How to go about getting a sleeve tattoo

Written by izzy barden
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How to go about getting a sleeve tattoo
A sleeve tattoo encompasses the entire area around your arm. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Sleeve tattoos come in 3 sizes: 1/2, 3/4 and full. A 1/2 sleeve is just around your bicep or forearm, a 3/4 sleeve protrudes past your elbow joint from either the bicep or forearm and a full sleeve is your entire arm, shoulder to wrist. Any type of sleeve tattoo will take multiple visits to the tattoo parlour, as each portion must heal before the next. All portions of the sleeve should be drawn and designed before any portion of it is traced into a stencil and tattooed on your skin.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Find a tattoo artist in your area, either online or by word of mouth, and make an appointment over the phone or in person. Always check an artist's portfolio before enlisting him for a tattoo.

  2. 2

    Instruct the artist as to how large you want your sleeve to be. Allow her to measure the applicable portions of your arm either with a measuring tape or by simply wrapping your arm in paper and marking how large the design needs to be.

  3. 3

    Instruct your artist on the designs you want tattooed and their style, and make an appointment to tattoo the line work.

  4. 4

    Return to the shop at the specified date and time. The artist should have the entire sleeve drawn, but only a portion of it stencilled. This is because, depending on how large the sleeve is, it will take multiple sessions just to do the line work. It may take only a single trip for a 1/2 sleeve, but 3/4 and full sleeves can take 3 to 4 sessions.

  5. 5

    Make an appointment after each line-work session for the next until all the line work is finished. The sessions should be about 2 weeks apart so that each portion can have plenty of time to heal.

  6. 6

    Continue making appointments separated by about 2 weeks for shading, colour and highlights until the entire sleeve is finished to your liking.

Tips and warnings

  • Proper care for the tattoo with ointment, lotion and antibacterial soap will help heal the tattoo more quickly and allow you to group sessions more closely together.
  • This process can take several months to complete, but should never be rushed; after all, a few months of going to the tattoo parlour every couple of weeks is nothing compared to the lifetime the tattoo will be branded on your body.

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