What Does Getting A New Tattoo Feel Like?
When most people want to get a new tattoo but visualize bunches of needles puncturing in and out of their skin thousands of times a minute, they generally think the worst when it comes to imagining what getting a tattoo feels like.
Many people think that the tattooing process is just constant, unbearable pain, but this isn't the case at all (in most circumstances).
Throughout a tattooing session, the average person will experience many different feelings, thoughts and sensations, and these will all depend on a multitude of factors.
Keep reading to learn what getting a new tattoo really feels like:
How Does The Tattoo Studio Atmosphere Feel?
Tattoo shops/studios 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 composed.
Whilst 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, which can sometimes be a psychological boost to help you reduce any anxieties that you may have as you turn up to 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.
Before getting started with your tattoo, your artist/the reception staff will likely ask you to fill out a health waiver to ensure that you're in a good enough condition in order to go through the tattooing process without any suffering from any adverse effects.
Once the waiver/legal stuff 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 at a previous time.
If the tattoo is being placed on an area containing any hairs protruding from the skin, your artist will also likely proceed to shave these off so they don't get in the way.
Sitting In The Chair
If you’ve never had a tattoo before then the nervousness can begin to heighten as you sit yourself onto the artist’s chair.
No need to fret - your artist isn’t going to jump straight into sticking a needle into your skin. They will likely need to finish setting up first by doing a few things such as filling up the ink pots and doing a final study of the image that they will likely be using as a reference.
Many people new to getting tattooed are worried about jumping/twitching when feeling the needle go into the skin for the first time and potentially messing up the tattoo. Don’t worry, the pain isn’t sharp enough to cause you to jump or otherwise move the area away.
The needles are so sharp that they cause minimal pain when puncturing the skin and will therefore feel more like a scratching pain when first inserted - 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 normal conversation with your artist over the noise without having to shout, and it still sounds a million times nicer than a dentist’s drill! (Yuck).
Plus, with technological advances in recent years, tattoo machines are getting quieter and quieter.
By this point in the session, when the needle has gone in and out for the first few times, much of the nervousness and tension has usually gone away and many customers begin to settle down and feel much more comfortable.
You’ve finally gotten over the worst bit which is the waiting part, and where you’ve had to nervously familiarize yourself with the unknowns of the studio backroom.
By this point you'll have realized that the pain isn’t going to be so bad that it’ll knock you out, and all you’ve got to do now is suck it up for a little while (or a long while depending on tattoo size & detail) and sit through the (usually) manageable discomfort in order to deservedly finish up with the beautiful trophy you’ve been wanting so long for.
What Does Getting A Tattoo Feel Like? Do All Tattoos Hurt?
Tattoo pain very often comes and goes in varying strengths throughout the tattooing process.
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 and the pain often goes away for a while before coming back in waves of varying length and intensity throughout the process.
Usually (especially with longer sessions), the pain is normally worse towards the end. This is when you're most likely to begin getting 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 though to the finish line. After all, you’re usually nearly there once the pain starts getting really bad.
Plus, if the tattoo is particularly small/basic then you may never even have to reach this point!
Also, it’s definitely worth knowing that preoccupying yourself with various distractions (like talking to your artist) can very often help to take your mind off of the pain and help to make the tattooing process more comfortable (more on distraction techniques later).
Along with distraction techniques, the general mindset (state of mind) of the person getting tattooed can also influence how painful (or painless) the upcoming session becomes.
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 in your head you’ve already lost the battle.
However, if you confidently charge yourself into the shop with the mentality that pain is only weakness leaving the body and that you will not give into any amount of discomfort that is to be thrown your way then you’re in a much better mental state in order to smash your way through the entire session.
This is why positive thinking can definitely help to improve your chances of feeling more comfortable throughout the process.
Actually, you may not even find the process uncomfortable at all, and may actually end up enjoying it!
In the past, more than just a few customers have described the general feeling throughout their tattooing sessions as ‘euphoric’ and ‘enlightening’ whilst many even go as far as saying that the pain actually becomes addictive, causing them to go back for more ink time and time again!
What Does Tattoo Pain Feel Like?
Many people appear to think that tattoos have a standardised feeling when it comes to the pain that they cause during the session. However, this is a very wrong assumption.
Throughout a relatively long tattoo sitting you are likely to experience a multitude of different feelings and types of pain whilst being faced with varying levels of discomfort from ‘this is easy!’ to ‘I want to stop right now!'.
