When will the price of good art ever not be called into question? It’s the very reason that many people interested in great body art want to know how much a tattoo sleeve would cost them, should they choose to have it done. As is often the case with persistent questions, there is no one, single answer. Rather than looking for an answer, however, we’re interested in pointing our curious readers towards the information that they should be taking into considerating before hitting up a local tattoo parlor, in the first place. Only by considering what you want out of your tattoo experience can you begin to know how much it’s going to cost. Additionally, a healthy amount of pre-planning for your tattoo will help to ensure that you’re pleased with the end result. If you’re curious about sleeve tattoos, but don’t know where to look, let’s see what we can see!
Though the ebb and flow of what’s popular and what isn’t can change on a dime, we can pretty firmly say that sleeve tattoos have been popular for a while. More people than ever are asking about them, curious about the intricately detailed scenes that play out across a person’s entire arm. Where does one begin? Can any tattoo parlor do this? How do you plan? What questions should you ask, and how can you decide what’s going to appear on your arm, through all of this work?
Before we start delving into specifics, let’s have a glance at some very broad realities that should be considered no matter what style of sleeve tattoo you end up being interested in. We can diffuse quite a few myths, suspicions, and rumors about them before we start dealing with the facts.
First, sleeve tattoos require multiple sittings. How numerous, how many, and how frequently they take place are all variable things that will eventually alter the price of your sleeve tattoo. Additionally, almost every part of the process that we talk about below is going to relate to this one simple fact. As you might imagine, the fact that sleeves require more than one trip to the tattoo shop is going to complicate things.
It shouldn’t be news to any of our readers that getting a tattoo is a painful process. The level of that pain is typically going to be determined by where on your body you choose to have the work done. The pain is not subjective to the individual, but the amount of pain that you can stand during a single sitting, and your tolerance of that pain through the whole experience depends entirely on you.
Related to that fact, the number of sittings your sleeve requires will increase the total cost of the tattoos. We’ll get into this when we talk more about average pricing, but tattoo artists are required to use new needles and inks for each sitting that you attend. Can’t take the pain for more than an hour? Get ready to pay more. Does your intricate design require many sittings, to perfect? Price bump.
Lastly (and this should truly be obvious), the price of your sleeve tattoo is going to be different depending on who you hire to do it. Experienced artists with a higher demand for their work are going to command higher prices, but ultimately deliver a better tattoo. New shops and new artists will have considerably lower prices since they’ve yet to garner a reputation and a regular clientele. We’ll examine this range of options in greater detail below, but know this: when you’re hiring a tattoo artist, don’t forget that they are an artist. When you shop for a loaf of bread, it’s going to be the same no matter which grocery store shelf you pluck it from. When you’re shopping for art, it’s up to you to know your artist.
Types of Sleeve Tattoos
The first large determining factor that’s going to affect your price is the type of tattoo that you’re looking to have done. In simplest terms, think of it like the length of a t-shirt sleeve. All sleeve tattoos typically begin at the shoulder blade and work downward, along your arm. Occasionally, they’re accompanied by back or chest panels, but these are almost always done during entirely different sittings and aren’t considered part of the sleeve tattoo process unless a specific arrangement is made with the artist.
Three types of tattoo sleeves are the most common:
- Full Sleeve: A full sleeve tattoo begins at the shoulder blade and covers the entire arm, down to the wrist. Outliers and minor variance will differ from this rule, but it’s the most frequently referenced when someone says that they want a “sleeve tattoo.”
- Half Sleeve: Instead of the full arm, a half sleeve tattoo typically extends from the shoulder to the elbow, or just above it. Many full sleeve tattoos are actually a combination of a half-sleeve tattoo and a forearm tattoo that are joined by artistic elements at the middle of the arm, but the process will always differ depending on the artist.
- Quarter Sleeve: A quarter sleeve tattoo typically ends somewhere on the upper arm, though the exact location is always determined by the artist and the person receiving the tattoo.
