What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (2024)

What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (1)

Sleeve tattoos are usually considered the middle ground between full back or front pieces and small tattoos. They provide a good amount of canvas for the artist, and there's a lot of potential to create something unique when designing a sleeve tattoo.If you've been bitten by the tattoo bug and are considering getting a sleeve tattoo, there are some considerations you should keep in mind. By doing some research and planning, you can be sure that your experience will be a positive one, and you'll wear your sleeve with pride.

Types of Sleeve Tattoos

There are four main types of sleeve tattoo that you can choose from. A quarter sleeve covers the area from the shoulder to about halfway to the elbow, slightly lower than where a T-shirt sleeve would end. The half-sleeve is from the shoulder to the elbow, while a full sleeve is from the shoulder to the wrist. The fourth option is the Japanese style tattoo hikae, which can be a half- or full sleeve that reaches over the shoulder and onto the chest as well. The type of arm sleeve tattoo you choose will depend on what you want and how much you're time and money you’re willing to commit, as well as the design of the tattoo. A half-sleeve tattoo is a good compromise, and a good artist should be able to incorporate the half-sleeve design into a full sleeve if you decide to go further later on.

What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (2) Tattoo Sleeve Stencil

Leg sleeve tattoos are somewhat less common, but they can be unexpectedly striking when done well. The legs present similar options for half- and full-length sleeves.What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (3)

How Long Does a Sleeve Tattoo Take?

The amount of time you’ll be in the chair will vary dramatically depending on the complexity of the piece. Most tend to take around 15 hours to complete, but there are tattoo designs that have taken over 80 hours. These hours are divided into multiple sessions, and the time between the sessions will depend on how quickly you heal. This means that a complex full sleeve tattoo can take up to a year or more to complete.The tattoo sessions themselves will also vary in length depending on both you and the artist. Complex pieces will take a lot of concentration from the artist, and they may stick to short sessions in order to keep their focus and concentration up. You may also find that longer sessions are boring and you struggle to keep still, so be sure to chat with your artist and agree on a session length that works for you both. While the record for the longest session is around 16 hours, most people tend to stick to a more reasonable three to six hours.Once a session is over, you'll need for your arm to heal completely before progressing onto the next stage. Normally, the space between sessions is two weeks, but if you're a slow healer you can consider three-week intervals to be on the safe side. You may feel impatient and want to see the final result, but it's safer to ensure that the area is completely healed rather than risking the entire tattoo for the sake of a couple of weeks.What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (4)

Is Getting a Sleeve Tattoo Painful?

Tattoos are always going to be uncomfortable, but the amount of pain you'll experience will depend on your tolerance level. In general, sleeves don't hurt as much as some more sensitive areas, but prolonged exposure can result in an unusual type of pain. Many people also report that their arm just goes numb after a while, which is probably a good thing. The tattoo pain tends to be the worst in areas where the skin is thin or there's solid tissue underneath, like the armpit, outer and inner elbow, and wrist.What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (5)

How Much Does a Sleeve Tattoo Cost?

The price of your sleeve will depend on the artist you're working with, the complexity of the design, and how many sessions you require to get it done. Overall, you can use the average time of 15 hours times the hourly rate as a baseline for how much you can expect to pay for a full sleeve. The artist you're working with will quote you per hour, and the more complex the tattoo and the longer it takes, the more expensive your sleeve will be.If your jaw has dropped after you've worked out what your sleeve will cost, you may be tempted to find a cheaper artist. However, remember that working with the best artists in the business will never be cheap since they're dedicating their full working time to the process. Consider how much you get paid per hour and whether the artist should be paid the same. By paying for high-quality work, you're less likely to regret your decision, so you won't have to spend double the amount to get the tattoo removed later on.What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (6)

The Process

The process of getting a sleeve tattoo is similar to that of any other large tattoo. After you've finalized the design with your artist, they'll measure your arm to ensure that the tattoo will fit and be proportional. The first session generally is dedicated to the outline of the sleeve. The following sessions will involve filling out the details and doing the shading, and the final sessions will be for the colour and finishing touches. It's natural to feel slightly disappointed after the initial session, but remember that you shouldn't judge a work in progress.What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (7)

Sleeve Tattoo Aftercare

Tattoo aftercare is an essential part of ensuring that you get the best possible results from your tattoo. The better your tattoo heals between sessions, the better the final result, as it's difficult to finish a design that's marred by incomplete healing.

Our Favourite Tattoo Aftercare Products

What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (8)

After Inked

After Inked Tattoo Moisturizer delivers effective skin moisturization and helps to preserve the colours of your tattoos. There's no petroleum so it won't stick to or stain your clothes. This moisturizing skin lotion, enriched with Grape Seed Oil, can also be used on any permanent makeup procedure on lips, brows, eye liner, and areola, as well as an after-laser tattoo removal moisturizing lotion. After Inked is Dermatologist tested, non-allergenic and non-irritating.

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What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (9)


PurSan Aftercare is a specially formulated Vegan skin cleanser used to clean and moisturize as part of an aftercare regimen for fresh tattoos and piercings. It revitalizes, refreshes and purifies skin without drying it out. Gentle yet effective, PurSan contains no parabens, fragrances, colourants or alcohol. Chloroxylenol (PCMX) is a proven antimicrobial ingredient shown to be effective against bacteria and viruses without burning or irritating the skin. Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose (Hypromellose) is an ultra-high grade lubricant ideal for sensitive skin.

