Does it hurt to get a tattoo? Of course. But how much depends on the hand and skill of your artist, the tattoo location, and your own pain threshold. You can absolutely expect to feel more than a pin prick when you get a tattoo, but that doesn't mean you can't handle the experience. A needle being inserted and reinserted into your skin over and over again is never going to be pleasant. Some people describe this sensation as burning, razor sharp pain, while others may describe it as feeling like you've been cut. Either way, the black outline of the tattoo process is usually the most painful, and that's the first step.
Due to their lack of fat or muscle separating bone from skin, the head, feet, ribs, and hips are supposedly to be the most painful spots to ink. Some people start with these locations for their first tattoo, meanwhile others build up their body art before venturing into these areas. It's up to you. The larger the piece, the more pain you'll endure because the process is longer. Some tattoos take a few visits to complete.
Admittedly, some people are just better at dealing with pain. If you're tough, you'll likely sail through the tattoo process with an expected jump and cringe, but without any intense pain. If you have a low tolerance for pain, be advised that your first tattoo should be small and located in a relatively pain-free location. Consider your forearm, leg, or any other "meaty" part of your body. The more flesh, the less intense the sensation. Don't opt for bony areas immediately if you know you have a low pain tolerance. For some people, tattoo pain even becomes addictive. People will seek out a new tattoo as frequently as they can afford to continue the rush and experience.
If you go into the tattoo process knowing to expect some pain, you'll be better prepared to deal with it. Mental focus is essential during the process, so practice meditation, and relaxation techniques that will help you breathe and remain still when the pain becomes difficult to manage. Try to bring headphones and music and zone out, or talk with the artist during the process. Discuss the steps as they occur and get involved in the actual technique, which will help you take your mind off of the pain. In the end, you'll have a much better tattoo if you can remain still and at ease for your artist.
You can't get a tattoo while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and taking a pain reliever prior to the tattoo will thin your blood which can then pose a health and safety risk. This means you'll need to deal with the pain of a tattoo naturally. If you've heard of any particular artists with a light hand, and you're particularly concerned about tattoo pain, seek them out first. Many experienced and highly skilled tattoo artists are very gentle with their machines, as they should be.