What It Feels Like To Get A Tattoo + 15 Great Starter Tattoo Ideas For Your First Time

Photo: Timothy Paul Smith on Unsplash
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Plot twist, it's different than any pain you've ever felt before.

The first time I got a tattoo I was beyond nervous. I got it on my side-boob area, right on my ribs. Maybe it was because that tattoo was an inch long and an inch wide and only took 15 minutes to do, but believe it or not, it was pretty close to painless.

I was more worried about laughing while I was getting tattooed and ending up with crooked lines than the pain. (Since I thought I was so tough, I decided to get my nipples pierced for the first time right after my first tattoo was finished, but that ended up hurting more than anything I had ever experienced).

My second ended up being an upper thigh tattoo, which was fairly painless — but I noticed a few sharp stabbing pains, almost like someone was jabbing me with a sewing needle. I went again for another rib tattoo and ended up almost passing out from the pain, got a butt tattoo (painful), and a shoulder blade tattoo that went straight down my back, which was about as painful as you can imagine. 

Every time I get a new tattoo, my mom asks me why. Does it hurt? I say yes. Why do you subject yourself to is? I just like the way they look.

To me, when it comes to pain, it's over as soon as it starts.

Do I notice the sound of the machine and the fact that there are tons of needles pumping in and out of my skin? Definitely, but it comes along with the dedication of getting a tattoo. 

RELATED: 50 Gorgeous Tattoo Ideas For Every Woman

So what exactly does it feel like?

I love when people ask me this question because honestly, after an hour or so you forget the sensation. It's not comparable to paper cuts, stubbing your toe or even breaking a bone. It's a different kind of pain that comes only with this specific experience.

The closest thing I can describe is it's like skidding your knee on asphalt, for a mile, while it's hot. It's not a particularly bad injury, but it is an annoying one.

The larger your tattoo, the longer whatever body party your getting inked on is going to be sliding against that pavement.

Do you bleed when getting a tattoo?

Regardless of the size of the tattoo, I bled during all five. The one on my back and the one on my butt bled the most, we're talking dripping blood here, so also be prepared for that. It can be a little alarming, but remember, a tattoo is basically an open wound. 

RELATED: 20 People Share How Getting Tattoos Helped Them Survive Depression

How much pain are we talking about here?

Whether you're getting black and white tattoo with just line work or full on, color can cause some more pain than normal. Coloring involves a lot of shading and going back and forth over the same area to make sure the color sticks. Only one of my tattoos has color in it and it definitely was not fun.

I sat on the table and just kept saying, "It's just stupid, there's no reason for it to hurt this much." Which is also definitely what you'll be thinking. 

Placement also plays a huge factor in pain level. The only tattoo that truly hurt me was the one on my ribs, so look at a pain chart like this one when it comes to deciding where you want your tattoo.

Areas like the inner arm, inner thigh and butt are going to be super sensitive since they don't get the usual wear and tear build-up of being in the sun. Your thighs and forearms are going to be pretty much painless except for a few spots here and there.

Anything with bone right underneath, feet, ribs, hands, spine, and you're in for a wild ride of pain and questions why you're paying so much money to be put through this pain. 

How to prepare for your tattoo:

  1. Decide what you want. If you want something traditional or a minimalist tattoo, it's important to find an artist who knows how to work with that style. Walking into a shop that specializes in watercolor tattooing hoping for something dark with solid colors will probably get you turned away or leave you with a tattoo that doesn't look as good as you'd hoped.
  2. Research your tattoo artists, look at local shops on Instagram, and find one that really resonates with you. 
  3. Start saving up. Good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren't good. This is kind of a "do as I say not as I do" moment because I got my first tattoo for $20 on a special. Luckily for me, it's held up well, but that isn't always the case. A tattoo doesn't have to break the bank. A good, small tattoo can run you $70, but if you want something big then get ready to put down at least $100. 
  4. Go make your appointment. If you're eyeing a specific artist then definitely don't plan on just walking in and getting your tattoo the day of. Make sure you avoid the sun for a week before your tattoo so you don't get sunburned, cause you can't tattoo sunburned skin. 
  5. For the love of everything, EAT BEFORE YOU GET YOUR TATTOO. I've met countless people who have passed out during their session because they didn't eat before and were so nervous they got light headed. Eat something, and bring a bottle of water to sip on to help your nerves while you're there. Avoid taking Advil or ibuprofen before, since it could thin your blood and make you bleed more.  
  6. Wear something comfortable that also makes it easy to access the area you're getting tattooed. Don't be like me and wear jeans and sneakers to get a tattoo on your ass. It's very awkward to walk around with a bandage on your butt cheek that looks like a diaper because of your jeans. 

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My first tattoo was small, and I always encourage my friends to do the same thing. If they can't take the pain, it'll be over in 30 minutes tops, and if they don't mind then they know they're good for another one. Small tattoos also help when it comes to getting used to having ink because they're easy to cover. 

Take a look at these 15 small tattoos that are great for your first tattoo. Good luck!

1. This poppy tattoo.

Credit: Tattoo Blend

Flowers are always a great choice because they're just so gorgeous. Something small with color will also help you get used to the feeling of shading. 

2. This cool cat tattoo.

Credit: She Said

You can pay homage to your favorite pet in a cute way with this little tat. It's small enough that it would look nice on any body part.

3. Girl power all day every day.

Credit: Unique Tattoos

Surprise! This is the same tattoo I have on my butt, but (no pun intended), in this smaller version it definitely won't hurt as much. Also getting it pretty much anywhere besides where I got mine will help it hurt less. 

4. Tiny tattoos can have detail, too.

Credit: Pinterest

These cute little elephants can symbolize your family or just your love for animals. Don't think you have to skimp on the details just because you're getting something small either. The shading here is great and really adds to the look of it. 

5. A lotus tattoo.

Credit: Pop Buzz

Another super cute flower sans the coloring. Something simple like this can remind you to find balance. 

6. Let out your inner nerd with this Harry Potter tattoo.

Credit: Pop Buzz

You can support your favorite characters with tiny tats too! 

7. Water color is just as pretty when in a tiny tattoo

Credit: College Times

Another display of how something small can have a lot of detail and be gorgeous

8. A Minimalist Take on your Zodiac Sign

Credit: Pop Buzz

A very special starter tattoo that is sure to never lose meaning for you.

9. Show some love for the ocean

Credit: Whiskey Riff

This cute little wave a super popular design but also super pretty

10. Make your own luck with this wishbone tattoo

Credit: Awesome Inventions

A super cute good omen to have on you at all times.

11. Little Trees, Happy Accidents

Credit: Pinterest

This cute little tree is sure to put a smile on your face whenever you look down. 

12. Cute Crescent Moon tattoo

Credit: Tattoos Beautiful

Day moons are good luck, so you might as well make your own. 

13. Semi-Colon tattoo

Credit: Drnub

For anyone struggling, the semi-colon represents where a story could have ended, but didn't. 

14. A cool geometric fox tattoo

Credit: Tattooism

Geometric designs AND animals? Sign me up. 

15. And Lastly This Unicorn

Credit: Seoeon

Honestly this is just adorable and it might be the next thing I get.

RELATED: 35 Amazingly Pretty Flower Tattoos That Are Perfect For The Spring & Summer

Josie Fuller is a writer who  studies Journalism and Women's Studies at The University of Florida. When she’s not researching new things to write about, she enjoys spending her time watching Bob's Burgers and baking.