So You're Ready For A Tattoo Sleeve? Here's Everything You Need To Know

Tattoo sleeves are cool — there's no two ways about it. And, while many tattoos can add some edge and some artistry to your look and how you present yourself to the world, opting for a sleeve makes sure that your statement is front and center. Whether you've decided to go big or go home with your first tat and are going for a full sleeve, or you've already gotten some ink before and are looking to turn your arm into a piece of art, it's important to keep in mind that a tattoo sleeve is very different than a single (coverable) tattoo. 

There's so much to consider when getting a tattoo sleeve, and when you're overcome with excitement and ideas, it can be difficult to think of everything before taking the plunge. Sure –– there are the obvious steps, like creating your design and finding your perfect tattoo artist match, but there are so many more details that should be planned before booking that first appointment. Luckily, we've got you covered so that you can cover your arms in art exactly how you're envisioning it. Consider this your tattoo sleeve planning checklist, and once you've considered all of these steps, you're ready to get that tat.

Design is key

There are so many different reasons why we choose to get tattoos. From floral tattoos to abstract patterns, some tattoos are just there to look cool and make our bodies feel like a museum of our favorite art. Other tattoos mean something to us and remind us of a loved one, a special time in our lives, or a message that we always want to remember. Regardless of the reasoning behind your tattoo, it's important that your design is perfected before any other steps so that you can ensure that your tattoo gets the point across. 

Consider why you're getting the tattoo that you're getting. This can help you to pinpoint parts that you want to stand out and how to tell the visual story you want to tell. Search online for inspirational pics, and have something to bring to your artist so that they can help you with your design. While it can be extremely exciting to be embarking on a life-changing creative endeavor like a tattoo sleeve, take your time preparing your design so that you can be confident in what you're getting before you get it. What will your color scheme be, or are you interested in black alone? What style do you prefer? Will your sleeve be one cohesive image, or will it be comprised of multiple smaller tattoos? These are questions you'll want to ask yourself before you go under the needle. 

The importance of placement

Placement is important for any tattoo, but it's a very different issue for a tattoo sleeve. There are so many things to consider about the placement and layout of your sleeve. Where do you want each element to go? How big do you want them to be? How should they be placed together, and what, if anything, will appear in the negative space?  Your arm is one of the most frequently seen parts of your body, so you want to be sure that you're getting exactly what you want. Take your time during this phase of planning to avoid wanting to change things up when you're halfway through your sleeve.

You should also keep in mind the size of your arm and the size of the tattoo so that you space all parts of the tattoo in the best possible way on the canvas you have to work with. Additionally, remember which parts of your arm are going to be visible the most. Your inner arm will most frequently be covered up, and your outer arm will frequently be visible. By the same token, you'll see your forearm more often than your upper arm, depending on what you wear, so place your tattoo accordingly.

No two sleeves are alike

If you're looking to get a tattoo sleeve, you're clearly not afraid to make a statement. Even so, it's important to keep in mind that not every tattoo sleeve has the same shape or size. Whether you're a bonafide tattoo aficionado or not, we've all seen plenty of different types of tattoo sleeves. When most of us think of a tattoo sleeve, we likely imagine one large tattoo or many small ones that cover an entire arm with little negative space. In reality, though, sleeves come in all shapes and sizes, and you'll want to consider this before you book that first tattoo appointment.

Most sleeves start at the top of your shoulder and work their way down the arm. A full sleeve reaches all the way down to your wrist. A half sleeve goes down to your elbow, and a quarter sleeve continues from above the shoulder to halfway between the shoulder and your elbow. There's a fourth type of sleeve called Hikae, which, rather than starting at the top of the shoulder, actually covers the chest. This Japanese tattoo style can reach the elbow or the wrist, depending on how much coverage you're looking for. It's important to note that while you should think about what type of sleeve you'd like before beginning the process, getting a tattoo sleeve is something that takes place over time, so you can always start small and add more as you go. 

Choose your artist

As is true for every kind of artist there is, different tattoo artists have different styles. Identifying the style you're looking for can greatly aid you in finding the tattoo artist who is the perfect fit for you and your future sleeve. You can research tattoo artists nearby, and you can often find samples of their work online.

When you do go to meet with your tattoo artist, have an idea for your entire sleeve in mind already to make sure that things go smoothly and that your artist has an accurate idea of what you want. Be mindful of your budget, not only when finding your tattoo artist, but also when finding inspiration, so you know that what you're looking for is something that you can achieve. Finally, remember that your tattoo sleeve is both prominent and permanent. Instead of sacrificing some of the elements you want in your tattoo or even the artist you're hoping for, consider giving yourself some time to save for your dream tattoo. We guarantee that it will be worth the wait.

Schedule and plan

Unlike getting a small, simple line tattoo, tattoo sleeves are complicated and time consuming, and as a result, how you get it done is important and should be properly planned. It's very unlikely, if not impossible, that you'll get a sleeve done in one day. Consequently, it's important to consider when you'll get each step done. Be sure to talk through the plan with your tattoo artist, and keep in mind the advice that tattoo artist, Erin Odea, gave to Allure, "Even the most seasoned tattoo collectors have a limit to how many hours they can get tattooed, so I would say to take your time." That said, it's not recommended that you leave long periods of time between sessions to ensure that your entire sleeve heals at a similar pace.

What you can get done in one day, as well as how your tattoo should be cared for between appointments, is vital. There are even some tattoo aftercare mistakes that make your ink age faster than it should. Additionally, think about where you want to start with your tattoo if it will be done in multiple sessions. Odea says, "I was always of the thought that you should start at the top and work your way down. That's how it was when I started getting tattooed." She says there's been an influx of folks starting below their elbows, instead, and says that that's fine, too, but the incomplete tattoo will be more easily visible to others.