Home » How to Make a Sleeve Tattoo? | Complete Guide

How to Make a Sleeve Tattoo? | Complete Guide

Getting a sleeve tattoo is a big decision, and you’d want it to look awesome. Making a sleeve tattoo isn’t as simple as tattooing most other places on your body. A sleeve tattoo should be customized to an individual’s arm and design requirements. A lot more thought and consideration go into the planning and execution of a sleeve tattoo compared to single design tattoos. In this guide, you’ll learn how to make a sleeve tattoo so that it’s a less daunting project than most have experienced it to be. The steps and tips in this guide help you get that perfect sleeve tattoo you’ve long envisaged. 

What is a Sleeve Tattoo?

Before learning how best to make a sleeve tattoo, you should know what a sleeve tattoo is and the types of sleeve tattoos. A sleeve tattoo can cover most of your arm or the entire arm. These days it isn’t uncommon for sleeve tattoos to be meant for the legs either, since by definition sleeve tattoos are meant to be wrapped around an individual’s limb. A sleeve tattoo could consist of a single design or be a compilation of a series of small tattoos. For it to be classed as a sleeve, the overall theme of the intertwined tattoos that make up the sleeve has to be consistent. 

The 3 Types of Tattoo Sleeves:

There are three types of tattoo sleeves, each differentiated by its distinct size. You can have a full, half, or three-quarter tattoo sleeve. Once you discuss the size, you can further decide the design, placement, and flow of the artwork with the help of your artist. The conversation in this guide is based mainly around arm sleeves. However, when it comes to knowing how to make a sleeve tattoo, the tips mentioned herewith hold equal ground for leg sleeves.

#1. Full Sleeve Tattoo

Full Sleeve Tattoo
Source: @edwinramireztattoo via Instagram

You’ve guessed it right! A full sleeve tattoo begins at the top of your arm and shoulder region and extends down to your wrist or even fingers. The tattoo flowing down the full sleeve can be a single design or an assortment of smaller tattoos with the same theme so that the result is cohesive.

#2. Half Sleeve Tattoo

Half Sleeve Tattoo
Source: @andreaacsey.ink via Instagram

You have two options if you want a half sleeve tattoo. The first is a half sleeve tattoo that begins at the top of your arm and shoulder region and ends at your elbow. The second option begins from your elbow and extends down to your wrist or fingers. Both of these options are technically considered as half sleeve tattoos. 

The first option is more popular, simply because there’s more surface area to work with at the top end and shoulder region of the arms. If you have a larger, more intricate design in mind, you’ll be better off with that option. The lower half of the arm is also an incredible option, especially if you have a design in mind that trails towards the inside of your forearms for a more realistic look.

#3. Three-Quarter Arm Length Tattoo

Three-Quarter Arm Length Tattoo
Source: @tattootilt via Instagram

Finally, there’s the three-quarter sleeve tattoo that you can contend with. This option isn’t the most popular, yet it has its fair share of takers. This type of sleeve tattoo starts at the top of the arm and shoulder region and flows down three-quarters of the arm’s distance. To be precise, the ending point is about half the distance down the length of the forearm. It’s a fantastic idea to get an abstract tattoo of this length and placement. Doing so gives you the flexibility to extend the tattoo to full length in the future.

How To Make a Sleeve Tattoo That Flows Well – The Steps Involved:

Getting a sleeve tattoo is one of the best ways of showcasing larger, intricate, and meaningful designs. This placement lets you optimally express your intended theme and the artist’s creativity. If at the hands of an experienced, professional tattoo artist, your sleeve could turn out with astonishing results.

Given below are the steps to consider and discuss with your artist in getting your sleeve tattoo made. These steps are, in effect, wonderful tips that aid the process of making a sleeve tattoo:

Step 1: Pick Your Tattoo Style and Artist

Once you’ve extensively researched and narrowed down a tattoo style you’re most likely interested in, carefully picking an artist experienced in that style is the next logical step. You not only need to be comfortable discussing your requirements with the artist, but you also need to ensure the artist has extensive experience and talent for inking your selected style of tattooing. This could be watercolor style of tattooing, black and grey ink work, fine line work, dot work, realistic tattooing, etc. It could even be an artist acclaimed for being a specialist sleeve tattoo artist for select themes.

Step 2: Consider The Existing Tattoos

An incredible starting point in your journey of getting tattooed with an awesome sleeve design is to check what you’ve previously got inked in that area. In most cases, any smaller, single tattoos can be covered up or incorporated within the eventual sleeve design, especially if they’re of the intended theme. A riskier alternative, which is seldom recommended, is to first get your existing tattoo removed through painful and expensive procedures like laser tattoo removal treatments. 

