Tattoo designs have come a long way with a mainstream audience in the last 30 years. It used to be the norm to try a tattoo on a hidden part of your body, or bravely sport one on a visible part and no more.
But these days most people don’t stop at one. They truly see their body as a canvas and you’ll notice that larger, more intricate and more complementary designs have become increasingly popular. One of the most common ways to have a more impactful look is to get a tattoo sleeve, as it’s often considered the best way to sport a stunning design on your arm (or leg).
A sleeve tattoo can be one large tattoo or a combination of smaller tattoos in a similar design of theme and can make your entire arm look like one stunning tattoo. Most of the time when we talk about sleeves we refer to the arm - hence the name. However leg sleeves are becoming more and more popular too.
Of course while most of the time a tattoo sleeve will have a common theme, it’s also not compulsory to do so. It’s your design and your own choice, and sometimes it’s just a cool collection of designs you love. However for most people it’s an opportunity to express themselves in a really meaningful way.
For this reason, we’d always advise that you don’t rush into starting your sleeve without a bit of careful planning. You may have a meaningful vision already in place or you may like a design style and want something that works best for that. You might also have a particular artist or studio in mind.
Take the time to meet and consult with artists - they will have portfolios you can look through and will be able to tell you how they can bring your vision to life. You can write down what you’re looking for, or use rough sketches or imagery to illustrate it. Doing all this will help you have a sleeve tattoo that is stunning, but is also coherent and meaningful.
That said, your sleeve tattoo doesn’t have to be planned to perfection. It’s more that you should have a good idea in mind as to how your sleeve will work in a particular style. Sometimes those decisions might be already made for you - for instance, you may already have a tattoo in a defined style on your arm - so the rest of the tattoo sleeve will follow it. Sometimes you know that kind of thing you’re looking for, but want the tattoo artist to help you complete the rest. Think of it as a journey. You might already have the exact destination for your tattoo - which is great. But you also might only have a general sense of direction, but don’t have the destination full in mind just yet. This is fine - you can start your sleeve tattoo with the designs that work for you now - and complete it later once that destination becomes clearer.
Choosing the right artist for your sleeve tattoo is essential. Getting a sleeve tattoo will take time and you’ll want someone you can trust to bring your vision to life over what could be a period of years. They will also have their own unique style and you’ll want to add a level of consistency. For this reason it’s best for you to stick to one artist. Sure, you might get away with two, if their styles complement each other - but after that there is a danger it will start to look disjointed if you keep switching artists to add to it. Unless that’s a look you are purposefully going for - though technically that look is not considered a sleeve.
The artist will also then be fully knowledgeable of the tattoo sleeve journey you are on. So they will know where to go next and you won’t have to rebrief them or risk them misinterpreting what the previous artist was designing for you.
Any design style can work for a sleeve tattoo as long there is room for the designs to flow together. However it’s important that you research the styles so you can best visualise what you want. Then, when you find the design, you should look for an artist in your area that is skilled with this style. It’s best to then stick to one style but some design styles can complement each other - for instance geometric style can work well with illustrative styles - with one style carrying the meaning and the other adding the flow. But it’s really up to you. You might want a design to meet a style you like, or a style to best suit your design. Talking to the artist about this will help complete your tattoo sleeve vision before you get inked.
A sleeve tattoo generally comes in three different sizes, but there is a fourth style that is a Japanese-style sleeve called Hikae that flows from the arm down into the chest. However the three standard sizes are pretty self-explanatory. A full sleeve will cover the entire arm, a half sleeve will cover either the lower or upper arm, depending on your preference. While a quarter sleeve is a quarter portion of your arm (or leg). What works best for you depends on how much of a vision you have now or what you’re most comfortable with.
Yes you can, if well planned a Sleeve Tattoo can add new designs all the way to completion. These tattoos will take time and to use our journey analogy, you can add new designs along the way. The trick is to get them fit seamlessly into what you have already done. That way it can look meaningful and beautiful. And that is what we recommend using the same artist and the same design style or at least another that will complement it.
How colourful your tattoo sleeve should be will depend on a lot of factors. What’s best for your skin tone, what design style you are looking for, how sensitive your skin is, and if you are prepared to keep your sleeve well maintained in the future.
Coloured ink can fade and can often be harder on skin than other types because you may need more of it than colours like black. You might also need a longer break between designs to give your skin a chance to recover. However if something really colourful is what you have in mind then it is possible, though you should discuss with your artist before fully deciding.
This will really depend on what design you have chosen. The shortest a sleeve tattoo will take is probably around 12 hours (2 days solid work). However they could take up to 80 hours depending on how intricate the design is. It’s for reasons like this that we stress having a plan in place for your sleeve tattoo. Because it will take time to complete and will likely include several sessions over a number of years to achieve it.
And that ties into the other element of getting a sleeve tattoo - the cost. A tattoo artist charges for their time. And while an individual tattoo can be quite affordable and full sleeve will be more of an investment. That means starting your sleeve journey wrong could be an expensive mistake. However most customers end up with a tattoo sleeve that once complete looks amazing and is highly meaningful. You are in no rush to complete your sleeve either so when it comes to affordability you can make it work at your own pace. The beauty of a sleeve tattoo is that it will still look good as you are adding to it. And there is excitement when you have saved the money for the next addition.
If you have a sleeve tattoo design in mind or would like to know more about which design will suit you best, then we are only too happy to help you at Black Hat Tattoo.
This might interest you
Here’s a selection of related posts