Pain is not as big a part of the decision making once you set your eyes on a design as one might think. Yes, there are those who enjoy this part of the process as there are those who fear it but most I dare say are indifferent and just want to get through it.

There are of course also differences in the degree of pain caused by a tattoo that depend largely on three variables.

  • Design and size
  • Location
  • Tattoo artists skill and equipment

Assuming that you are part of the larger group whose decision making is not pivoted on the degree of pain to be expected with the tattoo you chose, what you need to do is prepare yourself and in order to do that you need the most input you can get. Here is what I know both from experience and from research.



There is the obvious of course that is size but even more that this is the ink density. Some tattoos require intense shading others require a layer of colors to achieve the desired effect. Not surprisingly it is the ink density that will increase the pain perception of the tattoo.


Pain Zones

As general rule one can say the more flash on your bones the better! So, don’t wait to lose weight or get that definition you were slaving over before getting inked for it as long as you have any kind of cushion. The more the better!

Muscle and soft body parts are best. Bony plates and areas are more painful, but nerve meridians are the worst.



Thus, that spinal tattoo that you dream about will come at a price. Same for nerve dense areas like for example the palms of your hands.

Trust me having your eyeballs tattooed is easier than your palms!

Surprisingly – at least for me – skull tattoos take the cake and not for the reasons you think. It is not so much the bone nor the nerve density in that area or even the bleeding. Mostly it is the effect the vibration of the tattoo gun has on your skull as a resonance body. So it is more of a sensory overload.



The art came a long way from stone splints, bamboo and needles. The modern Tattoo machine, iron or even as some call it gun is a much faster and kinder choice to the old arts. Connected to the armature bar is a barred needle grouping that pushes ink into the skin. The speed can vary from 50 to 3000 times per minute.


It’s like surfing. No seriously it is!

I am not a surfer, in fact I could not be further away from a surfer if I tried. But it still is true. Each stroke of the gun combined with the light vibration will translate into waves of sensation. Pressure and pain strokes alternating with relief. Because that is the great thing about tattoos every time the needle is lifted so is the pain.

If you are lucky and you got an experienced tattoo artist who has a light hand you will fall into a kind of hypnotic pattern like waves. The key is to lean into it and adapt a neutral disposition. Let’s call it sensation instead of pain and embrace the creation of your tattoo. Watch it grow stroke for stroke and let the waves hypnotize and you will see it will be over much faster then you imagined possible.

Tinctures and Creams

For those of you how ever who don’t like waves too much there is a chemical alternative. It is called topical anesthesia. It comes in the form of creams and ointments and some even add the occasional ibuprofen.

What you absolutely should not attempt is numbing by alcohol or other recreational drugs since most of these will either amplify your sensory or/and affect your blood chemistry which can lead to stronger bleeding and possible infection.