How to design a tattoo sleeve application

Updated July 20, 2017

Tattoo sleeves come in three sizes, whether on the arm or leg. A 1/2 sleeve fills either the upper or lower half of your arm or leg. A 3/4 sleeve fills the area from your wrist to mid-bicep or your shoulder to mid-forearm. On your leg, it would be ankle to mid-thigh or hip to mid-calf. A full sleeve covers your entire arm from shoulder to wrist, or your leg from hip to ankle. Designing your own sleeve tattoo application stencil can help ensure the design is highly unique and personal.

Wrap a large length of butcher paper over the area of your body that the tattoo is to cover. It can be your entire arm or leg, or simply a portion of either.

Pull the paper as tightly as possible, and draw small lines with your pencil, noting the points at which the paper stops wrapping your arm and just becomes slack. This can be difficult if you are wrapping your dominant arm. If you need help, ask a friend to either hold the paper steady while you draw the lines or have your friend draw the lines for you.

Remove the paper and set it down. The lines most likely will be wavy and somewhat hectic; this is to be expected. Place your ruler or straightedge over the curvy lines, and draw straight ones over them. When the broad outline is finished, it should be cone-shaped.

Check the measuring of your cone-shape outline by wrapping measuring tape around the different points of your arm or leg and comparing those lengths to the distance between the lines on your design.

Use your pencil to draw all the designs your desire within the cone-shaped outline. Do not shade anything or worry about colour at this point; just draw a broad outline of the tattoo designs. You will need these lines to be perfect before progressing to step 2, so use your eraser to correct any mistakes, and take your time.

Trace over all the pencil lines with your black marker, and erase the pencil lines once you are finished.

Flip the paper over and place over a lighted desk or well-lit drawing surface so the lines show through. Copy the image onto the back side of the butcher paper with your black marker. This reverse image is vital since the stencil will have to be a mirror image of the design so it appears frontward after applied to your skin.

Tape a piece of stencil paper over the reverse image, and trace the design using a tattoo stencil pencil. Stencil pencil does not erase easily, so take your time. If any mistakes are made, you might have to start over on a fresh piece of stencil paper.

Remove the tape, and give your stencil to your tattoo artist for application.


After you've made the stencil, you can shade and colour the original design for your artist to use as a reference. Also, your artist most likely will break the stencil into parts to be applied on different days, especially if you are getting a full or 3/4 sleeve ---- this is normal.


Be sure you take all the time you need to create the perfect design.

Things You'll Need

  • Butcher paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Ruler or straight edge
  • Black marker
  • Measuring tape
  • Stencil paper (tracing paper)
  • Lighting desk or well-lit drawing surface
  • Tape
  • Tattoo stencil pencil
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About the Author

Izzy Barden began writing in 2010 for various websites, specializing in golf and tattoos. He was awarded the Russ Morrison Golf Scholarship in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he attended Santa Barbara City College to study journalism and later dentistry at University of California, Los Angeles.