How to make a tattoo hurt less:
A big tattoo such as the one above will likely cause many different types of feelings and sensations due to the large amount of variation in design and placement across the whole arm.
Below is a list of the most common types of pains and feelings that you're likely to experience whilst sitting in the artist's chair:
This is probably the most common type of pain that most 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 that specific area, it will likely feel like a deep, intense scratch.
Whilst this scratching pain is definitely manageable and not too high on the pain scale, 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 a few needles are attached to the gun at the same time rather than when just a single needle is used (this feels more like a ‘sharper’ kind of pain, as discussed in the coming sections).
Sometimes as you get an hour or two into a session, the pain 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 very annoying.
However - I’d take this kind of discomfort over searing red hot pain during a tattoo session any day.
As mentioned above, you normally feel this ‘sharp’ pain sensation when the gun only has one needle attached to it, which is 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 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 - all of the tattoo ink will be inserted at the exact same depth, which is actually only a few layers of skin beneath the surface!
Normally, this kind of pain feels worse where the skin is very thin and stretched, like on the inner bicep or wrist for example.
While this sharp pain feeling isn’t very pleasant, just try to fight through it as best as possible and remain positive in your mind.
Also remember that everybody is different. Whilst some people may really struggle with a certain type of pain such as the kind that is sharp and intense, you personally may find it a breeze, especially if the area of skin that you’re getting tattooed on isn’t too thin and delicate.
Nobody ever knows how they will handle different pain levels and types of pain until they experience it first-hand.
This is much like the sharp feeling as described above but not as intense.
This stinging sensation doesn’t feel as though it’s coming from deep under the skin, and can be likened to being repeatedly swatted with a stinging nettle over the area.
The burning feeling that many people experience can be perceived as a bit of a mixture between the scratching pain and the sharp pain as described above.
This burning sensation normally becomes more intense when a small area of skin has been constantly worked on for quite a while, and is 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.
Whilst this isn’t an intense feeling as such, it can become very annoying and can wear you down mentally over time. Therefore, try to stay strong and ask for a short break if you’re really beginning to struggle - your artist will completely understand.
When a tattooing needle comes into close contact with a particularly bony area on the body, it’s not unusual to feel as though the needle is vibrating right through the bone.
Whilst this isn’t particularly painful, it is certainly a strange and rather intense feeling.
This happens because 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 your actual bones are being hit by the needles.
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 to 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, achy sensation and will probably have bouts of more intense pain between these waves of dullness.
Once in a while your body will probably snap out of this lesser-pain phase and heighten its pain receptors once again, but a good way to stay within the lower pain thresholds is to keep yourself preoccupied and distracted in order to take your mind away from the pain (more on this in the coming sections below).
Whilst the pain is commonly manageable towards the start of the session, you must remember that as the sitting goes on, your body will begin to run low on those awesome pain reducing hormones (and your skin will begin to swell and bruise with longer sittings), and therefore these lovely segments of dull pain will probably begin to become shorter and shorter as time goes by.
Keep in mind though that everybody’s pain thresholds are different, and whilst one person may only be able to take an hour of pain before beginning to feel like they’re really suffering, another person may be able to go 4 hours or even more.
In-fact it’s not unusual for some die-hard tattoo customers to do 12+ hours in a single sitting! Especially if they've traveled a long way to be worked on by a specific artist and they need the work crammed in within a short length of time.
Sometimes the pain receptors in your skin can actually make the area feel numb, which is awesome! However, this is quite rare and the feeling 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 completely fine with stopping for a few minutes so that you can regroup and begin to 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 with you to the session so you can replenish these levels. A chocolate bar would be perfect for this.
It’s also advisable to go and get a bit of 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 nice big breakfast at the start of the day can also help keep your body nourished and fulfilled throughout the session.
Things That Can Affect How Getting A Tattoo Feels
There are so many variables that can affect how getting a tattoo feels like. Below are the most common elements of getting a tattoo that can change the outcome of how comfortable or painful getting a new tattoo might be:
The different feelings and sensations you’ll experience will vary greatly depending on where on your body you are being inked. This is because different parts of the body come with many different attributes.
For example, the thickness of the skin can dictate how much the needles feel like they’re “pinching”.