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Each tattoo artist will have their own procedure for aftercare, and even if you're a veteran, it's worthwhile to listen to their advice. The sooner your tattoo heals, the sooner you can get in for the next session. In general, the advice will include making sure that the tattoo is kept clean and moisturized throughout the healing process.Have questions about your tattoo sleeve ideas? Get in touch with the artists at Chronic Ink.

Ready to Explore Your New Sleeve Tattoo?

At Chronic Ink Tattoo, our talented artists are ready to help you explore sleeve tattoos and other tattoos to make sure you find something you’ll want to show off for decades to come. If you’re in the Toronto, Markham, Mississauga, Kitsilano Vancouver area drop by our shop and check us out for yourself.

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Tattoo Studio Locations

Downtown Toronto

378 Yonge Street,2nd Floor,Toronto, OntarioM5B 1S6Directions

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252 Eglinton Ave East,2nd Floor,Toronto, OntarioM4P 1K2Directions


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1804 W 4th Ave,Vancouver, British ColumbiaV6J 1M3Directions

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What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (10)

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What You Need to Know About Sleeve Tattoos (2024)


What to know before getting a sleeve tattoo? ›

  • First thing's first: don't half-ass this. ...
  • Don't rush the design process. ...
  • Don't enquire about a sleeve when you don't know what you want tattooed. ...
  • Don't choose subject matter that doesn't go together. ...
  • Don't cram 100 ideas on your arm. ...
  • Don't forget the size of the canvas.
Mar 1, 2021

What does a full sleeve tattoo say about you? ›

A person with a full sleeve clearly doesn't care what the world thinks about their art. They tend to live as they choose and don't worry too much about consequences. Confidence is their game. In either case, people with arm tattoos usually like to show them off.

What to expect after getting a sleeve tattoo? ›

The first week after you get a sleeve tattoo

The first week it is normal to have some swelling, redness, and sometimes oozing. You should not have severe pain, burning, or redness that extends well outside the tattoo area.

Does a sleeve tattoo go all the way around the arm? ›

There is a little variance with the way the terms “quarter,” “half,” and even “full sleeve” are used. Some artists/studios refer to a full sleeve as shoulder to wrist, both sides of the arm, basically complete coverage. Some could use the term “sleeve” to describe the outer panel of an arm from shoulder to wrist.

What is the most painful part of a sleeve tattoo? ›

Inner bicep

It also carries many nerve endings that when pinched by the tattoo needle, cause pain to run down the entire arm, not just the pressure point of where the tattoo is being drawn.

How many hours does a full arm sleeve tattoo take? ›

How Long Does a Sleeve Tattoo Take? The amount of time you'll be in the chair will vary dramatically depending on the complexity of the piece. Most tend to take around 15 hours to complete, but there are tattoo designs that have taken over 80 hours.

How much should I pay for a full sleeve tattoo? ›

A full sleeve tattoo can cost anywhere from $1000 to $6000, depending on the hourly rate of the artist and how much time the art takes to complete. For a design in full color, expect to spend at least two full days sitting for the piece, or be prepared to sit for multiple sessions. How much does tattoo removal cost?

Can you do a full sleeve tattoo in one session? ›

Some artists will give you the option of scheduling a sleeve for one day. If this happens to be your first tattoo, don't choose this option. Even if you're a tattoo veteran it might be too much for you. It's wise to schedule blocks in several-hour increments depending on your pain tolerance.

How many tattoos is considered a sleeve? ›

When both arms are completely tattooed as part of a full body tattoo, these are usually called sleeve tattoos.

How do you sleep with a new sleeve tattoo? ›

The main thing is to try to keep pressure off of the new tattoo, so if you are a side sleeper with a new arm tattoo, sleep on the opposite arm. If it's a back tattoo, try to sleep on your front. Taking the pressure off will relieve the pain you can feel with a new piece, and it will also help you to avoid damaging it.

How to protect a new sleeve tattoo? ›

Avoid water for the first two weeks. Moisturize regularly. Avoid tight-fitting clothing around your tattooed area for the first two weeks.

Which arm is best for a sleeve tattoo? ›

Any arm, right or left, would be good for a tattoo. The choice boils down to your personal preferences. Just make sure your skin is free of moles.

How to make a sleeve tattoo flow? ›

Prioritize Larger or More Intricate Designs First

By prioritizing these elements, you can then build around them with smaller tattoos, creating a cohesive design flow throughout your entire sleeve.

Should arm tattoos be facing you? ›

In tattooing a general rule is that all designs should face the center of the body (heart). For example, front thigh tattoos should face inwards towards each other. And top outer arms will face forward in the same direction the body faces.

What should I do to prepare for a sleeve tattoo? ›

Preparing for an arm sleeve tattoo involves keeping your skin clean and well-moisturized before each session. Get plenty of rest prior to appointments and stay hydrated. Avoid sun exposure on the area being tattooed. Wear comfortable clothing that allows easy access to your arm during sessions.

Do you have to shave your arm for a sleeve tattoo? ›

Although you can do this yourself before your appointment, according to Gianna Caranfa, a NY-based tattoo artist and owner of Bee Inked private tattoo parlor, most artists will shave the area for their clients before they begin tattooing.

Can you get a full sleeve tattoo in one session? ›

Some artists will give you the option of scheduling a sleeve for one day. If this happens to be your first tattoo, don't choose this option. Even if you're a tattoo veteran it might be too much for you. It's wise to schedule blocks in several-hour increments depending on your pain tolerance.

What to wear to get a sleeve tattoo? ›

An arm tattoo may seem like one you don't have to consider much - just roll your sleeves up, right? But remember, you might not want to wear your favourite top with the risk of getting tattoo ink or blood on it. Your best bet is a dark, short sleeved or sleeveless top that you don't mind getting ink on.

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