Trying to answer this question is nearly impossible because not everyone has the same pain threshold. Some people even enjoy pain every now and then. That said, professional tattooists would generally say that even the best hands in the business are going to hurt a little bit. Some people think it is the worst pain ever, but they obviously have never been shot, stabbed or delivered a baby.
What does it compare to?
Again, it all depends on who you ask. The vast majority of people that get a tattoo say that it was much less painful than they expected. Some say that it is a minor pain in the skin. Others say that it feels like a hot poker scratching up and down their skin. Still others start to describe Hades and a little red devil. The point is, pain is not the same from person to person. Neither are the descriptions or comparisons.
Will I pass out like the girl I saw on YouTube?
Tattoo horror stories are usually a whole lot like urban legends. They take a tiny fraction of the truth and then twist it into something it was not. For example, very few people have ever passed out from pain in a tattoo chair. They might have passed out because they did not eat right that day, or because they were so afraid they hyperventilated, but not because of the pain. Tattoo pain is not that serious, and it is extremely rare that someone would pass out for any reason at all. You might cry a little but only if you are really susceptible to doing so. (Or if you watched “Beaches” before you came) Don’t let fear be the reason to not get a tattoo. It is highly overrated.
WHAT IF I HAVE A FEAR OF BLOOD OR NEEDLES?
This is a situation that can cause some problems for a tattooist. The client has to be still and many people with these types of fears have trouble doing so. It is important to note, however, that tattoo needles hardly enter the skin at all. If you have a big fear of needles or blood, then getting the tattoo somewhere out of sight is a good idea too. At least you won’t have to watch it being done. It is up to you whether you can handle the process or not, but be sure before you start.
As for blood, it is very minimal and only very rarely is more than a drop here and there. The blood is consistently cleaned off by the tattooist and any professional will pretty much keep the blood out of sight unless you are watching up close. Most people lay back and relax while the process is done, so you would not even see any blood. If you did, the amount would be so small as to be insignificant to most people.
Keep your mind on why you are getting the tattoo. For most people, getting the tattoo has some type of meaning. Focusing on that meaning can eliminate many fears, and give you a great reason to accept the downside. While nobody enjoys the pain, the tattoo experience is worth the ride to those that get them. Make sure you feel the same before you get yours.
Keep in mind everyone has a first time
Very few people sit down to their first tattoo and not be nervous. Everyone feels the nerves as the needle hits the skin that first time. Your body is built to be very careful about what is stuck on or in it. Your skin is no different. Make it through the first part of the process and you will easily slide through the rest. It gets easier as you go on.
Finally, pick the right tattoo artist. You should study up on all the artists in your area and make sure you know who is good. (and who is not) Having a bad tattoo experience is horrific and can lead to years of frustration. You want to have someone that is solid and has a great reputation in the community. You might save a few bucks with the guys down the street working out of their van, but the risks you are taking are rather serious. Stick with the people that are pros and you will always have good tattoo experiences.