Skip to main content

Does Getting a Tattoo Hurt?

There are two questions that everyone with a tattoo has heard at least a thousand times — what does your tattoo mean and did it hurt?

While we can’t give you a definite answer to the first question because every single tattoo has its own story behind it but we can shed some light on what it feels like to be tattooed. asked a bunch of tattooed people what it felt like to be inked and we ended up with a surprising amount of answers. Some of the answers were almost scientific in the details used to describe the experience while others were far more poetic. Much like the meaning behind the tattoos it seems like everyone experiences the act of being tattooed in a slightly different manner. Some people said it smarts, some said it burned and others were completely dismissive of any pain. Here are some of the most common descriptions for what it feels like to get inked.

Cat Scratching

One of the most common descriptions of the sensation experienced while being tattooed was that it felt like getting scratched by a cat repeatedly. We also heard that being tattooed felt like being licked by a cat with an especially rough tongue. Probably our favorite feline based description came from Andrew Bentley who said that getting tattooed is “like getting scratched by a cat, but the cat keeps going, and then afterwards you give the cat a few hundred dollars.”


Justin Geiger said that the pain of getting tattooed was akin to scratching a sunburn while Joe Donahue said that a tattoo feels like a sunburn while it heals.


Most people we spoke with didn’t find the pain to be overwhelming; instead it was pretty common for people to say that it was merely irritating. “It feels like a really annoying kid poking you in the arm with a needle until you become numb to it,” according to Tim Kowalczyk. “It’s more uncomfortable than painful,” Matt Linick said. “You get more used to it yet more bothered by it as the process continues.”

Similarly Kirsten Birmingham talked about how the tattoo experience is something that you need to power through. “Getting tattooed is such a weird experience,” Birmingham said. “It’s a mental battle trying to stay still, calm and collected. Once the endorphins kick in you don’t really focus on what’s directly going on anymore and it’s okay.”


Since tattooing is really nothing more than getting stabbed with a needle a few thousand times it’s unsurprising that many people thought that it felt just like that. “It’s like someone is sticking you with a pin and then dragging it around you skin,” Melanie Ruiz said. “It helps to pretend that area of your body no longer exists but the pain is over as soon as it’s done.”


Tattooing can be a pretty intense experience so it seems natural that some people would make metaphors about the sensations they experienced. Adam Gwilliam compared the physical pain to mental pain that everyone has dealt with. “It feels like the same pain you experience when you ask a girl out and she looks you up and down before scoffing and turning back to her friends,” Gwilliam said. “The pain is all concentrated on one patch of skin but only for a little while but in the end you get a badass tattoo so you relish the pain and the process.”

Pain and tattoos go hand in hand, there’s no avoiding the reality that the process will be discomforting, but in the end almost everyone who gets inked wants to go back for more. “I have sat and gotten tattooed for six hours in a row,” Jasmine Seng said. “The pain can be described as ‘worth it.’”