Step 3: Get Your Arm Size Measured

Every individual, whether man or woman, has a different arm shape and size. You should make a preliminary visit to your artist and get your arm measured so that a proper template of the eventual tattoo design can be made. This allows for a custom fit of the tattoo design as per your current arm shape. If you’re a teen that has just reached the age of majority and are eligible to get a tattoo, an experienced artist would consider that factor for the final design, since your body will change further in subsequent years.

Step 4: Select A Design

The color scheme, theme, motifs, and other elements you want to be incorporated in your sleeve need to be finalized through a detailed discussion with your artist. The artist will explicitly ask you about what you’ve envisioned for the design. You are expected to tell the artist your main preferences. For instance, whether you want a single design or multiple pieces (multiple images) making up the whole sleeve.

Designing a single piece is subject to extensive planning so that the sleeve tattoo fits the arm exactly. On the other hand, the advantage of going piece by piece is that each piece can be tattooed in a single session. This way, for the subsequent piece, you could change your mind about certain details like the color or motifs, etc. Planning as you go takes away the pressure and uncertainty to some extent, which is why many folks prefer designs that fit the piece by piece requirement.

For the theme and motifs, you need to align the design concept to your interests. It could, for instance, be inspired by your love for gaming characters, be representative of a loss or love interest, or have a cultural/spiritual significance. Whatever it is, you need to ensure you’ll be happy portraying it permanently in one of the most prominent places of your body — your full, half, or three-quarters arm surface.

The colors of your sleeve tattoo are also important. You need to consider your skin tone so that the colors chosen will look bright and vivid and make the design stand out. 

Step 5: Get Inked

With every preparation in place, now you can get inked. By now an artist of your choice, that specializes in your desired tattoo style, would have anticipated and thought of every square inch of your arm to be tattooed. The confidence that you and the artist possess due to professional planning pays off in more ways than one. You can rest assured the pain is going to be worth the epic tattoo.

Step 6: Follow These Incredible Tips:

Your sleeve tattoo should be unique. Rather than finding a design that has common elements, it would be a better idea to get the designs found online tweaked until you’ve come up with something unique. In addition to that aspect, you should also follow the following tips:

  • Smartly fill in the smaller spaces

If your chosen sleeve tattoo entails filling in every inch of negative space between the design elements, you need to figure out how best to achieve that. This could be a bit of a challenge if those smaller spaces lie between the larger tattoo imagery. Luckily, there are several ways of going about this since these areas aren’t too large, to begin with. The best way to fill the tiny spaces is by adding interesting symbols, minute trinkets, simple flowers, or even stars and dots if you’d like.

  • Choose Vertical Imagery

This important tip is a no-brainer since your arm for the majority of the time is positioned vertically.  Vertical imagery, therefore, will make more sense than horizontal imagery, for the sleeve tattoo.

  • Don’t overly complicate the design

You’ll have a lot of ideas. Yet, you shouldn’t include bits of every one of them in your sleeve design. You wouldn’t want a design that’s perplexing to understand. If you’re facing such confusion in deciding, it’s advisable to start with a piece and add more pieces in subsequent sessions. This is a fantastic way of taking things one step at a time, in case you’re prone to change your mind.

  • Identify your arm’s 4 tattooable sections

The inner bicep, outer arm, inner forearm, and outer forearm are the four sections of your arm. These areas are highly visible to onlookers and are the ideal placements for tattooing detailed designs. If you’re not utilizing all these flat areas in their entirety, you could enhance the flow of the overall sleeve tattoo by filling the empty areas with neutral colors. Additionally, many enthusiasts prefer the outer design to trail inwards, for a more subtle effect. More importantly, for best results, since your arm is contoured, the artist must ensure the tattoo flows along with the shape of your arm.

  • Choose colors and patterns sensibly

Keeping a balance between light and dark colors is important for the overall look of the design. A design that overuses either light colors over dark colors or vice versa will not look in balance. Similarly, the pieces of the design shouldn’t look imbalanced because of the selection of intertwining patterns. This means there should be a diverse mix of simple patterns with intricate patterns within each piece of the overall sleeve tattoo.

Final Thoughts

Sleeve tattoos are extremely popular and well worth the investment in most cases. The number of sessions to make a sleeve tattoo varies. If you’re stepping into the tattoo studio with a tattoo-less arm, you shouldn’t expect to come out with a sleeve tattoo that same day. It could take multiple sessions depending on the density and size of the sleeve design as well as your pain threshold. Moreover, the payment plan agreed upon with the artist will also influence the number of sessions.

It’s noteworthy, the most complex of sleeves can take over a year to ink. So if you want that epic ink, you must have patience and tolerance. Finally, it cannot be stressed enough that proper tattoo aftercare is necessary to keep your remarkable tattoo bright and healthy for years to come.

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!