Some excellent answers already but one thing I will add that no one else seems to have mentioned so far is the TYPE of tattoo procedure used.
Each time I’ve taken a bottle of water, you may there a few hours after all, and have some coffee and cake – theory is the caffeine for pain relief, cake for blood sugar if you feel faint, practise is erm, because coffee and cake!!
I have a quote tattooed on my right foot. My first tattoo! It wasn’t as painful as I’d expected it to be – not by a long way – but he started by my toes & worked towards the ankle bone. Now I will say that was a little uncomfortable, I kept my eyes closed around the ankle bone as it did feel a little like the needle was actually puncturing the skin & catching the bone! I already had half a tattoo so there was no way I was going to make him stop! It didn’t last long & I knew I really wanted it so some deep breaths & relaxation & I have a gorgeous tattoo! Black lettering fone with a tattoo gun.
It certainly put me off though – it really IS addictive – as my next two were on my left foot! Not by the ankle bone I might add, two dog outlines this time with a tiny dash of colour, and I thought the pain to be much much less but maybe I was just aware of what I was in for & decided it was worth it. I’d liken it to a feeling of pinpricks crossed with a slight dragging sensation. To be honest, it’s more painful plucking your eyebrows or using an epilator, and I’d sooner get a tattoo than use a wax strip any day! Black outline with small strips of colour shading done with a tattoo gun.
My last tattoo is a larger symbol on my back between the shoulder blades. This was one I really really wanted but was expecting a lot of pain due to the location. But I had this one done using a different technique, by hand poking dot work, and I felt no pain at all. Seriously, not even discomfort. I was aware of it being done, but it didn’t even feel like a needle was on my skin! I could happily have dozed off! There was no redness, tenderness or swelling at all, I kept expecting it to wash off as I couldn’t believe he’d actually tattooed me!
I’m convinced your mental attitude helps too. I really wanted my tattoos, I love them! But I made sure to seek out the right style of artist to suit me. Not every tattooist will suit your style, so take some time to find one you like, (style & personality) work on recommendations from people you know, search the net for their work, and make the time & effort to talk with them before you book your ink. Discuss your expectations of what you want & their thoughts. Most artists will be glad to advise you, they want to showcase their works & talents too so they know what is reasonable or not, whether it’s a good idea for your first ink or plain just wouldn’t work so well. If you have a painful, bad or just badly thought out tattoo, it’s hardly a great advert for them so they want you to be happy with their work. I’ve always gone to the same studio, 2 different artists did mine but I trust each of them implicitly. I know their work, and now then as people too, they know what I want & who I am, we’ve worked together on my art we’re all happy with the outcome. Spending time in their studio is a joy, I swear you pay for their ambience & Atmosphere, the end product of a tattoo is just a bonus for being there! I’ve always recommended them & their work because of their professionalism & style, and because all their team are just great easy going people.
A good tattoo artist should be happy to adjust, tweak, or change an idea, should be more than happy for you to take breaks during the process if you need it and provide you with the best knowledge for aftercare too, which you really MUST do. I’ve seen big burly biker types pass out, cry or even wet themselves (really!) there, remember we’re all individuals with different definitions of pain & different threshold so you’ll never know until you try it, but if you seriously research what you want & trust your artist, it WILL pay dividends towards your pain experience.