Obviously, the amount of work that you actually have done will be vastly different depending on which type of tattoo you decide that you’d like to wear. Many tattoo artists won’t do more than a “quarter” of a sleeve per sitting, but once again, it’s all going to be dependent upon the artist’s requirements and your own pain tolerance.
While the definitions of different types of sleeves are easy to determine, the price of your tattoo isn’t. At least, it’s not going to be on this page. The best way to determine the cost of any tattoo is to arrange a consultation with an artist at the tattoo parlor you’d like the work done in. Typically, tattoo artists charge by the hour, which means that you probably will have to pay for the consultation. It also implies that you should expect your artist to approximate the total amount of time (not necessarily the number of sittings) that your tattoo will take.
Understand that “approximate” is an important word, there. Your tattoo may take more time (or less) than the artist initially determines. It’s a reality of the business, and occasionally, the price that you have to pay for great artwork.
Here’s where we can start predicting some of your costs, but I do not recommend bringing any figures to your tattoo shop apart from your own, personal budget. Many people who’ve had full sleeves done on one or both arms have reported that it took 20 total hours–with wiggle room for it to take a couple more–on each arm. Let’s say that your artist is charging $75 per hour of tattoo work. Not counting the additional costs from multiple sittings or your tip (which you should always do), this would average out to be $1500 per full-sleeve tattoo. Adding in the costs for sittings and tips, you could be approaching up to $2000!
This is a guess based on the feedback of individuals who’ve had sleeve tattoos done, but it will give you an idea of how much you should be budgeting for this type of art.
Ways to Save
Of course, there are some ways that you can hack money off that price. Some of them just involve smart shopping, but others I would highly advise against.
- Shop at a newer tattoo parlor. If you’re looking to save some money, you can begin by looking for an artist in a less established business. This can be a hit-or-miss tactic, and you’ll want to be wary of ending up with a new artist, especially for work as complex as a sleeve tattoo.
- Look for a newer artist. I do not recommend finding a new artist to save money on your sleeve tattoo. The attention to detail required for this type of artwork is immense, and the consequences of hiring someone that’s inexperienced can be both permanent and extremely disappointing. There isn’t much you can do to change course if an artist happens to botch your tattoo. Go for an experienced artist, instead!
- Talk to your artist about budgeting. This might not save you any money, but many tattoo artists are willing to work with their clients–especially trusted clients–to help with budgeting the tattoo process. Sometimes, that will mean spreading out your sitting as you earn money to progress your sleeve tattoo. Sometimes, that will mean paying in installments. It’s important to know that you’re not entitled to any of these options; it’s entirely up to the artist. However, if money is a concern, this is what I would most highly recommend doing.
Considering that good artists’ work is highly valued, you should next expect to encounter a great many “discounts” or “sales” for tattoo work. Not only are you unlikely to find it, but such offers can sometimes be the sign of a less qualified artist trying to attract cheap work. Not always, mind you; it’s only a precaution for what you should keep your eyes out for.
Pre-planning your tattoo can include quite a few tactics. Arranging a consultation with the artist and shop that you’d like to do your sleeve should be considered a requirement, and an investment in your tattoo itself. During the consultation, the artist can help you to shape your ideas to your body, and will make recommendations about what will work best with regard to process and payment. You can approximate the total cost of the sleeve and also how many sittings the entire tattoo is going to require.
Before arranging your consultation, it’s going to be your job to shop around. More populated areas are going to host more tattoo shops, so do your homework and research; figure out which has the best reputation and prices that are within your range. Remember that tattoos should be considered permanent, and any amount of saving, budgeting, research, and inquiry is worthwhile when you’re going to make a permanent change to your body.
Lastly, make sure that your ideal tattoo is allowed in your place of employment. Unfortunately, there are still many businesses that needlessly frown upon visible tattoos on their employees. In order to avoid conflict (until these rules eventually fade away), it’s best to double-check with your employer and alert them to your plans.
We can’t tell you exactly how much a sleeve tattoo is going to cost, but we can show you how to go about figuring that out for yourself, based on your location and your particular needs. If you have any remaining questions about the sleeve tattoo process or feedback from your own experiences, let’s hear it in the comments below!