A tattoo on the inside of the bicep can feel very sharp due to the very thin layer of skin that usually resides there.
On the other hand, getting some ink on a nice thick piece of skin with a good layer of fat underneath (like on the buttocks area) can be mean less sharp pain/intense discomfort (although this isn’t always the case as you must remember that everybody feels pain differently in different areas of the body).
Nerve endings also play a big part in what getting your tattoo is going to feel like.
A place that has a large grouping of shallow nerve endings (like the inside of your wrist) is going to generally feel more intense than an area where nerves don’t accumulate in such large numbers (such as on the forearm).
Style Of Tattoo
There are dozens of different tattooing styles (solid linework, dotwork, portraits, watercolor etc), and each different style will come with its own unique feeling under the needle.
For example, a portrait tattoo will usually require lots of shading work to be done, meaning that the artist will be drawing in a different way and with different needle types and gun speeds when compared to doing another style such as intricate line work (which will again require a whole different approach).
All of these separate approaches are going to result in your body feeling different types of sensations when under the needle.
Shading will likely consist of a gun attachment containing multiple needle-points which may cause more of a scratching/burning sensation when compared to the single needle-point needed for thin line work, which may bring about more of a deep, sharp pain.
All artists develop their own individual styles over time; some work very quickly with the needle while others are much more slow and patient. Some are very light and delicate with the tattoo gun whilst some can be considerably more rough and heavy-handed.
Each of these different approaches can help to determine how comfortable or uncomfortable your tattooing session may be.
Whilst a very slow and gentle artist will generally cause a lesser amount discomfort when compared to an artist that is quick and slightly more aggressive, you must remember that the faster your artist is, the quicker it’ll all be over!
It's also worth keeping in mind that there is no ‘better’ way to do a tattoo. Just because a tattoo artist is very quick, it definitely doesn’t mean that they are rushing it or are being careless.
Some of the very best tattoo artists in the world are very fast with the needle - so don’t worry if your artist is a speedster - it’s not a bad thing!
As already mentioned a few times; each person is different when it comes to how their bodies perceive pain and in-turn how the body responds to it.
Some people may be able to chug along nicely in a tattoo sitting for a couple of hours (or more) until the pain starts niggling away at them. On the other hand, some people may begin to struggle almost instantly.
Therefore, your own personal pain threshold is going to a big decider as to whether you’re going to get through the sitting with minimal discomfort, or whether you might begin to struggle at some point during.
Current Mental State
It can be very surprising to some people how powerful and persuasive the human mind can actually be.
Employing a positive state of mind before and during a tattoo session can definitely help to control not only levels of discomfort, but also the ‘I want to quit’ thoughts that will likely enter your head once or twice throughout a long sitting.
If you turn up to the studio with an already-defeated mindset in which you just know you’re going to struggle and will probably want to tap out, then eventually you will probably do just that, because you’d given into the idea before the session had even begun.
Alternatively, if you fire yourself up and confidently walk into the studio knowing that you’re going to overcome the session and smash through any pain barriers that you might come across, you’re much more likely to struggle a lot less throughout the day.
Current Physical State
Also, try not to lose sleep the night before your sitting due to worrying about how painful the tattoo might be.
These bouts of worrying and thoughts of ‘what if’ can leave you feeling exhausted before the session has even begun.
This advice definitely ties into the section above about mental state of mind. Try to be positive.
Most people go through many of the feelings listed above inside of a single tattooing session, and the longer your session lasts for, the greater chance you have of experiencing a mixture of different feelings and sensations.
You will likely go through one to two ‘rough patches’, but you will also likely feel great through a large amount of the session too.
How To Make A Tattooing Session Feel As Comfortable As Possible
Although it’s almost certain that you’re going to feel at least a small amount of discomfort, there are many things you can try in order to make the whole experience 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 many times, and many people have repeatedly 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 definitely help to pass the time and take your mind off of the pain, and most artists are well-equipped in giving you little snippets of encouragement if you begin to struggle with the pain.
It's worth remembering however, that although the vast majority of artists don’t mind chit-chat throughout the sitting, there are a select few that prefer to concentrate and focus 100% on their work - therefore 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 tattoo chair for a mere two seconds before you have to begin pulling a wedgie out of your ass every 5 minutes, or have to begin furiously fanning your hand in front your face because you're boiling hot after deciding to wear a huge woolly jumper to the studio.
