While watching shows such as Miami Ink before I was ever inked myself, I had the idea that tattoos didn’t hurt very much. The people under the gun looked so calm, were having conversations, and hardly ever winced.
This, from my own experience, is completely inaccurate. Tattoos hurt. A lot. Although everyone has different pain tolerances, the process of ink being pushed into your upper dermis via needle is not pleasant in the least bit. You may be able to clench your teeth and bear pain better than most, or maybe you are a wimp who can’t stand the thought of intentional pain, but there are a few ways to know how much a particular tattoo will hurt.
The first thing that needs to be considered is the location of the tattoo. Bony areas such as the spine, foot, ankle, or hand are going to sting more than others because of the lack of muscle and fat beneath the skin. Other than skin over bones, some areas just hurt more than others. Try pinching the top of your arm, then underneath near your armpit with the same harshness. The more the pinch hurts, the more the tattoo will hurt.
Another factor is, yet again, the shading. The longer a tattoo takes, the more inflamed and agitated the skin becomes. Tattoos with more shading require going over the same area of skin over and over to create the correct shadow effect. After about 10 minutes on the same area of skin it begins feeling as if your artist is tattooing over a sunburn. This also applies to fully black or colored silhouetted tattoos. The only areas that won’t hurt in this sun-burnt way are thin, straight lines within the design.
Generally speaking, time has a large impact on how much pain you’ll have to endure for your tattoo. Larger tattoos have to be done in sessions for the artists own time management and availability, but mostly because a person can only take so much in one sitting. 4 to 6 hours is the maximum duration for even some of the most experienced tattoo goers.
The sting and pain of a tattoo may deter many from getting them, but it’s a part of the process that cannot be avoided (only dulled with the use of noninflammatory medication). Personally, the strength it takes to make it through an entire tattoo makes me attached to the art even more and proud of my courage. Take this into consideration and know that if you are getting the tattoo for the right reasons, it will be well worth it in the end.