How Do You Design a Tattoo Sleeve?

Tattoos are continuing to rise in popularity, and more young adults are getting tattoos today than ever before. People get tattoos for personal meaning, to express themselves, and sometimes just because they are stylish.

A growing tattoo trend is the sleeve tattoo. A “sleeve” is a large tattoo (or a group of many small tattoos) that covers most or all of a person’s arm.

There are a few important things to consider when designing a tattoo sleeve, but artistic options for sleeve tattoos are endless! These tattoo(s) can really help express who you are as individual, pay tribute to a loved one, or show your unique style. Not to mention, they look pretty cool, too!

What should I consider when designing a tattoo sleeve?

When planning your sleeve, try to incorporate vertical designs if possible. Horizontal images don’t usually fit well onto arms, as our limbs are almost always in vertical positions.

Know your arm shape. Do you have large biceps or tiny wrists? Try to plan your designs around the natural contours of your arm.

Think about the color (or lack of color). Do you want bright tones, pastel colors, or simply black and white?

Consider which areas of your arm you want tattooed. If you have a very low pain tolerance, you may want to avoid fully covering your armpit, elbows, and wrists.

Be unique and get creative! Very carefully choose designs, themes, and motifs that fit your personality.

Get a great artist to help you design your tattoo. You’ll want a talented artist that is reputable and experienced; he or she should be willing to help you achieve all your tattoo goals and dreams.

What should you avoid doing when building a sleeve?

There are a few things you’ll want to avoid when designing your sleeve.

First, avoid building your sleeve thoughtlessly. Really ponder on what you’re wanting to express and make sure you’ll be happy with the design for years to come.

If possible, try to avoid throwing random tattoos into the mix. You want the piece to flow and harmonize and not appear cluttered. For this reason, it is also best if you don’t cram a large variety of symbols and styles into one sleeve.

Avoid trying to plan the whole tattoo yourself. Your artist is trained to help you with this step!

Avoid being impatient with the process. You’ll likely need several sessions to finish your tattoo, as sleeves can take anywhere from 10 to 80 hours to complete.

Lastly, avoid being cheap. You get what you pay for, and awesome tattoo artists aren’t cheap. Your sleeve is a lifelong investment and should be treated that way.

Should a sleeve tattoo have a theme?

While there are no rules that you must adhere to when getting a sleeve tattoo, having a theme can sometimes be helpful.

If possible, choose which direction you’d like to take the piece. Perhaps it’s religion, travel, literature, music, or some other concept. Choosing a theme can really help the sleeve to flow seamlessly.

However, if you have many concepts you’d like to incorporate into your sleeve, don’t worry. Your artist can help make sure your sleeve tattoo still flows well. Oftentimes, you can choose one background color to help the designs blend together. You can also pick a transition theme, which can help connect smaller tattoos. People often choose flowers, clouds, water, and other patterns as transition themes.

Can you turn tattoos you already have into a sleeve?

If you have existing tattoos that you’d like to turn into a sleeve, you can successfully accomplish this with the help of the right artist. Harmonizing your current tattoos is key- The last thing anyone wants is to end up with is a confusing, jumbled piece.

As previously mentioned, your artist might choose a transition theme when combining existing tattoos. These can really help the sleeve to appear unified and balanced.

If you have a tattoo that you no longer like, sometimes you can have it “covered up” with a new design while getting your sleeve. This depends on the size and shape of the existing tattoo, the new design you’re wanting, and how much talent and imagination your artist has.

What is a patchwork tattoo sleeve?

A patchwork tattoo sleeve is a sleeve made up of many individual tattoos rather than one large, themed tattoo. Think of your arm like a large quilt- Several smaller pieces come together to create one big work of art.

If you cannot decide on one concept or theme for your sleeve, perhaps a patchwork sleeve is for you!

Oftentimes, patchwork tattoos are spaced apart rather than placed together. However, some individuals want their patchwork sleeve to cover nearly every inch of their arm. There is no right or wrong way to get a patchwork sleeve. Just make sure you have a competent artist that will ensure that your arm doesn’t end up looking like a hodgepodge.

If you’re looking for a popular sleeve style, there are so many to choose from. Here are just a few that have been gaining popularity recently.

Watercolor sleeves are stunning works of art! They appear almost as if an artist applied the pieces with a paintbrush rather than a tattoo machine. They are often done with vivid colors and include flowers, animals, landscapes, and other objects.

Realistic tattoos are usually inspired by portraits. The goal of this type of artwork is to make the images appear lifelike and as if they could jump right off your body. Generally, realistic sleeves incorporate pictures of people and animals.

Christian sleeves show one’s faith and devotion to God. You’ll often see crosses, depictions of Jesus, and scripture references within the sleeve. These tattoos can be done in black/white or in color.

Traditional sleeves are great for people with traditional personalities. You’ll find old-school tattoos such as roses, mermaids, anchors, and hearts in a traditional sleeve. These typically include black, red, green, and yellow colors.

Japanese style sleeves usually incorporate Koi fish, tigers, dragons, cherry blossoms, and other Oriental symbols within the piece. These designs are normally done in bright colors and black ink.

Polynesian sleeves usually tell the story of one’s life through a series of shapes and geometric patterns. They are done in black, and you’ll often see symbols such as shark teeth, Tikis, spearheads, and different types of shells.

Viking tattoos usually pay homage to Nordic symbols such as the Helm of Awe, Web of Wyrd, and the Valknut. They are intricate designs with definitive lines and shapes.

Are there different types of tattoo sleeves?

When you think of a “tattoo sleeve,” you may think they always cover your entire arm. That is often (but not always) the case. There are a few different kinds of tattoo sleeves to consider when you’re wanting of these tattoos.

Of course, there are full sleeve tattoos. These run from your shoulder area down to your wrist. Some people choose to cover only the outer arm, while others include the inside of the arm as well.

Next, there are half sleeve tattoos. These typically run from your shoulder to your elbow or from your elbow to your wrist, depending on which one you choose.

There are also quarter sleeves, which usually cover only part of your upper arm. And, sometimes, you’ll see three-quarter sleeves, which run from the shoulder to the middle of the forearm.

Hikae sleeve tattoos cover the most area of all. This Japanese-style tattoo starts at the pectoral muscle and continues either partially or fully down the arm.

As you can see, tattoo sleeve options are truly limitless. Choose a popular sleeve style or create your own designs from scratch. Once you have chosen your theme, concept, or patchwork ideas, pick out a respectable tattoo artist in your area. With a bit of research, a lot of careful consideration, and a talented artist, your sleeve dreams can become reality!