For this reason, it’s always wise to wear something that you’re going to feel 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 then go ahead and wear them.
Loose and airy clothing is generally much more recommended over 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.
Also, not eating before getting a tattoo can mean that your blood sugar levels may drop quite low once the needles start puncturing the skin (a common side-effects in not only tattooing but also medical practices such as acupuncture).
Low blood sugar levels during the tattooing process may not cause any noticeable issues in some people, but others could experience varying degrees of light-headedness, dizziness and nausea.
It’s always best to let your artist know if you feel faint, dizzy or otherwise unwell. This is so that you can schedule a short break to see if you start to 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 to alleviate the symptoms enough for you to continue on with the session.
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 a popular film on which can sometimes help customers to focus on something other that the pain from their tattoo.
Take Some Music
Making an awesome and/or relaxing playlist before you leave for the studio can really help during those times of intense discomfort.
Plugging your headphones into your ears and focusing on the music often helps many people through some of the pain barriers they come across during a sitting.
Play Games On Your Phone/Tablet
Again, installing a few addictive games on your phone/tablet can definitely help take your mind off of the pain 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.
Whilst some people can have amazing success at separating themselves from pain and discomfort by adopting good breathing control and/or meditation techniques, some people 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 pain, but that’s not to say that they don’t work for others.
I know many dozens of tattoo customers who swear that they can get amazing results by practicing good breathing control and/or meditation techniques; therefore it may definitely be worth looking into some of the more popular breathing/meditation techniques if you think this is something that could be of help to you in controlling any pain you come across during a sitting.
Try A Specialist Tattoo Skin Numbing Product
Sometimes, especially if you’re really worried about how painful your tattoo might be, it might be a wise idea to look into the various skin numbing products that are currently on the market.
Again, tattoo numbing products won’t work fantastically well for everybody, but for many previous tattoo customers these products have been a godsend, and have enabled the them to successfully push through their sessions with minimal pain and discomfort.
There are a huge range of various numbing creams and sprays available that are completely safe to use on skin that is about to be tattooed, including my favorite product below:
My Favorite Tattoo Numbing Product
My Favorite Tattoo Numbing Product
One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is a cream called Numb 520. The feedback left by hundreds of customers for this product is nothing short of brilliant.
Just follow the instructions on the tubs, apply shortly before your tattooing session is due to begin and look forward to a less-painful experience.
The 1.35oz tub also ensures you will have more than enough cream for a large tattoo.
Give it a try, and I'm confident you will not be disappointed.
Read more about Numb 520 here, and have a quick look at some of the customer reviews to see exactly why it's one of the best and most popular numbing creams on the market.
Here's a selection of my other favorite tattoo numbing creams and sprays currently available.
Take Something To Bite On
You may have seen this in movies where somebody is handed a stick or towel to bite on if they’re about to experience something extremely painful - but this technique does in fact work for some people when trying to control and fight through pain!
If all else fails then it may be worth giving this technique a try - it may just help you get to the finish line.
How Does It Feel Once The Tattoo Has Been Completed?
For many people, the first initial feeling they get once their artist says “all done” is sheer elation that the pain and discomfort is over.
If it’s been a particularly difficult session then there is absolutely nothing better than hearing your artist say that they've finished jabbing pointy needles into your skin.
Once the adrenaline has settled and the happiness of finishing your tattoo has subsided however, you are likely to begin feeling slightly sore and beaten up depending how long the session was.
For customers who get only very small tattoos that didn’t take long to complete, they 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/heavy bruising, swelling, redness and soreness around the area for the next several days, although these effects should gradually diminish day-by-day until they are completely gone.
It's worth noting that if things actually get worse instead of getting better then there may be a possible infection present and you should go back to your artist for further instruction.
Cleaning your tattoo will also likely be quite painful for the first few days, although you should still ensure that you’re thorough when washing the area in order to prevent the tattooed area from becoming infected. Finish by applying a good quality healing lotion to the area to keep things moisturized and nourished.
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching and irritation.
Getting a new tattoo is a highly personal experience, and it doesn’t have to be an unbearable and painstaking process.
Yes, you are likely to feel some form of discomfort throughout your session, but everybody is different, and most don’t end up suffering as much as they thought they initially would.
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-nice 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. Please let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below if you finally decide to bite the bullet and get the tattoo you’ve always wanted.