While everyone is different and tolerates pain differently, there really is no magic key to getting through your first tattoo. However, there are some tried and true tips to help you start and finish your ink without crying like a baby or being one of those poor saps running around with half a band wrap around, arm tattoo.
Things You'll Need
Fingernails that are NOT chewed or clipped down to the skin
A rite of passage state of mind
The ability to "block" out unwanted stimuli
And of course be sure you REALLY want the tattoo
One of the first and most overlooked aspects of getting your first tattoo is finding the right parlor and the right artist. Ask around first. If you see someone with a great piece of art ask where they got it AND who (by name) did the work. Keep in mind that one artist is not equal to another just because they work in the same parlor.
After you hear about a great artist try to check them out online. You can often find reviews from other customers on the web. Visit the parlor in question WITHOUT getting a tattoo. Ask questions! Talk to every artist in the place. Here are some example questions. Ask the Owner of the parlor if they and their artists guarantee their work? Ask if they use new OR sterilized needles. (you want new, duh!) Ask if they will touch up their work for free? Ask what your options are if you don't like your tattoo? Will the owner fix it free of charge or refund your money? Any questions you can think of, don't hesitate to ask. Its your body AND its permanent so don't be shy. If someone is not willing to answer all of your questions and concerns don't bother giving them your business.
Now that you have carefully screened your artist and parlor, you can make an appointment if your art is already chosen. Or you can do a walk in early enough to allow you time to browse and get inked. If necessary choose your design, leave it with the artist and set an appointment for the next day.
Time for mental preparation. Some personally tried and tested methods for getting through your first tattoo are as follows. Your first tattoo should be relatively small. That way if its unbearable for you, you will not have to suffer for an hour or multiple sessions to complete your ink. Test your pain tolerance in different locations on your body. I have found the closest way to feel like your being tattooed is to scratch a small area of your skin with your fingernail in a short straight line. Apply enough pressure and go back and forth fast enough to create a very strong burning sensation. That is about what your tattoo is going to feel like in its least painful moments. Try this method on various parts of your body to find which is least sensitive. That's the sweet spot, put your first tattoo there.
Many people view their tattoos as a rite of passage of sorts. When going for your first it is a good mentality to keep. Tell yourself from the get go that once that needle touches your skin there's no quitting option. Don't even allow yourself to believe that you can get up and leave once its started. Lets look at this realistically, do you really want to be the guy/gal that has half a tattoo done and everybody that sees it knows that you couldn't take it? If you REALLY want a tattoo go for the finish line and accept nothing less. If you walk out in the beginning or middle then you should never have been there in the first place.
Making it to the finish line. Drink lots of water and eat well but lightly before going under the needle as some people feel nauseas during their tattooing. If you feel sick to your stomach, light headed, or dizzy tell the artist right away. They will take a break and possibly have you lay down for a few moments. Its important that you tell them because sometimes people want to tough it out and they pass out because they did not take the time to collect themselves when they needed to. However, if you take a break don't sit out more than five minutes or so. If you lose your mindset and determination to finish your screwed.
During your first and any subsequent tattoos you may find it very helpful to stare at one object in a room and "Zone" out by focusing on another inanimate object. I used a gold toned door knob once to zone out and you would be surprised at the detail that sucker had. Another option is to keep your eyes moving, look around the room at wall decor. Study pictures and posters hanging on the walls. Look at anything but the needle and the tattoo in progress. Bring a buddy and chat them up about any inane thing you can think of. Keeping your eyes elsewhere makes it easy to focus your mind on other things. These are very effective ways to "block" out pain.
Some facts for MOST, but not all because everyone is different. In general the outline is the worst because you are tuned in to the area mentally at first. As the artist begins to fill the outline in, while there will be a continuous burning sensation in the area your mind will start to "numb" it out and you will experience a duller pain. Once you have reached this point your practically in the clear and you will be done before you know it. However, as the fill in goes along the outline you may feel more acute pain momentarily every time the fill in goes on or near the outline. Again it is momentary and your so close to finished you might as well suck it up. All that's left to do now, is enjoy your art.
If you have thought long and hard about getting a tattoo (which you should) in most cases you will be pleasantly surprised that the "pain" is much less severe than you probably imagined. Note: Facts for MOST is a section based on interviews of 10 different people recalling their own experiences. Several were asked while being tattooed. Myself included. I have heard three different versions on what "areas" of the body are most painful. 4 People myself included feel that hands, feet, and other bony areas are the most painful. Others debate that fatty areas are the most or least painful. And some others like myself feel that muscled areas like the shoulder blades, arms, calves and pectoral muscles are the least painful. If you agree or disagree, or would like to share your first tattoo stories or tips please feel free to comment and share.
This article is not an encouragement nor a discouragement of getting tattoos. The decision to get a tattoo should be yours and yours alone. If you decide to get a tattoo remember that it is permanent and choose your artist, parlor, and art work wisely. Please use the first few steps to ensure that your tattoo is done in a safe and clean environment. Never get a tattoo from a neighborhood, garage, or basement artist as I like to call them. If they can't afford a place of business or are not willing to work in an established parlor you will probably end up with a very cheap tattoo that you gives you a 50\50 shot that it will come out right. Along with no one better to fix it for you free of charge. Also without business regulations and laws being carefully followed you are risking your health and trusting an unestablished "artist" to follow standard needle procedure. To the point, don't be cheap. You get what you pay for and unfortunately nasty infections and life threatening diseases can be and frequently are transferred through tattoos. Minimize your risk!Dodge the temptation of getting a cheap unprofessional tattoo, even from a really good basement "artist".