What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like?

You may think that getting a tattoo feels like receiving a vaccination shot or a having a nurse draw blood. But the feeling is nothing like that. Still, if you have a fear of needles, you may want to skip getting a tattoo.

What Does Getting a Tattoo Feel Like?

Tattoo needles don’t go into your skin very deeply, but they are not pain-free. Basically, the feeling is like a simple touch of pain and an intense, annoying vibration, and the feeling that someone is dragging the needle across the skin. That’s what tattoo artist is actually doing.

When tattoos are applied, the specialized needle enters and then leaves the skin about 20 times per second, or 1,200 times per minute. So yes, it’ll hurt.

The pain you experience will usually seem to lessen after the tattoo artist has been working for 15 or 20 minutes. That’s because your adrenaline will begin to kick in, and that manages some of the pain.

Splitting Sessions for more Effective Tattoos

Most tattoo artists only work for two hours in one session, so if your tattoo is a large design, you will have to schedule more than one appointment, and they need to be about two weeks apart. The first session will be when the outline is done, and the shading will be completed in the next session.

Even though tattoos are painful, many people still get them. Statistics say that over 35% of Americans in the ages of 18-29 have one tattoo or more. 16% of people of all ages have at least one tattoo.

When you try to determine what it feels like to get a tattoo, remember that people are individuals, with their own levels of pain tolerance. The tattoo location can make it more or less painful, too. The technology of tattooing means that tattoos are easier to apply and less painful now than they used to be. This has led to their increase in popularity. The number of people who have tattoos has nearly tripled just in the last 60 years.

What is the Pain Comparable to?

Some people say that getting their tattoo felt like a cat was scratching them repeatedly. Others say it feels like licking from a cat’s rough tongue. It may feel like your skin does when you scratch an itch in a sunburned area, or the pain that comes with sunburn as it heals.

Most people don’t find the pain of tattoos necessarily overwhelming. Many people who have tattoos find the pain simply irritating. The descriptions of what getting a tattoo feels like run from  being simply bothered and having the skin become more irritated, as the artist continues.  These tattoo aficionados may tell you to rely on your mind in order to remain calm & collected.

To others, getting their tattoo felt like just what it was – being repeatedly stabbed or poked with a needle. The pain is sometimes compared to physical pain that is concentrated in just one area.

If you want to know more about “What does getting a tattoo feel like?” watch this video.

Getting a Tattoo

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If you decide you want a tattoo, painful or not, you should understand the procedure. There are four steps.

  1. Get a Tattoo Safely

If you get a tattoo, you are putting yourself at risk of getting infections or disease, since tattooing wounds the skin. Ask your physician before you get a tattoo if you have heart disease, diabetes, allergies, skin disorders or conditions of the immune system. Ask your OB-GYN if it’s safe to get a tattoo if you’re pregnant.

  1. Plan your Design

Be sure that the design you select is something you truly love and want to wear for the rest of your life. Make a very basic sketch first, and determine where you want it. The tattoo design should be unique and perfect.

  1. Find a Reputable, Experienced Tattoo Artist

Be sure that your artist can properly render the design you want. You may have to travel a ways to find a really good artist. Check the studio out to be sure it meets specific standards for tattooing:

  • It should have an autoclave so that the artist can sterilize the needles.
  • It should have sterilized or disposable equipment.
  • Its location should be clean and safe.
  • The artist should be a licensed tattoo practitioner with good references.
  • The studio should follow Universal Precautions from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
  1. Negotiate the Details with Your Tattoo Artist

Your artist will explain the procedure to you, and you can work with him to set a price that is fair for both of you. You may need to pay a deposit, and he may want to refine your design a bit. Leave the area that will be tattooed unshaven. He will shave it for you, so you don’t cause any skin damage.

Before your artist begins the process, check out his improved design. Then you’ll be almost to the point of finding out what getting a tattoo feels like.

After the artist is done with your tattoo, make sure it doesn’t need any touch-ups. Follow any aftercare instructions you receive, including using bandages on the area and washing it only with antibacterial soap.

Tips for Getting the best Tattoo

Now that you have come close to answering the question, “What does getting a tattoo feel like?”, and how to get one, here are five tips to make your tattoo just what you want it to be:

  • When looking for ideas for designs, avoid Google and Pinterest. Everyone has tattoos that look like the ones posted there. Find a good artist and check his work for your inspiration. You could also use Instagram as a source.
  • Remember that good tattoos cost more, but it’s worth the extra bucks. The price will vary by your location, how large your tattoo is, where on your body it will be inked, and the artist himself. Good tattoos can be as inexpensive as $50 for a small and simple design to hundreds of dollars for elaborate designs.
  • Use communication to get the tattoo you want. Collaborate with the artist. Be sure that you are clear about what you want, and accept the advice from the reputable artist you select.
  • Proofread your tattoo before it is inked, if it includes words. Pay close attention to even the tiniest of details in the design.
  • While your tattoo heals, it will scab, and the skin will feel like it has been sunburned. The tattoo looks perfect when it’s finished, but in a few days it will begin drying out. It might peel like sunburned skin does.
  • Don’t pick at your scabs, or the design won’t heal properly. After about two weeks, it should be pretty much healed, as long as you have correctly kept it clean and moisturized it using unscented lotion.


  1. I got a tattoo on my ribs, and let me tell you–it HURT like a burning hot knife. I’ve heard that you can tune out the pain, but that didn’t work when it is hitting the nerves right by your bones. If you are worried about it hurting, don’t get it there.

    • You make an excellent point. While the pain only lasts for a few hours, there are some people who lack the pain tolerance to deal with it. For these people, getting a tattoo in an extremely painful spot is a terrible idea. Thanks for commenting, Sam Sorenson!

  2. You stated that statistics say that over 35% of Americans in the ages of 18-29 have one tattoo or more and 16% of people of all ages have at least one tattoo. My sister has been wanting to get a tattoo to remember her husband that passed away. Do most tattoo artists recommend certain types of tattoos for your first time? Finding a reputable tattoo shop might be a good option.