, intense, and unpleasant feeling.

As the needles come into close contact with your bones, they smack against the area many times a second at very high speeds, simulating the feeling that the needles are actually hitting your bones (they are not).

Areas where you’re likely to feel this sensation include fingers/toes, outer elbows, upper footwristsribs and spine.

Dull Feeling

This is one of the best states to be in when getting tattooed. Sometimes, the pain can subside so much that it just begins to feel like a dull ache, and this type of pain becomes much easier to manage.

This dull pain normally sets in quite near the start of a session once various pain response hormones, such as adrenaline, begin to pump around the body.

Throughout the rest of the session, you will most likely continue to drift in and out of this dull and achy state, having bouts of more intense pain between these waves of dullness.

Numb Feeling

Sometimes, the pain receptors in your skin can actually make the area feel numb, which is great! However, this feeling, unfortunately, doesn’t tend to stick around for very long.


If you really begin to start struggling with the pain at some point within a sitting, there is absolutely no shame in asking your artist to take a break.

The vast majority of artists will be fine with stopping for a few minutes so you can regroup and feel more comfortable again.

Sometimes, the intense pain and discomfort can be an indicator that your blood sugar levels may be getting a bit low, and therefore you should take a sugary snack/drink along to the session with you so you can replenish these levels. A chocolate bar would be perfect for this.

It’s also advisable to get some fresh air outside if you begin to feel nauseous, dizzy, or faint (all of which can be caused by low blood sugar levels). Normally, a few minutes outside can settle you down enough to carry on with the sitting.

Having a large, healthy breakfast containing protein and fat at the start of the day can help to keep your body nourished and fulfilled throughout the session.

How To Make A Tattooing Session Feel As Comfortable As Possible

Although it’s almost certain that you’ll feel at least a small amount of discomfort, there are many things you can try to make the whole experience seem more pleasant and bearable.

Remember that Everybody who has a tattoo has gone through the same process.

It’s definitely worth remembering that MILLIONS of people have managed to get through the tattooing process and happily lived to tell the tale.

Psychologically, it’s always great to know that what you’re about to do has already been done multiple times, and many people have gone back to get even more work done. So it can’t be that bad.

Talk To Your Artist

Most artists are extremely easy to get along with and would much prefer to have a chat with you throughout the session instead of working in silence.

Talking with your artist can help pass the time and take your mind off the pain, and most artists are well-equipped to give you little snippets of encouragement if they see you struggling.

It’s worth remembering, however, that although the vast majority of artists don’t mind chit-chatting throughout the sitting, a select few prefer to concentrate and focus 100% on their work. If your artist seems a little less enthusiastic about talking, or if they look like they’re really trying to concentrate, then it may be worth trying one of the other distraction techniques instead.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

There’s nothing worse than sitting in the tattooing chair for a mere two seconds before wanting to pull a wedgie out of your ass every 5 minutes, or wanting to begin furiously fanning your hand in front of your face because you’re boiling hot after deciding to wear a huge sheepskin jumper to the shop.

It’s always wise to wear something that you’re going to feel totally comfortable in for long durations. This isn’t a fashion show, so if you feel at your comfiest in baggy sweatpants, flip-flops and a string vest, go ahead and own that look.

Loose and airy clothing is much more recommended than wearing something tight and restrictive, especially for longer sittings.

Eat Something Beforehand

Having an empty stomach while getting a tattoo can cause a few unwanted effects. For example, you may feel sluggish and lack energy, which can affect your state of mind and tolerance to pain throughout the session.

Not eating before arriving can mean your blood sugar levels may drop once the needles start puncturing the skin (a common side-effect not only in tattooing but also medical practices such as acupuncture).

Low blood sugar levels during the tattooing process may not cause any noticeable issues for some people, but others could experience degrees of lightheadedness, dizziness or nausea. Make sure to eat well before arriving at the studio.


It’s always best to let your artist know if you feel faint, dizzy, or otherwise unwell. This is so you can schedule a short break to see if you feel better after a few minutes away from the chair.

Very often, a sugary snack/drink and a few minutes of fresh air can help alleviate the symptoms enough for you to continue with the session.

Watch TV

Many of the more modern studios now come equipped with at least one television that can be seen from the tattooing chair. Sometimes, the artists in the studio will put on a popular film which can help customers turn their attention to something other than their pain.

