Full Sleeve Tattoo Designs

Woman with full sleeve tattoo

Full sleeve tattoo designs are for people who know they want more than just an anchor on the forearm or a butterfly on the ankle. A sleeve requires some amount of planning in advance, more so than with just one tattoo. However, a full sleeve has the advantage of making your arm into one cohesive piece of art. Getting your arm completely covered is a serious investment in terms of both time and money. Do some research before you call the local shop to set up an appointment.


Even if you're a tattoo veteran, you're going to want to know some of the basics of getting a sleeve tattoo.


Full sleeve tattoo designs aren't cheap. You can sit in a chair for as long as 20 hours before your arm is completed. At a rate of between $100 and $200 an hour, this easily equals the cost of a quality used car or a year at a public university. This is why it is essential to make sure you pick the right artist, the right shop and the right design. You will likely have to pay for a deposit on the whole tattoo. Every shop will require you to pay its hourly rate in advance before you sit down in a chair.

Timing and Procedure

You can get tattooed for as long as you can pay and for as long as you can tolerate. Sleeve tattoos, however, are frequently done in the following stages:

  1. Outlines: The heavier black lines on the outside of the tattoo.
  2. Shading: Black and grey ink provides texture to the tattoo.
  3. Coloring: Vibrant colors make your tattoo stand out.

You don't necessarily have to wait for previous parts to heal before you have work done on the next part, but you may want to. The healing process can take a few weeks, depending on how much area you have tattooed, as well as your body's quirks. Parts of the arm will be more painful than others with some finding the wrist, the elbow and the "ditch" (the area opposite the elbow) particularly painful.

Styles of Full Sleeve Tattoo Designs

Some would say the best design for your sleeve is one you come up with on your own. You don't have to be creative or artistic to get a full sleeve tattoo, however. Japanese tattooing has a long history of covering not just the arm, but the whole body. American traditional tattoos require you only to pick out a number of designs to cover yourself for your sleeve. You can also work closely with an artist, describing the types of things you would like on your arm and having her craft the art. Some common designs for full sleeve tattoos include:

  • Traditional tattoos which might include nautical symbols like anchors, naked ladies, nautical stars and hearts with the name of your beloved.
  • Japanese traditional designs include what you might see on a Yakuza. You may also choose something like koi fish, water, and nature scenes done in distinctive Japanese style.
  • New school tattoos are similar to traditional art, but with a modern flair. Imagine if a graffiti artist had a go at your arm.
  • Tribal tattoos generally are used as a rite of passage in traditional cultures. Make sure you know what they mean before you get them.

Converting a Half-Sleeve to a Full-Sleeve

You can make a half-sleeve into a full sleeve one of two ways: First, you can continue on whatever theme you have already started. Second, you can cover up what you already have. The second option isn't always available, but many skilled tattooists have worked magic with unwanted tattoos.

A full-sleeve is a big investment in terms of both time and money. Make sure you've done the proper planning before you sit in the chair. With the right attention to detail, you will turn your arm into a beautiful work of art.

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Full Sleeve Tattoo Designs