Real Talk: How Much Does a Calf Tattoo Hurt?

calf tattoo hurt
Credit: Sarah Harvey

It’s no secret: getting a tattoo hurts. With a needle puncturing your skin 50 to 3,000 times a minute it’s not going to feel great, no matter where on the body the tattoo will be placed, your calves included. If the fear of the pain is enough to keep you from going through with it, maybe getting a tattoo isn’t for you. However, if you are committed to that calf ink no matter what it feels like, there are a few things to take into consideration before you put your leg under the needle. In this article, we’ll be answering the burning question: How Much Does a Calf Tattoo Hurt?.

First, the good news on calf tattoo hurt factors

As it often goes, every tattoo professional will tell you that everyone’s pain threshold is completely different, so there really isn’t a specific answer to this question to begin with. With that said, anyone planning some ink on their ankle will be happy to hear that “calves are one of the less painful tattoos to get,” said Sean Jaundice, artist at Voodoo Monkey Tattoo in Cleveland.

“When it comes to the calf, it’s a pretty average spot when it comes to pain,” agreed Carrie Smith, owner of New Rose Tattoo in Portland, OR. Not too shabby—especially when compared to other common spots like the wrist or back.

Muscle vs bone

The main reason the calf is understood to be a less painful place to be tattooed is based on what’s beneath the skin there. “Any spot that has more muscle tends to hurt less, as the muscle acts as a bit of a shock absorber, and legs are usually fairly muscular,” Jaundice explains.

However, this can change depending on where exactly on the calf your tattoo is being placed. “It can get a bit tender the closer it gets to the ankle,” says Ryan Kunsman, owner of Arcola Creek Tattoo in Madison, with regard to calf tattoo hurt factors.

Easier tattooing = quicker tattooing

“Any spot that has more muscle tends to hurt less, as the muscle acts as a bit of a shock absorber, and legs are usually fairly muscular,” Jaundice explains.

Another reason the calves are perceived to hurt less is simply because tattooing is easier in that area. Says Jaundice, calf tattoos “tend to go by much faster than other spots, say your shoulder or ribs,” so since the tattoo session will be shorter, you’ll have less pain to worry about facing in the first place.

Kunsman added that comfort is a factor with a calf tattoo, as well. “You will probably get to lay back a bit and lounge during the process,” which is never a bad thing, especially in a potentially stressful and painful situation like getting a tattoo.

The healing process can be a bit easier

The pain of getting a calf tattoo is, of course, mostly going to be focused in the time when you get it done. That being said, one factor that tends to be forgotten about is the healing process, especially when someone asks: “how much does a calf tattoo hurt?”. While healing, calves can be easily hidden under fabric that isn’t tight, and the calf’s skin doesn’t really fold or bend, the action of which can be painful for days after getting a tattoo.

“In cooler months, calf tattoos tend to heal easily because you can’t mess with them under pants, whereas in the summer shorts wearers need to be mindful of the sun and swimming,” Jaundice adds. Keeping that in mind, the fall and the spring are*slightly* better time to get ink across the board, but especially with areas that tend to be exposed to the elements, like the calves.

The bottom line

Ultimately, yes, it will hurt, but it’s not entirely possible to know how much does a calf tattoo hurt until you go for it. Should the ouch factor decide where you place a tattoo, though? Smith doesn’t think so. “Pain wise, we always tell people to get [a tattoo] where they want it, because the chances of it hurting drastically worse in one spot or another is low; it’s kind of all relative.”

The pros say that when it came to the pain of a calf tattoo, it’s not the worst place to get inked, but beyond that, the consensus is that the pain, no matter what level, is part of the process. Remember: what most people think of when they look at their tattoos isn’t really ever the pain of getting them, which comes and goes; it’s about the piece itself and what it means to them. If having permanent, personal art on your calf is what you truly want, the pain, which may not be too awful in the first place, shouldn’t stop you.

Related: How Much Does an Ankle Tattoo Hurt?

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Tara,

    I would love to read a piece about thigh tattoos and how much they cost, pain levels, healing times! Any chance there will be one written in the future?

    1. My thighs were one of the more painful spots. I have a pretty high pain tolerance. The outline and shading for the one the reaches from my hip to my knee took about four hours. Contrary to the article, my wrists and back did not hurt very much at all. The thighs are more of a stinging pain, but nothing that someone with a normal pain tolerance can’t handle. Just keep yourself distracted.

    2. Thanks for sharing, Shelby! Ultimately, the pain anyone experiences while getting a tattoo is unique (we actually all have different pain tolerances)! My thigh piece, for instance, didn’t hurt very much. It’s also possible that your increased sensitivity in the area was due to how long your appointment was, since the longer you have to sit through the pain, the more sensitive your body becomes.

      — Inside Out

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