Take Some Music

Making a playlist you can chill out and relax to before you leave for the studio can help during intense discomfort.

Putting your headphones on and focusing on the music often helps people through some of the pain barriers they come across during a sitting.

Play Games On Your Phone/Tablet

Installing a few addictive games on your phone or tablet can help take your mind away from the pain and kill time when you’re really beginning to struggle.

Practice Breathing Control / Meditation

This tip is quite hit-and-miss, depending on what type of person you are and how well you’re able to ‘zone out’ from reality when needed.

While some people can successfully separate themselves from pain and discomfort by adopting good breathing control or meditation techniques, some struggle to reap any benefits from controlled breathing.

On a personal note, focusing on deep breathing and relaxation techniques has never really helped me to overcome anything in terms of distracting my mind from the pain, but that’s not to say it wont work for others.

Many tattoo customers swear they can get amazing results by practicing good breathing control or meditation techniques, and, it may be worth looking into some of the more popular methods if you think this could help control your pain.

Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing technique is particularly helpful for many people. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and exhale for a count of 8. This aims to help relax your body and relieve stress and tension.

Try A Specialist Tattoo Skin Numbing Product

Sometimes, especially if you’re really worried about how painful your tattoo might be, it can be a wise idea to look into the various skin-numbing products currently on the market.

Tattoo numbing products won’t work fantastically well for everybody, but for many previous tattooees, these products have been a godsend and have enabled them to push through their sessions with minimal pain and discomfort.

For people wanting a little extra assistance for dealing with the pain, a good tattoo numbing cream can really help to take the edge off.

One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is Zensa Numbing Cream, which contains the highest level of Lidocaine allowed by the FDA for over-the-counter use. The feedback left by thousands of customers for this product is nothing short of exceptional.

Just follow the instructions supplied with the cream and apply shortly before your tattoo appointment is due to begin so that you can look forward to a less painful and more comfortable tattooing experience. The amount of cream you get in a tube also ensures you have more than enough for a large tattoo. Click here to buy from Amazon

Take Something To Bite On

You may have seen people bite down on a stick or towel in various movies or TV shows if they’re about to experience something extremely painful. This technique does, in fact, work for some people when trying to control and fight through pain.

If all else fails, it may be worth trying this technique – it may just help you get over the finish line. Or, you may break a tooth, so try breathing or distraction methods instead.

How Does It Feel Once The Tattoo Has Been Completed?

For many people, sheer elation is the first feeling they get when their artist turns to them to say “all done”.

If it’s been a particularly difficult session, then there’s nothing better than hearing your artist say they’ve finished jabbing multiple needles into your skin.

However, once the adrenaline has settled and the happiness of finishing your tattoo has subsided, you are likely to begin feeling slightly sore and beaten up, depending on how long and intense the session was. You may even feel a little run down and sick if the session was a particularly long slog.

Customers who get only very small tattoos that didn’t take long to complete will usually get away with only minor soreness and redness once the initial tattoo work is complete (although the area will probably remain sore to the touch for the next day or two).

For people who have gone through 4, 5 or even 6+ hours in the chair, the coming days can be a bit more uncomfortable. Having needles go in and out of the same area of the body many hundreds of thousands of times is obviously going to do a bit of damage around the tattoo.

It’s not uncommon to experience mild-to-heavy bruising, swelling, redness and soreness around the area for the next several days. However, these effects should gradually diminish day by day until they’re completely gone.

It’s worth noting that if things actually get worse instead of better, there may be an infection present, and you should go back to your artist for further instruction.

Bruising and Swelling

Cleaning your tattoo will be fairly painful for the first few days due to localized bruising and swelling, but you should ensure you’re thorough when washing the area in order to prevent an infection. Apply a quality healing lotion to the area after each clean to keep the skin moisturized and nourished.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.


Getting a new tattoo is a highly personal experience; it doesn’t have to be an unbearable and painstaking process.

Yes, you are likely to feel some discomfort throughout your session, but everybody is different, and most don’t end up suffering as much as they initially thought.

Choose a well-respected artist, go in with a positive mindset, soak up the atmosphere and try to enjoy the experience as much as possible. This is the best way to mentally keep all of the less glamorous parts of getting a new tattoo tucked as far back in your mind as possible.

So, what does getting a tattoo feel like? That depends on you, and the only way you’ll know is by going ahead and giving it a go.

I bet you won’t regret it.

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