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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Tattoo Studio Locations
378 Yonge Street,
252 Eglinton Ave East,
7381 Kennedy Road,
100 City Centre Dr.,
1804 W 4th Ave,
Vancouver, British Columbia
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